Jan 4, 2011

Weak Brethren VI

In the preceding chapters a verse by verse analysis of the first seven verses of I Corinthians chapter eight has been given. It has been shown that Paul contrasts Christian knowledge and conscience with pagan knowledge and conscience. No where in these verses is there any hint that Paul is contrasting two kinds of Christian knowledge and conscience. The contrast is between the conscience of those in the class of "weak ones," and the conscience of those in the class of "strong ones." Those in the weak class are defined as "not having that knowledge," which knowledge is defined by a creed that affirms that "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things," and that "there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things." Such a standard defines who is a Christian and who is not. It was also shown how evidence of the usage of "asthenes" (weak or impotent) in the scriptures supported the view that those "without strength" (Rom. 5: 6) are those not saved. It was also shown how Paul affirmed the lost and non-Christian status of "the weak ones" when he said that they are those "not gained," or "not saved." (I Cor. 9: 22)

In this chapter citations will be given from two traditional commentators of the majority view and it will be shown how they are guilty of misinterpretation.

Reviewing the Commentaries

J.N. Darby

"Nevertheless every one was not, in fact, thus delivered from the influence of false gods on his imagination. They were still perhaps, in spite of himself, something to him. He had conscience of the idol, and if he ate that which had been offered to it, it was not to him simply that which God had given for food. The idea of the existence of a real and powerful being had a place in his heart, and thus his conscience was defiled."

All this is a good description of a pagan, but it could hardly be a description of a born again Christian, or of someone who has been baptized into the Christian faith. Darby affirms that "not every Christian in the Corinthian church" had been "delivered from the influence of false gods on his imagination." Why would he say such a thing? How could he identify a man who believes in the reality of the idol gods, to any degree, as a legitimate Christian? Such is, however, the extent commentators will go in upholding their false premise, that premise that affirms that the "weak brother" is a genuinely converted Christian. According to Darby, who represents the majority view, whether or not one has been "delivered" from the influence of idolatry is no criterion for judging who is Christian or not.

Seeing these consequences of their interpretation, many commentators will simply affirm that the "weak brother" has not been "fully" delivered from his polytheism and heathenism. Thus, as has been shown in previous chapters, the "weak" brother is interpreted to be one who weakly accepts and believes the apostolic creed, and yet still has some belief in the idol gods, and believes that service and homage to them is important. Is partly believing the gospel revelation enough for salvation? Can one be a Christian who does not possess full and firm conviction of Paul's creed? Absolutely not. Therefore, these "weak ones" are not Christians.

Darby says that these "weak ones," after being converted and avowing faith in the creed, "were still perhaps" thinking and believing that the idols were "something" real. Again, Darby is teaching, along with the majority of commentators, that such is the case with many Christians. These weak Christians, it is alleged, still have some faith in the reality of idols and gods. This is rediculous teaching.

Darby said that these weak ones, when seeing the idol, entertained "the idea of the existence of a real and powerful being," this heathen idea having "a place in his heart." This is the biblical description of a Christian? Of one who possesses "that knowledge"? The belief in the reality of the false gods and idols "had a place in his heart"? On the contrary, a man who has such a "conscience" of idols, who believes in them, and offers sacrifices to them, is not a Christian!

On verse 7, Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown commentary (JBF) says:

"Howbeit--Though to us who "have knowledge" (1Co 8:1, 4-6) all meats are indifferent, yet "this knowledge is not in all" in the same degree as we have it. Paul had admitted to the Corinthians that "we all have knowledge" (1Co 8:1), that is, so far as Christian theory goes; but practically some have it not in the same degree."

When JBF adds "in the same degree," they add to the word and lead astray. Paul, however, is contrasting those who either have, or don't have, "that knowledge." He is not contrasting those who have "that knowledge" to a high (strong) degree with those who have it to a low (weak) degree. The words of Paul represent a contrast between the "haves" and the "have nots," between Christians with "that knowledge," and non-Christians who do not have "that knowledge." Those who have "that knowledge," says Paul, do not believe that diets have anything to do with a man's standing with God, that food is "indifferent." Yet, in I Corinthians 8-10, it is only "the weak ones" who believe that sacrificial food to the idols was a means of finding favor with the gods. Commentators who seek to identify such "weak ones" with the converted, with Christians, with those who possess "that knowledge," do so without any grounds in the context to do so, and are forced into adding words to the text to support their false interpretation.

Further, JBF states that "Christian theory" teaches that all Christians possess "that knowledge," but that it is not true in actual fact, or in "practice." What horrendous misinterpretation is this! Certainly by "Christian theory" is meant "Christian doctrine on what constitutes one a Christian, or saved person." For instance, one could say - "Christian theory affirms that those who will be saved believe in Jesus." But, to add, "but this is not true in actual fact, or in practice," is to affirm that it is not actually the case that all who will be saved are believers in Jesus.

JBF wrote:

"Some Gentile Christians, whether from old association of ideas or misdirected conscience, when they ate such meats, ate them with some feeling as if the idol were something real (1Co 8:4)..."

Again, it is amazing that any evangelical bible commentator would affirm that someone who believes in the reality of gods and idols is a Christian. Why would anyone think that Paul is describing someone other than a pagan? When a person eats religiously dedicated food and believes in the reality of the god to whom it is dedicated, that man is not a Christian. Further, Paul has thus far given no reason for identifying the "some people" under consideration as anything but a pagan, certainly not a Christian. JBF looks at the phrase - "this knowledge is not in all," and reads "this knowledge is not in all born again Christians in the church at Corinth." Also, JBF reads the phrase in this manner - "this knowledge is not in all to the same degree." But to add "to the same degree" adds to the text and changes the meaning of the apostle. Also, Paul has already said that "those who have that knowledge" are they who do not believe in idols, and do not believe religious diets have anything to do with obtaining God's favor. Therefore, to affirm that some of these who have "that knowledge," albeit in a weak degree, are people who believe in idols and religious diets, is to contradict the words of Paul.

Those who believe in the idols and sacred foods are ever spoken of in the third person, by the apostle, and he never includes any of the members of the Corinthian church in that class spoken of in the third person. Also, when he speaks in the second person, when addressing the members of the Corinthian church, he never speaks of them as not having "that knowledge," or of being "weak."

JBF wrote:

"'unto this hour'--after they have embraced Christianity; an implied censure, that they are not further advanced by this time in Christian 'knowledge.'"

Where in the text is there any indication at all that those who eat things sacrificed to idols, with a belief in the reality of them, were ever Christians? It is amazing that most commentators cannot see their gross misinterpretation. Where in the language of the apostle does Paul ever identify any member of the church at Corinth as a continuous practicing idolater? Does not Paul address all the members of the church at Corinth as possessing "that knowledge"? But, clearly, those who don't have this knowledge are those outside the church, are not Christians, but pagans. Paul never speaks in the first person when speaking of these weak ones, these "idiotes," these who do not know, but always in the third person, as being of a different class than Paul himself or the Corinthian believers.

JBF implies that a man can become a Christian even though he still has faith in idols, and continues to offer sacrifices to them. According to this theory, becoming a Christian does not remove a man's heathenism, for that is only removed later in Christian life, when the Christian has become "strong."

JBF continues:

"their conscience . . . is defiled--by their eating it "as a thing offered to idols." If they ate it unconscious at the time that it had been offered to idols, there would be no defilement of conscience. But conscious of what it was, and not having such knowledge as other Corinthians boasted of, namely, that an idol is nothing and can therefore neither pollute nor sanctify meats, they by eating them sin against conscience (compare Ro 14:15-23)."

How could any commentator affirm that Christians, those who have accepted the truth that "there is one God, the Father," and "one Lord, Jesus Christ," and who knew that the idols of the pagans were "nothing at all," and that eating food to them as such would be sin, and a repudiation of the Christian faith, could be yet said to "eat" the idolatrous sacrifice with a knowledge that the idol represented a real god, is bewildering.

Christians do not have weak consciences. They do not have consciences that are defiled by heathen knowledge and religion. They have consciences that possess "that knowledge." JBF states that these idolaters do "not have such knowledge as other Corinthians boasted of," and yet claims they are nevertheless Christians. JBF affirms that some Corinthians had "that knowledge" but others did not have it. But, one is, by definition, not a Christian if he does not confess the creed given by the apostle.

“But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” (Verses 7, 8)

By the pronouns "us" and "we" are designated people in general, that is, what a person eats, religiously, does not affect his standing with God. This idea is contrary to the beliefs of pagans, however. They believed that the idol gods granted favors based upon food sacrifices and ritualistic diets. Paul is stating knowledge that he attributes only to Christians. To argue that some "weak Christians" also believe pagan ideas about food offered to idols is to gravely misstate things. Again, it is clear that Paul is contrasting Christian knowledge and faith with pagan knowledge and faith.

A continuation of a verse by verse analysis will given in the next chapter, beginning with verse 9.

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