1Corinthians 10:23-11:1

Jan 26, 2012


Glory to God for all things, and especially, Jesus Christ!  It has been two years since I have updated the site.  Since my (official) time of being a catechumen is over and I have been received into the one holy catholic and apostolic church, I am glad the Lord has now given me the opportunity to devote some attention back to this subject.  I hope with God’s help to once again regularly contribute updates because I think this is an important and much neglected (and abused) area of study. 

Please note the Apostle Paul’s concluding structure (above) regarding the entire subject at hand in chapters 8-10: the theological and ethical implications of eating meat sacrificed to idols.  In the main structure above, we are immediately struck by two older topics, love and conscience, which takes us back to the beginning in 8:1-12.  Such concepts introduced there as love, building up, knowledge, liberty, and conscience are all summarized here in the conclusion.  This brings up the question as to whether there is some coherent structure in between, in chapters 8-10, to what all students generally recognize as a writing with a unified theme.  I think there is a simple overall chiastic structure and it is not all that difficult to discern if one stands back a bit from the text to see Paul’s general plan in addressing the concern of “eidwloqutoß” (food offered to idols):

a.  8:1-12            Introduction

b.  8:13-9:22       Paul’s Positive Example (self control in matters of conscience for the Gospel’s sake)

b’  9:23-10:22     Israel’s Negative Example (lack of self control in matters of the Gospel re: Idolatry)

a’  10:23-11:1     Conclusion

In terms of interpretive conclusions, Paul seems to address the eating of meat offered to idols in two ways, depending on the situation.  Generally, he addresses it as a matter of conscience if the meat is not being consumed in an idol’s temple.  However, he categorically disallows the eating of meat in an idol’s temple as seen in 10:14 ff.  I understand the instance in 8:12, where he specifically mentions this situation of an idol’s temple seemingly in the context of conscience, as simply an example, level 1, if you will, in the lesson. He is introducing the basic concepts of liberty, weak conscience, knowledge, and being a stumbling block.  However, even in that example, eating in a cultic situation is portrayed in a negative fashion and, I believe, with Paul’s full knowledge that such a practice will be entirely condemned later in his argument. 

Note the importance of love in matters of liberty as highlighted in both terminal sections of this pericope and from the very start in Ch. 8.  Remember that there, in 8:2-3, Paul drew a contrast between those characterized by the “absence of requisite active knowledge” or the “presence of requisite passive knowledge.”  The presence or absence of love is what would make the all the difference between the two groups. For Paul, the required knowledge is not the knowledge the Corinthians were so proud of, but rather, that of God’s knowing those who love him.  The opposite, situation, a lack of love, is what Paul was battling. Israel’s lack of self control (the whole main section with central and specific examples from Israel’s history) may then be characterized as a lack of love - in this case, a lack of love for God.  (And this is probably why he brings up this specific idea in 8:3.)

The short section, 9:23-27, though formally and linguistically tied to the structure in ch 10, may also be viewed, topically and conceptually, as Paul using himself as an example.  So, having elements both of what comes before and what comes after, it functions beautifully as an effective transition between the two main inner sections.

Before he uses Israel as an example, Paul uses himself and his apostolic prerogatives as a model.  As a main theme, Paul’s example for the sake of the Gospel (8:13-9:22), is also portrayed as an example of selfless love in 10:33-11:1.  Note that his example of love is inspired by Christ’s example. He directs his hearers to imitate him as he imitates Christ.  I can’t prove it, but I suspect (and have outlined the last portion of our present structure in 10:31ff to indicate) that in Paul’s mind, Christ’s positive example can be characterized as that of doing “all for the glory of God” (10:31).  This is what we see in the Gospels, for example, Matt 16:22-23, where Peter’s way of thinking is contrasted with Jesus’ interest in “the things of God” such that love for God and his glory is paramount in the life of Christ. This theory is buttressed by the presence of a clear inner structure drawn from Paul’s life (before any mention of Christ in 11:1). The coordinate inner terms of this small chiastic structure tell us to follow Paul’s example of being without offense in matters of conscience.  Only then does he mention what he probably had in mind about Christ’s as his example.  So, on this note about a divinely inspired example of love which always acts in accordance with the glory of God, I think it appropriate to end this short blog entry (before it becomes “blogarrhea” - the more words the more vanity).  Just as reminder of what should be obvious, it is the revealed structure of this passage that draws the reader closer to the mind of Saint Paul and the various conceptual relations that exist in his writing - and that makes for a very practical theology.