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1 Corinthians chapter 8

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What does 1 Corinthians chapter 8 mean?

Paul turns to another issue possibly raised by the Corinthians in an earlier letter written to him. This challenges his previous teaching to them about restrictions on eating meat offered to idols. Paul's response begins in chapter 8 and continues through to the end of chapter 10, where he sets very specific guidelines about buying and eating meat offered to idols, as well as eating in idol temples.

The worship of gods and idols saturated Corinthian society, where idol temples were integrated into many aspects of daily life. Bringing an offering to a god or idol was a near-universal experience in Greek and Roman culture, as was going to a banquet for a birthday, business meeting, wedding, or funeral at an idol temple. Christians and Jews who refused to enter idol temples would find themselves isolated from much more than just the religious culture of their community. It's no wonder some of the Christians in Corinth pushed back on Paul's restrictions about attending idol temples for civic and family functions. These practices seemed as normal to them as any other part of daily life.

Food offered to idols was eaten in idol temples, but the leftover food was also sold in the market. The questions facing Christians, many of whom had worshiped idols themselves before converting to Christianity, was whether it was okay to eat anything that had been offered to an idol under any circumstance. What if someone served it at a dinner party? What if you didn't know it was idol food?

The Corinthians argue that since they know idols don't truly exist, as true gods, and that only the one true God is real, why does it matter if they eat the meat or not? Paul agrees with them that the idols are nothing and the food itself is nothing more than food. They aren't wrong on that aspect of their position (1 Corinthians 8:1–6).

The problem, Paul responds, is that not all of them really know these things. Some Christians, especially those from a background of deep idol worship, are not fully convinced that the idols have no real power. They cannot eat the food with a clear conscience. Even if their conscience is "weak" and misguided, Paul says that to violate their conscience is to commit sin (1 Corinthians 8:7–10).

That's why what the Corinthians know is not enough. They must also love their brothers who do not know. If Christians with weaker consciences are led into sin—through violating their own consciences—by seeing those with stronger consciences eating idol food in an idol temple, the stronger ones will be guilty of sinning against their brothers and against Christ, who died for them. Paul writes that he would personally give up eating any meat at all in order not to lead a brother in Christ into sin (1 Corinthians 8:11–13).
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