In the last post I made a passing comment about misinterpreting our world. It was a statement actually lifted from the interpretation of the text. When you ask a Christian about 1 Corinthians 8-10, they automatically start speaking in terms of Freedom To Do and Freedom To Act In Any Way Before the Lord.
It’s not surprising really. The language that Paul uses here in 1 Corinthians 8 is very similar to the language in Romans 14—but it is also strikingly different. So in this post I want to offer a comparison and contrast of some key terms in the chapters and how they’re used.
Of course, the chart will need some explanation since some will make the very mistake I’m talking about based on the chart alone. Seeing that both chapters talk about “the Weak” and “the Strong”, the automatic assumption is that they’re addressing the topic the same way…and that just isn’t the case.
For example, Romans 14 has some words for the weak: don’t judge the one who eats, be fully convinced in your own mind, give thanks to God, don’t judge your brother, there’s nothing unclean in itself. 1 Corinthians 8-10 says nothing to the weak.
Romans 14-15 has similar words for the strong: don’t regard the weaker with contempt, be fully convinced, we live for the Lord, bear with the weaknesses of the weak, don’t put an obstacle in their way, walk according to love. 1 Corinthians 8-10 has several reprimands: you have knowledge, but that only makes arrogant (1 Cor 8:1), real knowledge is grounded in the love of God (8:2); eating food doesn’t make you better (8:8); take care of this liberty of yours (8:9); you’re strengthening the weakened conscience to do wrong (8:10); you’re sinning against the brethren and against Christ (8:12); note how we the apostles have rights and what we’ve done with them (1 Cor 9); don’t be idolaters! (1 Cor 10:7)
Also note the idea-words that wind up in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and not in Romans 14-15.
Romans seems to deal more with things that are clean or unclean, set apart days or common days—it sounds very ceremonial. The sort of situation that would happen in a congregation comprised of Jews, who have a history with ceremonial law, and Gentiles, who have no such history.
1 Corinthians 8-10, on the other hand, introduces another category: the defiled (1 Cor 8:7) upon eating something. Paul says there’s nothing clean or unclean in itself in Romans 14 and that one not eating from faith is condemned if he eats something; but in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul actually makes the situation a matter of loyalty to a table: the Lord or that of Demons.
Even The Old Testament examples he even uses are striking. In Romans 15, he uses Psalm 69 to show how the Strong (Christ) bore the reproaches of others for their edification (Rom 15:2-3). But in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul goes through several Old Testament events to show how people who have knowledge, who experienced the power of God, who were eating the same spiritual food, could simultaneously test the Lord by performing idolatry: sometimes by worshipping God through an image they created, other times by setting their desires over that of the Lord, and yet other times when they joined themselves in practices with the pagans at a meal (1 Cor 10:8; Numbers 25). The examples he uses aren’t of bearing with burdens for edification sake but rather so that they flee from idolatry (1 Cor 10:14) because they are “strong” and should know better (1 Cor 10:15).
Indeed, even Paul’s conclusions, have very real differences. In Romans 14:14 Paul gives his opinion on those ceremonially clean/unclean things—they aren’t unclean. But in 1 Cor 10:19 he makes a similar statement: idols aren’t anything—but Demons are! (1 Cor 10:20).
So we have two passages that seem to deal with very different things. On the one hand (Romans 14-15), we have a situation of within the congregation dealing with scruples with, not grey areas, but rather areas of conscience and conviction. On the other hand (1 Cor 8-10) we have an assembly that is blatantly playing around with something that they seem to think they have the freedom to do, but in actuality are binding themselves to very dark practices that can injure the entire community. It results in similar language (pleasing ourselves vs. what happens when we please ourselves) but the context is using them in a specific way (We ought not to please ourselves vs. Pleasing ourselves in this matter is dangerous).
But, we’ll have work through Paul’s argument with a bird’s eye view to see how his thinking flows.