This Week’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Highlights: In answering a question about eating meat offered to idols, Paul gave the church a method for resolving theological conundrums: Does it merely puff up those who know what is right, or does it build up the whole church?
I. Establish the text
C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday January 29thin Ordinary Time
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1-3 The opening phrase alludes that Paul is about to answer a question from the Corinthians. The preamble about knowledge puffing up hints that Paul is about to give a nuanced answer to the presenting problem by declaring that love trumps knowledge of right from wrong.
4-6 This follows the rhetoric style of the previous sentences, yet agrees with the presenting premise.
7-9 Could a modern theological conundrum be inserted for “food offered to idols;” e.g. abortion or homosexuality? I perceived both sides could use this pericope to support their position. Would the Corinthians have found Paul’s answer equally vexing?
10-13 Paul opts to err towards abstaining from eating, as doing so might be perceived by new believers as worshiping pagan idols. Yet, does not eating meat validate the pagan ritual, as atheists would also eat meat, even in the temple? And if the pagan ritual is validated, does not eating meat deny the supremacy of Christ?
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- This is the entire chapter. Adjacent chapters address unrelated topics.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- Some translations add quotation marks to delineate possible phrases from the Corinthians’ letter. There is little agreement among the translators as to how much Paul has used keywords or loaded phrases from the Corinthians’ letter. Some credit all or none of verse 8 to the Corinthians with some affect on the intended meaning.
II. Literary Study.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- Meat offered to idols was readily available and cheap following pagan rituals. Although left-overs from the ritual were sold in the market place, consuming meat could connote participation in or at least approval of the ritual.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- Paul uses buzz words and phrases from the Corinthians in his reply to highlight weaknesses in their theology.
III. Question the text.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: Believers must look beyond theological right/wrong and consider how new believers and unbelievers would perceive a behavior.
- Emotional Center: Our love for a new believers should trump our concern for theological purity.
- Music: “Help Us Accept Each Other”
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- A cursory reading of the passage obscures the complexities potential of Eating/Not eating.
- Would the faction supporting eating note that the lower cost of this meat was a loving support of believers?
E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?
- A broader discussion of the complexities would help readers unfamiliar with the Corinthian community apply this to other theological conundrums.
- An authoritative solution allowed the Corinthians to set aside this issue aside so they might focus on making disciples.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Paul demonstrates a method for dispensing theological conundrums: Look for what encourages those with weak faith/conscience in right behavior, rather than merely balancing theological points. A moral decision must be weighed out with the ramifications on all of life including the lives of the affected community.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Roy A Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary: I Corinthians, 1987) adds a complexity to the decision of eating or not eating by noting that only the viscera were preserved for the Greek gods, while the muscles were sent to the market for human consumption. He clarifies the conflict as not between knowing and love but between types of knowing: Human knowing that requires and object to be loved, and Divine knowing that creates the object of its love. He places the conflict between the libertarian party, who knew that idols are meaningless and what was sold was only meat thus each could do as they saw fit, and the the fellowship party, who were concerned that new believers might be mislead into idolatry. He looks to Romans 14:3-4 & 17 for the conclusion of this conflict where Paul admonished those who eat not to despise those who abstain, and those who abstain were not to despise those who eat, for the kingdom of God is more than food and drink.
J. Paul Sampley (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “First Letter to the Corinthians”. Abingdon, 2002) notes that Paul uses the larger section (chapters 8 – 11) to address how a believer should conduct oneself among a community of non-believers while honoring having been set apart as a Christian. He notes that Paul confronts the maxim proposed by the Corinthians with three of his own maxims. By this point in the letter, Paul has already pointed eight times to their puff boastfulness. He reflects that “Love builds up” is Paul’s most important concept in describing how believers relate to one another. Sampley assigns all of verse 8 to Paul’s expanding of the question from meat offered to idols to all food. When love is properly applied, it encourages appropriate behavior.
William Baird (Knox Preaching Guides: 1 Corinthians | 2 Corinthians. John Knox Press, 1980) hints that the issue of eating meat may have affected Corinthian worship as their celebration of the Lord’s Supper included a meal (see 11:21). He concludes: “In Christian ethics, persons are more important than precepts. … Why is the brother or sister important? – because he or she is the person “for whom Christ died” (v. 11).”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
Paul proposed a method for resolving theological conundrums: Does it merely puff up the one who knows what is right, or does it build up the church?
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
Those who love God, build up their neighbors.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Moral decisions must be consider implications for all of life, including the lives of the community.