1 Corinthians 8:1-13 as a reflection of the pastoral practice of Saint Paul
The following text is a research paper completed at the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1982 for the Higher Diploma of Biblical Studies. It aims at discovering, through the action of Saint Paul in the communities he founded, the traits of a true pastor. The first letter to the Corinthians gives us the opportunity to analyze the pastor that he is, because he has to deal with a series of problems that arise in the community. The one we are analyzing here is that of meat offered to idols: just as we see today with kosher or halal meat, butchery and certain banquets had a sacred character at the time, a form of communion with the deities of the city, hence the moral question for a Christian to participate or not. When Paul wrote his answer, it was around the year 55 of our era.
Paul was asked about the participation of Christians in festive banquets where meat from the slaughter of animals was consumed as part of pagan sacred rites. Many Hellenistic Christians saw no problem with this, since the knowledge brought about by the faith revealed in Jesus Christ showed them that the idols, to which these meats had been offered, did not exist. Moreover, participation in these festive meals at weddings or funerals or in the celebration of special events was an important social gesture.
Paul will answer them by contrasting knowledge and love, first of all in terms of their relationship with others. Their newfound knowledge that idols do not exist has locked them into an abstract bubble that prevents them from realizing that other members of the community have a much more fragile conscience than they do, and that they, by returning to their old habits around these sacred meals that sometimes gave rise to debauchery, are reviving their old ties and leaving the Christian community. Paul also contrasts knowledge and love in the relationship with God. It is not knowledge that defines the true relationship with God, but love: for he who loves bears witness to the action of God in him. And it is this love that is revealed by the saving action of Christ who reaches out to every human being wherever he or she is, even in his or her situation of weakness. Paul's answer to the question is clear: it is better to abstain from these meals if it would cause the brothers to relapse into their pagan past.
A close analysis of Paul's response to the Corinthian community leads us to identify five traits of a true pastor:
Table of contents
When we study St. Paul, several paths can be taken. Some of them direct us to Paul the theologian, because they try to systematize what he said about Christ, the Church, salvation and the Christian life. There are others, however, that lead us to Paul the pastor, the founder of communities who had to watch over their consolidation and edification like a father, to whom people turned to solve a certain number of problems. It is these last lines of inquiry that have interested us.
In order to deepen the pastoral face of Paul, one cannot have recourse with equal happiness to the different epistles. For example, if the epistle to the Romans offers a masterly synthesis of Pauline theology, it nevertheless disappoints anyone who would seek through it the features of a community, its situation, its problems; Paul undoubtedly had only a rather sketchy knowledge of the Christians of Rome at the time of sending his letter. On the other hand, the epistles addressed to the Corinthians were born of this lively and dynamic interaction between Paul and this community which he himself had founded (Acts 18:1-18). The situation of the Church, the characteristics of its members, its problems are revealed through the pen strokes of the apostle. We can then observe the pastor at work.
In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul confronts concrete problems concerning the life of the community. He must then not only show good practical judgment, but also recall the fundamental values of the Christian life. In this first letter to the Corinthians1 Paul grapples with several problems brought to him by the Corinthians themselves (7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1). We have chosen the question of food offered to idols because it no longer arises today; it therefore allows for a calm and composed analysis, free from a priori stances as might be the question of marriage (chap. 7); among other things, it allows for a presentation of the ever-present traits of the pastor. As J. Murphy-O'Connor writes, "The specific problem is no longer of ours, yet the principles that Paul develops remain relevant to critical areas of our Christian lives."2.
Our project is therefore to bring out, through this question of food offered to idols, some features of Paul as a pastor. The approach is articulated in two simple steps. First of all, we need to look closely at the text in order to identify its context and its structure, to situate the problem, to draw a portrait of the protagonists and to grasp the "point" of Paul's response. Then, we can outline a certain number of facets of this pastoral intervention which will in fact be as many qualities that we still want to find in the pastor today.
Finally, it should be noted that the bibliography concerning the exegetical analysis of 1 Cor 8:1-13 is quite abundant. When we first look at the articles dealing with either vv. 1-13 or the whole of chapters 8-10, we see that exegetes have taken a particular interest in this question in recent years. Indeed, if Max Rauer's work dates from 1923, it is not until the 1960s, and more particularly 1965, that studies devoted to this subject appear regularly. Since 1975 alone, the bibliography has been enriched by a dozen articles. On the commentary side, we know the classic works of Lietzmann, Weiss, Allo. But the year 1965 seems to mark a revival of interest in the first epistle to the Corinthians with the publication of several commentaries or works (Godet, Hurd, Thrall, Grosheide), followed by those of Barrett and Conzelmann (1968), De Boor (1973), Orr-Walther (1976), and very recently Senft (1979).
The delineation of the general context does not pose much difficulty. Paul answers various questions in a letter to him from the Corinthians, and the problem of food offered to idols, announced at the very beginning of chapter 8, receives a final conclusion in the exhortation of v. 1 in chapter 11. With 11:2 the theme of the Christian meal is initiated.
However, difficulties arise when we look closely at certain elements of the whole that we have just delimited. What exactly is the role of ch. 9:1-10 (Paul insists on his renounced rights) in this thematic block? How do we reconcile the homily of ch. 10:1-13 and its practical application in vv. 14-22 (flee from idolatry) with 8:1-13 which they seem to contradict? What does the invitation of 9:24-27 to self-discipline add to the theme of food offered to idols? The problem of literary unity is thus posed.
However, we do not want to debate this question. Our interest is limited to verifying whether the text we want to analyze can receive a really different light according to the positions we adopt in the question of literary unity.
Weiss, Schmithals, Goguel, Dinkler, Héring, and Senft argue that 8:1-13 and 10:1-22 were not originally part of the same letter3. Similarly, according to them 9:24-27 would refer to a different letter than the one containing 8:1-13. Thus, the set 9:24-10:22 is excluded from the context of 8:1-13. On the other hand, and this is no surprise, all of them unite 8:1-13 and 10:23-11:1 without difficulty. Finally, according to all these exegetes, with the exception of Héring, the passage 9:24-10:22 would have belonged to a letter prior to the one in which 8:1-13 is found: the severe position would have preceded the one in which Paul shows himself to be more conciliatory. How can this reversal be explained? According to Senft, for example4, Paul would have been informed of the conflict first from the point of view of the Weak, whom the Strong were offending by their conduct, and some time later he would have received the point of view of the Strong. Faced with this hypothesis we formulate two difficulties. Firstly, if the point of view of 10:14-22 represents that of the Weak, how can we understand that Paul already admits at this moment that idols are nothing (10:19), which will be taken up as the point of view of the Strong (8:4)? In the second place? In 8:1-13 Paul rejects one of the claims of the Strong, that of influencing the Weak (v. 10), by greatly limiting his participation in sacred meals: he says yes only to private invitations (10:27) and to meals taken out of sight of the Weak (8:9; 10:28).
The great limitation of the various hypotheses attempting to explain certain clashes in First Corinthians is that they lack convincing data, and are therefore unable to go beyond the stage of pure conjecture. Moreover, these hypotheses do not shed any decisive light on the movement of Pauline thought, at least not more than the certain fact of a composition extending over a certain period of time. "The existing breaks," writes Conzelmann, "can be explained from the circumstances of its composition"5. Likewise Barrett, after taking note of the very different reconstructions by Héring and Weiss, concludes not without a touch of humor: "The fact that each reconstruction makes good sense is an argument against both, for they cannot both be right, and the sense that one makes, and quite possibly the sense that both make, must be due to the scholar making the reconstruction"6. How then are we to understand the different solutions proposed by 8:1-13 and 10:14-22? E.- B. Allo does not see any contradiction in this but on the contrary admires in Paul his "skillful and charitable strategy by which he prepared the Corinthians to hear his decisions"7; the force of his arguments would "crescendo, as he prepared the minds to penetrate to the bottom of things"8. For Barrett 10:14-22 would be a rehash of the food offered to idols issue, but with the fresh light provided by his digressions on the nature of the gospel for which he gave up his rights (chap. 9) and on the folly of those who think themselves preserved from sin and judgment by the sacraments9: the particle dioper (10: 14) affirms this connection. Conzelmann is forced to note a change of perspective: in the first case it would be the social behavior of eating food offered to idols, in the other "food." The focus of 8:1-13 would not be on the food itself, which has a neutral character, but on the act of eating, i.e. on what it expresses and the impact it has on others, while 10:14-22 abandons the perspective of others to focus on food as communion with demons. In the former case the question remains open and one is referred to a personal decision, in the latter the question is linked to idol worship and is resolved10. For our part, it seems essential to recognize a change in perspective. In chap. 8 Paul adopts a more particularly pastoral approach and puts forward the concern for the Weak in the community as well as the consequences on them of the way the Strong act, while this perspective disappears in chap. 10 and Paul only considers the Strong and their belonging to Christ. He cannot say everything at once. It is the man who reflects and addresses different aspects of reality11. Consider, for example, that the issue of debauchery was addressed in chap. 6, vv. 12-20, when it was probably related to the issue of participation in pagan festivals and food offered to idols12. Thus 8:1-13 and 10:14-22 belong to two different contexts both in terms of the community and in terms of the aspect of the pagan feast referred to.
Introduction: the question of food offered to idols (1a)
A- 1/ THE FACT of knowledge (1b)
B- THE CONTENT of this knowledge:
-a first nuance brought by Paul on the idols:
-a second nuance of Paul on God:
C- The existence of the Weak in whom this knowledge is not found and the consequences for his consciousness
D- The consequences before God
2/ Warning from Paul to the Strongs
Conclusion: Paul proposes his own attitude: faced with the possible consequences he prefers to abstain from meat.
This structure calls for some comments. For the first six verses we have taken up a distinction proposed by G.D. Fee between the fact and the content of knowledge13. For in vv. 1b-3 Paul speaks of knowledge to which he contrasts love without making explicit the content which will only be revealed in vv. 4-6. Vs. 1b-3 are polarized around two key words: knowledge and love. Paul shows the superiority of love both in the relationship with others, because it edifies, and in the relationship with God, because it is the sign of God's benevolent initiative.
In vv. 4-6 we have distinguished three moments. First Paul takes up in v. 4 an affirmation from the Corinthians14. Then he introduces a first nuance concerning the first part of the statement, idols, and then a second nuance concerning the second part of the statement, God. It has been shown with sufficient clarity that the perspective is soteriological and functional, and thus corrects in our view non historical perspective of v.415.
V. 7 introduces a new fact, the existence of the Weak in the community. All commentators have pointed out that Paul here attacks the argument of the Corinthians expressed in v. 1b (1b oidamen hoti pantes gnōsis echomen - we know that all of us have knowledge, 7 All' ouk en pasin hē gnōsis - But not in all (is) the knowledge).
We believe that a new development begins with v. 8. For vv. 8-12 seem to us to be commanded by the question of consequences before God: this set begins with brōma de hēmas ou parastēsei tō Theō (Then, food will not have us appear before God) and ends with eis Christon hamartanate (you sin against Christ) (v.12). We translate parastēsei as "appears (before God)"16. Moreover, we opt for a Corinthian origin of the argument constituted by this v. 817. J. Murphy-O'Connor represents one of the most recent advocates of this option. We do not want to repeat the traditional arguments18, but to insist first that Paul can hardly be credited with the intention of convincing the Strongs of the indifference of food in the relationship to God ("Food will not have us appear before God," i.e. will not bring us in judgment before God), for the Corinthians are themselves the most convinced (see 1 Cor 6:13). On the contrary, Paul intends to counteract this indifference by showing in v. 12 that it can perish and lead to sin. Secondly, Paul's insistence on indifference to food would presuppose that the Strongs expected some spiritual benefit from this participation in the pagan meal, which is quite implausible, since they affirm that idols are nothing. Thus, we see structurally that v. 8 introduces a perspective centered on the relationship to God and expressed through the issue of judgment, a perspective that will be continued later with the danger of a fall (proskomma, occasion of stumbling) for the Weak. In this case the Strong would assert that participation in the pagan meal does not condemn him, and thus does not put his relationship to God at stake (v. 8). Paul, on the other hand, would draw attention to the Weaks, who are in danger of perishing, and thus of being cut off from God; in so doing, the Strong sinned, calling into question his relationship with God. Therefore, just as v. 7 was an objection to v. 1b, so v. 9ff (blepete de: be careful) would be an objection to v. 8 (brōma de hēmas ou parastēsei: food will not have us appear before God).
The term eidōlothytos (things or food sacrificed or offered to idols) was mostly used in Jewish circles, since pagans spoke of hierothytos (food offered to a god). What is it about? The slaughter of animals often had a religious character in ancient times. Part of the meat was consumed by fire, and the other part went to the participants of the feast19. These feasts could be held in the temple outbuildings20. What was left was sold at the market. G. Theissen, after showing the scarcity of meat and its festive character, lists the various occasions that arose for eating meat in this way21. First, there were extraordinary occasions such as the celebration of a victory, a funeral, or a wedding in which all citizens could participate. Then there were sacrificial meals instituted on certain days of the year and in which a restricted circle of people or all the citizens or inhabitants of a city could take part. There were also the great religious feasts which gathered all the citizens. Finally, there were meals offered within a guild of merchants or craftsmen, a brotherhood or even a personal invitation22. Thus the occasions for taking part in such meals had to occur regularly, so much so that any slaughter of animals came to be regarded, with certain exceptions, as a sacrifice23.
C.K. Barrett highlights another aspect of these meals, that of its traditional link with debauchery. Analyzing texts from Revelation (2: 220.127.116.11. 24; 9:20ff), Jude (7), and the second letter of Peter (2:6ff), he concludes, "If for the moment we set aside the Pauline material, it appears that the eating of eidōlothyta was reprobated in the strongest possible terms, and that it was coupled with fornication"24. This harsh attitude persisted in the early Church for several centuries, as we see reflected in the Didache (6:3), in Justin (Tryphon 34), in the pseudoclementines (1:6; 3:1 ). In the 4th century s. Augustine had to reject the comparison made by the Manicheans between the Christian meals offered for the benefit of the poor, the disinherited and the widows with the pagan sacrifices. "It must be acknowledged," writes A.-G. Hamman, "that religious meals had a bad reputation, because they often degenerated into binge drinking and orgies"25. We believe that it was not to be otherwise in Corinth. A clue is provided to us on the issue of debauchery in chap. 6:12-2026. Similarly the homily in chap. 10 shows us a Paul associating Ex 32:6 and Num 25:9 with idolatry and debauchery (10:7-8).
What was the significance of the Christians' participation in these pagan meals? What attracted them to these idol temples? Some exegetes like Allo27 have pointed out the need of the Strong to strut before their brethren, to proudly display the freedom and authority conferred by their science; they would therefore go to the temple in a spirit of bravado. In fact, Paul often reproaches the Corinthians for being puffed up with pride (4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4), as in the case of the notorious misconduct mentioned in chap. 5. Moreover, it is likely that the word "edify" in v. 10 was taken from the letter of the Corinthians: they would have wanted to bring the Weak to their knowledge and freedom28. But it seems to us that another perhaps even stronger motivation may have been at play: the social significance that these pagan banquets had. "Familien, Vereine und Städte," writes Theissen, "fanden sich hier zusammen und stellten ihre Zusammengehörigkeit" (Families, clubs and towns came together here and showed their togetherness)29. This measures the importance for a citizen to participate in these celebrations to meet with family and friends, to express his belonging and identity, to nourish his social life and even ensure his advancement30. Wasn't a presence at these popular festivals demanded with particular insistence among the notables? Some of these were Christians, like Chrispus, Caius or Herastus. "Mit ihnen, writes also Theissen, war das Problem des Verhëltnisses der Christen zur antiken Gesellschaft aufgeworfen" (With them the problem of the relationship of the Christians to the ancient society was raised)31.
That the question itself is asked may be surprising. For was there not an answer to the assembly in Jerusalem (48/49) which asked the brethren of pagan origin to abstain from the meat of pagan sacrifices, from immorality, from blood, from smothered animals (Acts 15:29)? According to Murphy-O'Connor Paul would have deliberately ignored this decree, in the same way that he used some freedom in the face of some of Jesus' precepts such as that of living the gospel (1 Cor 9:14) or not separating the wife from her husband (1 Cor 7:10-11)32. If the decisions of the Jerusalem assembly, which aimed at giving the Hellenic Christians the status of associated people (Acts 15:14), are well within the historical context described by Acts33, it follows that Paul took the initiative to advocate another solution to the problem of the Gentile converts to Christianity; this solution also makes them belong to the people of the promise, reflected in Eph 2:19 (You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints), and therefore the rules of Leviticus (chapters 17-19), which were echoed in the decisions of the Jerusalem assembly, were no longer valid, and Paul had to find other bases for deciding the question of food offered to idols. After all, had not the evangelization of the uncircumcised been entrusted to Paul? However, the solution proposed by the assembly of Jerusalem was to be imposed in the first and second centuries of the Church and to take on a moral character34.
Who are these Corinthian Strongs?35 Are they Hellenistic Christians or Judeo-Christians? Do they relate to popular Greek philosophical thought, such as Stoicism, or rather to Hellenistic Judaism as expressed by Philo of Alexandria? We know them through what Paul tells us. In the text we are studying, it is clear that they prioritize knowledge (gnōsis) (8: 18.104.22.168.10.11) and that this knowledge gives them freedom or power (exousia) (8, 9). Let us consider these two realities in turn.
How can we explain this central place given to knowledge and to the knowledge of God in Corinth? We know the impact that Bultmann had in linking the Corinthian vocabulary to Hellenistic mysticism and in developing his theory on the Gnostic movement. Today, we must qualify this position and even correct it. J. Dupont presents us in his work Gnosis a serious and thorough analysis of the question36. His study leads him to conclude that the term gnosis does not have any particular salience in Stoicism, that it is used concurrently with other terms to denote the "science to which philosophy tends; knowledge of God is only a part of this science and is rooted in a rational and intellectual approach"37. For an explanation of the importance of the notion of gnosis in the Church of Corinth as well as its religious significance, one must turn to Alexandrian Judaism, for "it is there that the religious ideal of a knowledge of God obtained by revelation appears in paganism"38. Dupont is at pains to show that Philo uses this word with inspiration from Scripture (Quod det., 142ff; see Num 20:17 and Deut 28:14; Leg. all. 3, 126; see Ex 28:26; De fuga et inv. 164-165; see Ex 33:13-23)39. As for the Book of Wisdom, even though it appropriates many Stoic themes, it does so in dependence on the Jewish tradition40. Finally, Corinthian gnosis appears oriented toward practical applications; it is knowledge of how to act, and thereby better harmonizes with Jewish gnosis41. Bultmann had earlier noted that the term gnosis had in the Old Testament a primarily religious meaning and denoted knowledge revealed to the wise or righteous; he then often translates the Hebrew dahat 42(see e.g., Prov 2:6; Ps 94:10 (LXX 93:10); Ps 119:66 (LXX 118:66). R.A. Horsley has recently made himself the strongest advocate of an origin in Alexandrian Judaism of Corinthian ideas43. For him, the Book of Wisdom and Philo teach that wisdom consists precisely in the knowledge of God (Wis 15, 2-3; Quod Deus 143)44, and this knowledge of God is expressed in the recognition of the One (Leg. All, 3, 48.126)45. Similarly, the polemic against idols is Jewish in origin (Deut 4:19; 29:25; Jer 16:19); it is found in Hellenistic Judaism (Wis 13-15; Decal, 53-65; Vit. Cont. 3-5), Greek philosophy, on the other hand, had a positive opinion of images46. This emphasis on monotheism and the vanity of idols would be explained in the missionary context of early Christianity where Gentiles were becoming proselytes within a movement that was to appear as a branch of Judaism47.
We believe, therefore, that we must recognize the primarily Jewish origin, and more specifically in Hellenistic Judaism, of the notions of knowledge of God and monotheism found in 1 Cor 8:1-1348. This is not surprising, for throughout this epistle we find a vocabulary and ideas (wise, pneumatic, psychic, little child-nepios, perfect man-teleion, prudent man-phronimos, etc) whose best comparisons are offered by the work of Philo of Alexandria. Once these comparisons are recognized, what can we conclude? The gnosis at Corinth as well as the whole of the Corinthian ideas would be totally explained, if we believe Horsley, by Alexandrian Judaism of which they would be a part49. We cannot subscribe to such a radical idea. On the one hand, such a statement misjudges what belongs to the Corinthians and what comes from Paul's preaching50. On the other hand, some of the ideas in Corinthians cannot be explained simply by recourse to Philo of Alexandria, as we shall see for the notion of freedom and its relation to gnosis. Dupont, on the other hand, after asserting that the importance taken on in the Corinthian community by the term gnosis would be concretely related to the missionary activity that occurred in Corinth after Paul's departure, concludes that these Strongs were Judeo-Christians51. But we do not see why Hellenistic Judaism should be linked to Judeo-Christians. Did not the God-fearers constitute a part, if not the greater part, of the converts to Christianity, and can they not account for the presence of ideas drawn from Hellenistic Judaism (see Acts 18:4, 7)? Did they not frequent the synagogues? Moreover, the social character of the problem of food offered to idols leads us to presuppose that the Strongs were well integrated into everyday life, had pagan friends (see 1 Cor. 10:27), which is difficult to imagine for someone from a Jewish background.
The second theme associated with Corinthians is that of freedom (1 Cor 6:12; 8:9; 10:23). The idea of exousia (8:9: power, authority), according to Dupont, is integral to the classical definition of freedom (eleutheria) in Hellenistic philosophy52. This exousia is the power to do whatever one wants, without feeling constrained53. However, since it is not permissible (ou hexesti) to do evil and harmful things, but only what is right, useful (sumperonta) and good, this freedom is possessed only by the wise man; his exousia is unlimited, for he guides his life according to reason54. The Stoics also assert that "everything belongs to the wise"55 (see 1 Cor 3:21-22; 4:8). This doctrine will receive various applications, including the theory of absolute moral indifference to sexual gratification and the possibility of eating anything that comes from a sacrifice56. Conzelmann will draw on Dupont's work to argue that terms like exestin (to be permitted) and sumpherein (to be advantageous) have points of comparison only in Cynico-stoic philosophy57. Horsley would counter Conzelmann that the same ideas are found in Philo of Alexandria, especially in his treatise Quod omnis probus liber, where he asserts that the wise man is free and can do what he wants (see 59)58. But does this prove anything else than that Philo had assimilated some of the ideas of the Stoics? Dupont thus concludes that, "in their conception of their freedom (exousia), the Corinthian 'Gnostics' are dependent on the themes popularized by Cynico-stoic moral philosophy"59. However Conzelmann argues that the term exestin (1 Cor 6:12) does not have in the Corinthians the sense of "it is possible" as it does in the Stoics, but the sense of "it is permitted," which would derive from the Pauline doctrine of freedom; Stoicism would have provided the vocabulary, not the meaning that the word took on in Corinth60.
How does one finally move from knowledge to freedom? Dupont notes some parallels in Hellenistic philosophy, especially in Epictetus (4, 7, 16) where freedom is dependent on a knowledge of divine commands61. But he must confess that the attestations of a connection between the notions of gnosis and "freedom" are few and uncharacteristic, and that they are not sufficient to establish the existence of a specific theme that would be of a nature to illuminate 1 Cor 8:1-1362. For "when they base their exousia on their gnosis, the Corinthians who eat meats immolated to idols claim a prerogative of charismatics"63. Horsley, for his part, draws attention to certain texts of Philo of Alexandria, especially Legum Allegoriae 3:44-48, where it is asserted that he who has received wisdom from God becomes steadfast; from then on his conscience can no longer reproach him with anything (see Fug. 117-118; Praem. 162-163). But we do not see how this brings us any closer to the great permissiveness displayed by the Corinthians? On the contrary, Philo's valuing of the science of God led to exercising great control over carnal pleasure and earthly realities (Quod Deus, 143-146).
What to conclude? The position of the Corinthians cannot be fully explained either by recourse to Greek philosophy or by recourse to Hellenistic Judaism, or to use Conzelmann's terms, it cannot be reconstructed on the basis offered by general religious history64. Dupont had already noted that "the gnosis of the Corinthians appears essentially oriented toward practical applications"65. What are the features of this position? Barrett has tried to summarize them as follows: 1/ a gnosis that is essentially practical; 2/ a gnosis that teaches strict monotheism on a rational basis; 3/ a strictly dualistic gnosis; 4/ a gnosis that leads to moral indifferentism66. The Corinthians were able to make eclectic use of ideas from Greek philosophy or Hellenistic Judaism, or from mystery religions, for all these ideas were widespread in the cosmopolitan milieu of Corinth. Moreover, were not the Christians of diverse origins and the community a place where ideas had to clash? In this regard Collange notes "that an essential part of the assembly's time was to be devoted to debates on the attitude to be held in the multiplicity of problems of everyday life"67. Even so, it is possible that some of these ideas will undergo an evolution so that Conzelmann believes he detects isolated traces of what will later become the Gnostic current; we would be in the presence of a statu nascendi Gnosticism, and the Corinthians would be Proto-gnostics68. But there is more. It is probable that Pauline preaching had an influence on the attitude found among the Strongs: they would have taken up certain formulas of Paul to which they would have given their own application. This is probably the case for the formula panta exestin (1 Cor 6:12) which echoes the Apostle's preaching on freedom despite its Stoic vocabulary, and will lead to libertinism69. This is probably also the case for the monotheistic formula of 1 Cor 8:4. According to Horsley Paul would not have used the word idol in his preaching70. But how can some texts like 1 Thess 1:9 be overlooked? On the contrary, it seems, as Murphy-O'Connor believes, that the affirmation of the oneness of God was not only a fundamental element of the kerygma, but "the opposition between the one true God and idols was a key element in Paul's preaching (1 Thess 1:9; Gal 4:8; see Acts 14:15)71. Likewise, the theme of edification plays an important role in his parenesis (see 1 Cor 8:1; 10:23; 14:4, 17; 1 Thess 5:11). Now, if the ironic use of the term in 1 Cor 8:10 is any indication, the Strongs would have taken up this idea to justify their behavior72. According to this perspective, recently converted Christians would have assimilated Pauline preaching privileging and even biasing certain elements: faith in the risen Christ becomes a movement of spiritual ascent with the redeemer73, a movement confirmed by the various spiritual experiences in the community74, the experience of the Spirit becomes an experience of self; the freedom that faith brings is transformed into a speculative principle aimed at freeing the pneumatic from earthly attachments 75.
Who are these Strongs? Dupont believes that we should look for them on the side of the Jews who would have been joined by Greeks brought to take a position in the debate76. We do not share this view. Given the eclectic nature of their ideas, the ease with which they slipped into libertarianism, and the social dimension of pagan meals, it is far more likely that the Strongs were predominantly Hellenic-Christian77.
Who are these Weak? What is their weakness? What is the danger they face? These are the questions we want to address now.
The identification of the Weak is usually linked to v.7 of chap. 8 78: all'ouk en pasin hē gnōsis. Tines de tē synētheia heōs arti tou eidōlou hōs eidōlothyton esthiousin, kai hē syneidēsis autōn asthenēs ousa molynetai (But not in all (is) the knowledge. Then, some, (having) the habit until now of the idol, eat as a thing sacrificed to an idol and their conscience being weak is defiled). First of all, there is a problem of textual criticism. Which is the better lesson, syneitheia (habit: ﬡ*, A, B, P, syr., cop.) or syneidēsei (conscience: ﬡc, D, G, it)? There is a consensus among exegetes to prefer the syneitheia lesson; it is quite understandable that a copyist mistakenly wrote syneidēsei instead of syneitheia, because of the presence of this word at the end of the verse. On the other hand, the introduction of the word syneitheia used only one other time by Paul seems more uncertain79. Coune tried to defend the syneidēsei lesson, which he thought would be the difficilior lesson : it would confront us with two different meanings of syneidēsis within the same verse; the copyist would have wanted to smooth out the difficulty by replacing the first syneidēsis with synētheia80. Coune's thesis failed to gain traction81. He wanted to provide further support for Dupont's thesis arguing that the Weak are not Hellenic-Christians, but Judeo-Christians82. However, Dupont's thesis does not need to upset the received text to defend his view. For the word "habit" (synētheia) would not have the limited meaning of "frequenting idols," but rather would be "a certain way of considering idols and their worship"83. To this flexibility of interpretation of the word "habit" Dupont joins other arguments: how can it be said that this habit persists until now (heōs harti), when we are talking about Christians? Moreover, the attitude of the Weak manifests a certain fear of idols: 10:20 (a demonic presence is feared) and 8:7 (fear of being defiled), which could characterize a Jew fearing contamination. In fact, the heart of Dupont's argument rests on the purity context found in ch. 14 and 15 of Romans (in kyriō Iēsou hoti ouden koinon; panta men kathara: in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean; all things indeed are clean) (Rm 14:14.20) and in 1 Cor. 8:7 (molynetai: is defiled)84; and the idea of the "clean and unclean" would definitely connect to a Jewish literary milieu85.
Dupont's philological analysis is serious and thorough. However, we dare to criticize the way he juxtaposes the texts. How can 1 Corinthians 10:20 be used to describe the attitude of the weak, when it is Paul presenting his way of seeing things? Similarly, we must distinguish between the context of chapters 14 and 15 of Romans and that of chapter 8 of Corinthians, which are not the same. In the first case we are faced with a synthesis where various problems are brought together, including that of food and the calendar (see 14:6), in the second case it is a question of frequenting idol temples and participating in sacred meals. Dupont acknowledges this in a later article: "The situation in Rome does not correspond exactly to that in Corinth. There is no mention of food offered to idols about the Weak of Roman Christendom."86.
Murphy-O'Connor argues the opposite thesis that the Weak are converts from paganism87. According to him, the verb molynein cannot be invoked to identify the Weak, for Paul uses the verb typtein (to wound: 8:12) to express the same reality88. In support of this position we may point out that the word molysmos (defilement) in 2 Cor 7:1 has as its antonym "holiness" (hagiōsynē) in the context of believer-unbeliever relations (v. 15), and thus takes on a meaning not ritualistic, but moral. The decisive argument that settles the debate lies in what drives the Weak to act like the Strong: the social factor89. We have seen the role that sacred meals played in society. The fact that the Strong attended these meals put the Weak in a difficult position in front of his family and friends: how to explain his refusal. This refusal could not be justified by the Weak One's religious convictions, since idols were held to be nothing. The risk of seriously insulting family and friends then arises. According to Murphy-O'Connor, it is difficult to see how a Judeo-Christian could have experienced this dilemma, since his family and friends certainly did not frequent pagan places. Thus he concludes: "It is more probable therefore that the Weak were Gentile Christians whose intellectual conviction that there was only one God had not been fully assimilated emotionally90. For our part, we believe that this social dimension of the problem is what best explains the temptation of the Weak to yield to the example of the Strong. Moreover, Paul's fear of seeing the Weak perish is very understandable in the face of someone who is in danger of turning back, of falling back into idolatry and debauchery; if this danger lurks for the Strong (Acts 10:1-22), all the more so for the Weak. Finally, the monotheistic principle implying the vanity of idols serves as an argument for the Strongs to convince the Weak to act like them, and thus serves to "edify" them (v.10). But Paul must remind them that these Weak do not have this knowledge. How could he speak this way if they were Judeo-Christians, people who had monotheism and the vanity of idols at the center of their faith?91
What is their weakness? It would be weakness of conscience according to 8:7 and 8:12. The expression "weak conscience" is difficult, because it is not found as such in Greek or Jewish literature. Let us first consider the notion of conscience.
Absent from the synoptic gospels, it appears for the first time in Paul, precisely in chapter 8 to the Corinthians. Paul, precisely in chapter 8 of the First Corinthians. Out of 14 uses in the so-called authentic letters, 8 are found in the question of food offered to idols. In the other six uses, the judicial vocabulary dominates, where the function of conscience is to bear witness to oneself (Rom 2:15; 9:1; 1 Cor 1:12; see also Rom 13:5), or to judge the actions of others, which for Paul means the judgment of others on his ministry (1 Cor 4:2; 5:11). Philo of Alexandria offers very interesting parallels with his synonymous notions syneidos (awareness) and elegchos (proof, evidence), which are at once witnesses, judges and accusers (see Dec. 87; Quod Deus 126-134). Also Senft allows himself to conclude that the Pauline meaning of the word "is consistent with its use in Hellenistic Judaism and among the pagan moralists of the time: the conscience is the witness to be feared as much as God, the judge who rebukes and warns, the instance before which it is neither possible to lie nor permitted to bias."92.
However, the sudden appearance of the word "conscience" in Paul, precisely with the question of food offered to idols, makes it likely that this word was borrowed from the Corinthian community93. C.A. Pierce94 has conducted a thorough investigation of the notion of conscience to arrive at the conclusion that it is a term of everyday life in Greek circles and not a technical term of philosophy95 : it is defined as the sorrow felt at an action against the limits of one's nature96. This definition resembles the notion of remorse and would explain the role of judge and accuser that is attributed to the conscience. Wouldn't it explain Paul's phrase: "wounding" (typtein) the conscience (see Rom 14:15: "grieving" the brother)? Paradoxically, the apostle's warning would imply that the Strongs have a weak conscience, since they feel no remorse in hurting or perishing the Weak. Murphy-O'Connor takes this "painful" view of conscience for granted and believes that in vv. 29-30 of chap. 10 he detects the reaction of the Weak: the judgment and blasphemy describe the accusation of the Weak against the Strongs; they would presuppose that the latter acted while feeling the reproaches of conscience as they did97. In any case, it can be assumed that the Weak suffered at the level of their conscience, and if the debate was so great in the Corinthian community that they felt the need to ask Paul's opinion, it must be believed that the Weak were not totally passive.
How then should the idea of a weak conscience be interpreted? Just as the word "conscience" is probably taken by Paul from the Corinthians' letter or milieu, it is also likely that the phrase "weak conscience" was used by the Strongs98. To understand this phrase and the attitude of the Strongs, Jewett suggests, one must assume that they identified syneidēsis (conscience) and nous (mind)99. This would make sense of the connection made between weak conscience and lack of knowledge in v. 7: the Strongs would imagine that a mind in possession of right knowledge would not feel the remorse of conscience, and so a weak conscience would be a mind that had not drawn all the practical implications of what it knew100. Horsley has endeavored to find several texts by Philo of Alexandria stating that he who possesses the knowledge of God, the wise man, has nothing to fear from his conscience (see Fug. 117-118; Leg. All, 3, 44-48)101. Similarly, in Greek circles the privileged status of the wise man who is not troubled by anything was recognized (see Seneca, On the Firmness of the Wise Person, 7, 2). Thus, the Weak One not having drawn the conclusions of his newfound faith102, not having effectively assimilated them103, would be the object of scrupulous fears104, the prey of his conscience. It is interesting to note that Paul will no longer speak of a weak conscience in the epistle to the Romans, but of the weakness of faith, taking up the noetic dimension of the problem in a Christian way.
However, not everything is said about the weakness of the weak. Commentators have pointed out that Paul moves smoothly from "the conscience that is weak" (vv. 7 and 12) to "those who are weak" (vv. 9 and 11). Dupont has worked out the notion of weakness in the Old Testament. He points out that the Hebrew root ksl is translated into Greek sometimes as astheneia (weakness, infirmity), sometimes as skandalon (obstacle)105. For example we read in Jeremiah 6:21: "Behold, I will set up obstacles (mikšōlîm) before this people where they will stumble (wĕkāšlû). Father and son, all together, neighbor and friend, they will perish (heb. wĕʾābādû, LXX: apolountai)." The idea of stumbling and weakness was loaded with a religious dimension as shown in several texts (see IsA 8:14; Ezek 7:19; Hos 5:5, etc.). Also Dupont can conclude: "The biblical notion is at the starting point of the Pauline notion"106. In fact, we can thus explain the connection between asthenein (to be weak: v. 9 and 11), proskomma (occasion of stumbling: v . 9), skandalizei (to cause to stumble: v.13), apollytai (to be destroyed: v. 11) and hamartanein (to sin: v. 12). However Dupont relies on this conclusion to evacuate the Greek perspective of 8:1-13107. In our view the two perspectives coexist: the phrase "consciousness that is weak" is to be understood in the context of the Corinthian Strongs, and the phrase "those who are weak" in the Pauline and Hebrew context. This point, we believe, has not been emphasized enough by commentators. It helps us to understand v. 12, which may seem strange at first sight: why this juxtaposition of "sinning against the brethren" and "wounding one's conscience which is weak"? Why this second member, when "to wound" is much weaker than "to sin" linked to the verb "to be destroyed" of v. 11? Wouldn't it have been simpler to write: "By sinning against your brothers, you are sinning against Christ"? It seems to us, then, that Paul takes up in v.12, in the form of an inclusion, the double perspective on weakness: 12a takes up his own perspective which is Jewish, expressed in vv. 9 to 11; 12b takes up the perspective of the Strongs of Corinth expressed in v. 7.
Let's end with the question: what peril awaits the Weak One? This peril is mentioned in v. 11: apollytai. The meaning of "perish" or "to be destroyed" is clear in Paul, it is the antithesis of salvation (see 1 Cor 1:18; 1 Cor 2:15); there are those who are lost and those who are saved. This is the fate of the unbeliever (2 Cor 4:3-4) or of the one who remains in his sins (1 Cor 15:18). Rom 15:18 offers a synonymous term: being condemned (katakekritai). It is thus the loss of salvation, the break with God, This is the view of Conzelmann, who points out that apollytai should not be taken in the weakened sense of moral ruin, but in the strong sense of eternal damnation108. We lack the data to picture the gravity of the Weak One's situation. If damnation is linked in Paul to unbelief, does this mean that the Weak One was "losing faith"109? Imagining himself under the sphere of influence of the gods, was he losing sight of the power of God in Jesus Christ? Or, reuniting with his pagan relatives and friends, was he abandoning the Christian community?
Murphy-O'Connor has made explicit the communal dimension of the problem, clues to which are provided by an expression found only here in Paul: "sinning against Christ" (v.12)110. We believe he is right when he links "sin" with "perish" (v.11), and gives the word Christ the meaning of "body of Christ", represented by the community (1 Cor 6:15; 12:12). This explains why Paul changes from the singular (this brother, v.11) to the plural (your brothers, v.12): the whole Church is affected by what touches one (1 Cor 6:6; 2 Cor 2:5). Thus, "to destroy a brother is to destroy the community".111.
All of chapter 8 is, of course, part of Paul's response. But in this section we want to isolate the principles which command the argument and which will serve to resolve the problem. These principles are contained in vv. 1c-3 where the dialectic of knowledge-love comes into play. The Strongs emphasize knowledge, and Paul responds by opposing them with love, both in terms of relationships with others and with God. This preference given to love does not appear in the vocabulary, since the term "love" occurs only twice (v. 1: agapē; v. 3: agapein), while the terms related to knowledge (gnōsis, ginōskein, oida) occur 11 times. However, the proposed solution can only be understood with reference to love.
"Knowledge puffs up, love builds up" (v. 1c). The opposition between knowledge and love concerns two levels of reality. It is not only a question of contrasting a cognitive reality with an affective one, but also of showing how to pose the problem correctly: the Corinthians present a behavior towards food offered to idols which they justify with rational arguments. Paul broadens the perspectives and shifts the focus of the question to the brother and the impact on him of the Strongs' behavior112. We move from the abstract to the concrete113, from a theological question to an ethical question. When we speak of love, we speak of relationships between individuals and of concrete situations. Also the principle invoked by Paul will require to be extended by a presentation of the situation of the Weak (see v. 7-12).
Knowledge and love are defined through two different roles: one puffs up, the other builds up. The opposition is very marked. Let us think of the two images evoked by physiō (to puff up) and oikodomeō (to build up). The first refers us to the "wind," the "air bubble"114. The second is aimed at a building, a construction. It is the opposition between what is ineffective, without solidity, and what is fruitful and lasting115. But it is also and above all the opposition between the individualistic, even selfish, attitude and the concern for others, the search for the interests of a community. The Strongs can say: "We all have knowledge", because they ignore the existence of others. Only by caring about others can one realize that not everyone is in the same situation. In the hymn to love in chapter 13 we read: "Love is patient, love is helpful, it is not jealous, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not do anything ugly, it does not seek its own interests" (v.4-5). This is another way of expressing the edifying work of love. Moreover, Paul uses the verb sympherein (it is better) as a synonym for oikodomein (to build up)116. Just as the search for edification serves as a criterion in the problem of food offered to idols, so the search for "what is suitable" for others serves as a criterion in chap. 6 in the use that each one makes of his freedom. The apostle will have at heart to put into practice this principle: "Not seeking my personal advantage (symphoron), but that of the many" (1 Cor 10:33; see 1 Cor 7:35; 1 Cor 8:10).
What, then, is the right attitude toward the Weak and builds him up? It is first of all to become aware that he exists, to welcome him and his situation: ouk en pasin ē gnōsis (But not in all is the knowledge). Those who do not have knowledge nonetheless possess rights in the community117. Love gives rise to solidarity with those who are frail:118 "I shared the weakness of the weak, that I might win the weak" (1 Cor 9:22; see 2 Cor 11:29). This task can become burdensome because it involves "sincerely taking on, thus bearing with him, with all his character deficiencies and sins, and carrying a share of his burdens to lighten him all the more"119. This leads to an attitude of patience where one must wait for one another: love takes patience (1 Cor 13:4; see Rom 6:23).
Love wants the weak to live, not to die. This dialectic of "building up and destroying" is entirely Pauline. In chapter 3 of his first letter to the Corinthians, after presenting his apostolate as laying the foundations of the house of God (v. 10), Paul writes: "If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him" (v. 17). In the same way, in his second letter, he speaks of the power that the Lord gave him "to build up and not to destroy" (13:10). For to build up also means to strengthen. We need only think of the synonyms used, such as exhorting and encouraging (1 Cor 14:3). Faced with the fragility of the Weak, the community will offer the environment that will support him, that will help him to make continual new progress (1 Thess 4:10; see 4:1), that will help him to find the place that is his120. This "build up-destroy" dialectic also applies to the issue of food offered to idols (see v.10-11). The knowledge that the Strongs boasts of, far from leading the latter to welcome and support the Weak, becomes a temptation to exert a certain violence on the latter121: far from respecting him, it hurts his conscience. Knowledge becomes a means of emancipation122, a means of exercising authority (exousia v. 9), but by crushing the Weak One, by widening the gap between them. The Weak, alienated from himself and the norms of his conscience, perishes (v. 11). This destruction affects not only the individual, but also the community. The Strong, by driving the Weak away from the Church, by undermining the community, also cuts himself off from it: "if anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him" (1 Cor 2:17). Paul uses the word sin twice in v. 12. On the one hand, there is perversion and breaking of the relationship with the brother123, and on the other hand perversion and breaking of the relationship with God. The exousia of the Strongs, has become a caricature and perversion of love. Yet Christ exercises lordship over men (Rom 14:4), but this exousia is rooted in the gift of his own life (Rom 14:9); a price was paid for this redemption (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23)124. The exousia and edification in Christ have been perverted by the Strongs (see v. 10 and the ironic use of the term: edify).
It may seem surprising that the requirements of true edification are expressed in a negative way: not to be an occasion for stumbling (v. 9), not to stumble (v. 13). For the image of edification is also associated with the image of growth125. Yet what does Paul ask of the Strongs? To refrain from using their rights, to limit their freedom, not to disturb the conscience of the Weak. How does this help to build them up, to make them grow? Murphy-O'Connor suggests the idea that conscience cannot be forced, even by its possessor, to change, that it cannot be educated by an injection of science126. Instinctive reactions cannot be overcome in a direct way, but only in an indirect way as a consequence of a slow growth toward Christian maturity where the convert gradually takes possession of his new way of being127. Paul merely initiated the process of edification, presenting the first step, as love becomes respectful concern for the Weak. In our opinion, such an attitude corresponds to the one who calls himself the father of the Corinthian community. Did he not write about his way of proceeding: "I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, which you could not bear" (1 Cor 3:2). From then on, to use Spicq's words, "abstention is considered a moral good (kalon)"128. And growth is not denied, but it is designed over time with a number of stages. Moreover, it is done in the Church, for it is the role of the Church to be a community of schooling129.
Likewise, freedom is not denied. Of course, Paul rejects an absolute freedom conceived in the Stoic130 manner where the emphasis is on self-control, complete autonomy, distance from the opinions of others, and freedom from one's own passions. This freedom is fundamentally based on personal effort131. In contrast, Pauline freedom is first of all a gift, and it is constituted primarily by freedom from sin (Rom 6:17-18), to enable man to practice righteousness; it is freedom for the sake of good132. The Corinthians threatened this freedom in two ways. On the one hand, their "anything goes" was leading them back into slavery (6:12). On the other hand, by undermining the community, they were undermining the very place of freedom. Murphy-O'Connor argues that in Paul man is freed from sin when he belongs to that eschatological community where sin no longer has a hold, that community which snatches him from an evil environment133. Through the inauthenticity of one "the tentacles of Sin can creep into places yet protected from its influence"134. By removing the Weak from the community, the Strongs were handing him over to Satan (see 1 Cor 5:5). In the end, he comes to destroy freedom135.
Thus love, in forming the community and constituting what unites it, becomes the supreme norm. It is love that makes one free for the sake of the other and keeps man unbound even when he makes himself a "slave" of the brother and of God (Rom 6:18. 22)136. It is love that criticizes freedom, when the latter gives rise to "unprofitable"137 action, and can limit it138. Love becomes what operates a moral judgment139, or to use Spicq's terms, it provides prudence with its lights140. We know the importance of the word "to determine" (dokimazein) in Paul by which he invites his readers to spot the essential or the will of God (Rom 2:17; 12:2; 14:22). Thus he writes to the Philippians: "Let your love abound again, and more and more, in foresight and perfect sensitivity to discern what is best" (1:9-10). Love allows us to determine true values and constitutes a principle of moral choice141.
"If anyone thinks to have known anything, he does not know yet as it is necessary to know. Then if anyone loves the God, this one is known by Him." (v. 2-3). After the relationship to the brother (v. 1c) now comes the relationship to God142. Paul will also criticize the attitude of the Strongs here. First, he contrasts two ways of knowing expressed by the verb tense: the perfect tense (egnōkenai) and the aorist tense (egnō and gnōnai). In the first case we have the idea of something completed and final, in the other the idea of an indeterminate action, to be continued without the duration being specified143. In one case we have a relationship to the object, frozen in the past, in the other it is dynamic. In fact, Paul is opposing a type of attitude toward God displayed by the Corinthians: they imagine that by having acquired a conception of God, by possessing ideas about him, they have acquired the right attitude144. Here we find the same behavior displayed in the presence of the brothers: the attempt at self-centered appropriation145.
Paul responds by saying, "But if anyone loves God, he is known by him. This reaction has two parts. On the one hand, he clarifies that it is love and not knowledge that specifies the right relationship with God, just as it is love and not knowledge that specifies the right relationship with the brother. On the other hand, he reverses the perspective from the knowledge of God that the Strongs boasted about to being known by God (see 1 Cor 13:12; Gal 4:9). At first sight the Pauline expression seems strange and commentators have felt the need to clarify it. It is brought closer to religious motifs in the Greek milieu and especially to the Hebrew notion yd' in its religious context (Ex 33:12,17; Am 3:2; Jer 1:5, etc.)146. Yet Dupont concludes his analysis of yd' by asserting that it does not have the technical meaning of divine election in favor of those who are known, but that of being the object of God's benevolent solicitude to which is attached the idea of special belonging147. In any case, it is in any case the primary and gratuitous initiative of God in favor of man, an initiative that is situated in history. If someone loves God, this is the sign of a work accomplished by God148. By insisting in this way on God's intervention in history, Paul recalls the kerygma. By emphasizing the gratuity of this gift, he repels the temptation to rely on his acquired knowledge for salvation. Moreover, we know that for him "the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).
We now understand the "point" of Paul's intervention in the face of the problem of food offered to idols. He does not answer the question posed with a yes or a no, but he places it in the context which must be his for a Christian: this context takes into account the brother and the consequences for him of the freedom of the Strongs. It is within a similar community context that the value of the exercise of certain charisms such as speaking in tongues and prophesying (1 Cor 14) will also be judged: does it edify? Such a context can only exist if love exists. The Strongs themselves will have to determine when it is right to eat these meats offered to idols and when it is wrong. By the choices he will make, he will express where he stands in the love of brother and community. Instead of saying: everything is permitted, he will be able to make his own this sentence of Saint Augustine: Love, and do what you want.
We have analyzed the dominant themes of the response to the question of food offered to idols. Let us now try to consider what this answer and the way it is proposed reveal about Paul's pastoral practice. Through the characteristics of his intervention we can identify the traits of a true pastor. These traits are grouped around five themes: the man attentive to the concrete and historical dimension of existence, the man of the community, the man of teaching, the man centered on the challenge of salvation and the truth of the Gospel, the man who proposes himself as a model.
Under this somewhat enigmatic title, we want to shed light on two directions of Paul's effort, that of bringing out the subjective dimension of the problem, and that of opening the eyes of the Strongs to the consequences of their action.
The Corinthian pastor did not want to leave his listeners to their abstract truth, but he makes them aware of the subjective dimension of the problem. This abstract truth is formulated in v. 4: there are no idols in the world and there is no other god but the one god. What does Paul do? First he answers: "Although there are so-called gods in heaven and on earth - and there are in fact many gods and many lords" (v. 5). Thus, gods exist to the extent that some people believe in them. The term kurioi emphasizes the role that these many gods play in relation to men. It expresses the acclaim coming from a number of men who submit to their power149. The Strongs, by placing themselves solely on the level of an objective truth, were ignoring this human fact. By his intervention Paul brings them back to the subjective dimension of the question and, at this level, takes precedence not over logic and abstract truths, but over what people actually believe150; he cannot confuse theory and reality151.
By introducing in v. 6 his baptismal acclamation with all' hēmin (but to us), Paul continues his subjective approach152. He contrasts two groups of people with their own religious beliefs: them (v. 5) and us (v. 6). This shows the rootedness of faith in a personal decision, an existential choice, and this choice may vary among individuals153. It is not a statement of brute fact, but an acclamation that confesses commitment and direction in a life.
The refusal of abstract logic in favor of attention to persons is again seen in v. 7: "But not all have knowledge". The concrete situation imposes itself brutally and does not necessarily follow the path of reason. Paul's pastoral concern leads him to take into account what may be an exception. He does not reject the content of the Strongs' affirmation, but directs their attention to everyday life154. According to Murphy-O'Connor the Strongs assumed that the subjective world of all believers was the same because all adhered to the same objective truth, while in fact the Weak had not yet had time to assimilate on the level of their feelings what they had taken in on the intellectual level155. It seems difficult to us to determine what is sensitivity and what is intelligence in the attitude of the Weak. The fact remains, however, that this is attributed to a long habit of idols (heos arti). These reflexes in the face of idols have undoubtedly penetrated deep into the sensibility, so that the consciousness is still affected by them (molynein, typtein)156, Paul gives a place to this affective dimension of the problem. He accepts the fact that adherence to the same gospel does not entail the same behavior for all (see Rom 14:2: "One man's faith enables him to eat everything, while the other, out of weakness, eats only vegetables").
According to Senft, "the Corinthian circumstances led Paul to an important discovery: the contingency of the injunctions of conscience"157. In fact, the apostle comes to the defense of those Strongs afflicted by a scrupulous conscience, while recognizing that frequenting pagan temples is not in itself sinful: for the Strong, sin consists in causing the Weak to act against his conscience; for the Weak, it consists in eating meat sacrificed to idols, when his conscience forbids him to do so (v. 11; see Rom. 14:23). Is it possible to affirm any more that conscience, moral life, and the behavior that stems from faith are part of a particular context, that they necessarily bear the mark of a collective and individual history?
This characteristic of Paul's response is also evident in vv. 9-11, when he does not speak of a weak conscience, but of the conscience of the weak, or simply speaks of the Weak. The change of emphasis is easy to see. The expression "weak conscience" refers to an abstract reality, and was perhaps meant to be used by the Strongs. In contrast, the phrase Paul uses puts the person at the center, for it is indeed the person who is the issue: "In a series of carefully calculated steps," writes Murphy-O'Connor, "he has shifted the emphasis from an abstract interpersonal 'weak conscience' to a highly concrete 'weak brother' who possesses a conscience."158. In v. 28 of chap. 10 we would have the same procedure: Paul inserts the expression "the one who warned you" next to the word "conscience" used by the Corinthians to make it clear that it is the person who counts159.
Paul's attention, as a pastor, to the concrete and historical aspect of life does not only lead him to emphasize the subjective dimension of religious convictions and conscience, but also to pay great attention to the real consequences of the behavior of the Strongs and to integrate them into the moral assessment: "be careful lest this right of you would become an occasion of stumbling to those (being) weak". This attention to the consequences of freedom sets Paul apart from the position of the Greek philosophers160. These defined it as the ability to live as one wishes161. Paul does not offer a definition of freedom here, but gives it a historical framework, and thereby the limit. For the Strongs, by basing their conduct solely on the monotheistic affirmation and its logical consequences, were proposing a freedom outside time and space, outside any concrete situation. Paul does not assert that frequenting the pagan temple affects the Strongs, which would be a sin for him, but he does show the possible repercussions of their conduct on the Weak and how the Weak interpret this freedom (v. 10: "if anyone would see you, the (one) having knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, might not their conscience, being weak...")162. And these implications are not deduced abstractly, but are tied to the history of individuals and communities.
We can thus understand why Paul privileged love at the expense of knowledge in his answer. On the level of knowledge, he could only partly agree with the Strongs. Only love makes it possible to leave behind abstract truths and become sensitive to the subjective dimension of the problem. Knowledge is not denied, but integrated into a larger context. This is one of the emphases of the pastoral effort163.
By definition, the pastor is responsible for a community. Paul, as we know, was at the origin of several churches, including the one in Corinth. Even though he preferred to leave a well-established Church, where the leaders were chosen (see 1 Thess 5:12-13), and to go to other places to proclaim Jesus Christ where he was not yet (see Rom 15:20), he continued his work of strengthening these Churches that he had founded through letters.
The man of the community is revealed in many ways in the passage we are studying. When Paul says in v. 2 that love edifies, he is laying down the principle that constitutes community. Collange had already noted that "Pauline love is above all communal"164; when the apostle speaks of love - often without specifying its recipients - the context indicates that it is that 'perfect bond' (ho syndesmos tes teleiotētos : Col 3:14) that unites Christian communities165 (Rom 12:9; 2 Cor 6:6; 1 Cor 13:1. 22.214.171.124.13; 14:1; 16:14; 1 Cor 8:7.8.24; Gal 5:6.22; Phil 1:9.16; 2:1.2; 1 Thess 1:3; 5:8; Phm 9; Col 1:8; 2:2; 3:14). Even if love in Paul extends also to the whole of mankind (eis pantas, 1 Thess 3:12), we feel that his concern is primarily for the community where reciprocity in love can exist. In this regard, chapters 12 and 13 of the epistle to the Romans offer an interesting example. In 12:3-16 the exhortation concerns above all fraternal relationships in the community and love plays a central role: "Let brotherly love bind you together with mutual affection" (v. 10; see v. 7). On the other hand, 12:17-21 is about relationships with all people, and at this point it is "doing good" that plays a key role. This relationship with all men continues with 13:1-7, where it is a question of obeying civil authority and giving it its due. But 13:8-10 takes up the theme of brotherly relations, as well as that of mutual love. Thus Paul mostly reserves the theme of love for community relationships.
This reference to the community comes not only from the term "love", but also from the activity attributed to it: building up (v. 1c). Indeed, the object of this edification is the Church (see 1 Cor 14:12). The word conveys the image of a building. Paul uses this image to designate, among others, the community of Corinth (1 Cor 3:1); it is, of course, a spiritual building (1 Cor 3:16); this building is essentially the work of God (1 Cor 3:9). But this task of building is accomplished through the work of men. It denotes first of all the activity of the apostle himself (2 Cor 10:8; 13:10; 12:19166. The members of the community are also involved (1 Thess 5:11). This task is so important that it becomes a criterion for assessing Christian action: this is the case in the problem of "speaking in tongues" (1 Cor 14:4.17) as well as in the question of the use of freedom in the face of food offered to idols (8:9-10). It is a bit paradoxical that in the first case it is the mind (nous) that edifies (1 Cor 14:15), in the other love (1 Cor 8:1). But in fact in the first case communal concern leads to instructing others (katēchēsō: 1 Cor 14:19), in the other to showing solidarity with the weakest (see 1 Cor 9:22; 2 Cor 11:29; 1 Thess 5:14).
Murphy-O'Connor has developed the hypothesis that 1 Cor 8:6 constitutes Paul's reworking of a baptismal acclamation167. Indeed, v. 6 falls, like 1 Tim 2:5, into a specific literary genre, that of acclamation168. The acclamation usually occurs in the face of an act of power of God, as can be seen in the acclamation before Serapis169. For the Christian the act of God's power is experienced in a privileged way at baptism, as he passes from death to life170. So what does Paul do? If Murphy-O'Connor's hypothesis is correct, the apostle would mention a baptismal acclamation to remind the Strongs of that moment when they entered a community of brothers; their baptism made them part of an organic whole that is the body of Christ171.
This community dimension is also mentioned by the double use of the word "brother" (v. 11-12) and by the expression: sinning against Christ (v. 12). By destroying the Weak, the Strong undermines the body of Christ which is the Church: he destroys the work of God (see Rom 14:20). Some of the Weak may be in danger of leaving the Christian community. Paul's intervention as a shepherd is to safeguard the integrity of the flock. For him even the Weak have their place. Did he not write, albeit in a different context: "Even those members of the body who seem weakest are needed, and those whom we hold in low esteem we give the most honor" (1 Cor 12:22-23).
We believe it possible that v. 8 reflects the position of the Corinthians, "food will not have us appear before God, neither will we come short if we would not eat nor will we have an advantage if we would not eat" (according to lesson A2 and 17)172. In other words, under this assumption, the Strongs find that eating food offered to idols in no way deprives them of spiritual gifts173, and thus does not imply any judgment on God's part. If this assumption is correct, Paul shifts perspectives from the Strongs' "me-God" (v. 8) relationship to propose the "me-body of Christ" (v. 12) that is the church. Faced with food offered to idols, the real question is not: does my action not bring condemnation from God, but rather: can my action be a cause of fall for others, does it break the community?
It is therefore as pastor of a community that Paul addressed the question of food offered to idols. He wanted each one to assume this concern for the community as well.
The Corinthians asked an ethical question. The answer, which extends over 13 verses, does not simply indicate the behavior to be followed, but presents a teaching that recalls the essentials of the Christian faith and serves as an ethical horizon. It is commonly recognized that Pauline exhortations are derived from his presentation of the kerygma and may take this form: Become what you are. "The imperative, writes R. Bultmann, 'walk according to the Spirit', not only does not contradict the indicative of justification (the believer is rightwised) but results from it"174.
One may not immediately notice that Paul recalls the Christian kerygma in 1 Corinthians 3:1-13. We have underlined the fact that he repeated several statements of the Corinthians with which he seemed to agree. But the apostle often praises the faith and love of his readers at first (see 1 Thess 1:3.7; 2:13; 3:6), admires the richness of their gifts (see 1 Cor 1:5), and then finely suggests at a later stage that they need to make further progress (1 Thess 4:10.13), that they still have much to receive (see 1 Cor 4:8). Our passage is no exception to the rule. On the one hand, the pastor of the Corinthians assumes one of their statements: "All of us, of course, have knowledge" (v. 1). But on the other hand, he immediately makes a correction: "If anyone thinks to have known anything, he does not know yet as it is necessary to know" (v. 2). There is a "not yet". "Their illusion of having reached the goal," writes Conzelmann, "is destroyed, as in 4:8, but with new arguments"175. How is this teaching completed?
We had the opportunity to analyze v. 3 (see section 1.5). Paul brings a first correction to the position of the Strongs by affirming that the right attitude in the relationship with God is not the possession of knowledge about him, but a life of love. He goes further and specifies that this love is a gift, that it results from the benevolence of God. Thus the Strongs boast of their privileged position provided by their knowledge, but Paul reverses the perspective and reminds us of a constant in the testimony of Scripture and in his own preaching: this relationship with God is a free gift: "For who is it that distinguishes you? What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, why are you proud of it as if you had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7).
According to the same procedure, the apostle takes up in v. 5 a statement from the Corinthians and immediately adds others that complete it, even if he does not explicitly speak of a deficient statement: the conjunction gar (for) that prolongs v. 4 should not deceive us. V. 5 brings a first nuance drawn from concrete life in Corinth and in the pagan world. But it is in v. 6 that Paul recalls the heart of the Christian kerygma and rectifies the most the perspectives. We must look further at it.
It is now generally recognized as a pre-Pauline formula176. But the discussion continues about the context in which Paul places it and in which it is to be interpreted. Several exegetes have set out to demonstrate that this context is soteriological, not cosmological. There is not always agreement on the part to be played by the two perspectives. For Conzelmann, for example, "the soteriological significance is not contained in a direct statement, but is expressed indirectly by the confessional style and the hint that revelation is new creation"177. According to him, the soteriological dimension can be guessed especially through the expression "but for us" (all' hēmin) which initiates a confession of Christian faith; the expressions "ta panta" taken from pantheism, "Father", presenting God as creator, and "dia ou" presupposing the pre-existence of Christ and employing a Christology of the logos-eikōn-sophia type situate us in a cosmological dimension. Feuillet makes the two perspectives coexist in equal measure, so that he can write, "The version we propose also makes Christ a mediator in the order of salvation: not only was everything created by him, but it is by passing through him that Christians go to meet the Father"178. This author senses very well that the "we" (hēmeis eis auton, hēmeis di'autou: we towards him, we through him) refers to all believers, and thus refers us to salvation history. But Giblin179 and Murphy-O'Connor180 go further in arguing that, while the expression ta panta has its roots in Stoic pantheism, in the context of 1 Cor 8:1-13 it takes on a soteriological meaning. The latter cites the various uses in Paul of ta panta (1 Cor 2:10-15; 12:4-6; 1 Cor 4:14-15; 5:18; Rom 8:28, 31-32) that are closest in time to 1 Cor. 8:6 and notes that their meaning is soteriological (e.g. in Rom 8:31-32: "He (God) who did not spare his own Son but gave him over for us all, how with his Son will he not give us everything (ta panta)?" Thus "in both the panta which are ek tou Theou and dia Christou are the realities which found and maintain that new mode of existence"181. Rather than seeing two juxtaposed perspectives, Murphy-O'Connor believes that we are looking at a single movement whose starting point is marked by ek (out of), whose end point is marked by eis (towards), and whose place it passes through is marked by dia (through); and this movement is given the meaning of its end: the new creation182. Giblin was the first to interpret this text in the context of vv. 7-13 where Paul emphasizes Christ's love and death for the brother, so that ta panta "would seem at least to comprise God's gracious gifts to the community, among which, of course, is the gift of gnōsis (see 1 Cor 1:5)"183. Hence, taking this context into account, we can say that "Paul himself decidedly subordinates the notions of 'creating' and 'mediating creative activity' to that of interpersonal relationships, notably among a plurality of believers"184. We must also place this verse in the larger context of the Pauline writings, for example this text from 2 Corinthians 5:15.19: "And he died for all so that the living would no longer live for themselves.... If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old world has passed away; behold, a new reality is here. Everything comes from God (ta de panta ek tou Theou) who has reconciled us to himself through (dia) Christ and entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation." From this perspective we understand how the formula in v. 6 could have served to exhort the Strongs to root their lives in the love of that brother for whom Christ died.
What does Paul teach by using this formula in v. 6? First, he reminds us of the historical dimension of the Christian faith: what the Strongs know does not come from their philosophical speculations, but from God's revelation; "for us" believers, "all things" come from God "through" (dia) Jesus Christ. In the second place, this revelation concerns our situation as saved ones, this new creation, which enables us to go to God (eis auton) through Jesus Christ (dia autou). In the third place, the historical role of Christ, and therefore of the cross, is emphasized, as will be illuminated later, when Paul writes: "this brother, for whom Christ died" (v. 11). In the fourth place, the Father and the Son exercise different but coordinated functions within the same project of salvation.
Thus, Paul gives his own deeper understanding of Christian monotheism, which affirms the historical action of different persons in view of a single project of salvation for believers. Faced with the overly theistic formula of the Strongs, the apostle speaks of Christ, and of his historical mediation which will take the form of a cross. This Christologization of perspectives is also noticeable later, when we move from the statement of v. 8 that we attributed to the Strongs (it is not food that will bring us before God) to Paul's remark in v. 12 (you sin against Christ). In the face of the Strongs' insistence on knowledge, Paul speaks of the gift of salvation that recreates and makes us walk toward God. This was to address a particular problem, to advise on practical behavior, and, as Conzelmann notes, "it is with the doctrinal teachings that Paul's criticism begins."185.
Why did Paul take a stand in favor of the Weak? We have already discussed the danger that threatened him: he risked losing his salvation by leaving the community, by returning to the practice of idolatry, by becoming an unbeliever. Christ would then have died in vain for him. It is not simply a question of people being shocked by the example of others, or of clashes between different groups who judge or despise each other (Rom 14:1-12). But Paul is moved by a matter of life and death for individuals and a community.
Can we not be surprised at Paul's way of intervening? Why does he not try to free the Weaks from their scruples, but instead prefers to limit the freedom of the Strongs? Doesn't he find himself refusing a freedom conferred by the Gospel, and in this does he not contradict his attitude in the Galatian question where he defends freedom: "To these people," he writes, "we did not submit, led for a momentary question, so that the truth of the Gospel might be maintained for us" (Gal 2:5).
It is first of all important to note that in the question of the food offered to idols Paul does not deny the existence of freedom: these meats are in themselves morally neutral (see 10:25-27) and can be eaten. It is because of this very possibility that the question arises. For a Jew not freed from the law, or for a Christian following the decisions of the Jerusalem assembly, this possibility did not exist. When Paul suggests his own conduct in the circumstance (8:13) and then speaks of his rights which he has renounced, he intends to present this renunciation as an act of freedom in the service of the brother and of Christ186.
But there is more. The epistle to the Galatians is a vibrant plea for the freedom conferred by the Gospel. But what kind of freedom is it? To the Galatians who want to submit to the practice of the law and accept circumcision under the influence of "false brethren", Paul exhorts them: "That we may be truly free, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be yoked together in slavery" (Gal 5:1). He who has put his faith in Christ is no longer subject to the law. There is a kind of incompatibility between the law and faith (Gal 3:12), so that he who is circumcised has broken with Christ (5:4); his death is of no use. For the apostle, the non-Jew who submits to the law proclaims that he needs the law to be justified, and thus contradicts the Gospel of justification by Christ (Gal 5:5). It is the heart of the Christian witness that is at stake. We can understand the reaction of the apostle who defends this freedom in the face of the law; to deny this freedom was to deny the Gospel187.
But such is not the case in the question of the idols: restricting the freedom the Strongs gave themselves did not affect the truth of the Gospel. "As a personal right," Bultmann writes, "it (freedom) would no longer be Christian freedom but a legal claim"188. For Murphy-O'Connor the fundamental error of the Corinthians was to confuse the "freedom from" conferred by faith in Christ, and the "freedom for," and to transfer the absolute character of the former to the latter by proclaiming, "Everything is permitted"189. Indeed, he who believes in Christ is freed from the constraints of the law. It is understood that the rules of Leviticus (chap. 17-19), which could be used as norms in the matter of food offered to idols as was the case at the Jerusalem assembly, are no longer of value. The same is true of the conscience of others, to which I do not have to submit (1 Cor 10:29). What then will be the ethical benchmarks? "Do not be conformed to this world," Paul writes to the Romans, "butbe transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:2)."190. This search for God's will could be the subject of regular meetings in the Church of Corinth and probably led to its founder being asked the question of food offered to idols. This will of God, even if it cannot be determined a priori, at least includes a direction: "You, brothers, it is to freedom that you have been called. Only let this freedom give no hold to the flesh! But through love, serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in this one word: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal 5:13-14). Paul will bring this rule of love into play in the question of food offered to idols. Thus, the Christian is truly free from the law, but nevertheless this freedom and fidelity to the Spirit lead him to submit to the law of love.
The apostle seems to love paradox. He uses the word "law" in a negative sense, linking it to death (Gal 2:19) and sin (Gal 3:10); he also uses it in a positive sense, saying that it is summed up in the commandment of love and speaking of "the law of Christ"; he thus exhorts the Galatians: "Bear one another's burdens; so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 5:14). The same is true of servitude: "Yes, I am free from all, but I have made myself the slave of all, that I might gain the greatest number" (1 Cor 9:19). In the same way, he will write to the Romans: "Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another" (13:8). The paradox also concerns the question of scandal. Paul asks the Strongs not to cause the Weak to stumble, but did he not proclaim aloud the scandal of the cross which was a cause of fall for many (1 Cor 1:18-25)? Did he not risk being a cause of scandal for the Judeo-Christians? In fact, for him the only truth is Jesus Christ who died and rose again, and salvation through faith in him. Everything that brings us closer to Christ has a positive value: it gives meaning to everything. The only scandal is that which leads away from Christ. Freedom is wrong when it makes people take a different path from that of Christ who loves to the point of giving his life. The law is wrong when it makes us hope for a salvation other than that offered by Christ.
This concern for the truth of the Gospel had another aspect that cannot be overlooked. After noting that Paul gives no indication of how to strengthen the conscience of the Weak, Conzelmann writes in a note: "This is an example of the Christian humanity which allows our brother to stand as the man he is, not as the man he ought to be according to some ideal standard"191. This note touches on an important point in the Gospel message: man, whether strong or weak, is met by God where he is, welcomed into the very heart of his condition. Let him who eats," Paul wrote later to the Romans, "not despise him who does not eat, for God has welcomed him" (14:3). This is another way of proclaiming justification by faith in Christ. If the law does not bring salvation, neither does knowledge. We know how much Paul insisted at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians on the failure of human wisdom (see 1 Cor 1:21). In the same way, the Weak One is a man reached by the call, the love, the salvation of Christ, independently of the level reached by his knowledge, independently of his weakness. Senft has emphasized this point well: "The call he has received enables him - gives him the freedom - to belong to Christ and to serve him with that human characteristic, weakness, which is his"192. To wound his conscience was to hide from him the fact that he is welcomed with his weak conscience before God. For Paul, the original condition is of little importance: "Moreover, let each one live according to the condition which the Lord gave him to share, and in which he was when God called him" (1 Cor 7:17). Because of this diversity of original conditions, the response to God's call will take on different faces. Thus Senft can write, "Conscience, whether weak or strong, assigns to each person's freedom its limits, limits which will also be those of his faith, in that they define the space within which he can and must live his life as a justified man"193. Respect and love for the Weak One brings into play the very truth of the Gospel, of that justification offered to all regardless of works.
In v. 13 Paul offers his solution to the problem of the food offered to idols: "For which very reason if food causes to stumble my brother, I would never eat meat for ever so that my brother would never stumble" (1 Cor 8:13). While he used the 2o and 3o person singular, as well as the 1o, 2o and 3o person plural in the first 12 verses, in the conclusion he uses "I." Rather than issuing binding advice, he simply says: this is what I would personally do in this situation. And by proposing his own behavior, Paul presents himself as a model to be emulated. That this is Paul's thinking is confirmed at the end of chapter 10, when the whole section devoted to food offered to idols ends: "So I myself try to please everyone in all things, not seeking my own advantage but that of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I myself am of Christ" (1 Cor 10:33-11:1).
It has been noted that this theme of imitation, borrowed from Hellenism, is hardly found in the New Testament except in the Pauline epistles194. The object of this imitation is above all the apostle himself (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6). He does not propose himself for imitation because he is a model of perfection. Rather, he points to his missionary work, the way he received the Gospel (1 Thess 1:6) and the way he proclaims it (1 Cor 4:9-13)195. "Pauline imitation," Collange writes, "is always kerygmatic"196. What he proposes to imitate, concerns a behavior that has only one goal, the Gospel of salvation (1 Cor 10:3 3). If he made himself the slave of all, if he was Greek with the Greeks and Jew with the Jews, if he shared the weakness of the weak, it was "for the sake of the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:19-23). That is why he gave up his rights and proposed to the Corinthians: imitate me! This is the perspective from which we should also read 1 Cor 8:13, even though it does not speak of salvation, but rather of a stumbling block. Just as the apostle renounced the right to be taken care of by the community, "so as not to create any obstacle to the gospel of Christ" (1 Cor 9:12), so too he proposes to the Strongs that they should not use the right conferred by their knowledge so as not to be an obstacle to the Weak. The motivation is evangelical: like Paul, the Strongs have to witness to the Gospel of Christ, firstly by not being a cause of scandal for their brethren; secondly by welcoming and respecting the Weak who have been called like them by God. Just as Paul, by his word and by the whole of his missionary life, is a model for believers, so the believer, by following the path he has traced, not only imitates this missionary, but also becomes a model for others (see 1 Thess 1:7). This is what the pastor of Corinth is proposing to the members of the community: to extend his action in the service of the Gospel.
When we look at the context in which the exhortation to imitation takes place, we note a situation in which there is "distress" (1 Thess 1:6), "condemnation to death" (1 Cor 4:9), renunciation of one's own "advantage" (1 Cor 10:33), the "cross of Christ" (Phil 3:1 8). 1 Cor 8:13 is no exception, since it is a matter of the Strongs limiting their freedom. Chapter 9 continues this context, as Paul insists on the rights he has renounced. The apostle is a model in that he has stripped himself197. If this is so, it is because he has made himself an imitator of Christ (1 Cor 10:33), he has made him present198. To imitate Paul is also to imitate Christ (1 Thess 1:6). Indeed, he stripped himself of the condition of a servant, stooping to death on a cross (Phil 2:6-11); "For you know the generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for your sakes became rich and poor, so that you might be enriched by his poverty" (1 Cor 8:9). When Paul proposes to the Strongs his own behavior (v. 13), when he proposes to them to limit the exercise of their freedom, he is ultimately presenting the behavior of Christ to be reproduced. Thus the Strongs, far from being the cause of a fall for the Weak, will collaborate, like Paul, in this salvation offered by Christ199.
In Corinth, the apostle bases his exhortation to imitate him on spiritual fatherhood: "You do not have many fathers. I have begotten you in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Cor 4:15). By situating himself at the level of relationship to Christ, Paul claims authority, not only because he is the origin of their new being, that he has begotten them to life in Christ, but also because he can show them the way, that he has the duty to educate them200. This image of fatherhood is also found in the letter to the Thessalonians, within a context of pastoral work and imitation: "Treating each of you as a father his children, we exhorted, encouraged, and adjured you to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of God, who calls you to his kingdom and glory" (1 Thess 2:11-12). This spiritual fatherhood is a matter of the convert's relationship with the preacher responsible for his conversion201. It sets the framework well for reading 1 Cor 8:13. When Paul expresses what he would do in the matter of the food offered to idols, he does not define himself as someone giving friendly advice, but displays his status as a spiritual father who can point out the "principles of life in Christ" (1 Cor 4:17). And yet this authority does not have a binding character: the paths proposed include an element of motivation (1 Cor 8:1.3.6) and try to respect the freedom of the believer: this is what I would do. This paternal authority does not resemble the authority of a master202. The letter to Philemon provides another example. Paul writes: "Though I have, in Christ, full liberty to prescribe your duty, it is preferably in the name of love that I address a request to you... I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that this benefit would not seem forced, but would come of your own free will" (8:14). Paul does not want to exercise all the rights that his spiritual fatherhood confers: "And I do not remind you that you also owe me a debt, and that is yourself!" (19)203. The way he can exercise his authority without issuing binding advice is by offering himself as a model.
In ancient times, eating meat was not very common and was therefore a festive event. As the slaughter of animals was sacred, with part of the meat being burned and the rest sold at the market, the question arose as to whether a Christian should eat meat. The question arose all the more because the consumption of meat was above all a social activity since it occurred on the occasion of funerals or weddings, or during religious festivities of the city or meals offered by professional guilds. Moreover, these festivities could give rise to debauchery sessions. What was the attitude of the Christians? This question may come as a surprise, for had it not been settled at the Council of Jerusalem around the year 48/49 when Christians were asked to abstain? We must believe that Paul had a much freer position.
Christians who prided themselves on their knowledge of God had no problem participating in these meals. They are called "Strongs" as opposed to those who were considered "weak" because of their conscience with respect to these meals. Who are they? They are probably Greeks, first converted to Judaism, and then became Christians. We can understand their dilemma, since they were probably well immersed in the everyday life of Corinth and had pagan friends who frequented these banquets. Their ideas resemble in part those of Philo of Alexandria, a Jew immersed in Hellenistic culture. One understands then the meaning of their insistence on knowledge which is only the reflection of the religious ideal of a knowledge of God obtained by revelation and by which one knows that idols are nothing. Moreover, their insistence on the freedom that comes from this knowledge could be explained in part by Paul's own preaching about Christian freedom.
On the other hand, Christians called "weak" according to the first epistle to the Corinthians feared being defiled by these meats. These Christians probably came from the pagan world, because the Jews had totally isolated themselves from these social celebrations. On the contrary, the so-called "weak" were under pressure from family and friends. Not having fully assimilated the oneness of God, they were in danger of falling back into their old ways. And then they felt the reproach of their conscience, remorse, and saw the attitude of the "Strongs" as a real blasphemy. The latter replied by reproaching them for having a weak conscience, because when one has a correct knowledge of idols one does not feel remorse. When Paul intervened, he did not speak of a weak conscience, but of those who were weak, appealing to the biblical notion of weakness or scandal: by meeting their friends at these social gatherings, these people risked leaving the Christian community, and thus losing their faith.
Paul's answer revolves around two key words, knowledge and love. First, it is love that specifies right relationship with others: knowledge puffs up, love builds up. This helps him to broaden the perspective to focus on the brother and the impact of the Strongs' behavior on him. And only love allows one to step out of an abstract, individualistic perspective and care for others. The first result of love is the awareness that those who do not have knowledge have rights in the community, and the expression of solidarity with them. When Paul speaks of the love that edifies, he means to describe the task of supporting the weak and helping them to find their place in the community. On the other hand, the knowledge that the Strongs boast of, far from leading them to welcome and support the Weak, becomes a temptation to exert a certain violence on the latter: far from respecting them, it hurts their conscience, causes them to drift away from the community, and thus their spiritual death. So Paul asks the Strongs not to be a cause of stumbling, not to scandalize, because a conscience cannot be educated by an injection of science. This does not mean, however, that freedom is denied. For Paul, freedom is above all freedom from the bondage of sin, the ability to do good. Ultimately, it is love that makes one free for the other and keeps one free even if one is a "slave" to one's brother.
After talking about the relationship to others, Paul then discusses the relationship to God: "If anyone thinks to have known anything, he does not know yet as it is necessary to know. Then if anyone loves the God, this one is known by Him" (v. 2-3). In other words, the Strongs delude themselves into thinking that by having acquired a conception of God, by having ideas about him, they have acquired the right attitude. On the contrary, it is love that specifies the right relationship with God, for the one who loves is the living sign of the work that God is doing.
It will have been noticed that Paul does not answer the question with a yes or a no, but he puts it in the context that should be his for a Christian: this context takes into account the brother and the consequences on him of the Strongs' freedom.
The analysis of Paul's response allows us to identify five traits of the pastor that Paul is. The first trait is that of a person attentive to the concrete and historical dimension of existence. It brings the discussion of the abstract truth of the non-existence of idols down to the subjective level of the impact of attending pagan banquets on members of the community, thereby emphasizing the affective and contingent dimension of the injunctions of conscience. Any discussion on the knowledge and the freedom must be situated in a historical frame that can impose them a limit.
The second trait is that of a person responsible for a community. For him, the central task is to build this community. This is first of all God's work, but each Christian is associated with it. It is so important that it becomes the criterion for judging Christian action. This is why Paul reminds the Strongs of the seriousness of their action, for they risk destroying the community.
The third trait of the pastor is that of a person who takes the time to teach. Paul gives his own deeper understanding of Christian monotheism; he affirms the historical action of different divine persons in view of a single project of salvation for believers. Faced with the overly theistic formula of the Strongs, the apostle speaks of Christ, and of his historical mediation which will take the form of a cross.
The fourth trait of the pastor is that of a person focused on the issue of salvation and the truth of the gospel. If Paul intervenes with such vigor, it is because the position of the Strongs is skewing the heart of the Gospel: true liberation comes from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not from knowledge, and that liberation enables us to love as He did, even to the point of giving our lives. There is more. This liberation reaches every human being in his condition, in his weak or strong conscience. By attacking the conscience of the Weak, the Strongs find themselves masking the fact that they are welcomed with their weak conscience before God, and thus attacking the heart of the gospel.
Finally, the fifth trait of the pastor is that of a person who can offer himself as a model. "For which very reason if food causes to stumble my brother, I would never eat meat for ever so that my brother would never stumble" (1 Cor 8:13). What he proposes to imitate is a behavior that has only one goal, the Gospel of salvation. In fact, Paul does not cease to repeat that he himself has become an imitator of Christ. Finally, if he dares to ask that we imitate him, it is because he considers himself the "father" of the community that he created.
The problem of food offered to idols no longer arises today. Yet it was a challenge to the early church as it took root in a new cultural world. Paul met this challenge, not by reiterating traditional Jewish norms, not by exploiting the openings to outsiders offered by Jewish tradition, as was done at the Jerusalem assembly, but by being original and bold.
His ethical reference points are not abstract norms, but people and their concrete situation. He will appeal to love. And yet what he proposes is not reduced to a call to kindness or goodwill. The horizon remains the fact that Christ died for the brother, that he is called to live the gift of God in the situation of weakness that may be his; the Gospel reaches the person where he is at present.
As a pastor he sought to protect the weakest in the community. He did this by filling in what was lacking in the Christian knowledge of the Strongs and by showing them the peril that lay ahead, so that all, Weak or Strongs, would be saved and none would be lost. Like a father, he watched over each one of them, he dedicated his life to them. Through him Christ, the true shepherd, remained alive and active.
-André Gilbert, Paris, 1982
On 1 Cor 8: 1-13
ARAI, S., "Die Gegner des Paulus in I Korintherbrief und das Problem der Gnosis", NTS, 19(1973)430-437.
On 1 Corinthians
ALLO, E.-B., La première épître aux Corinthiens. Paris: Gabalda, 1934 (études Bibliques).
3 See for instance J. Héring, La première épître de saint Paul aux Corinthiens, Neuchâtel-Paris: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1949, p. 11; M. Goguel, Introduction au Nouveau Testament, vol. 4. Paris: Leroux, 1926, p. 86; C. Senft, La première épître de saint Paul aux Corinthiens, Neuchâtel-Paris: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1979 (Commentaire du Nouveau Testament 2o série, VII), p. 17-19; H. Conzelmann, 3 Corinthians, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975, p. 3-4.
11 We cannot recognize as Allo a strategy prepared by Paul, a movement going to a crescendo. This would presuppose that Paul knew the solution perfectly and, like a good teacher, set it out in several steps. It seems to us preferable to see Paul in the midst of reflection. See 1 Cor 1:16 which gives some idea of the atmosphere in which the letter was composed.
15 See for instance Giblin, "Three Monotheistic Texts in Paul", CBQ, 37(1975)527-547; A. Feuillet, Le Christ Sagesse de Dieu d'après les épîtres pauliniennes, Paris: J. Gabalda (études Bibliques), 1966, p. 59-85; Murphy-O'Connor, "1 Co 8, 6: Cosmology or Soteriology", RB, 85(1978)253-267.
18 For example, the personal pronoun "we" is used when Paul repeats a Corinthian slogan (vv. 1 and 4), or, when Paul and the Corinthians agree on something (v. 6). Similarly, the blepete de in v. 9 would play the same role as the alla ouk in v. 7. see Murphy-O'Connor, "Food and Spiritual Gifts in 1 Cor 8:8," CBQ, 41(1979) 292-298. With regard to v. 8b, this one offers the lesson A2 and 17. The argument is supported by few manuscripts, but it remains plausible.
22 This personal invitation is often quoted from a papyrus edited by Grenfell and Hunt (Oxyrhynchus papyri. London: 1898-1904, I, 110): "Ceremon invites you to dine at the table of Lord Serapis, tomorrow, which is the 15th (day of the month), at 9 o'clock". (III, 523, 2nd century AD): "Antony, son of Ptolemy, invites you to dine with him at the table of Lord Serapis, in the house of Claudius, son of Serapis, on the 10th (day of the month), at 9 o'clock" (according to the translation of Prat, Théologie de saint Paul, t.1. Paris: 1930, p. 138).
28 The question posed by Corinthians could have taken this form: ouchi hē syneidēsis autou asthenēs oikodomēthēsetai (Will not their weak conscience be edified?) This is a hypothesis of Jewett's that Murphy-O'Connor finds "worthy of respect." (Murphy-O'Connor, Freedom or..., p. 548).
30 See the political use of these festivals, mentioned by Theissen. On this Barrett points out that many Greeks did not see its religious character any more and took part in it for social reasons (op. cit., p. 196).
64 Conzelmann, op. cit., p. 15. Horsley has attempted to contradict this view (Gnosis..., p. 48.) by reporting the positions of Philo of Alexandria, but Conzelmann's assertion still seems valid to us.
72 See note 28.
77 This is the opinion of the majority of exegetes. We have not presented the work of Theissen on the subject, because it is situated in a completely different perspective, a sociological and economic perspective. The Strongs belong to a higher social stratum, they are better educated than the average, hence the possibility of eating meat regularly; they enjoy a certain influence, hence their attempt to influence the Weak. They had many contacts with the pagan milieu and were keen to keep them. "Wer reich werden will un reich ist, muss den Kontact mit Heiden suchen und pflegen" (p. 164). In short, they are an elite. Moreover, Theissen links their positions very strongly with the Gnostic system (p. 166-167). We cannot criticize this work here, but note however that if it appears to open new and interesting perspectives, it departs a lot from the data provided by the text and sometimes brings dubious or unverifiable conclusions.
81 Having opted for syneitheia are Murphy-O'Connor, Conzelmann, Orr-Walther, Collange, Barrett, Héring, Jewett, Giblin, Senft. On the other hand, we have a favorable echo of Coune's position in E. Cothenet, "Pureté et impureté", S.D.B.,, col. 548-549.
86 J. Dupont, "Appel aux Faibles et aux Forts dans la communauté romaine (Rom. 14, 1 - 15, 13)", Studiorum paulinorum congressus internationalis catholicus, 1961. Romae: E. Pontificio Instituto biblico, 1963 (Analecta Biblica, 17), p. 358.
106 Ibid., p. 279.
111 Ibid., p. 564.
112 "The argument for his qualification begins not by criticizing the content, but by pointing to the concrete common life, that is to say, the historic character of existence, which is disturbed by the theoretical principals of the strong" (Conzelman, op. cit., p. 146).
113 "Concretized in this way in love and detachment, the Christian life escapes that dangerous abstraction, that forgetfulness of the concrete situation of man, where the exalted partisans of the pneumatic life lived" (H. Schlier, Le temps de l'église. Recherches d'exégèse. Tournai: Casterrnan, 1961, p. 167).
129 "His (Paul's) conception of the Christian community owes much to the Jewish concept of the eschatological community, which, of course, will be a community of the perfect, but he never makes the mistake of believing that the new converts were, in fact, perfect; he even explicitly repudiates this idea as far as he is concerned (Phil 3:12). Entry into the Christian community was nothing more than a privileged opportunity to work towards human wholeness. (Murphy-O'Connor, op. cit., p. 136).
131 "It is in spiritualism, whether it leads to asceticism or libertinism, to individualistic enthusiasm or to proud gnosis - so many procedures by which man procures himself liberation and freedom - that the great peril appears to him (Paul)" (Senft, op. cit., p. 22).
134 Ibid., p. 95.
135 Ibid., p. 136.
149 "It appears as though Paul is highlighting polytheistic acclamations and diverse confessions that entail acknowledgement or multiple, relatively unrelated subjects of divine activity in the world" (Giblin, op. cit., p. 533).
153 "Here, too, Paul, makes clear that it is not a question of metaphysical or ontological judgment, but of anthropological judgments which as such include the adopting of an attitude" (Conzelmann, op. cit. , p. 145).
154 Ibid., p. 146.
157 Ibid., p. 115.
159 See Idem.
169 Ibid., p. 257.
170 Ibid., p. 259.
176 See H. Lietzmann, "Symbolstudien XI", ZNW, 22(1923)268- 271; O. Cullmann, Les premières confessions de foi chrétienne, Paris: 1933. Giblin, art. cit., p. 530; Murphy-O'Connor, Cosmology or..., p. 254-255. This verbless grammatical structure with a well-timed rhythm appears suddenly in the midst of a prose development. Examination of the style with the phrases heis theos ho pater, heis kurios confirms its non-Paulinean character (Murphy-O'Connor, p. 254). Giblin has shown that the juxtaposition of expressions like oidamen hoti and kai hoti occurs when Paul brings a quotation (see 1 Cor. 15:3b-4) (p. 530).
181 Ibid., p. 267.
184 Ibid., p. 535.
187 One cannot agree with Héring who writes about this Galatian crisis (2, 11ff): "It is that the Jerusalemites accused the unfortunate tendency to want to impose their weak faith on the Strongs; they 'judged' them, which according to Rrn 14, 3 is expressly condemned. From that moment a question of principle arose on which one should not yield" (op. cit., p. 68). For what is at stake is not the "judgment of the other", but "justification by faith in Christ".
190 See Cambier: "St. Paul also insists, as we shall see, that each person should seek for himself to discern the will of God and judge for himself the Christian values without being bound to the conscience of his neighbor" ("La liberté du chrétien selon saint Paul", LV, 61(1963)11).
193 Ibid. , p. 115.
203 Pierce (op. cit., p. 78) has submitted the idea that Paul's liberal attitude of not categorically forbidding food offered to idols would stem from his desire not to lose half of his converts. This is a difficult hypothesis to verify. Rather, we see in it a repetition of the apostle's usual attitude, whereby he rarely decides a question authoritatively, but wants to lead the reader to discover for himself the validity of what he is saying (see 1 Cor. 10:15).