Weak Brethren IV
It has been shown that "the weak" denoted the class of non-Christians, particularly pagans or polytheists, and that "the strong" denoted the class of Christians, those who "believe in one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom are all things," as Paul affirms in the preface of this section of his epistle. It was shown how the terms wise, strong, noble, rich, are terms applied to people by both God and the heathen world, and God and the world each having a different standard, and each identifying opposing classes of people. That is, the ones that God designates as wise, strong, noble, and rich, are the ones that the world designates as foolish, weak, ignoble, and poor. It is the very thing described in the prophecy of Isaiah, where it is said:
"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5: 20 KJV)
It was also shown, in the previous chapters, how the very term "weak," in the original Greek, was more appropriate an adjective for the non-Christian than for the Christian, and in scripture was a term coupled with adjectives describing lost people. It would seem that the burden of proof is on the majority side of commentators to show how "weak" is not the common term, in scripture, for the one who is not a Christian. Further, if applying the term "weak" to immature Christians, in I Corinthians chapter eight, is the exception, then the burden of proof is on the advocates of the majority view to give contextual reasons for its being an exception to the rule. If the context is examined, however, it will become obvious that it cannot be shown that the "weak" brothers are viewed by Paul as being Christian.
In this epistle, Paul at times speaks strictly to the members of the church at Corinth, but, at other times, speaks generally to the entire community in Corinth, which was composed mainly by religious peoples, nearly all pagan or polytheists, or to the whole of mankind. This is true with all epistles addressed to churches. It is important therefore, in a verse by verse analysis of those sections of scripture, which deal with the "weak" and "strong" brothers (I Corinthians chapters 8-11 and Romans 14), that a person be careful to note the direct addresses given to particular audiences. It is also important to discover who Paul had in mind when he referred to that class of people called "weak," and who he had in mind when he referred to that class which he called "strong." What other descriptions does he give of each class? In this chapter a verse by verse analysis of I Corinthians chapter eight will commence.
"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “we all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God." (I Cor. 8: 1-3)
It is important to identify who is designated by the various highlighted pronouns used by Paul in these initial words and in the whole of the chapter. What class of people is designated by these pronouns? Do all the pronouns designate only Christian members of the church at Corinth, or do they designate others? Do the pronouns ever refer to the world at large, or to all men?
The topic addressed by Paul concerned aspects of idolatry which the church had inquired about in its letter to Paul. It concerned the interaction of Greek Christians in Corinth with their pagan neighbors, or brothers. These first adult Greek converts to the gospel in Corinth were once pagans themselves. They had once embraced the pantheon of gods then worshipped by their Greek and Roman neighbors but had now become monotheists and believers in the lordship of Jesus Christ. They had come to believe that all the idols and gods of their pagan religion were not real beings, but only false imaginary gods. They had "turned" from polytheism to Christian monotheism like those in Thessalonica. They all had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." (II Thess. 1: 9)
It is important to understand the former way of life for most of these pagan converts in Corinth to fully understand and appreciate the way Paul phrases many of his questions and statements in this chapter, how he addresses various audiences. This Corinthian pagan culture will be more fully examined as particular verses of this chapter are examined and when the question is addressed as to how Paul could call the non-Christian pagans in Corinth "brother." Those commentators who affirm that the "weak brother" is a Christian do so on the basis that the word "brother" is used in reference to them, and this is really their only argument of any weight. It will be shown, however, that this is insufficient evidence for affirming that "the weak brother" is in fact a saved man, or a Christian, especially in light of other things said about this person in the contexts, either of I Corinthians 8-11 or Romans 14.
It is important for us to determine who is meant by "we" and "all" in the opening verses of this chapter. Doubtless it includes Paul the writer. Who else is included? Only the members of the church in Corinth? When he says "we know that all possess knowledge," does he mean only Christians know this fact, or that only Christians possess knowledge? Is it "we Christians" or "we humans"? Is it "all Christians" or "all men"? Surely he means to say, as in common vernacular, "everybody knows that."
Paul thus begins his discussion of the Christian in his relationship to a pagan environment. He begins with discussion of "knowledge," a subject, like "wisdom," of great importance to Greek philosophy and religion. Greek and pagan philosophy and religion involved all the basic elements of gnosticism, ideas about the nature and fruits of knowledge (or epistemology) and enlightenment. Paul begins this chapter by a reference to general human knowledge, that knowledge which all humans possess. He then makes a judgment about this common knowledge. By itself, it "puffs up," inflates the ego, produces pride and arrogance. This was stated in order to combat the idea that knowledge alone was sufficient to successful life, both here and hereafter, and the idea that it was the chief virtue, and the only way to salvation and elect status. This is true of knowledge in general, among all men, and not what is only true among Christians. Paul is thus affirming these basic premises of his epistemology: 1) There is general human knowledge in the world, and 2) knowledge by itself produces pride (and by implication, a downfall and destruction). Knowledge alone will not save any man. The idea that man's salvation from his state of suffering and death is to be found in human "science" or "knowledge" is still prevalent today.
Paul, in his writings to the Corinthian church, as in his letter to Timothy, warned about a "science falsely so called" (I Tim. 6: 20). Just as there is a false wisdom, the wisdom of the evil world, there is a false knowledge or science. It is false in substance, in theory, in design, and in practice.
Paul says "charity builds up," an obvious play on words against the words "knowledge puffs up." Charity, or divine love in action, builds, but knowledge by itself destroys. Knowledge must be joined with charity for knowledge to be of any benefit to a man. Knowledge without love is ruinous.
"Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know."
Who is meant by the pronouns "those who" and "they"? Christians at Corinth only? Or, only Christians in general? Or, "those people in general"? Clearly the latter. What Paul says is true of every man. Paul does not here speak in the plural first person, as before in verse one, but in the plural third person. This is further evidence that he is speaking of the general thinking of men, of common human knowledge.
"Think" is from the Greek word "dokeō" and may be translated as "are of the opinion," or "supposes," or "assumes," or "judges." "Know" is from the Greek word "eidō" and means to "perceive," "discern," "discover," and includes the idea of having "special insight" into some aspect of knowledge. We may thus translate Paul's words as follows:
"Those people in the world, Christian or non-Christian, who are of the opinion that they have special insight into particular, special, higher knowledge, or science..."
The pronoun "something" is singular, or particular.
Of these claimers to special knowledge, a knowledge lacking love, Paul says that "they do not yet know as they ought to know." "Know" here, in both instances, is from "ginosko," and not from "eido." The use of these two different words, instead of the same word, is significant.
The Greek word "ginosko" (gnosis) respects general knowledge. To "know" something in the sense of "ginosko" was to "realize," or "recognize," a fact, or truth, with the added idea of spontaneously accepting or approving it. On the other hand,"eido," describes superior knowledge and insight.
Thus, Paul is saying "those who think they have superior insight into a particular area of knowledge do not recognize that they do not recognize," or "are ignorant of the fact that they are ignorant." Paul is affirming that the principal part of knowledge is to know that one is ignorant, that he does not have the explanation of all things. Paul, in these words, implies an irony. The "know-it-alls" do not know the basic truth underlying all real knowledge. This fundamental truth about human ignorance is what really enlightened people "ought to know," first of all, if they were really illuminated souls.
"But if any man love God, the same is known of him.” (Verses 3)
Is “any man” (any one) equivalent to “anyone in the world,” or “anyone in the church”? Surely the former is meant.
“As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many), BUT to US there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (Verses 4-6)
Who is meant by the “we” in the verse? What is it that those designated by the “we” know? Would any member of the Corinthian church not know that the “idol is nothing”? Who believes that there are “lords many,” and “gods many,” saints or pagans? Who is being contrasted when Paul says “but unto us”? Is it not a contrast between Pagans and Christians? Is it not also a contrast between “weak” and “strong”? Are the “weak” not identified with those who believe in paganism? Are the “strong” not those who believe in “one God, the Father”? Are not the “strong” those who believe in “one Lord Jesus Christ”? Who is the “we” in “we by him”? Paul is not contrasting two groups of Christians in the Corinthian assembly, as if one part believed the Christian creed and one part did not. Had this been the meaning of the apostle, he would have said "but to some of us Christians" rather than "but to us Christians," referring to what is universal among Christians.
Clearly Paul is contrasting Christians with non-Christians. He defines Christians by what they believe, by their creed, by their Theology and Christology. A convert to the Christian religion embraces monotheism and rejects polytheism. He believes that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords, and King of kings, the only begotten Son of God, that he was God in the flesh by a miraculous incarnation, Emmanuel, and that "all things were created by him and for him." (Col. 1: 16) Those who do not accept this creed, do not believe in God the Father and Christ the Lord, are not Christians.
The church at Corinth no doubt had some Jewish and Roman members, and some of various ethnic sects and tribes, but were nevertheless mostly made up of Greeks. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city due to its sea trade. It is safe to say that nearly all the members of the church at Corinth had formerly been religious people before their conversions to Christ, most likely the polytheism of the Greeks. Many of the errors that Paul confronts in his epistles to Corinth were Greek in origin and nature. Paul fought the mixture of Greek philosophy and religion with the religion of Christians.
In the next chapter there will be a continuation of a verse by verse analysis of I Corinthians chapter eight.