This meat offered to the gods was divided into three parts. One part was burned on an altar as a sacrifice. A second part was given to the priest, who would either eat it or, more likely, sell it at the meat market. And a third part was eaten by the worshipper, usually in the temple precinct. In fact, one commentator says that “this was the basic ‘restaurant’ in antiquity.”
These pagan temple “restaurants” had not only social significance but religious significance as well. The gods were thought to be present since the meals were held in their honor and sacrifices had been made.
What took place in Corinth almost two millennia ago still takes place in many parts of the world today. People offer foods to idols in South Africa and in many other parts of the world as well.
So, how would the Apostle Paul respond to food offered to idols? How did he respond to the Christians at Corinth?
Paul teaches Christians how to exercise Christian liberty. He sets forth the principle that in areas not forbidden by Scripture, Christians should consider how their actions will affect others.
In addressing the principle, Paul responded to three reasons the Christians in Corinth gave for feeling free to act as they pleased regarding areas not specifically forbidden by Scripture. Paul agrees that each reason is basically valid, but then shows how none of these reasons should be used to cause others to stumble spiritually. The reasons given were:
1. We Know That We All Have Knowledge (8:1-3).
2. We Know That an Idol Is Nothing (8:4-7).
3. We Know That Food Is Not an Issue with God (8:8-12).
I. We Know That We All Have Knowledge (8:1-3)
First, we know that we all have knowledge.
Paul began in verse 1a by saying: “Now concerning. . . .”
This is now the third time in his letter that Paul used that phrase. In fact, Paul used it a total of six times in his letter (7:1; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; and 16:12). Each time Paul used it to answer a question or an issue raised in the letter he had received from the Corinthians.
Paul now addressed the issue of food offered to idols. I mentioned earlier that this was not only a sacrifice of food, but it also involved eating the food (cf. 8:10). It was done in a “restaurant” at some pagan temple. People would gather for social as well as religious reasons.
Some Christians from pagan backgrounds were once again going back and eating at the pagan temple restaurants. But they now understood that meat was meat. They knew that the pagan gods were false gods. They knew that God was the only true God. And so they said, “We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge’” (8:1b).
That was their first reason for exercising their Christian liberty: we know that we all have knowledge. That statement was true but egotistical. They felt superior in their knowledge. They had an accurate understanding of food and false gods and the true God.
But they apparently had a serious deficiency. So Paul said in verse 1c: “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” The Corinthian Christians had knowledge, but they did not have love. They were solid in doctrine, but they were weak in love. They did not understand the necessity of love, a love that builds up.