Jan 31, 2011

Weak Brethren XV

"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." (Romans 14: 5, 6)

The observing of "holy days" by Christians is contrary to the new covenant. This is clearly taught in new testament scripture, and cannot therefore be regarded as a thing "indifferent" or in the category of "things not discussed in scripture." Those commentators of the "consensus view" who teach that Romans 14 deals with such things are in error. The observing of "days," in Romans 14, is clearly in the context of religion, just as religious diet (vs. 2-4). Just as was seen in the preceding chapter, regarding religious diet, so in these verses, regarding observing religious days, the bible is not silent, but speaks loudly.

In the above passage, Paul clearly connects the observance of a religious calendar with the "impotent ones" set of beliefs. These lost religious people had religious diets and a religious calendar. These, however, Paul taught, were not binding on Christians. The new covenant dictates no such things.

Dr. Mark Nanos, referred to in previous chapters, was correct in identifying "the impaired ones" of I Corinthians as lost polytheistic Gentiles. In his analysis of Romans 14 he identifies "impaired ones" with lost Jews, those who had not believed in Jesus as Messiah. He is one of the few commentators to identify "the impotent ones" as non-Christian. However, it does not seem that he is correct in making "the impaired ones" of Romans 14 as strictly Jewish. It seems clear that, in both cases, the "impaired ones" are unconverted pagans, although the things said by the apostle have application to unconverted Jews. As has been said, religious vegetarianism was a part of polytheistic faith and practice but not of Jewish (Torah) faith and practice. To the Galatian Christians, who were mostly converted Pagans, Paul wrote:

"But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." (Gal. 4: 9-11)

Are these words chiefly addressed to converted Jews or converted Gentile pagans? This is an important question in understanding what class of religious practice the apostle alludes to when he refers to "observing days, months, times, and years." The Jews, by the direction of God, had a religious calendar. But, polytheistic Gentiles also had such. Is one or the other, or both, condemned by the apostle? The same question may be asked about the "impotent ones" of Romans 14. As was shown in the previous chapter, it is unlikely that the apostle had Jewish (Torah) observances in mind, in Romans 14, seeing he mentions religious vegetarianism, which the Torah did not promote. He seems rather to be alluding to Gentile (pagan) rituals and observances.

It is not of greatest importance, in this study, to ascertain which religious calendar Paul had in mind in the Galatians passage, because it is clear that Christians were taught to observe no religious calendar of holy days. Paul was informing the Galatians that they, as Christians, had no religious "days, months, years, and times." Every day was holy to the Lord. Paul speaks of this as part of his initial teaching "labors," to teach that every day was now holy to the Lord. For the Galatian Christians, Jew or Gentile, to begin anew to observe a religious calendar, represented a failure, on their part, to heed his prior teaching on the subject. Where Paul's teachings have not been "in vain," Christians observe no religious diet or calendar. However, where his teachings have not been heeded, his efforts were "in vain."

Interestingly, Paul connects a return to religious observance of "days, months, times, and years," as a return "to the weak (impotent) and beggarly elements" that put one into "bondage." What does he mean by "the weak and beggarly elements"? Forerunner commentary says that the expression is "referring to the demonism they had been involved in prior to their conversion." It also says: "The Gentile Galatians were observing certain days, months, seasons, and years that had nothing to do with God's holy days..." Commentator David B. Grabbe says - "The "days and months and seasons and years" of verse 10 do not refer to God's holy days, but rather to pagan, Gentile holidays that the Galatians observed before conversion in service to "those which by nature are not gods," as verse 8 says." Further, he says - "Thus, the "days and months and seasons and years" is not something Paul wrote in reference to the law of God or even to Judaism. Instead, they are something apart from both of them." See here

In those places, in the Pauline epistles, where Paul speaks of observing religious dietary laws and religious days, it is in the context of pagan observances, not in the context of Torah observances. This was the case in I Corinthians chapter eight, the case in Galatians chapter four, and in this passage, again addressed chiefly to converted pagans.

"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." (Col. 2: 16, 17)

It is interesting that the word "judge" is used here as in Romans 14: 3, where "the impotent" are told not to "judge" those who are "strong" in their refusal to observe religious dietary laws. Who was doing this "judging" (condemning) of the Christians for their non-participation in observing dietary laws and religious days, months, and years? It was not Jews, either unconverted or converted, but the pagan brethren of converted pagans. These condemned the converted pagans for their non-participation in such relgious activities. Paul's command "not to judge" the Christian in Colossians 2: 16, 17 is the same as Romans 14: 3. It is not a case of one Christian judging another Christian, but of pagans judging Christians.

Some commentators feel compelled to make "the impotent" to be Christians because Paul seems to them to be affirming that they serve the same "lord." He that observes religious diet and calendars does it "to the lord," and he that does not observe it also "to the lord" refrains. The commentators think the same "lord" is under consideration and conclude that both must be Christians because they practice such, or refrain from practicing such, to the same "lord." But, this is not the case. The "lord" and "god" is not the same and the context shows this to be so.

First, as was seen in the previous chapter, Paul asked - "who are you (impotent ones) to judge (condemn) another man's (another lord's) servant?" This language is unmistakeable in showing that the "lord" of the "impotent" was not the same "lord" as the "potent." So, in the verse now under consideration, the same distinction is made. Second, the definite article "the," before the word "lord," is missing in the text, a fact that most translations fail to appreciate. In fact, most translations put the definite article into the text. Thus, they translate - "He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks." Also of interest is the fact that most translators not only put the definite article before "lord," which is however absent in the Greek text, but omit the definite article before the word "god," which is however present in the Greek.

The Greek language had no "a" or "an," no indefinite article. The absence of the definite article, however, signifies the indefinite. Also, the word for "lord" and "god" do not come with a capital letter beginning the word, but again, most translations capitalize the first letter, giving the reader the impression that the reference is not to a pagan "lord" or "god," but to the Lord and God of Christians. We can thus read the passage thusly:

"He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto a lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to a lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to a lord, for he giveth the god thanks; and he that eateth not, to a lord he eateth not, and giveth the god thanks."

One must keep in mind that these words, like the words of the preceding verse, are addressed to the "impotent," and not to the "potent." The prior question - "who are you to judge another man's (lord's) servant?" - is addressed not to Christians, or to the "strong," but to the "impotent," to unconverted pagans. Their judging amounted to their judging "another lord's servants." In the words cited above, Paul is still addressing the unconverted pagans. Paul is seeking to quell their condemnation. After asking them why they are judging the servants of another lord and god, he continues his same argument by stating that "you pagans observe your religious diets and calendars to your lords and gods, and the Christian does not observe the requirements of your lords and gods, but of his own particular lord and god, and affirms that the lord and god of the Christian makes no such requirements of his servants."

The translation or interpretation should go like this:

"The pagan that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto a heathen 'lord'; and the Christian that regardeth not the day, to a Christian 'lord' he doth not regard it. The pagan that eateth, eateth to a heathen 'lord', for the pagan giveth the heathen 'god' thanks; and the Christian that eateth not, to a Christian 'lord' he eateth not, and giveth the Christian 'God' thanks."

When Paul says - "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," he does not mean "let every Christian be fully persuaded in his own mind," but "every man," converted or unconverted, pagan or Christian. The Christian is persuaded that his Lord and God does not require him to observe religious diet and holy days. Paul wants the pagan to see that "food commends us not to God, for neither if we eat, are we the better, and neither, if we don't eat, are we the worse." He wants the pagan and the Christian to discuss this and come to agreement. He does not want any to think that observance of holy days and religious diet is a "matter of indifference" or "something the bible says nothing about." The Christian should seek to convert the pagans from his thinking regarding religious diet and calendars, to see that such things affect not a man's standing with God. The Christian is not to "despise" the pagan for his beliefs, but this does not mean that he does not seek to convert him from his false religion. On the other hand, Christians should use the argumentation of the apostle in confronting those pagans who "judge" or condemn the Christian for having no laws regarding diet and holy days.

Jan 27, 2011

Weak Brethren XIV

"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs." (Rom. 14: 1, 2)

Paul identifies something of the "faith" of the two parties denominated by "the impotent" and "the strong." He gives an example of the beliefs of the "potent" when he says "one believes that he may eat all things" and an example of the beliefs of the "impotent" when he says "another (believes) he may eat only herbs." Paul had addressed the subject of "religious diet" in I Corinthians chapter eight when discussing "the weak" (ignorant ones) and "the strong" (knowledgeable ones). He wrote:

"But meat (food) commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." (I Cor. 8: 8)

In these words Paul states what is a fundamental belief of Christians as it concerns their understanding of how one enters into God's favor or is saved, under the new covenant begun with the death of Christ. Though God gave laws regulating diet under the old covenant, he has not done so under the new. The teaching of the apostles on this matter was clear. Wrote Paul:

"Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (I Tim. 4: 3-5)

Paul condemns the teaching and practice of those who promote "abstinence" from eating certain foods for religious reasons. He associates such teaching with false religion. He counters such teaching of the heretics and apostates with the new covenant teaching that affirms that all food is "good," and that "no food is to be refused."

Paul is not discussing simple preferences regarding food selection outside the context of religion and faith. It is hard to believe that the Christians in Rome and Corinth would be feuding over such "indifferent" things. Paul clearly connects the dispute over diet with religion in his words in I Corinthians 8: 8 and I Timothy 4: 3-5. Such dispute over religious diet is not a "matter of indifference." When Paul says "we are no better if we eat," or "no worse if we do not eat," he means "better" or "worse" in a religious sense. He speaks of "beliefs" about diet in the context of "commending" a person to God. The context of Romans 14 likewise cannot be divorced from a religious context and thus something that is far from being a thing "indifferent" or of no importance. When Paul says "one man believes," he is clearly dealing with religious belief.

Commentators who disassociate the "weak" brother's advocacy of vegetarianism from any religious connection are seriously missing the context. To think that Paul is dealing with "things the bible says nothing about," or with "indifferent things," that are neither right nor wrong in themselves, is an error. The "impotent" ones are abstaining from eating meat because they "believe" such abstinence is a religious duty and a means of finding favor with God. Those commentators who insist that Paul is advocating "liberty" in such "indiffent things," and instructing each party to "not pass judgment" upon each other in regard to such things, are seriously wrong and probably don't practice what they preach.

Paul clearly does not consider religious diet as a "matter of indifference" and does not omit attempting to correct, or pass judgment, upon those who promote religious diets. Some believe that Romans 14 "applies only to matters of opinion" and "not to doctrinal concepts." How they can advocate such a view is incredible.

Many commentators think that Paul is instructing the "strong ones," who believe that it is permissible to eat all foods, without limitation, not to attempt to convert the religious vegetarian from his belief. This too is an error, as the scriptures cited show. Clearly religious diet is not one of those things "the bible says nothing about." The attempt by commentators, therefore, to put Romans 14 into the context of "things the bible says nothing about" is false.

Later in this chapter Paul wrote:

"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (vs. 17)

This clearly shows that the "belief" of the "impotent" was in a religious context and was therefore not a matter of indifference or of what was not discussed in scripture. Apparently, the "impotent" thought that restricting diet had something to do with "commending" one to God, with God's kingdom, with religious betterment. Paul declares that diet has nothing to do with salvation, or with the kingdom of God. His declaration shows him "passing judgment" upon this "scruple" of the "impotent."

Further, some commentators think that Paul has Jewish Christians in mind when referring to "the weak" and that they are still practicing Old Testament (Torah) dietary laws. This too is wrong. First, Paul refers to religious vegetarians. But, abstinence from eating meat was never part of the old covenant law. Some meat eating was allowed by God in the old testament, although with restrictions against certain meats, such as pork. Thus, Paul is not alluding to Jewish Christians who retain "scruples" about keeping old covenant dietary laws. It is true that some Jewish groups did entertain the idea of vegetarianism, but this was not based upon Torah teachings, but upon the idea that vegetarianism was what was original in the garden of Eden. Second, it is not even clear that there were Jewish Christians among the church at Rome that Paul is addressing. As was observed in previous chapters, concerning the church at Corinth, Paul spoke of them all as having been previously "Gentiles." (I Cor. 12: 2) So also does Paul address the church at Rome as being overwhelmingly converts from among the Gentiles.

It is likely that the class of persons that Paul has in mind in Romans 14 is the same as in I Corinthians 8, or Gentile (pagan, polytheistic) converts. Therefore, religious vegetarianism, views on wine drinking, and on keeping holy days, are to be viewed in a pagan context, not in a Jewish or Torah context.

"Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him." (14: 3)

"He that eats" designates those who "eat all things," who do not practice religious dietary abstinence, and was the case with Paul, with the church at Rome, with all Christians who are under the new covenant. These are "the strong ones," the saved, Christians. Paul instructs Christians not to "despise" those pagan Gentiles who practiced religious abstinence from certain food and drink. The Greek word for "despise" is "exoutheneō" and means "to make of no account, despise utterly." In the KJV it is translated as follows: despise (6 times), set at nought (3), esteem least (1), contemptible 1. To "despise" means to loathe, to regard with contempt or scorn, to dislike intensely, to regard as unworthy of one's interest or concern.

Paul is warning the Christians about how they should regard their lost pagan neighbors and brothers, not how they should regard fellow Christians. As has been observed in previous chapters, regarding this same issue in the Corinthian epistles, Paul is countering the attitude of Christians towards pagans, which attitude was one of superiority, of standoffishness, of unconcern for their salvation. Some of the early Christians seemed to have become what is called Hyper Calvinists, possessing a belief that only God needed to be concerned with saving people, and that they, therefore, needed not be concerned in saving the lost pagans.

Next Paul gives a word to the pagan world, to the "impotent regarding the Christian faith," the ones who thought religious diet was a necessary requirement in finding favor and forgiveness with a particular god or lord. He tells the pagans not to "judge" the Christian in his practice of eating all foods and for not believing that diet affects relationship with God. The Greek word for "judge" is "krinō" and means "to pass judgment upon," with the idea of "condemning." This is, of course, in context, a religious judgment dealing with a man's standing with God. The "impotent" pagans were apparently in the habit of condemning Christians for their views respecting religious diet and the pagan holy days. They viewed the Christian's non-participation in such heathen practices as evidence of disrespect for the gods and for the religious views of their neighbors.

Paul deals with these pagan judgments concerning Christians in a most potent way. He first says to the pagans - "God has received him." The "him" is the Christian, the "strong" ones, the ones who do not believe what a man eats has anything to do with recommending him to God or for obtaining his favor.

This verse is a troublesome one for the "consensus view" that regards the "impotent" as denoting doubtful and ignorant Christians. Why does Paul not say, in regard to both "impotent" and "potent," that God had "received" them both? If both are Christians, then Paul would not single out only the "strong" as being "received" by God. Of course, Paul knew that this truth would not be accepted by the pagans who practiced ritualistic dieting and abstinence. He knew that they would not accept the idea that the Christian had been "received" by God, for to him a man would not be "welcomed" by the deity without winning his favor by such practices. But, he asserts the fact nonetheless. This was part of the "judgment" of the impotent pagan religious man. He did not believe that such Christians could be "received" by the deity. In the next verse, Paul eloquently continues his argumentation against the pagans who "judged" and "condemned" the Christian. He wrote:

"Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand." (vs. 4)

Paul's defense of Christians against the condemnation of the pagans was to ask them pointed rhetoricals. He asks - "who are you to judge another man's servant?" This statement helps in interpreting the classes of people Paul has in mind by the "weak" and the "strong." The question concerns the "servants" of one "lord" or "master" in their relationship and attitude towards the "servants" of another "lord" or "master." The "weak" are viewed as servants of a different "lord" than the "lord" of Christians. However, if two classes of Christians were under consideration, then the analogy of the apostle would not be appropriate, for they both would be serving the same "lord." But, Paul, in addressing the "impotent," says that they are guilty of "judging," not fellowservants of the same lord or god, but servants of "another" lord. Paul is clearly charging the pagans with judging the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, a "lord" that they do not themselves serve, and so they are guilty of "judging another man's (another lord's) servants."

In previous chapters, in looking at Paul's letters to the Corinthians, he speaks of "lords many" and "gods many," the ones served by the pagans of Greece and Rome. In fact, each pagan called himself a servant of particular lords and gods. Thus, for him to condemn the Christian for practicing the religious requirements of their Lord and God, Jesus Christ, they were in fact "condemning the servants of another lord."

When Paul says - "to his own (particular) master (lord) he stands for falls," he wants the pagan to consider the fact that his own polytheistic beliefs allow that each servant is subject to the particular requirements of his acknowledged "lord" and "god." This is a very wise evangelistic and apologetic method of the apostle in dealing with the condemnations of the heathen against the Christians. Again, this language demonstrates that the master and lord of Christians, of the "strong," is not the same master and lord of the "impotent." Paul would say to the pagans - "you don't want Christians to condemn you for your living up to the requirements of your particular lord or god, so can't you do the same?"

Jan 25, 2011

Weak Brethren XIII

In this chapter an analysis of Romans 14: 1 - 15:1 will be presented. It will be shown that "the weak," in this section, is a reference to the class of the unsaved, to unbelievers, or to non-Christians, as in I Corinthians, and that "the strong" is a reference to the class of the saved, to believers, or to Christians.

"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." (Rom. 14: 1)

"We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." (15: 1)

The Greek word for "weak" in 14: 1 is "astheneō," the same word as Paul used in I Corinthians, but the word for "weak" in 15: 1 is "adynatos." Both words denote the impotent or powerless, the sick, impaired, or infirmed. As has been shown in previous chapters, such words are uniformly used to describe the unsaved man, not the saved man. This is clear in verses such as Romans 5: 6 where Paul says "when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly." "Without strength" (asthenes) is clearly a term for the ungodly, for those lost souls for whom Christ died. The word "infirmities" is from "asthenēma," the plural form for "asthenes." It should be translated as "impotencies."

The question is - "what is meant by the impotencies of the impotent?" Those who affirm that "the impotent" is a descriptive term for immature Christians, must explain what are the "impotencies" of such Christians. As has already been seen from the Corinthian epistles, the weakness, impotency, or infirmity of this class of people is in several areas, including knowledge, conscience, creed, and nature. In Romans 14: 1 the same are "impotent, or without strength, in the faith." Surely this cannot be a description of a genuine Christian who possesses "that knowledge" that confesses that there is "one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things..." (I Cor. 8: 6, 7) Paul defined a Christian, or believer, as one who is healthy, who does not possess these impotencies. He is not "weak," but "strong," in knowledge, conscience, creed, and faith. A Christian cannot be described as one who is "impotent in faith" or "in the faith." A conscience that possesses "that knowledge" cannot be categorized as "impotent" in knowledge and faith.

It cannot be inferred that "impotent in the faith" affirms that the one who is impotent is "in the faith" of Christians. As many Greek scholars have stated, "in the faith" means "with regard to the faith." It does not imply that those who are impotent are in fact "in the faith." Those commentators who think that "impotent in the faith" implies such are mistaken.

The use of the definite article "the" before "faith" is significant, not only in Romans 14:1 but elsewhere in scripture. Sometimes "faith" is written without the definite article, while sometimes it is written with it. In fact, in the last verse of Romans 14, "faith" is mentioned without the definite article, where Paul says "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." As a general rule, when the definite article is used, the reference is to the object of belief, to God, Christ, or the body of Christian truth. For instance, Jude wrote: "...it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." In this verse "the faith" does not refer to an inward state of mind, to belief or confidence, but to the object of belief. Thus, "the faith" alludes to that body of Christian doctrine or to the gospel. This is also seen in Galatians 1: 23, where Paul wrote: "that he who persecuted us once, now announces the glad tidings--the faith which once he ravaged." (Berry's Interlinear) "The glad tidings" is equated with "the faith."

If commentators came to Romans 14 without a bias, without the spectacles of others of the "consensus view," they would not attempt to make "him that is impotent in the faith" a description of Christians. To make such words descriptive of Christians extremely weakens what it means to be a Christian. By such a definition of things, Muslims could be called Christian, for they certainly are "impotent regarding the Christian faith."

Non-Christian religious people, by scriptural standards, are impotent in both aspects of "faith." They are infirmed as regards confidence and conviction of the truth of scripture and as regards the object of their devotions. Appropriately, therefore, are non-Christians styled "unbelievers" in scripture. In fact, as was shown in previous chapters, "unbeliever" was a term that Paul connected with those he called "weak" or "impotent." (I Cor. 10: 27)

Sometimes the word "faith" simply denotes "religion." Thus, one may speak of the Muslim "faith" as well as the Christian "faith." Those who are therefore "impotent in faith" are those who are believers in and adherents of a false religion. The religion itself is impotent.

It is important also to notice how Paul addresses all the members of the church at Rome as being "strong." But, this he could not do if the church was composed of both "impotent" and "strong" members. The pronoun "you" ("ye") demonstrates this fact as does the pronoun "we" where Paul includes himself in the class of the "strong." These pronouns are in the first and second persons. However, when Paul speaks of "the impotent ones" he speaks in the third person, of a class of people distinct from the members of the church of Rome.

It is also important to notice Paul's instruction for the members of the church, the "strong ones," to "receive" those who are "impotent regarding the faith." If the church at Rome already had members who were "impotent regarding the faith," then his instruction is unnecessary as it was already the practice of the church to "receive" them. The instruction implies that the church had not been previously in the practice of "receiving" them, however. Further, seeing that Paul indicates that "the impotent ones" were not members of the church, he places them in the category of those "without," and not in the category of those "within." (I Cor. 5: 12, 13)

What does Paul have in mind when he instructs the Roman Christians to "receive" those "impotent in the faith"? Some believe that Paul alludes to receiving into church membership such people. But, if this is so, it clearly implies that this was not being done and shows that, at the time he is writing the epistle, there were no members of the church at Rome who were "impotent." This fact would be opposed to the view, however, that the early apostolic churches were composed of both "weak" and "strong."

Further, if Paul is instructing the church of the strong ones to "receive" into church membership those who are "impotent regarding the Christian faith," then he is putting his stamp of approval upon the practice of baptizing those who have not yet fully turned away from polytheism. He would be instructing the church to receive those who are impotent regarding the Christian creed, who do not yet have full conviction "that the idol is nothing," and "that there is none other God but one," etc. He would be countenancing the practice of churches receiving into their membership those who are "impotent" in faith, creed, conscience, and knowledge.

Clearly "receiving" the "impotent ones" does not mean "take into church fellowship," but means simply to "welcome" into their meetings, to show them all fraternity as beloved human neighbors and brothers. This kind of "receiving" is intended to counter the practice of the Roman Christians to "despise" (vs. 3) the "impotent ones." Christians should practice such "receiving" of non-Christians, just as Paul practiced. Near the end of Paul's life, while in Rome, awaiting his trial, Luke says:

"And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him." (Acts 28: 30)

Paul welcomed into his home "all," both weak and strong, and this is the kind of "receiving" that he would want the Christians at Rome to emulate in their associations with unbelievers.

There is, of course, a kind of "receiving" that ought not to be practiced by Christians. John speaks of this in these words.

"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed." (II John 1: 10)

Christians are to practice discrimination in who they "receive." Those who are avowed enemies of the Christian faith, or are heretics and apostates from it, are not to be "received" as others. Such Paul says "don't eat with them." (I Cor. 5: 11)

What is meant when Paul commands the Christians, or "strong ones," to "receive" the unbeliever, or "impotent one," without "doubtful disputations"? Some commentators think that the mental doubts and disputations reside in the mind of the "impotent" and argue that Paul is advising the Christians "not to pass judgment upon the scruples of the impotent ones." But, this is clearly not the case. Paul is rather referring to the mental state of Christians while in the act of "welcoming" unbelievers to their meetings and homes and to their general worldly associations with them. He wants Christians to not act in doubt about the practice of associating with non-Christians. Rather than "despising" their lost heathen neighbors, he would have them to show them all "brotherly kindness."

As has been observed in previous chapters, the first Christians were in doubt about how they should interact with their non-Christian, polytheistic, neighbors and family members. Some thought that there should be absolutely no filial relations at all and Paul countered such thinking in several of his statements in the Corinthian epistles. He argued that there are extremes on both sides of this important question. While Christians are to "come out from among them (unsaved people)" and to be "separate," he nevertheless did not mean that this separation was absolute in every respect, for says he, this would be impossible, "for then must you needs go out of the world." (I Cor. 5: 10) Paul would not have Christians to have inordinate associations with unbelievers but also not to become hermits.

The thing Paul wants to impress upon the Christians is the manner of this "receiving" or "welcoming" of both non-Christians and fellow Christians. "How" should such persons be "received"? Notice these words from the apostle.

"Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God." (Rom. 15: 7)

Here Paul would have Christians to "receive" each other as fellows, or equals, to not discriminate among Christians. They were to "receive" each other as Christians.

"I say again, let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little." (II Cor. 11: 16)

Here Paul speaks of the manner of "receiving" others. Do we "receive" one "as" a fool? "As" one who is "wise"? "As" one who is "weak" or "strong"? "As" one who is a Christian or non-Christian? Though some may have "received" Paul as a "fool," others, he said, "received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." (Gal. 4: 14)

In concluding this look at Romans 14: 1 it is clear that Paul is not instructing one kind of Christian in how to conduct themselves in their associations with other kinds of Christians but in how Christians, the "strong ones," should conduct themselves in their associations with non-Christians. Nearly every congregation of Christians have "visitors," unsaved people who attend their meetings, and these are to be heartedly "welcomed." That is Paul's teaching in this opening verse of this most important chapter.

In the next chapter a continued analysis of this Romans 14 will continue.

Jan 24, 2011

Weak Brethren XII

"Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them..." (I Cor. 10: 7)

"Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." (II Cor. 5: 17)

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen." (I John 5: 21)

These verses indicate that even Christians who have come to know that "the idol is nothing" (I Cor. 8: 4) may nevertheless be guilty of practicing idolatry. There are, however, both overt and covert forms of idolatry. No true Christian practices overt idolatry for he has accepted the creed that avows that "there is no God but one." (I Cor. 8: 6) However, he often can be guilty of covert or subtle idolatry and it is this form of idolatry that is warned against in the above verses. Some sins are blatant or flagrant while other sins are concealed or camouflaged. These verses speak of sins that wear "clokes."

"For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness." (I Thess. 2: 5)

"As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God." (I Peter 2: 16)

Not only are the sins of "covetousness" and "maliciousness" often cloaked or masked, but so is the sin of idolatry. In fact, "covetousness" (greed) is specifically identified as a form of covert idolatry among Christians. (Colossians 3: 5; Eph. 5: 5) Covetousness is a cloaked form of idolatry.

The kind of idolatry that Christians have trouble with is not a belief in "gods many and lords many," the overt kind, but with the covert kind. Christians possess "that knowledge" (I Cor. 8: 7) which knows "that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one" (I Cor. 8: 4), and have therefore "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." (II Thess. 1: 9). But, they sometimes do make gods out of things when they put inordinate emphasis upon them, allowing those things to have precedence over their serving of God. When they, for instance, put too much importance upon making money, and let it keep them from serving God, they have made an idol of it.

In the King James Version of the Bible, there are three different words translated as "idolatry." Each one (teraphiym, kateidolos and eidololatria) has at its core the concept of serving or worshipping something other than the one true God. Base idolatry connects "powers" with "gods." Thus there was a "god" or "goddess" for war, love, earth, sun, moon, oceans, etc. Idolatry among Christians and other monotheists, however, though not connecting a deity with such powers and created things, nevertheless "deify" these powers, making a kind of "god" out of them. Thus, though Christians would never think that there was a god of covetousness, neverthelss can make a kind of god out of it.

So idolatry is not just venerating a statue, icon, carving or painting. Idolatry involves "worshipping the creature more than the Creator." (Rom. 1: 25) Anything that usurps God's place as number one in the heart becomes an idol. Thus Paul speaks of those who make the "belly" into a "god." (Phil. 3: 19) Idols and gods may be "mental images."

The destiny of idolaters is frankly and clearly stated in scripture.

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (I Cor. 6: 9, 10)

"...idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Rev. 21: 8)

Heaven is reserved for those who worship and serve the one God, the Father, and the one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Christian is therefore to always be on guard against all the forms of idolatry. They are not to associate with idolaters in any way that condones idolatry.

"But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." (I Cor. 5: 11)

Christians should separate themselves from idolaters as much as is possible.

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (II Cor. 6: 14-18)

Though Christians should show brotherly love and kindness to idolaters, and to receive them as neighbors and friends, they are nevertheless to keep free of their idolatries. There is "no agreement" between Christians and polytheism.

"I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world." (I Cor. 5: 9, 10)

Paul does not expect Christians to become hermits and attempt to completely divorce themselves from all dealings with idolaters. But, such association with idolaters should be at a minimum and only where necessary, as in secular dealings.

The Jerusalem decrees (Acts 15), addressed to the Gentile Christian congregations, concerned idolatry. Those decrees are given in these passages:

"Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood." (Acts 15: 19, 20)

"For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well." (vs. 28, 29)

"As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication." (Acts 21: 25)

In light of Paul's teachings about Gentile Christians dining in heathen temples, this mandated "abstinence" did not prevent all association with idol worshippers, nor forbid all attendance in heathen temples, nor the eating of food sacrificed to idols. What Paul and the Jerusalem decrees urged was that they make sure that they stay completely separated from paganism, from giving it any credance.

"Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led." (I Cor. 12: 2)

These words help identify the culture of the Corinthian membership. If there were Jewish Christians who were members, Paul does not mention them. He says "you all were Gentiles," pagans who believed in "gods many," and "lords, many." He puts their deliverance from belief in idols in the past, what has already occurred, once for all. It is like the words of Paul to the Thessalonians, where he said - "ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God..." (II Thess. 1: 9) "You turned," a completed action in the past, and not "you are turning from idols." This speaks of the Christian's turning away from the faith of polytheism, the overt kind of idolatry, for the covert kind is continuously being "turned away from."

If the Corinthian church had many members who were "weak," members who had not fully abandoned heathen polytheistic beliefs, then how could he speak of this turning away from idols as a finished experience of the past? Likewise, the apostle Peter, when addressing Christians who had once been pagan Gentiles, said:

"For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries." (I Peter 4: 3)

Peter puts the belief in idols in the past life of every Christian who was once a pagan involved in "abominable idolatries." Again, overt idolatry is forever put away by a person when he becomes a Christian and confesses that there is only one God. But, the putting away of covert idolatry is a lifelong activity.

“Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” (Gal. 4:8-11)

Notice how Paul says that it is people who do not know God who do "service" to those idols "which by nature are no gods." People who know God do not overtly serve idols and heathen gods and goddesses. Paul connects idolatry with what is "weak" and "beggarly," in the above words, and again shows how it is the "weak" or "impotent" unbelievers who overtly profess allegiance to gods and goddesses.

Dr. Nanos, in a sub-heading titled "Paul's Concern About Polytheists in 8:1—11:1, and Throughout the Letter," wrote (emphasis mine):

"That there were divisions among the Christ-believers in Corinth is not to be denied (cf. 1:11-12; 3:3-4; 6:6-8; 11:18-19). Paul is apparently responding to issues reported to him (1:11; 5:1), or more likely, that the recipients raised in correspondence to him (7:1; 8:1), which probably arose in response to his earlier letter, lost to us (cf. 5:9-11). But it is not clear whether Paul was specifically responding to a division between or among the addressees over idol food in 8:1—11:1,52 or instead addressing questions raised, or implications arising from the attitudes they expressed, perhaps in the way certain questions were posed, about how Christ-believers should behave "in the world." A concern with factionalism in this letter does not exclude a concern with how Christbelievers should think and live in view of their role among their polytheist families, friends, neighbors, and larger world. Learning to eliminate factionalism amongst themselves is an important aspect of how they are to stand out from the world, as in, but not of it. They are those who celebrate the dawning of the age to come in the midst of the present age in a spirit of oneness, who must uphold that ethos on behalf of the service of their brother/sister of the world."

In commenting on the words - "however, there is not in everyone this knowledge" (8:7), Dr. Nanos wrote:

"Are not the "we" and "us" Christ-believers, versus the "them" who believe in idols, who do not realize that God is One, or believe in Jesus Christ? It cannot be proven that the impaired "for whom Christ died" in 8:11 is intended to describe polytheist idolaters, or that to sin against polytheists is "to sin against Christ" (v. 12), but how can it be dismissed as if not within the conceptual range of such a statement? Did Christ not die for the unbeliever? Would not living in such a way as to prevent polytheists turning to Christ be considered by Paul to be sinning against Christ? Are not polytheists also "brothers/sisters" of God's creation for whom Paul's addressees should be unselfishly concerned?

It is hard to imagine that the addressees did not perceive that Christ died for those who do not yet believe in him, or that they could read his comments in 15:3 to mean that it was only the sins of Christ-believers for which he died, or upon receipt of the comments later in 2 Cor 5:14-15, that the "all" for whom he died was only all Christbelievers. And although I do not wish to claim that the Corinthians anticipated Romans, Christ-believers should live in the world among idolaters, and bear witness to their faith; cf. Smit, 'About the Idol Offerings,' 29-46."


In concluding this part of this treatise it should be clear that those denominated as "weak brothers" in the Corinthian epistles refers to "unbelievers" (I Cor. 10: 27), to those who do not have "that knowledge" that confesses on God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, and who will ultimately "perish" if they do not repent and "turn to God from idols." In the next several chapters a discussion of the "weak" in Romans chapter fourteen will be investigated.

Jan 22, 2011

Weak Brothers XI

It has been shown in previous chapters that Paul never used the comparative terms "weaker" or "stronger" in I Corinthians when discussing "weak brothers." It is always "the weak." Paul is not comparing similars in alluding to "the weak" and the "the strong," but contrasting them. Likewise, Paul does not compare those who have Christian saving knowledge in lessor or greater degree, but contrasts those who have it with those who do not. Those who support the view that "the weak brothers" are Christians, members of the church at Corinth, invariably use the term "weaker" when referring to "the weak," but Paul never uses this form of the word, but always uses the term "the weak." Likewise, those who advocate the "consensus view" invariably speak as if Paul is comparing those who possess "that knowledge" (I Cor. 8: 4-6) to a full degree with who have it in an inferior degree. It is a "twisting" of the text to use the term "weaker" instead of "weak," and to make the text a comparison between two types of Christians instead of contrasting Christian monotheists with pagans.

When Paul said "there is not in everyone that knowledge," he did not mean, as the majority interpret it, "there is not in every Christian that knowledge." To so change the words of the apostle would have him affirming that "that knowledge" is not essential to being a Christian. Nor did Paul say "there is not in every Christian the same degree of knowledge about monotheism and the lordship of Christ." Paul simply says that "there is not in every man that knowledge," arguing that Christians are the ones who possess "that knowledge," and thus have been "gained" or "saved," and are the "strong" and "knowledgeable" ones, and that pagans, or polytheists, are the ones who "do not possess that knowledge," and have not been "gained" or "saved," being the "weak ones."

All Men Are Brothers

As has been stated in previous chapters, the only real argument the majority view has, in support of its contention that "the weak ones" are Christians, is that Paul refers to them as "brothers" to him and the Corinthian Christians. It has also been shown how this is not proof, because 1) the term "brother" was used by Jesus and the apostles in addressing unbelievers, and 2) the scriptures teach Christians to regard all men as their brothers.

Frequently, in the addresses of the apostles to their audiences, they say "men and brethren" (Acts 1: 16; 2: 29, 37; 7: 2; 13: 26, 38; 15: 7, 13; 22: 1; 23: 1; 28: 17). Obviously the apostles, when addressing unconverted Jews, referred to them as "brothers," yet did not mean to imply that they were Christians possessing "that knowledge."

According to Strong's Concordance, "brother" ('adelphos') has a variety of meanings. They are:

1) a brother, whether born of the same two parents or only of the same father or mother

2) having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same people, or countryman

3) any fellow or man

4) a fellow believer, united to another by the bond of affection

5) an associate in employment or office

6) brethren in Christ

Strong says that "brother" was a term sometimes used by those of the same nationality (or religious fraternity), and also to "any man," because all men are, in scripture, viewed as "brothers." This is what Paul taught in his address to the Greek polytheists of Athens.

"And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth...as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17: 26, 28)

All men are God's children, all brothers, for all have common parents in Adam and Eve, the latter "the mother of all living" (Gen. 3: 20). All are made from "one blood," or one bloodline.

Paul's admonition to the Hebrews to "let brotherly love continue" is applicable to all men in their relations to each other. (Heb. 13: 1) It is part of the commandment of God to "love your neighbor as yourself." Every man is neighbor and brother to every other man. God wills that men love their fellow men as neighbors and as brothers. "Brotherly love" is included in the command to love one's "neighbor." If one examines all the places in the new testament where this command is repeated and explained, the idea of brotherhood is present.

The following passages, in talking about how to treat one's "brother," show that the term "brother" is not to be confined to 1) Members of the same family (those having the same parents) or to 2) Jews (those of the same nationality) or to 3) Christians (those who are related by spiritual birth in Christ). In these passages the term "brother" is the same as "neighbor."

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." (Matt. 5: 23, 24)

Who can limit this counsel of the Lord to Jews and Christians? Are the words of Christ not applicable to any man in his conduct to other men?

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matt. 7: 3-5)

"Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" (Matt. 8: 21)

Surely the term "brother" here cannot be limited to the Christian brotherhood, but is applicable towards all men, for all men are to be viewed as brothers. "Brotherly kindness" (II Peter 1: 7) ought to be shown towards all men, especially to the household of faith.

Dr. Nanos, under the sub-heading "Polytheists as Brothers/Sisters on Behalf of Whom Christ Died," wrote (emphasis mine):

"Standing in the way of my proposed identification of the "impaired," as well as my interpretation of other language in 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1, is the fact that Paul refers to the impaired as adelphoi. The translators of the NRSV are certain enough that Paul means by adelphoi fellow-believers in Christ that the fact that Paul refers to them as adelphoi is masked in the text that English-only readers meet in 8:11: "So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed," although literally Paul writes: "for by what you know you are causing the impaired one to destroy him/herself, the brother/sister (adelphoi) on behalf of whom Christ died."

This is typical of translators with bias for an erroneous interpretation. They translated the Greek word for "brother" by the English word "believer." This is similar to those translators who translate the Greek word for "conscience" in a different way than they normally did in order to prop up their interpretation.

Dr. Nanos wrote further (emphasis mine):

"Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul regularly refers to Christ-believers in the kinship terminology of brotherhood (adelphoi), referring to people who are not related to each other by other familial ties, such as by birth or legal adoption. Before chapter 8 he refers to "our brother" Sosthenes (1:1), addresses and exhorts them as "brothers/sisters" (1:10, 11, 26; 2:1; 3:1; 4:6; 7:24, 29), and uses this language to differentiate between Christ-believers and others (5:11; 6:5-8; 7:12-15). This kinship language continues to be used in similar ways after chapter 8 as well: for specific Christ-believing fellowworkers: 16:11-12; (general: 16:20); in general address to the recipients of the letter: 10:1; 11:33; 12:1; 14:6, 20, 26, 39; 15:1, 31, 50, 58; 16:15; and to differentiate Christ-believers from others: 9:5 (note lit.: "sister-wife)," as well as "brothers of the Lord and Cephas" (15:6).

Such usage of fictive kinship language is common in other Pauline as well as other NT texts, just as it is common in the Tanakh and other Second Temple literature, and Greek and Roman literature too. At the same time, many of these sources use familial language to reach across group boundaries in ways not unlike it is being proposed that Paul should be read in this case.

The concept of a household or family was broader than generally conceptualized today, more extended and fluid. It could include a broad array of family members, slaves, former slaves who are now freepersons as well as their families, and other employees. There were also household-based associations, and one should not discount the dynamics associated with patron-client relationships. The Hippocratic oath bound the medical student not only to his teacher as a son, but to the teacher's sons.

Fictive kinship labels were common not only in synagogue groups, but also among polytheist friends, political allies, fellow soldiers, members of religious groups, trade guilds, and voluntary associations, which are attested in surviving epigraphs and letters. Members of the Great Mother cult regarded themselves to be family, and called each other mother and father as well as sister and brother, as did also participants in the Mithras cult, including reference to "holy brother" and "holy father," and fictive sibling language is attested for other cults."

This use of "brother" and "sister" was common in Greek society. College fraternities, in imitation of this fact, have adopted the same practice. The practice can also be seen in other fraternities, such as in the Freemasons, police organizations, and other similar groups. It can also be seen in certain political organizations and states, such as in Communist nations, where each citizen is a "comrade" or brother.

Paul's use of the term "brother" in reference to polytheists was for the purpose of encouraging the Corinthian Christians to continue to show brotherly love to their former pagan friends and family members. He would have them continue to address their unsaved pagan friends and countrymen as "brother" for the same reason he did so with his unsaved Jewish friends and countrymen.

Dr. Nanos said:

"Fictive kinship is expressed in a more general sense within virtually any group, and in many overlapping, even disparate ways, including across different group boundaries. It is a constructed and thus dynamic concept based on the perception of not only him who is born of the same parents as one’s self, but every one who is a fellow citizen or a fellow countryman.

Late in the first or early in the second century, Ignatius calls upon his addressees to pray for outsiders to the church, and to conduct themselves as "brothers/sisters (adelphoi)" to them, which is expressed not by behaving like them, but by imitating how Christ lived humbly toward his neighbor, including choosing to be wronged rather than to wrong them (Eph. 10). Although Chrysostom understood the impaired in 1 Corinthians 8—10 to be Christbelievers, he made an argument relevant to the point I am trying to make, that on socio-economic grounds the Christian in his own audience ought to regard as brother the fellow-laborer more than the elite or wealthy.

The concept of a brotherhood of humankind is not a Christian innovation, or only attested earlier among Israelites. It was at work in Alexander the Great's concept of uniting the world under his rule, and it was an important concept among philosophical groups, especially articulated by the Stoics and Cynics. Although slightly later than Paul, Epictetus appealed to the brotherhood of humankind through the shared nature of all humans, including slaves, because all were offspring of Zeus, thus citizens of the universe and sons of god (Diatr. 1.9.4-6; 1.13.4). Elsewhere he describes the Cynics to revile all whom they meet because they regard them to be parents, children, brothers, and themselves to be servants of Zeus, father to all humans (Diatr. 3.22.81-82). Marcus Aurelius upheld that all humans were kin, including the sinner, who should cooperate with one another like various parts of one body, since all had within themselves an element of the divine (2.1; 7.22; 9.22-23).

But did Paul herein employ fictive kinship language for polytheist idolaters, or can he even be imagined to conceptualize them in such affectionate terms? Is that not just how he urges his audience to think and behave, and how he lives his whole life, on behalf of "the some" he can "gain" and "save"? Are not the concerns he expresses in 10:24 made in the most general terms: "Let no one seek his own [interest], but that of the other"? Does Paul not wrap up his overall case against eating idol food in just these terms: in 11:1, to imitate his example of imitating Christ, and in 10:32-33, with the call to "become inoffensive to Jews and to Greeks and to the ekklesia of God," just as he does himself, in order to "save" "the many"?

Paul's perspective reveals a sense of fictive kinship with all humankind—"on behalf of whom Christ died." Idolaters who do not yet profess faith in Christ are to be regarded as brothers and sisters too, fellow-members of the family of humans God created and seeks to restore in Christ. That is a dimension of their identity about which the knowledgeable needed to be set straight, in view of their resistance to his earlier instruction proscribing idolatry for all Christ-believers. They have apparently failed to properly calculate the destruction such "know-it-all" behavior will bring both upon themselves, and upon their polytheist neighbors, whom they are instead to learn (to know how) to love as they do themselves.

The impaired are to be treated differently than fellow Christ-believers, those "being named" brother and sister. Rather than being judged, polytheists are to be gained by behavior consistent with the confession of Christ-faith. That involves not eating any food known to be set apart to idols. It involves not insulting the "mistaken" beliefs of the impaired, but learning how to develop speech and behavior calculated to implicitly undermine them. The knowledgeable are to relate to the impaired on terms that will communicate the "knowledge" of Christ to them, which means they must not live in a way that can be mistaken to deny their confession of the One."

Paul's message to the church, in regard to pagans, to unbelievers, to polytheists, was basically - "Fragile: Handle With Care." This is evident not only in the Corinthian epistles, but in other epistles addressed to converted pagans.

"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." (I Thess. 5: 14)

Paul obviously believed that "weak brothers" have weak, wounded, defiled, consciences, that recognized the reality of idol gods, but did not recognize God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and did not possess "that knowledge" that Christians have in their consciences. He also clearly believed that "weak brothers," should they die in that condition of weakness and spiritual impotency, will "perish," though loved by Christ, and though Christ died for them.

"And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (I Cor. 8: 11)

The question then becomes - "was the weak brother who perished ever saved to begin with?" Those who believe that true Christians cannot lose their salvation are forced to either 1) interpret the "perishing" to be a temporal loss of Christian peace and joy, and not as an everlasting perishing in Hell, or 2) affirm that the "weak brothers" do not represent truly saved Christians. The latter is clearly the case as the scriptures teach that believers are saved once for all time, are eternally secure in Christ. There does not seem to be any reason why the predominant meaning of "perish" (destroy) in scripture should be dispensed with in I Cor. 8: 11. In the context of men and salvation, to "perish" is to be eternally consigned to torment. (John 3: 16, etc.)

Paul is not warning about Christians losing their salvation, or perishing, but about offending the heathen so that they never obtain salvation, and so perish. The warning concerns hindering people from being saved to begin with, not about helping Christians keep from losing their salvation.

Thus, it has been shown that the argument that "the weak ones" are Christians because Paul affectionately calls them "brother" is not cogent, especially in light of all the other things in the context that demonstrates that they are polytheists.

Jan 19, 2011

Work on the Weak Brothers

I am planning to continue my writings on "the weak brothers" of I Corinthians eight. I am now working on editing the previous chapters published. Once this is done I plan to begin publishing new chapters, completing my examination of the subject from the Corinthian epistles and then beginning a look at Romans 14 where again the "weak" are a topic of Paul's writings.

I want to refer any interested readers to a writing by Dr. Mark Nanos (2008) who shares my view on the topic. In his work - "The Polytheist Identity of the 'Weak,' And Paul's Strategy to 'Gain' Them: A New Reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1—11:1," Dr. Nanos takes the same view as I do in this treatise. His treatise is available on the internet at


I came to see the error of the majority several years ago. In a debate I had with Pat Donahue, over three years ago, I Corinthians 8 became a point of contention between us. I argued, in that debate, how the "weak" were not Christians, but pagans.

Jan 6, 2011

Weak Brethren X

"What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils." (10: 19-21)

Though Paul does not use the term "weak ones," in these words, he nevertheless still has them in mind. In these words Paul extends his remarks made earlier in chapter eight, analyzed in previous chapters. In chapter eight, in talking about "idols," Paul said - "we know that the idol is nothing." Idols were only imaginary beings. Here he repeats his stance, affirming that the idol is nothing. He only adds this thought, however: there are "demons" (devils) intimately connected with the idols, with the images (icons) of the "gods." The idol (statue) was no living being, but only material or physical substance. However, behind the image was the demon.

It is "Gentiles," those who are not Christian, who "sacrifice" things "to demons." Those Christians who would do such a thing manifest that they have not been converted, that they do not have conviction about the Christian creed that Paul gave in I Cor. 8: 4-6.

Sacrificing to the heathen gods and demons involved a participation of the idolater in the essence of the demon gods. The idea of "joint participation" is included in the meaning of the word "fellowship" ("koinōnos"). A Christian is one who has come to have "that knowledge" which affirms only "one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ," and to see that the idols were but false imaginary gods, and that the demons were the inspirers of them in men's minds. It is absurd to think of "weak brothers" as being Christians, seeing they are said to regularly do what Paul says the "Gentiles" do. In chapter eight, in describing these "weak ones," Paul said "some with conscience of the idol eat food sacrificed to idols unto this day," indicating that it was the regular practice of the weak, just as now he says it is the regular practice of "Gentiles" do so.

"Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils."

Who is designated by the pronoun "ye" (you)? Is it not Christians who know that there is only one God, and that the gods of the heathen are false? Who know that it is expressly forbidden by God for them to involve themselves in idolatry?

What is the nature of this "cannot"? Does it denote an absolute impossibility? That it is never the case that one who has truly drunk the "cup of the Lord," and become a "partaker of the Lord's table," a real born again, converted, Christian, has at the same time, also drunk the "cup of demons" or been a "partaker of the table of demons"? Or, to put it another way, has a true convert to Christianity, from heathenism, ever relapsed into his heathen beliefs and practices? If Paul speaks in an absolute sense, then he would be affirming the impossibility of a true convert to Christ, who is drinking the cup of the Lord, and feasting at his table, ever participating in worship to other gods.

It could be that Paul is only speaking of a moral "cannot," saying to the Christians that they could not consistently, given their Christian faith and vows, involve themselves in heathen beliefs and practices. Paul's words are similar to Jesus' words - "you cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt. 6: 24) You cannot be both a servant of God and servant of mammon at the same time. If one is a servant of God, he is not a servant of mammon. If one is a servant of mammon, he is not a servant of God. If one gives religious service to idols and demons then he is not a Christian. But, the "weak ones" give religious service and devotion to the idols, and do it "with conscience of the idol."

When a pagan polytheist realizes the truth of the Christian creed, given by Paul, that there is "one God, the Father," and "one Lord, Jesus Christ," and that the idols and gods of his previous devotions are false, does he realize it suddenly, by a divine revelation and conviction, or does he slowly see the error of his heathenism and gradually accept Christian monotheism? Does he begin with a minor conviction of Christian truth that slowly and gradually overcomes his heathen beliefs and practices? Can the person who is only fractionally convinced of the Christian creed, as are the "weak brothers," real born again Christians? A man can be a Christian who still retains a partial belief in polytheism? When Paul wrote the Thessalonian Christians, he said;

"For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." (I Thess. 1: 9)

Notice that Paul did not say "you are turning from idols," which would be the way to express it if the church included many "weak brothers" who were not yet fully turned away from idols. Rather it is "you turned," at one moment of time, when you embraced the creed of Christians.

"Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." (10: 25-33)

Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that they may, in good conscience, eat food bought in the marketplace that had been supplied by priests of the idol temples, with one exception. If eating such sacrificial foods harms the conscience of another, of one who is "weak," then such eating is forbidden.

There are clearly two different classes of people referred to by Paul in the above words. It is the same two classes already alluded to in chapter eight, the class of the "weak" and the class of the "strong." Further, in this citation, Paul clearly identifies the one with "weak conscience." He says - "If any of them that believe not," who is not a Christian, who is yet a pagan. It is the "conscience" of the "unbeliever" that is of concern to Paul here, which is one and the same with the "conscience" of the "weak." Those commentators who take the view that the weak conscience is the conscience of a Christian cannot do so in this context, however, because Paul calls them "unbelievers" ('them that believe not'), and no unbeliever is a Christian. This is absolute proof that the "weak ones" are the "unbelievers," or pagan religious people.

When Paul refers to unbelievers, he does not mean to imply that such unbelievers don't believe anything religiously, for they are idolaters and believe in polytheism, that there are "gods many" and "lords many." He is an unbeliever as it respects the Christian creed of I Cor. 8: 4-6, is not a Christian.

Paul then alludes to the practice of pagans inviting Christians to participate in the religious feasts of the pagan temples. Paul does not forbid Christians attending such feasts, but says if you be "disposed to go." He leaves it up to the conscience and choice of individual Christians to decide whether to visit an idol's temple. Paul would like, however, for the Christian to visit the idol's temple for good ends.

Paul says to the Christians in Corinth who choose to accept the invitation to visit and dine in the idol's temple, "whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake." Here Paul is concerned about the conscience of the Christians. A Christian's conscience has "that knowledge" which acknowledges "one God, the Father, from whom are all things," and "one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things," and is "strong" because of this knowledge; and rather than having, as the heathen, a "conscience knowledge of the idol," have a "conscience knowledge" of Father and Son.

A Christian is not a "double minded" (James 1: 8) person as it respects monotheism versus polytheism. He is not divided in his faith and devotions, giving some to the Christian God and some to the idols. By definition, then, a "weak brother" is one who is "double minded" in his conscience, faith, and knowledge. Yet, if the "weak brothers" are represented as being Christians, then obviously such double mindedness is no hindrance to becoming Christian. A person who lacks full knowledge and faith in one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, may be called "Christian"? One may be a "half-hearted" believer in monotheism and in the gospel and be Christian?

Paul is speaking to all the members of the Corinthian church, in these words. He speaks of them all in terms of being of the class of the "strong," and not in the class of the "weak." They are all addressed as possessing "that knowledge," as having renounced paganism, as having knowledge that God has placed no restrictions on diet, nor offered diet as a means of being reconciled to him. They are all viewed as having consciences strong in the knowledge of Christ.

Twice Paul says "for the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof," in support of the Christian "right" or "liberty" to eat all kinds of food, without restriction, a proposition stated elsewhere in Paul's epistles. It may have been a common saying among the Corinthian Christians. This "liberty" concerned freedom from specified restrictions. The Christian knows that God has not required diet restrictions as a means of obtaining his favor and fellowship. Paul says to the Christians who choose to "sit at meat in the idol's temple," who accept the invitations of heathen to attend religious ceremonies and banquets, that they should partake of whatever is set before them on the table, and to eat it in good conscience, unless the server, an unbeliever, a pagan, announces to you that the food has been sacrificed and dedicated to an idol, in which case, you will "eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake...Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other."

Here Paul sets up a dichotomy of consciences. There is, on one hand, the conscience of the Corinthian Christians, the "believers," and on the other hand, the conscience of the one who "believes not," the heathen temple worshipper. One is "weak" and the other is "strong." One possesses "that knowledge" essential to being Christian, but the other lacks it. Thus, Paul is constrasting the conscience, not of weak Christians versus strong Christians, but of Christian versus pagan. This is also further revealed by the use of "but" and "other." "But" denotes a contrast of opposites and "other" is "heteros" which does not mean "other of the same kind" (homos or allos) but "other of a different kind." According to Strong, "heteros," when referring "to quality," means "another: i.e. one not of the same nature, form, class, kind, different." The dichotomy is between Christians (believers) and non-Christians (unbelievers), and not between two kinds of Christians.

There can be little doubt that the "conscience" that is of concern to Paul, in the above scenario of a Christian being offered things sacrificed to idols, is that of the "unbeliever." Yet, though commentators admit that the case here is one of unbeliever versus believer, or pagan versus Christian, they will not admit it being the same case in I Corinthians 8. It seems clear that Paul is not, however, setting up a new dichotomy in these words, but extending his remarks on the same one introduced in chapter eight. It seems clear also that Paul views the "conscience" of this idol worshipper, or unbeliever, as being the same conscience as those designated as "weak" in chapters eight and nine.

Paul asks - "why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?" And, "why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?"

Why should the liberty and rights of Christians not be always asserted and insisted upon? Because of a love and concern for the salvation of one's neighbors and brothers, for his coming to see the errors of his pagan beliefs, and to see the truth of the gospel, and "turn to God from idols to serve the living God." Because he is concerned about his "conscience," which is impotent, defiled, deceived.

Sometimes Christians are "damned if they do, and damned if they don't" The rule for Paul is love and concern for winning the weak and lost. How does it look to them? How will they interpret it? Will it hinder or help them? Will it serve as a means in "gaining" them or in losing them? Will it harden them against Christ, or attract them to him? Will it "wound" and "offend" his weak conscience, or heal and purge it? Will it please and glorify God or give cause for God to be "evil spoken of"?

Paul advises: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

"If you eat," that is, "if you eat meat sacrificed to idol," either in or out of the idol's temple, when no mention is made of it being so by the unbeliever, then eat it "to the glory (praise, thanks) of God," do all with an focused eye on "gaining the weak" (I Cor. 9: 22).

Paul says:

"Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God..."

When Paul says "give no offence," he means no unjustified offence. Paul certainly knew that most men will judge the "preaching of the cross" as "offensive." That kind of offence the Christian cannot hinder. It is inevitable due to the depravity of man, as Jesus said - "it must needs be that offences come" (Matt. 18: 7). The kind of "offending" Paul condemns is the kind he has been speaking about in the preceding chapters, in the context of stumblingblocks.

It is interesting how Paul refers to three groups he does not want offended by his conduct. They are "the Jews," and "the Gentiles" (nations), and "the church of God." Paul has already identified "the weak" with pagan Gentiles, and here he puts them into a separate category from "the church." It is similar to his words in 9: 19-22.

Paul then says - "Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved."

Notice that Paul labors that all lost souls, of whatever category, including those of "the weak," may be "profited," or in order that "they may be saved."

Jan 5, 2011

Weak Brethren IX

"For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (vs. 10, 11)

In the previous chapter the above verses were analyzed. The "weak brother" was identified as being the pagan idolater. Paul warns the Christians, or the strong ones, against reinforcing heathens in their heathenism, saying that their conduct may be a means of keeping the idolater from becoming enlightened, or a Christian, and thus be a hindrance to his salvation, a means of him finally perishing.

It was further shown that Paul referred to these pagans, these weak ones, as "brothers," not because he viewed them as Christians, but because Paul wanted the Christians to feel a sense of brotherhood, in addition to neighborliness, in their attitudes and conduct towards the idolatrous heathen. It was shown that the Corinthians, like the Hebrews, called each other "brother," especially those members of the same idol temple. Paul did not want the Corinthian Christians to cease feeling a sense of brotherhood towards their former associates in the temple lodges. Just like Paul said to the Hebrews, "let brotherly love continue" (Heb. 13: 1), so Paul would say to these Corinthians, "let brotherly love continue" between you and your former pagan associates. Paul would advise that the Corinthian Christians, in relation to their heathen neighbors, to "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (II Thess. 3: 15) They were not to look upon unbelieves as enemies, in much the same way Muslims look upon Christians, but as human brothers.

It was also shown in the previous chapter how "love for others" was the "prime directive," the chief characteristic, of Christians. This love for "neighbor" was to be seen as "fraternal." The "neighbor" was more than just one who lived near by, but a "brother," for "God has made of one nation all men," and "we are all God's offspring," all God's children, all members of the family of man, all brothers, as Paul taught to the Greeks in Athens. (Acts 17)

It is also interesting how Paul often links being "neighborly," in his epistles, with being "brotherly." For instance, Paul says, in Romans 13: 10, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Then, a few verses later, asks - "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?" (14: 10) It is not possible to disconnect the concepts of neighbor and brother. Thus, the "weak brother for whom Christ died" means all the same as the "weak neighbor for whom Christ died." It is a statement about Christ dieing for lost people, not for a certain kind of Christian. Paul said, in Romans 5: 6, that Christ died for those "without strength," or for the "weak," or for "the ungodly," and he does the same in this verse. What Paul says to Christians, in relation to the weak, is true in relation to every lost person. Any Christian may ask himself - "am I being a hindrance to the salvation of any sinner, for whom Christ died?"

The same kind of question and answer may be given in the context of Romans 14, where Paul also deals with "weak brothers," and where he warns against "offending" the "weak brother." Does this imply that this "brother" who is "offended" is a Christian or one who was previously saved? Can only saved people be "offended" (Rom. 14: 21) or have their consciences "defiled"? No, for unbelievers are often offended against the Christian message, and against Christian attitude and practice.

The major concern of Paul in this chapter is to:

1. Uphold the Jerusalem mandate which said: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols...” (Acts 15: 19,20)

2. Encourage Christians not to do anything to prevent weak neighbors and brothers from coming to Christian knowledge (not help confirm them in their idolatry).

3. To teach Christians how to be prudent "soul winners" by being careful how their activities are perceived by their lost pagan neighbors. ("Abstaining from all appearance of evil")

4. To explain the full depth of what it means to "edify" and "love" your neighbor and brother as yourself. (Or, what is true brotherhood)

5. To keep the "prime objective" always before the Christian brotherhood –– the salvation of all pagans and all idolaters from their false religion to the religion and faith of Christ.

Paul spoke of using "any means" necessary to win the lost. Was not one of those means the use of such endearing terms such as "brother"? Was this not one of those same reasons why he used the term "brother" when addressing non-Christian Jews? Would it serve as a means to save pagans in Corinth for the Corinthian Christians to suddenly quit calling them "brothers," especially when they had previously done so all their lives?

“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (Verses 12,13)

If commentators read these words and inserted the word "neighbor" every time the word "brother" is used, then there perhaps would not be so much misunderstanding about who are "the weak brothers." Though Paul first used the term "brother" for the first time, in this chapter, in the preceding verse, this verse is, nevertheless, the first instance of Paul’s use of the term "brother" coupled with the term "weak."

The first thing to ascertain, in this verse, is the precise "sin" of the Corinthian Christians against the "weak brothers." The context reveals that it comprises those loveless attitudes and acts of Christians towards the heathen and which reinforce him in his heathenism. The heart searching question of Paul to the Christians is - "will you save sinners, or condemn them, by your actions?" The "wounding" of the conscience of the lost is the hardening of their senses against Christ and Christianity, of "offending" them. In the Old Testament the wise king said - "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle." (Prov. 18: 19)

Paul said - "if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." Had he said "neighbor" instead of brother, the meaning would be the same. The particular kind of eating referred to by Paul is evident from the context. He has already spoken of the Christian dining in the idol's temple, and eating the meat dedicated to idols, in the presence of the heathen, and how the heathen may thereby be reinforced in his heathen beliefs and practices. Paul is saying that he will not eat meat offered in sacrifice to idols as long as heathen are around who might interpret his eating as a countenancing of paganism. Paul is also undoubtedly saying - "I will not even dine in a heathen temple, lest some heathen get the wrong idea." He is not denying that he had the "right" or "freedom" to so dine, but that it would not be expedient or edifying, would not tend towards the salvation of the heathen.

Being "offended" against Christ, the gospel, and the Christian community, is the opposite of being "won" to Christ, the gospel, and the Christian community. To be "offended" against the gospel is to lose one's soul, to insure one's soul ultimately "perishes." Paul is not here reflecting a desire to save weak Christians, but weak pagans.

Weak Brethren VIII

"For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?" (I Cor. 8: 10, 11)

From the preceding chapter it was shown how "anyone" is "anyone in the world," and "thee" (you) is "you Corinthian Christians." It has also been demonstrated how the Christian is defined by his faith, or lack of faith, in the creed given by the apostle in verses 4-6. It was also shown how "anyone in the world" connects with the one who is "seeing" the Christian "sitting at meat in the idol's temple." Also, that the one witnessing the Christian dining in the heathen temple is a temple worshipper, one not a Christian, one who does not have "that knowledge" and conscience connected with the given Christian creed.

In the preceding chapter it was also shown how "dining" in heathen temples was a commonplace occurrence in Greek and Roman pagan society. Before their conversion, many of the Corinthian Christians "sat at meat in the idol's temple" as a regular "good-standing" temple member and worshipper. But, now that they had been converted, some of them continued their former associations with their heathen friends and former temple "brothers," by attending temple functions and feasts. These no doubt did so with the conscience faith that it did no harm, especially if one does not participate as a member, but as a visitor. Other Christians in Corinth, however, surely cut off all ties with their former pagan "brothers." These would "not be caught dead" in a heathen temple.

In the advice of Paul concerning Christians dining in heathen temples, and in a larger context, concerning how Christians should associate with heathen peoples, he does not condemn the practice of such dining, but rather cautions care in the practice. Paul wants the Christian who does dine with heathens, in heathen temples, to ask his conscience this question - "how will it look?" How will my presence and participation be interpreted by my pagan neighbors, by my former brothers of the temple lodge? How will it look to the church? How will it look to God? Paul asks - "shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols?"

Is "the conscience of the weak" the conscience of a Christian or a pagan? Obviously "the weak" is the same class as those who "see" (observe) the Christian dining in the heathen temple and eating sacrificial food dedicated to the idol gods. It is not the case of two Christians both being in the idol's temple and watching the conduct of each other, but of one heathen watching the conduct of one Christian. Paul is saying to the Corinthian Christians - "your weak heathen neighbors and brothers will be scrutinizing your conduct and what you do,in their temple, will either reinforce them in their heathenism or it will edify them by leading them to inquire into the Christian religion."

Paul is asking the Corinthian Christians to consider whether their participation in such idol feasts and festivities will serve to "enbolden" or encourage the idolater in his idolatry, or discourage it. This idolater is one who is "weak," or "without strength," powerless to overcome his addiction to idolatry, and has a "weak conscience." What is a "weak conscience"?

It is clear that Paul, in this chapter, and in the next two chapters, contrasts those who are weak with those who are strong. The weakness of the weak is in several areas. As has been shown in previous chapters, they are weak in nature, or abilities, and in the eyes of God, are weak in wisdom and knowledge, weak in wealth and status, weak in nobility or birth status, weak in titles and inheritance, and weak in conscience.

The real strong ones, in nature and ability, in wisdom, knowledge, in power, in real titles and lands, and the truly high born, the men of good conscience, are Christians. The conscience is weak and impotent because it does not possess the knowledge of Christ, or "that knowledge."

Paul says that heathen, or weak brothers, in witnessing Christian participation in heathen feasts, may 1) encourage the heathen in his idolatrous practices, and 2) act as a stumblingblock or hindrance to the the heathen becoming Christian, and 3) become a stimulus for the heathen to further "defile" his "conscience."

It is sometimes argued that these "weak brothers" cannot be lost pagans because the text says that their "consciences BECOME defiled." Such language implies, it is argued, that the consciences of these "weak ones" had previously been undefiled. But, this is false reasoning. Every sin or act of idolatry defiles a lost man’s conscience. To argue that "became defiled" must imply that the conscience was previously undefiled is not tenable. This would limit the words to only those who have undefiled consciences, and make them inapplicable to those with already defiled consciences. But, the truth is, every time a person with an existing defiled conscience, as the heathen possess, commits an idolatrous act, he further defiles his conscience. Paul's reference to the "weak" being "emboldened to eat" should not be interpreted to mean the emboldening to eat by one who has never done so before, but the encouraging him to do so again and again, a kind of positive reinforcement.

"And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?"

Paul has really already asked the Corinthian several questions that are similar to the one just now cited. He had basically asked them 1) Is your practice of eating food sacrificed to idols, in the idol's temple, encouraging and reinforcing the faith and practice of the heathen? 2) Is this practice leading to the conversion of heathens to Christ or hindering it? So, this next question is simply another way of phrasing the same question. Is your attitude and practice, towards your lost heathen neighbors and brothers, the result of love for them, the effect of an earnest desire for their salvation from heathenism?

This verse has become the location for particularly intense feuding among bible interpreters. In the context of the debate over who are "the weak brothers," whether lost pagans, or immature Christians, the argument is made that the identification of "the weak ones" with the term "brothers" proves that "the weak," and those with weak knowledge and conscience, are Christians, and not pagans. But, this is a "weak argument" (pun intended). When the cultural context of Corinth is fully considered, the use of the word "brother" by Paul, in relation to "the weak," serves not the purpose of designating "the weak" as "saved," "gained," Christians, but another purpose entirely.

Love Thy Neighbor

Throughout the epistles of Paul there is the constant enforcement of the rule of love. There is no abrogation of the command of God for all to "love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus himself taught that the "whole law" was summed up in the first two commandments, the command to love God supremely and to love one's neighbor as one's own self. (Matt. 22: 40) To the Roman Christians Paul wrote:

"For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Romans 13: 9)

And, James also, says the same.

"If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well." (James 2: 8)

In the context of Paul's instructions to the Corinthian Christians one hears Paul's statement about "charity" (agape love).

"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (I Cor. 13: 4-7 NKJV)

In the attitude of many of the Corinthian Christians towards the heathen there was manifested a lack of real love. The boasting of the Corinthian Christians, the air of superiority and importance that they showed towards those they judged as "ignorant" fools, unenlightened ones, the indifference and lack of concern for the salvation of their heathen neighbors, all showed how they were not fulfilling the basic will of God that says "love your neighbor as yourself."