Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 10:28-33
28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Paul finishes the discussion here regarding meat offered to idols. After explaining in the previous section that if the meat’s origin is not mentioned, that it is okay to eat it, here he explains why you must not eat meat when you know it has been offered to idols. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(28) But if any man. . . .—If, however, some weak brother present points out that it is sacrificial meat, do not eat for his sake and for conscience sake (see 1 Corinthians 10:29). Here your personal liberty is to be modified by the principle mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10:24. If the weak brother see you eat the flesh which he has just informed you was used as a sacrifice, he may be led by your example to eat it himself, though the very fact of his having called your attention to it showed that he thinks it wrong, and so his conscience is defiled.
The word (hierothuton) here used (according to the best MSS.) for “offered to an idol” is different from the condemnatory word (eidolothuton) elsewhere used; as natural courtesy would lead a Christian at the table of a heathen to use an epithet which would not be offensive to his host. A lesson in controversy—Don’t conceal your conscientious convictions, but don’t express them in language unnecessarily painful to your opponent.
The repetition of the words “The earth is the Lord’s,” &c., in this verse is an interpolation not found in the best MSS., and tends to interrupt the thought which is carried on in 1 Corinthians 10:29.
The note here assumes that the person informing the eater is a “weak brother.” Does the verse limit itself to conversations with brothers? What if a pagan mentions to a Believer that the meat was offered to an idol? Does the need to consider his conscience apply?
The Pulpit Commentaries addresses both potential situations:
But if any man say unto you. Who is the “any man” is left undefined. Perhaps some “weak” Christian is meant, who happens to be a fellow guest. This is offered in sacrifice unto idols. The true reading is probably, hierothuton, sacred sacrifice, not eidolothuton, idol sacrifice. Perhaps there is a touch of delicate reserve in the word, implying that the remark is made at the table of heathens, who would be insulted by the word eidolothuton, sacrificed to idols. Whoever the interlocutor is supposed to be—heathen host or Christian guest—the mere fact of attention being drawn to the food as forming part of a heathen sacrifice is enough to make it your duty to give no overt sanction to idolatry. In that case, therefore, you ought to refuse it. It will be seen how gross was the calumny which asserted that St. Paul taught men to be indifferent about eating things offered to idols. He only taught indifference in cases where idolatry could not be directly involved in the question. He only repudiates the idle superstition that the food became inherently tainted by such a consecration when the eater was unaware of it. In later times, when the eating of such offerings was deliberately erected into a test of apostasy, he would have used language as strong against every semblance of compliance as any which was used by St. John himself or by Justin Martyr. Difference of time and circumstances necessarily involves a difference in the mode of viewing matters which in themselves are unimportant. For the earth is the Lord’s. It is doubtful whether the repetition of this clause is genuine. It is omitted by all the best uncials.
Here I think is a compelling case that whether the person informing you that the meat was offered to idols is a Christian, or a fellow Believer, you should not eat it either way. Once the sacrificial nature of the meat becomes an issue, then you should avoid eating it to avoid the appearance that you are partaking in idolatry. The avoidance of this appearance matters both for unbelievers and Believers. It would not be a great witness, to a non-believer, to seem to participate in idolatry. Paul makes this point in the next verses. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:
Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other. You may be well aware that you intend no sanction of idolatry, but if the other supposes that you do, you wound his conscience, which you have no right to do. Your own conscience has already decided for itself. For why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? These words explain why he said “conscience not thine own.” The mere fact that another person thinks that we are doing wrong does not furnish the smallest proof that we are doing wrong. We stand or fall only to our own Master, and our consciences are free to form their own independent conclusion. Perhaps in this clause and the next verse we have an echo of the arguments used by the Corinthian “liberals,” who objected to sacrifice themselves to the scruples of the weak. The independence of conscience is powerfully maintained in Romans 14:2-5.
For if I. The “for” should be omitted. There is no copula in the best manuscripts. By grace. The word may also mean “with thankfulness” (comp. Romans 14:6. “He that eateth, to the Lord he eateth, for he giveth God thanks;” 1 Timothy 4:3, “Meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving;” compare our phrase,” saying grace”). Another view of these clauses interprets them to mean “You should refrain because, by net doing so, you give occasion to others to judge you”—a rule which has been compared with Romans 14:16, “Let not your good be evil spoken of.” Whichever view be taken, it is clear that theoretically St. Paul sided with the views of the “strong,” but sympathetically with those of the “weak.” He pleaded for some concession to the scrupulosity of ever morbid consciences, he disapproved of a defiant, ostentatious, insulting liberalism. On the other hand, he discouraged the miserable micrology of a purblind and bigoted superstition, which exaggerated the importance of things external and indifferent. He desiderated more considerateness and self denial on the one side; and on the other, a more robust and instructed faith, he would always tolerate the scruples of the weak, but would not suffer either weakness or strength to develop itself into a vexatious tyranny.
I like the last line of the comment here. Paul is working, by presenting both sides of the debate in Corinth of this issue, to “not suffer either weakness or strength to develop itself into a vexatious tyranny.” It is important to know that the liberty exists. It is equally important to show grace and concern for those who might fail to understand, or be damaged by, the exercise of that freedom. For Paul, as it should be for all who believe, the ultimate goal is that others might join you in your freedom in Christ. If your heart and mind do not aim for that goal, then you should reflect diligently on why it does not. Continuing in Ellicott at the next verse:
(31) Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do.—These words embrace all life. The definite acts of eating and drinking are mentioned expressly as they are the subject immediately under consideration. They are, however, to be regulated by the same principle which guides all true life. The modern idea of some acts being religious and some secular is neither here nor elsewhere recognised by St. Paul. No act of life is in itself either religious or secular. The quality of each act depends on the spirit which guides it, and the motive from which it springs. The commonest thing may be done in a high Christian spirit. The greatest deed may spring from a low and selfish motive. A religious act done in a secular spirit is secular. A secular thing done in a religious spirit is religious. This is “the great first principle” of Christian life.
(32) Give none offence.—A practical test of whether any course of conduct is to the glory of God. If it cause any human being to offend then it is not to God’s glory. Heretofore St. Paul had spoken only of the edification of the Christian Church, and the avoidance of any offence to a Christian brother. Here the sphere of moral obligation is enlarged. Jew and Greek, as well as the Christian Church, are to be objects of our Christian solicitude.
If a believer is acting for God’s glory, rather than his or her own, then a humble liberty is the likely outcome, as is a desire to see others to join you in Christ. You are not likely to win others to Jesus if you are offending them.
This can be an idea that is interpreted in an overly broad manner. Keep in mind that earlier in this epistle (Chapter 5), Paul urges the leaders of the local Church in Corinth to purge the evil from their midst. Is it likely that someone might feel offense at being “purged”? Certainly. Is their offense a reason to hold one’s tongue? No. The balance then seems to be that you should not cause offense in a matter of indifference. If on the other hand, obedience itself is a cause for offense, then the disobedient party should be purged as that person is not acting as a brother or sister in Christ.
Finishing up Chapter 10, and again with Ellicott:
(33) Even as I please all men . . .—Better, even as I in all things am seeking to please all men, not seeking my own profit, but that of the many—i.e., the whole great mass of men, and not, as the English seems to imply, merely “a great number.” This is the same idea as “I am made all things to all men.” (See 1 Corinthians 9:22.)
With the last verse of this chapter we must connect the first verse of 1 Corinthians 11:0, “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” This is the completion of the exhortation. The Apostle refers to his own example, but only to lead his readers up to Christ as the great example of One “who pleased not Himself” (Romans 15:3). His own example is valuable inasmuch as it is the example of one who is striving to conform to the image of his Lord. With the mention of the holiest Example and the most sacred Name, the whole of this argument and exhortation reaches its natural climax and conclusion.
The note here connects Verse 33 to the beginning of Chapter 11. It also summarizes the general idea of the last several verses. The goal of believers should be to bring others to Christ. The exercise of our own freedom should be humble enough to make allowances for that goal, when necessary. The Pulpit Commentaries puts it as follows:
That they may be saved. All the sympathy, tolerance, forbearance, which I try to practise has this one supreme object.
In chapter 11, we begin an interesting discussion on the topic of head coverings. If you’re looking for something weird – and often disputed – in Paul’s writings, we can find it here.