1 Cor. 8:1 Now as touching things offered unto idols
Again, it is apparent that Paul is responding to specific questions received from the Corinthian saints. The background for this question would settle much of the confusion about the meaning of Paul's response in chapter 8. For the purposes of understanding this chapter, we will construct a hypothetical background which places Paul's comments in perspective. This background is fiction, but is based roughly on truth:
"There was a national feast in ancient Greece honoring the goddess Diana. Every year, the Greeks would gather in Athens for an elaborate holiday with a sumptuous feast. It was customary among all Greeks to gather together as families and celebrate this feast as a matter of patriotism. A certain Corinthian saint-one who had been well taught both by Paul and by the Spirit-celebrated the feast with his family. They ate a sumptuous feast in the temple of Diana and enjoyed each other's company. This saint knew that the celebrations honored the pagan goddess Diana and his family partook of the festivities not with any intent to honor the Greek gods, but as a part of their culture and heritage.
"Nevertheless, on one occasion, a new convert witnessed this particular saint enjoying food prepared as part of pagan worship. The convert then became distraught that a faithful member would be involved in such an evil practice. The conflict came before the elders in Corinth who decided to ask Paul whether an individual who had knowledge regarding the true nature of God might not be able to participate in the feast as part of the celebration. Paul's response was to warn the brethren about becoming puffed up in their own knowledge and to advise them against any behavior whereby others might take offense."
1 Cor. 8:2 if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing
As soon as a man begins to think he is smart, he proves in reality that he is an idiot and knows nothing. A corollary of this doctrine was declared by Spencer W. Kimball, "When one becomes conscious of his great humility, he has already lost it." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 233.) Indeed the greatest of scientists and philosophers eventually come to the same conclusion, "the more you know, the more you realize how much there is yet to learn." In the gospel, this principle applies equally well, for the more mysteries of godliness that we master, the more we realize the limitations of our understanding. At last, we conclude as did Moses, 'Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed' (Moses 1:10).
"What are we? At best but little specs in motion moving about in the world, puffed up, in many instances, with things we profess to know, when really we know nothing only as God communicates it, and can understand nothing only as he makes it manifest. Can all the philosophers of to-day make a grain of wheat and give vitality to it, much less a world? Or can they make a simple blade of grass?" (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 21: 343 - 344.)
"Who can boast of anything? Who among you, ye Elders of Israel, can boast of any knowledge or intelligence? Why we know nothing about the principles of truth, only what God has revealed. How do I know anything about baptism for the remission of sins even, and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost? Why, the Lord revealed it; if He had not I should have known nothing about it...for all we know we are indebted to God, and if He had not revealed them to us we should have been as ignorant as they are." (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 12: 397.)
1 Cor. 8:4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing
"Preserved among the 'waste papers' of antiquity are invitations to private dinners, wedding feasts, and dining at pagan temples. All touched the daily life of the Corinthians, and church members had to decide on the morality of eating at the table of a god. Animals sacrificed to the 'idol' were available for temple feasts with the surplus marketed for food. Paul partly agreed with Corinthian rationalizers-the gods were mythical, and the pagan priests offering sacrifices were powerless. Yet the principle of eating in pagan worship was wrong, even if the motivation was food, not worship. What kind of an example was being set, Paul asked, for the weaker brother? (1 Cor. 8:10.) After reviewing Israel's idolatry at the exodus from Egypt, Paul made the critical point that walking the borderline of any principle is not living the principle: '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' (1 Cor. 10:21)." (Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 106 - 107.)
Bruce R. McConkie
"The Corinthians had asked Paul for counsel about eating meat sacrificed by pagan people to their idols. He replies that in theory it is completely immaterial whether the saints eat such meat or not, because idols are not true gods, and there is actually no religious significance to the pseudo-sacrifices one way or the other. But, he reasons, in practice it may be wise not to eat this meat, since such a course might cause those who are weak in the faith to assume there was virtue and benefit in the sacrifices themselves and therefore to be led astray." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 348.)
1 Cor. 8:5 there be gods many, and lords many
Bruce R. McConkie
"Though 'there is none other God but one' for men on this earth to worship, yet 'there be gods many, and lords many' throughout the infinite expanse of eternity. (1 Cor. 8:4-7.) That is, there are many exalted, perfected, glorified personages who reign as gods over their own dominions. John saw 144,000 of them standing with Christ upon Mount Zion, all 'having his Father's name written in their foreheads' (Rev. 14:1), which is to say that they were gods and were so identified by wearing crowns so stating. Indeed, to each person who overcomes and gains exaltation, Christ has promised: 'I will write upon him the name of my God,' and he shall 'sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.' ("Rev. 3:12.)
"Joseph Smith said: 'Every man who reigns in celestial glory is a god to his dominions.' (Teachings, p. 374.) All exalted persons 'are gods, even the sons of God.' (D. C. 76:58.) Through obedience to the whole gospel law, including celestial marriage, they attain the 'fulness of the glory of the Father' (D. C. 93:6-28) and 'a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.' (D. C. 132:19-20.)
"But to us there is but one God, who is Elohim, and one Lord, who is the Lord Jehovah; the Holy Ghost acts as their minister; and these three are one Godhead, or as it is more graphically expressed, one God. Thus we find the Psalmist, whom Jesus quoted, saying: 'God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. . . . I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.' (Ps. 82:1, Ps. 82:6)" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 1: 491.)
"If Joseph Smith says there are Gods many and Lords many, they cry, 'Away with him, crucify him.' Mankind verily say that the scripture is with them. Search the scriptures; they testify of things that apostates would blaspheme. Paul, if Joseph Smith is a blasphemer, you are. I say there are Gods many and Lords many, but to us only one, and we are to be subject to that one. . . .
"Some say, 'I do not interpret [the] same as you.' They say it means the heathen god. Paul says, 'there are gods many.' It makes a plurality of Gods anyhow. Without a revelation, I am not going to give the God of heaven to them anyhow. You know, and I testify, that Paul had no allusions to it. I have it from God, get over it if you can. I have a witness of the Holy Ghost and a testimony that Paul had no allusion to the heathen god in the text." (Kent P. Jackson, comp. and ed., Joseph Smith's Commentary on the Bible [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 159.)
1 Cor. 8:6 But to us there is but one God
Joseph Fielding Smith
"It is perfectly true, as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price and in the Bible, that to us there is but one God. [Moses 1:6; Mark 12:32.] Correctly interpreted, God in this sense means Godhead, for it is composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Godhead presides over us, and to us, the inhabitants of this world, they constitute the only God, or Godhead. There is none other besides them. [1 Cor. 8:5-6.] To them we are amenable and subject to their authority, and there is no other Godhead unto whom we are subject. However, as the Prophet has shown, there can be, and are, other Gods." (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 1: 225.)
"The Christian world have become confused in their ideas respecting God, by being taught that there is but one personal God. And so there is but one to whom our allegiance is due, but one to whom we direct our petitions; and He it is who has supreme control and power over that part of the universe in which our lot is cast; and to Him we address our prayers and adoration. These ideas are strictly in accord, too, with Paul's teachings when he says: 'And there is none other God but one. For though there be they that are called Gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be Gods many and Lords many). But to us there is but one God.' (1 Cor. 8). But to say that our God-the father of our spirits-is the only God in existence, to my mind would be just as absurd as for a loyal subject of Queen Victoria to say that because there is but one sovereign to whom his allegiance is due, that she is the only sovereign in existence, which we know is not true. There are other sovereigns presiding over other portions of the earth, but to the Englishman there is but one sovereign-that is to whom he owes his allegiance. So stands it with us in relation to God." (Contributor, vol. 9 (November 1887-October 1888), Vol. Ix. January, 1888. No. 3. 116 - 117.)
John A. Widstoe
"Joseph Smith the Prophet declared that there is a plurality of gods. An indication of such plurality runs through the scriptures, ancient and modern. In the very beginning of time Adam and Eve were promised that they should 'be as gods' (Gen. 3:5) and Jesus reminded the Jews that in their scriptures it was written 'ye are gods.' (John 10:34.) Paul spoke of 'lords many and gods many.' (1 Cor. 8:5.) Modern revelation presents the same truth when it says 'according to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was.' (D. & C. 121:32)
"This implies that many personages may have attained the power and place of Godhood. This does not make them in any sense coequal with God, or with his Son, or the Holy Ghost. Those who are denominated gods have a rank in the eternal councils, with corresponding power to help foster the purposes of the Father. There may be many generals in an earthly government, but only one commander-in-chief. Even so in the government of heaven." (Evidences and Reconciliations [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era], 53.)
1 Cor. 8:6 the Father, of whom are all things...and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things
Harold B. Lee
"I would have you note particularly the use of the preposition 'of,' in reference to the Father, and the preposition 'by,' in reference to our Lord, Jesus Christ. In this statement is clearly defined the role of each, the Lord to do the bidding of the Father, in the execution of the whole plan of salvation for all mankind." (Conference Report, October 1970, General Priesthood Meeting 115.)
1 Cor. 8:9 take heed lest by any means [you] become a stumbling block to them that are weak
David E. Sorensen
"Another important aspect to providing a nurturing environment for new members is to give them a sense of safety, love, and acceptance when they come to church. In particular, we must take care to avoid offending others even if this causes us discomfort. Jesus taught that it would be better to perish than to offend one of the 'little ones,' a caution that can also apply to new converts (see Matt. 18:14; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). The Apostle Paul indicates that new converts, who generally lack in gospel knowledge, can be offended by the otherwise harmless actions of those with greater knowledge, leading weaker new members to fall away. He taught that we should avoid such words and actions, even if our information is correct (see 1 Cor. 8:8-13). For example, it might be correct to point out that a new convert has made a mistake, but to do so publicly or in a way that causes unnecessary pain may harm a fragile, young soul. The way a new member prays or dresses or speaks may be different from our traditions or teachings, but correcting such differences should be undertaken only by a loving leader if done at all and only with the benefit and needs of the new member utmost in mind." ("Why Baptism Is Not Enough," Ensign, Apr. 1999, 20)
1 Cor. 8:10 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
Harold B. Lee
"The Apostle Paul was talking to a group who probably were his converts of another day. And when he came back he found those who had been idol worshipers not actually worshiping idols but they were going into temples where idols were being worshiped; and so he said: 'But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak' (1 Cor. 8:9).
"The Apostle Paul is impressing another great thing that you must think about-the importance of good examples on the part of those who profess to teach the youth in God's kingdom: your standards regarding the Sabbath day, keeping the Word of Wisdom, keeping your home life sweet, and keeping away from the dangers of immorality that begins with evil and immoral thoughts. You must set the example of what you would profess to teach." (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 449.)
Harold B. Lee
"There is never a man or a woman of station in this church who falls below the standards he is expected to live without dragging down with him many who have had faith in him. He has wounded their conscience; he has dragged down those of weaker faith, and many count the day of their disaffection in this church when someone in whom they had faith fell below that standard they expected him to maintain." (Ye Are the Light of the World: Selected Sermons and Writings of Harold B. Lee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974], chap. 2)
1 Cor. 8:13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth
Spencer W. Kimball
"What a spirit of brotherhood is taught by this great missionary, this apostle of Jesus who also spoke elsewhere to the Corinthians that he would even change his eating habits if that would mean the difference between keeping someone with the Lord or turning him away through misunderstanding! (See 1 Cor. 8.)" ("Always a Convert Church: Some Lessons to Learn and Apply This Year," Ensign, Sept. 1975, 4)