On 1 Corinthians 8:1–12 and 10:14–32 and their translation and meaning

Did the apostle Paul mean that the saints could eat and drink things that were dedicated to idols?

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It appears that some people have thought that the apostle Paul “overruled” the instruction which the saints in Jerusalem had sent to their brothers and sisters in Antioch, regarding meats dedicated to idols. This has to do with Acts 15:19–20 and 29, and 1 Corinthians 8:1–12 and 10:14–32 and their translation and meaning. Did the apostle Paul really mean that the saints could eat and drink things that were dedicated to idols? This article takes a closer look at those passages, including the Greek text.

Here is a record of the instruction which the saints in Jerusalem gave to the saints in Antioch:

Acts 15:19 “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 “but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. […] 28 […] these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (NKJV, highlighting added)

(“Abstain from” – the Greek text has apechô which has to do with keeping away from. “Offered to” = dedicated to.)

Again, some people have apparently thought that Paul somehow “overruled” that instruction and made it void. How is it with that matter? To begin with, let us consider what Paul wrote about idols and idolatry, in such passages as these:

1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; not even to eat with such a person. (VW06, highlighting added)

1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (VW06, highlighting added)

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 Therefore, Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. (VW06, highlighting added)

Those are passages in Paul’s letters to Corinth. And no, he did not change his mind, between the different parts of those letters. (Again, the subject of this article is 1 Corinthians 8:1–12 and 10:14–32 and their translation and meaning.) Read on, for more on this.

1 Corinthians 10:23, the meaning of the words ‘we are free to do all things’.

Before going to 1 Corinthians 8, it is good to first consider 1 Corinthians 10:23, because the way many bible-versions render that verse, can easily cause a casual reader to misunderstand 1 Corinthians 8:1–12.

Many bible-translations contain confusing wordings which have caused many people to misunderstand several things in the apostle Paul’s letters. Among other things, this has to do with 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23 where a number of bible-versions have such wordings as “all things are lawful”, and Titus 1:15 where some have such wordings “all is pure unto the pure”. The articles roa113.htm and rea052.htm have some notes on 1 Corinthians 6:12 respectively Titus 1:15. Right here, let us consider 1 Corinthians 10:23 with some of its context. Please read all of the scripture-quote below, slowly and with care.

1 Corinthians 10:19 Do I say, then, that what is offered to images is anything, or that the image is anything? 20 What I say is that the things offered by the Gentiles are offered to evil spirits and not to God; and it is not my desire for you to have any part with evil spirits. 21 It is not possible for you, at the same time, to take the cup of the Lord and the cup of evil spirits; you may not take part in the table of the Lord and the table of evil spirits. 22 Or may we be the cause of envy to the Lord? are we stronger than he? 23 We are free to do all things, but there are things which it is not wise to do. We are free to do all things, but not all things are for the common good. (BBE)

Verse 23, “we are free to do all [kinds of] things” – this has to do with the fact that God has given us a free will and that he does not force us to act in the right way. As we all know, there are many things that must not be done. Simplifying things, it can be said that righteousness is the same as discerning the difference between good and evil, and then keeping away from evil, and doing good. (The article rga083.htm has more on the matter of righteousness.)

Many bible-versions have in 1 Corinthians 10:23 such wordings as “all things are lawful” or “everything is allowable”, but several things in Paul’s letters make it clear that that is not what he meant. Linguistics: Where the above-quoted BBE has “are free”, the Greek text has exesti. It is obvious that in the case of this verse, the many-faceted word exesti is used in the meaning “it is in one’s power”, “it is possible”. That is: We humans have a free will and are through that able to do all kinds of things. But again, as we all know, there are many things that must not be done. All things are not right or fitting, only some are. And also: All things have their consequences, often already in this life but there is also a time of judgment to come.

A note: Word definitions in “biblical” Greek-English lexicons tend to leave out things and are all too often even biased and quite misleading. One should instead use better sources. Here is what ‘Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott (Clarendon Press, 1889) has on the verb exesti:

it is allowed, it is in one’s power, is possible, c. inf., Hdt.: c. dat. pers. et inf., id=Hdt., attic; ἔξ. σοι ἀνδρὶ γενέσθαι Xen.:— c. acc. pers. et inf., Ar.:—part. neut. absol., ἐξόν since it was possible, Hdt., Aesch., etc.

In the case of 1 Corinthians 10:23, it is obvious that the apostle used the verb exesti in the meaning “it is in one’s power”, “it is possible”, referring to the fact we humans have a free will and are because of that able to both right and wrong things. Again, the apostle wrote, “We are free to do all things, but there are things which it is not wise to do”, and, “You may not take part in the table of the Lord and the table of evil spirits. Or may we be the cause of envy to the Lord? are we stronger than he?”

Verses 25–28 in 1 Corinthians 10 are discussed later in this article.

1 Corinthians 8 and foods dedicated to idols, and idol temples.

The above-quoted Acts 15:20 and 29 and 1 Corinthians 10:19–23 show that the saints were told to keep away from foods that had been sacrificed (dedicated) to idols. But, many bible-versions have in 1 Corinthians 8 wordings which can cause a casual reader to think that the saints could nevertheless eat idol-meats. The following contains some notes on that passage and matter.

Here are verses 1–3, as the CT has them:

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now in regard to food which has been offered to idols, we are sure of course that “we all have knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up, while love builds up. 2 If a man thinks that he already has knowledge, he does not yet truly know as he ought to know; 3 but if a man loves God, he is known by him. (CT)

Verse 1: There is “knowledge” that puffs up (makes proud and arrogant). Verse 2 shows that there is something wrong with such “knowledge”.

Verse 3 mentions loving God. That does not include eating or drinking things that are dedicated to idols. Keep in mind Paul’s words, “Or are we to rouse the jealousy of the Lord?” (See 1 Corinthians 10:19–23 which were quoted and discussed above.)

More in 1 Corinthians 8:

1 Corinthians 8:4 Then concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God except one. 5 For even if some are called gods, either in the heavens or on the earth; (even as there are many gods, and many lords); 6 but to us is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we by Him. (LIT)

1 Corinthians 8:7 But all do not understand this, and some, knowing about the idol [sacrifice], eat things as a sacrifice to an idol [a] and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. [b] 8 Now, food does not bring us closer to God, for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse, [c] 9 but look, this arrogance [d] of yours becomes a stumbling-block for the weak. (BPT)

1 Corinthians 8:10 For if any one should see you, the possessor of “knowledge,” reclining at table in an idol’s temple, would not his conscience, if he were weak, [b] be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 So he is lost, this weak man, lost by your “knowledge,” this brother for whom Christ died. 12 In so sinning against your brothers, and in ever and again wounding their weak consciences, [b] you are sinning against Christ. (CT, highlighting added) 

a Verse 7: Some people ate things even though they knew that they had been sacrificed (dedicated) to idols.

b Verses 7, 10 and 12,“conscience”: If a person’s conscience is weak, wounded or defiled, then it is not able to keep that person away from doing things that are wrong.

c Verse 8: Please note that Paul did not say, “we are not the worse if we eat”. He said, “neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse”.

d Verse 9: Regarding the translation “arrogance” – the Greek text has exousia which was used in numerous different ways, not only in such meanings as “permission”, “liberty”, “power”, but also in such meanings as “licence”, “abuse of authority” and “arrogance”. It is always the context that shows how that word was used. Here the context includes verse 1 regarding erroneous “knowledge” which puffs up (makes proud and arrogant), and verses 11–13 regarding possessors of “knowledge” who recline at a table in an idol’s temple, sinning against Jesus.

Many bible-translators have put into verse 9 such words as “freedom”, “liberty”, “authority” or “power”, or even “privilege”. It is obviously not a “privilege” to eat or drink things dedicated to demons. And, several related passages in Paul’s letters make it clear that he did not mean that the saints would have had “liberty”, “authority” or “power” to eat or drink things that were sacrificed (dedicated) to demons.

The saints had to choose sides.

As the earlier quoted and discussed 1 Corinthians 10:19–23 shows, the saints could not serve God and his son Jesus, and at the same time idols. They had to choose. In the same way, the ancient Israelites had to choose:

1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah drew near to all the people, and said, How long do ye halt between two opinions? If Jehovah be God, follow him; and if Baal, follow him. […] (DBY)

1 Corinthians 10:25–28.

Here is verse 25:

1 Corinthians 10:25 Eat everything that is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake (HCSB)

Verses 26 contains a quote of Psalms 24:1. Verses 27 and 28:

1 Corinthians 10:27 If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat everything that is set before you, without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This is food offered to an idol,” do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake. (HCSB, highlighting added)

So, Paul’s instruction was that if and when one comes to know that the food has been dedicated to idols, then one must not eat it. One could perhaps say that Paul in this way explained the practical application of the instruction which the saints in Jerusalem had given (Acts 15).

Then there are the following verses, 29–32. Even there, many bible-versions have wordings which can cause a casual reader to think that Paul meant that it would be “OK” to eat and drink things that are dedicated to idols. it would be “OK” to eat and drink things that are dedicated to idols. Right here, it is not necessary to go into the linguistic technicalities in the Greek text of those verses; it is enough to keep in mind all the clear passages, such as these ones:

1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (HCSB)

1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (HCSB)

Summary.

Paul did not “overrule” the instruction which the saints in Jerusalem had sent to those in Antioch (and elsewhere). It is only that many bible-translations have in certain passages confusing wordings which can mislead a casual reader.

The article rea052.htm contains a study on Titus 1:15 and the translation “to the pure all things are pure”, and shows that in that case, the apostle Paul was not talking about foods but about something totally different.

The article roa113.htm, which is about the apostle Paul’s teachings, sorts out 1 Corinthians 6:12, the translation “all things are lawful”.

The article roa072.htm has some notes on the phrase “let no man therefore judge you” in Colossians 2:16–17.

A note: Some writers have caused people to misunderstand Acts 15, in regard to the matter of the two covenants, old and new. The article roa042.htm has more on that passage and matter.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. Please also link to this site. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm

On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga021.htm

On Titus 1:15 and the translation “unto the pure all things are pure”, and what that passage really means and refers to. → rea052.htm

Acts 15 and the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → roa042.htm

Colossians 2:16–17, “let no man therefore judge you”. What was the apostle Paul really talking about? → roa072.htm

The apostle Paul and his teachings. → roa113.htm

Does the New Covenant have “food rules” of the kind the Old Covenant had? → rha012.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → rga083.htm


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