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Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 10:25-33

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The problem being dealt with at this particular portion of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is the issue of eating meat offered to idols. It’s like asking self the same question which the famed Shakespearean character Hamlet in soliloquy inquired (“to be, or not to be”). In the Corinthians’ case, the query goes: “To eat or not to eat?” This scruple in eating matters bothered many in the Corinthian church, and this was one among their many concerns, and therefore, Apostle Paul had to address the issue. Chapter 10:25-33 of 1 Corinthians was Paul’s final words to this particular issue.

It seemed though, that in this portion where the Apostle had given his counsel and advice, it appears that what he counselled was general guidelines and that it’s up to the Christians to judge for themselves what is right or wrong in a given situation. And so, since this piece of advice is apostolic (i.e. coming from an apostle of the Lord), and therefore binding as God’s word today, it stands as the Christians’ measuring stick on ethical issues in any subject raised in society at large, and even matters of relational or personal concern. How can the people of God be guided along as they navigate their way in the constantly changing trends of their cultures? Of course, this question has a more contemporary tone. Because the passage deals with the qualms of first century culture with which this particular group of Christians found themselves in, the flow of argument in this paper proceeds from general rule to specific. Here are the questions being answered along the way: 1) what is the general rule for Christians, 2) what is the background/context of the passage, and 3) what should a Christian do?

General Rule

            For sure, Apostle Paul was dictated by a general rule which guided all the saints of God from olden times until his day. The first command in the Ten Commandments relate to God’s nature and the righteous requirement of his holy person on his creation – i.e. man. That God alone is to be glorified is clearly suggested and extended to the first three commandments (Exodus 20:1-7). Actually, all the other remaining commandments were easily and automatically met when the first three commands were secured. All throughout the history of God’s dealings with his people in the Bible show that the glorification of God’s name was the main concern why there were chastisements and disciplines among the people of God. In Ezekiel 36:20-38, God spoke to his people and in very vivid terms elaborated that when his people sins and as a result he had no choice but punish them by disciplining them, in the eyes of the non-believing world, God’s name was profaned. This was the risk whenever God had to judge his sinning people – the profanity of his name among non-believing people.

And so, being thus the case, when God’s people realizes their sinfulness, and repent, and changed course, and turn to God, the name of God and his person is again glorified. And the admiration, and the splendour, the glory due to God’s name are restored in the eyes of the world. God will always be glorified no matter what (Romans 11:36, Revelation 4:11). This is the general rule, and God in his sovereignty alone can do this without the help of his creation. However, because God created everything for this purpose, and his redeemed people know and are well aware of this, the expectation is that there should be conscious rendering of honor, praise, and appreciation to the God who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things.

For Christians (as in Ezekiel’s time) – people who have the knowledge of God’s redemption – the giving of glory to the One of whom they owe their existence and salvation should constantly exude out of everything and every aspect of their lives. This concept then of giving glory to God should dominate the thinking of Christians. It was the consuming passion among the saints of God throughout the ages (McArthur, 1976). It had become the passion of the apostles of Christ, and now, among the Corinthians, it was Apostle Paul’s aim to instil the same appropriate passion that they might be guided accordingly, with all their actions and dealings ruled by this one theme  of glorifying God. Just think of how intense, according to Paul, should this thought of giving glory to God be among the Corinthian Christians. He said that it should show even in the most mundane of all their daily activities like “eating” and “drinking” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Background of the Passage

            Christians are truly a free people. They have been freed from the penalty of their sins, they have been given new life in Christ, and their bodies are temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6;19-20). However, as they are never exempt from various temptations and because they still battle many of their sinful inclinations, one of the tendencies to which they can easily fall into (especially that now, nothing can hold them condemned anymore because of the fact that in Christ all the penalties of their sins have been covered and removed before God) is licentious lifestyle. And so, one of the pertinent questions that solicits a revelatory answer from Paul is the subject of Christian freedom. And more specifically, among the Christians in Corinth, scruples in whether it was right to eat or not to eat certain foods was a big concern.

            If some Christians today can only be transported back in time to the days of Apostle Paul in the metropolis of Corinth (which is not possible to happen), and get a trip around its meat market, one of significant things they will notice is god Apollo’s official stamp on certain pieces of meat in the Meat Section(Stevenson, 2008). This is what makes “eating” a concern among Christians in Corinth. Here, in this city, meats are regularly being offered to idols. Consequently, it has become an issue, and it is becoming more and more serious to the point that Christians unsuspectingly falling into the practice of criticizing and judging those who eat or do not eat. In chapter eight, Paul has already dealt with idolatry, and the understanding they gained was the complete freedom they have in Christ. Christians are totally free, and their minds and consciences are not anymore dictated by superstitious belief in gods or idols.

In Paul’s elaboration in chapter eight, it was obvious there that this particular freedom to think properly of supernatural realm, that there is but one true God, and that so-called idols were just illusion and deception, could have made certain believers vulnerable to another spiritual trap if there was no exercise of love. In short, if one has this kind of liberating knowledge in that particular culture, and there was no application of Christian love, the possession of this superior knowledge would not have benefited the owner, but spoil his otherwise good relationship in the community of believers.

Knowledge, said Paul, could set a person in an unhealthy estimation of self. It could actually make the person really proud in attitude, conscious or unconsciously (1 Corinthians 8:1). And so, Paul’s prescription to the Christians at Corinth was to exercise liberty with the glory of God as its boundary. Given that the magnification of God’s name was the idea which drives the people of God, that people might see God’s goodness, wisdom, love, and grace, the question, “Is it glorifying to God?”, should always filter every decision and action of the Christian. This was no easy task, and would require a measure of spiritual maturity among the Corinthians. What were Paul’s guidelines in the “grey areas” of life?

Christian Behavior (what should a Christian to do)

            1.) Edification – the essence of Christian neigborly conduct. The Greek word from which the English word edification was derived means “building a house.” This idea of “building” was used by Paul in many of his letters. What is to be built up? Of course, figuratively, what is meant to be built up is the spiritual lives of the believers. And so, when Paul said that “not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23), he meant that Christians should do everything with the spiritual growth of other Christians in mind. If certain actions do not accomplish this, but instead, cause set backs to some, these actions should be reconsidered and perhaps abandoned. The New Testament identified certain practices as edifying, such as, the reading of God’s word (Acts 20:32), preaching (1 Corinthians 14:3), and the practice of love (1 Corinthians 8:1). When Christians function according to the gifts given to them, the whole church as the body of Christ is built up (Ephesians 4:12). To build up the spiritual lives of believers is one of the major purpose of the Christian gathering or fellowship.

Probably, through the years that Apostle Paul spent teaching and preaching the gospel at Corinth, he might have used catch phrases to clarify what he had been teaching. For example, on occasions in the process of his teaching the area of liberty as necessary benefit of salvation, he might have aired impressions or might even verbalized such ideas as, “all things are lawful” for Christians (1 Corinthians 10:23). This particular phrase was used repeatedly by Paul in this letter (1 Corinthians 6:12). The likelihood was that the phrase had become a slogan, a favourite maxim that Corinthians’ have often used to justify some of their actions. Remember that the general rule was to glorify God in everything (1 Corinthians 10:31). Because the freedom of believers in Christ had become so magnified in the church at Corinth, and thus had been taken advantaged of by some believers due to their close association to their previous life that was so entrenched in a culture where idolatry was intricately interwoven into their social life, Apostle Paul had to add the crucial ingredient which could effectively temper their tendency to take their freedom to its extreme – namely, love.

When Paul said that Christians should not be selfishly motivated in their interactions with believers and outsiders, he was stirring their conscience with love which already has its residence in their hearts (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 13:5, Romans 5:1-5, Philippians 2:4, 21). It was love alone that can enable Christians to interact properly with other believers, and it could tone down their otherwise unfeeling attitude with only knowledge dictating their actions never minding that they were probably running over their neighbors’ sensibilities. Thus, even if it was true that Christians were free to eat all of the meat sold in the market (1 Corinthians 10:25-26) and it would not touch the issue of their salvation, and also would have no bearing at all whether they were pleasing or not pleasing to God, still, they had to be concerned and think of their present responsibility to “love their neighbors.” Christians then should not think of their freedom in Christ as having the liberty to do anything without any regard, nor consideration, of others. The Christian life should always be lived within the context of the person’s relationship with God and other believers. In other words, there should always be the element of accountability. This is responsible Christian living. “Will others be edified with this action?” If this concern for others is always present, true fellowship is sustained, other believers are edified, and in everything God is glorified. This is what will happen when Christians are motivated by love.

            2.) When legalism tends to rule, choose freedom. This is clearly suggested in the whole section (1 Corinthians 10:23-33), but more specifically in verses 25-26. It’s nonsense to be scrupulous about foods. Paul seemed to be telling those Christians in Corinth that to investigate everything regarding the meat which was bought from the market was ridiculous. It’s unimaginable to go all the way back to the market and ask the butcher about the pedigree of the cow where the piece of meat was cut, how it was slaughtered, and whether it was offered to idols. Definitely, there would be real problems with Christians who go to pagan temples to buy meats there. A pagan temple was a wrong place to do grocery. But, even if the meats were offered ceremonially to idols because that’s a custom of the city government, if the meats were brought to and sold in the market, and from there (meat market) Christians took their meals, it shouldn’t be a bother for them. Because, as Paul said somewhere, it was to be received in thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

For the sake of all, eat what has been prepared on the table. “All the earth is the Lord’s” (1 Corinthians 10:26). So, Paul, in order to liberate the Corinthians from their unnecessary scruples, where in effect, they were imposing rules which were not necessarily God’s commands. He told them not to be legalistic; instead, he encouraged their liberty resulting from their understanding of God’s revelation. Indeed, the whole of creation is the Lord’s, so why fuss about unimportant details. And so, Apostle Paul’s advice is: when threatened by legalism, choose liberty; or, choose rather freedom, than be enslaved again by unnecessary scruples.

To be a Christian is to be totally free to enjoy the creation of God. Because God is a good God, and all his creation are good and ought to be enjoyed. To illustrate the Christian’s complete freedom, the question whether it was proper, or not, to consent when a pagan has invited a Christian into his house for dinner was raised by Paul (1 Corinthians 10:27). There would be no problem at all when there was such an invitation, said Paul. He said, don’t ask any more questions. Just eat what was set on the table. Actually, there’s no problem eating with pagans or sinners. If there’s real problem with eating, it was to eat with people who professed to be “brothers” in the faith yet in all reality were practicing or living in sin. The Apostle warned the Corinthian Christians not to associate with such people (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). These were dangerous people and a stumbling block among those who would otherwise come to the faith.

            3.) Do everything for the sake of winning people to the faith. This was Paul’s usual approach. When among people of whatever kind, he was always seeking that they might be won over to Christ. It also is an outflow of love. It comes from unselfish esteeming of others.

So, Christians are governed by the general rule: the glory of God. Under that general rule, a Christian is motivated by his love for God and neighbors. Thus, his life revolves within the context of fellowship. The Christian is always accountable. He seeks the edification of other Christians. The questions which filter his decision to perform certain actions or endeavors are always, “Will this help the brethren in their walk of faith?” “Will this build up the body of Christ?” “Will this win others to Christ?” These are Paul’s general guidelines in solving seeming unimportant matters in the fellowship of the saints. These are grey areas. Not black and white ones. They seem to be insignificant; but because they trouble Christians, they need to be dealt with (Escalona, 2008).


1.) Stevenson, John. 2008. Studies in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Date Accessed: June 4, 2009 at http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/jts.html

2.) McArthur, John. 1976. Date Accessed: June 4, 2009 at http://www.gty.org/Resources/Bible+Book+Studies/7134

3.) Escalona, Alan. 2008. The Way Christian Ministry Theological Journal. Published by The Way Christian Church Iligan City, Phils.

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