Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


1 Corinthians 8:4

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Things that are offered in sacrifice - See on the first verse, ( 1 Corinthians 8:1; (note)).

An idol is nothing in the world - Dr. Lightfoot translates this, We know that there is no idol in the world; which he explains thus: Ειδωλον, idol, is ὁμοιωμα, εικων, σημειον, χαρακτηριον, σκιοειδες, a likeness, an image, a sign, a character, a shadow: now ουδεν ειδωλον signifies there is no idol, no representation of God, in the world. Images there are of stone, wood and metal; but none of these is any representation of the infinite Spirit. But I prefer the meaning given in the note on 1 Corinthians 8:1; ( 1 Corinthians 8:1; (note)) as the expression, an idol is nothing in the world, was common in the Old Testament, and among the Jews; and was understood by them in this way: they are not אלהים Elohim, the true God; but they are אלילים , nothings, and הבלים habalim, Vanity.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

As concerning therefore … - The parenthesis closes with 1 Corinthians 8:3. The apostle now proceeds to the real question in debate, and repeats in this verse the question, and the admission that all had knowledge. The admission that all had knowledge proceeds through 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; and in 1 Corinthians 8:7 he gives the answer to it. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 everything is admitted by Paul which they asked in regard to the real extent of their knowledge on this subject; and in 1 Corinthians 8:7 he shows that even on the ground of this admission, the conclusion would not follow that it was right to partake of the food offered in sacrifice in the temple of an idol.

The eating of those things … - Whether it is right to eat them. Here the question is varied somewhat from what it was in 1 Corinthians 8:1, but substantially the same inquiry is stated. The question was, whether it was right for Christians to eat the meat of animals that had been slain in sacrifice to idols.

We know - 1 Corinthians 8:1. We Corinthians know; and Paul seems fully to admit that they had all the knowledge which they claimed, 1 Corinthians 8:7. But his object was to show that even admitting that, it would not follow that it would be right to partake of that meat. It is well to bear in mind that the object of their statement in regard to knowledge was, to show that there could be no impropriety in partaking of the food. This argument the apostle answers in 1 Corinthians 8:7.

That an idol is nothing - Is not the true God; is not a proper object of worship. We are not so stupid as to suppose that the block of wood, or the carved image, or the chiseled marble is a real intelligence and is conscious and capable of receiving worship, or benefiting its volaries. We fully admit, and know, that the whole thing is delusive; and there can be no danger that, by partaking of the food offered in sacrifice to them, we should ever be brought to a belief of the stupendous falsehood that they are true objects of worship, or to deny the true God. There is no doubt that the more intelligent pagan had this knowledge; and doubtless nearly all Christians possessed it, though a few who had been educated in the grosser views of paganism might still have regarded the idol with a superstitious reverence, For whatever might have been the knowledge of statesmen and philosophers on the subject, it was still doubtless true that the great mass of the pagan world did regard the dumb idols as the proper objects of worship, and supposed that they were inhabited by invisible spirits - the gods. For purposes of state, and policy, and imposition, the lawgivers and priests of the pagan world were careful to cherish this delusion; see 1 Corinthians 8:7.

Is nothing - Is delusive; is imaginary. There may have been a reference here to the name of an idol among the Hebrews. They called idols אלילים (Elilim), or in the singular אליל 'ĕlı̂yl(Elilvain, null, nothingworth, nothingness, vanity, weakness, etc.; indicating their vanity and powerlessness; Leviticus 26:1; 1 Chronicles 16:26; Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 10:10; Isaiah 19:11, Isaiah 19:13, Isaiah 19:20; Isaiah 31:7; Psalm 90:5; Ezekiel 30:13; Habakkuk 2:18; Zechariah 11:17, etc.

In the world - It is nothing at all; it has no power over the world; no real existence anywhere. There are no such gods as the pagans pretend to worship. There is but one God; and that fact is known to us all. The phrase “in the world” seems to be added by way of emphasis, to show the utter nothingness of idols; to explain in the most emphatic manner the belief that they had no real existence.

And that there is none other God but one - This was a great cardinal truth of religion; see the note at Mark 12:29; compare Deuteronomy 6:4-5. To keep this great truth in mind was the grand object of the Jewish economy; and this was so plain, and important, that the Corinthians supposed that it must be admitted by all. Even though they should partake of the meat that was offered in sacrifice to idols, yet they supposed it was not possible that any of them could forget the great cardinal truth that there was but one God.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
There is no proof of ignorance more common than conceit of knowledge. Much may be known, when nothing is known to good purpose. And those who think they know any thing, and grow vain thereon, are the least likely to make good use of their knowledge. Satan hurts some as much by tempting them to be proud of mental powers, as others, by alluring to sensuality. Knowledge which puffs up the possessor, and renders him confident, is as dangerous as self-righteous pride, though what he knows may be right. Without holy affections all human knowledge is worthless. The heathens had gods of higher and lower degree; gods many, and lords many; so called, but not such in truth. Christians know better. One God made all, and has power over all. The one God, even the Father, signifies the Godhead as the sole object of all religious worship; and the Lord Jesus Christ denotes the person of Emmanuel, God manifest in the flesh, One with the Father, and with us; the appointed Mediator, and Lord of all; through whom we come to the Father, and through whom the Father sends all blessings to us, by the influence and working of the Holy Spirit. While we refuse all worship to the many who are called gods and lords, and to saints and angels, let us try whether we really come to God by faith in Christ.