Wednesday, 20 August 2014
For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords)… 1 Corinthians 8:5
Continuing on with his thoughts concerning knowledge and love, Paul introduces a hypothetical argument using words translated as “for even if.” It is important to understand that Paul is not implying that there truly are other gods, but that this is what people may think in their confused world view. Even the Old Testament speaks in this manner. From the law itself, Moses shows that there are “many gods and many lords” –
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.” Deuteronomy 10:17
People all over the world bow to things they think are “gods” even though they aren’t. The words in the Bible, including the quote from Deuteronomy and from Paul’s words here, are meant to indicate the belief by some that these gods exist, but not that they actually do. They are no more real than the imagination of those who follow them. These “so called gods” are everywhere in the world and are to be found in all cultures. Some are found in “heaven” in the minds of those who follow them.
In this thought include the “gods” of Greek and Roman culture such as Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, etc. Also there are the heavenly gods in the stars and constellations, and so forth. Then of course, there were (and still are) representations of them on street corners and in temples in every location. These would be the gods “on earth.” But there were other such earthly gods – Caesar was proclaimed a living god; trees were believed to be divine; and certain mountains or valleys may have been believed to be places of divine presence. Even Paul and Barnabas were proclaimed gods after performing a miracle in Jesus’ name –
“Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.” Acts 14:11-13
The apostles obviously argued against this, stating that the people “should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” (Acts 14:15). This is the type of thing Paul is speaking of in verse 8:5. As noted, he is merely making a hypothetical argument. He is not arguing for the validity of such “gods.”
He is relaying that some believe that there are other “gods” for a reason which will become evident in the coming verses and his thoughts are directed toward a loving attitude concerning our handling of delicate issues in the presence of those who still struggle with these things. As the thought progresses, keep in mind that “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”
Life application: When reviewing verses in the Bible, context must be carefully considered. Jesus quoted a verse from the Old Testament about “gods” which is often misused even from the pulpit today to indicate that we are divine beings when we come to Christ. Such is not the case, but error can creep in easily when individual verses are taken out of their intended context.
Lord God, though I may lack intelligence in many ways, there is one thing I am perfectly confident of – You are God and the word You have given us is without error. There are no contradictions in it and it is the perfect guide for my instruction, my walk with You, and as a tool to train others in those things as well. May I never “pick and choose” which verses apply and which don’t. Instead, help me to understand them in context and then to be obedient to them. Guide me in Your word. Amen.