Can Anything a Human Does Be Morally Neutral? A Look at 1 Corinthians 8:8 (Part 1)

In a recent exchange here at SharperIron, I was asked what I thought 1 Corinthians 8:8 meant. I had just asserted that a being bearing the image of God could not possibly do anything that is morally neutral — neither right nor wrong, because such a being must either express that imago dei, or in some way insult it (or both at once, in different ways).

1 Corinthians 8:8 seems to say otherwise.

After offering a brief explanation of how Paul’s meaning there could be understood as consistent with the view that human actions are always moral, the question continued to nag me. My answer felt inadequate. And, since any answer to the question could have a lot of implications, it seems important to be confident.

Hence, this brief study.

The Passage

First, a bit of context. The apostle Paul is helping the Corinthian congregation work through how to behave in the matter of consumption of meat that had been offered to idols. He has just asserted that idols are not really real (1 Cor. 8:4), in the sense of representing or connecting to some deity (but cf. 1 Cor. 10:21, another study for another day). He then points out that not everybody understands this (1 Cor. 8:7), and 8:8 comes as further explanation of the true nature of eating this idol-associated food.

Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (ESV, 1 Cor. 8:8)

Three variables require a closer look here, though the second and third tend to collapse into one for all practical purposes:

  • Commending (παρίστημι, paristemi) to God
  • Being worse off (ὑστερέω, hustereo)
  • Being better off (περισσεύω, perisseuo)

The key words are all verbs. “Will (not) commend” is a straightforward future active indicative. “Being worse off” and “being better off” are both present participles (something like “we are (not) worse-off ones” and “we are (not) better off ones”), though “being worse off” here is passive (or middle) and “being better off” is active.

A Few Views

1. It’s about the idol

Richard Pratt takes the view that commending here refers to “the god,” as in, the idol.

[I]t is also possible (and more literal) to translate, “Food does not bring us near to the god” (i.e., the idol to which the food in question was offered). In light of the preceding context, this seems to be the better option.1

He continues:

The phrase we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do probably expands the meaning of bring us near. It probably refers to the lack of prosperity an idol worshiper might anticipate if he failed to eat of the sacrifice, and to the abundance he would expect to receive if he did eat.

(In all of these excerpts, bold type is original and usually represents quotation from an English translation of the text.)

In this view, believers defending their freedom to eat this food defended their conduct with the claim that eating didn’t give them some kind of connection to a god. Paul either extends his reference to their defense in the rest of the verse or agrees with it and adds his own observation that eating also has no result one way or the other from a prosperity standpoint.

I haven’t yet found anyone else who takes this view of the passage.

2. It’s about God’s judgment

Focusing on the first verb, Anthony Thiselton takes exception to how most English translations handle this part of the verse.

The AV/KJV, RV, and RSV, followed by Barrett, translate: Food will not commend us to God. This is too restrictively positive for the verb; Senft, Maly, and Schrage note that had the word meant commend we should expect συνίστημι rather than παρίστημι, for these two verbs are not usually synonymous.2

After a very compressed (and helpful) survey of many views on the meaning of paristemi, Thiselton settles on a judgment focus, agreeing with Murphy-O’Connor and others:

Murphy-O’Connor and Jeremias take up the emphasis reflected in our proposed translation “Food will not bring us to God’s judgment,” viewed as both a negative or pejorative allusion to being judged and as a slogan or catchphrase of “the strong.” This allusion to judgment already finds expression in Weiss, Robertson and Plummer, and BAGD. In 2 Cor 4:14 the verb presupposes an allusion to God’s judgment, and some stress the eschatological reference which is implied in v. 8a. Similarly, Heinrici has little doubt that the issue concerns divine judgement.3

Thiselton seems less confident about the rest of verse 8, but prefers to see it as a response to a quoted slogan of the “strong” in the broader context, who were using it to justify themselves. However, he does see Paul’s response as a statement of principle for everyone in Corinth. In that context, he translates the verse as follows:

“Food will not bring us to God’s judgment”; neither if we abstain from food do we lose any advantage, nor if we eat do we gain any advantage. 4

3. It’s about indifference

Some interpreters summarize the verse as an expression of spiritual indifference, though it’s unclear what their concept of “spiritual indifference” is, exactly. Harold Mare observes,

First, as in 8:1, we should know that there is nothing inherently wrong with sacrificial meat and that in itself food neither enhances nor minimizes our standing before God. Second, since the eating of meat is of no spiritual importance and so is a matter of indifference, the Corinthians should realize that to eat sacrificial meat is not a practice to be insisted on for maintaining Christian liberty.5

As far as the question of whether any action can be morally neutral, John MacArthur is similarly vague.

[E]ating or not eating food has no spiritual significance in itself. Neither act will commend us to God. Commend (paristēmi) means “to place near, bring beside, present to.” Neither eating or not eating food will bring us closer to God or make us approved by Him. The general point is that doing things not forbidden by God has no significance in our relationship to Him. They are spiritually neutral. Food is an excellent illustration of that fact.6

It’s hard to see how a moral act can have “no spiritual significance,” but since this is not the question either Mare or MacArthur are trying to answer here, it probably wouldn’t be fair to say they see Paul as teaching the possibility of morally neutral action.

In their defense, John Calvin’s view is quite similar.

Meat recommendeth us not to God. This was, or may have been, another pretext made use of by the Corinthians — that the worship of God does not consist in meats, as Paul himself teaches in his Epistle to the Romans…. In this he tacitly acknowledges, that in the sight of God it matters not what kinds of food we partake of, because he allows us the free use of them, so far as conscience is concerned; but that this liberty, as to the external use of it, is made subject to love.7

On the “not better” and “not worse” language of latter part of the verse, Calvin says,

[H]e means, that we have neither more nor less of righteousness from eating or from abstaining. Besides, he does not speak of every kind of abstinence, or of every kind of eating. For excess and luxury are in themselves displeasing to God, while sobriety and moderation are well-pleasing to him. But let it be understood by us, that the kingdom of God, which is spiritual, does not consist in these outward observances, and therefore, that things indifferent are in themselves of no importance in the sight of God.8

Where We Are So Far

In this brief, somewhat random survey of views, we have two that are easily consistent with the idea that everything humans do is, in the final analysis, morally good or morally bad to some degree. We have one view that at least seems incompatible with that. Does the indifference view suggest, or require, that there is a category of human action that is genuinely amoral?

What I hope to do next is dig a bit into the positive case for “everything we do is moral,” and see how that affects the light in the room, so to speak, when we’re looking at 1 Corinthians 8:8.

Notes

1 Pratt, Richard L., Jr. I & II Corinthians. Vol. 7. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000. Print. Holman New Testament Commentary.

2 Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

3 Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

4 Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000. Print. New International Greek Testament Commentary.

5 Mare, W. Harold. “1 Corinthians.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 10. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976. 240. Print.

6 MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1 Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984. Print. MacArthur New Testament Commentary.

7 The Calvin Commentaries, courtesy of The Bible Hub: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/1_corinthians/8.htm

8 Ibid.

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There are 59 Comments

JNoël's picture

Thank you for this study! Looking forward to more!

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks for the encouragement. I really wanted to consult Fee, but I haven't had a chance to get over to the nearest theological library and don't have that volume... and it's expensive. Smile

So if anyone can tell me what Fee says, I'd be obliged.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron, thanks for digging into this issue. 

Fee's comments on I Corinthians 8:8 are quite extended and a bit complicated.  However, having just read them afresh (since it's been several months since I used Fee along with others in expositing this passage), it seems to me that Fee's position is pretty much what I stated in my article.  Unless I misunderstand him, he says that eating or not eating is neutral in regard to our relationship to God.  The only factor which makes eating problematic is when it is performed without loving consideration of a weaker brother.

G. N. Barkman

Don Johnson's picture

You can find his notes online, I have them in Logos format. 

I would say that Fee's comments have to be read in the entirety, chapter 8 through 10, to understand them. You can't make argument relying on 1Cor 8 alone, as so many want to do.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

ScottS's picture

Part of this discussion may hinge on defining morally neutral. To quote Aaron in the other thread:

Doesn't every action performed by a being who bears the image of God either promote or detract from His glory? (Or promote in some ways while detracting in others?)

Then rephrased above in this thread:

a being must either express that imago dei, or in some way insult it (or both at once, in different ways)

So I agree that a "moral" act is one that can tip the scale to either honor or dishonor God. But is a "morally neutral" act only an action that tips honor in neither direction, or does it also define a choice where all options already qualify under a broader heading of honor/dishonor, but equally so (doesn't tip the scale to more or less honor)?

For example, a man has the option of wearing a red polo or a blue polo today; does it morally matter which shirt he chooses? Does the choosing of one or the other tip the scale to honor God more or less than the other? As with all choices, context matters:

  1. Assuming all things being equal, the choice is morally neutral (yet under the broader "honor" category, since the man is choosing to cover his nakedness), and the person is free to choose whichever color pleases him at the moment (just as God is free to choose whatever pleases Him among a multitude of "good" options).
  2. But if the person lived in an area (i.e. Los Angeles) where the Crips ("its members traditionally wear blue clothing") and the Bloods ("they are identified by the red color worn by their member") gangs reigned, then a choice of either polo might be construed as "dishonoring" to God, yet still morally neutral in that the choice does not tip any more or less on the scale of the dishonor side of things than the other. But even then, if those were the only two choices the man had for a shirt, and assuming the choice was not made on any allegiance to one gang or the other, the choice would probably shift back to the "honor" side as in #1, but then maybe walking down the street without a shirt on would be more honorable in this case.
  3. Similar to #2, if it is election season in the U.S., with the now fairly common media representation of Republicans represented by red, Democrats by blue, maybe the choice again takes on a moral significance—but more likely, given the broad positions of both groups with a "mixed bag" in the morality, such a decision falls into that category of Aaron's statement "or both at once, in different ways."

So to go back to the food illustration of 1 Cor 8:1-13, intrinsically, to eat food together is a morally good thing: it keeps one alive, it is a time of fellowship with one another, it provides opportunity to thank God for His provision, etc. But which food one eats is morally neutral, all things being equal. Steak or lobster? Chicken or fish? Lettuce or chard? Carrot or turnip? The choice of food is (often) morally neutral. And in the case of one who understands the true God, even food previously offered to idols vs. food not so done is morally neutral, all things being equal (like example #1 of the shirts above). But Scripture gives a context where all things are not equal in 1 Cor 8:9-13, and that can shift the choice to possibly be more like #2 above, where going without partaking of the food at this one time would be a better choice than partaking, just as walking down the street without a shirt on might be the better move. But even if one falls to eating the food offered to idols in the presence of one who might stumble because of that, again which food one chooses of all that offered to the idols is morally neutral (neither more or less moral than any of the other food).

So I may be able to agree with Aaron that every action is under the moral category of honoring or dishonoring God (reflecting Him or not), but many action choices within each of those categories are morally neutral with respect to not bringing more or less honor (or more or less dishonor) on the scale of what honors or dishonors God. Some actions are weighed more precious than others (1 Cor 3:12-15; Mt 25:14-29, specifically v.28), though falling within categories of worthlessness (dishonor) or usefulness (honor), but actions that weigh at an equal level to another may be considered (by some) as morally neutral.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

JNoël's picture

So is there more definition needed? Are we discussing actions in various contexts, or are we asking whether or not anything at all can ever be morally neutral?

If I am alone in my home eating some scrambled eggs and German fried potatoes, is the addition of black pepper to the eggs morally neutral? Or can God be honored (or dishonored) by adding pepper? If the former, then the point is proven: things can, in fact, be amoral. Yes, context can change the discussion, and I think we all know that. But in any given context, is it possible for a choice, a thing, to be utterly devoid of any morality - can it be amoral?

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Don Johnson's picture

My quick view is that the thing-in-itself is amoral. The context makes the difference. I think that is what the verse is saying

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

RajeshG's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

My quick view is that the thing-in-itself is amoral. The context makes the difference. I think that is what the verse is saying

I do not want to hijack this thread, but I have to say that I disagree with your view. There are things such as pornographic materials that are immoral things in-and-of-themselves, regardless of context.
 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Given the context of 1 Cor 8, I agree the amoral view best fits 1 Cor 8.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

TylerR wrote:

Given the context of 1 Cor 8, I agree the amoral view best fits 1 Cor 8.

Only verse 8. The rest of the chapter is about the context. Paul is prohibiting what the Corinthians were doing. Don't miss that. What they were doing was immoral, one reason was the effect on the brother. It isn't the only reason.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

People certainly use the terms moral and ethical in different ways. When I say that I believe everything a human does is moral, I don't mean that every act is inherently either right or wrong. What I mean is that everything a human does possesses rightness and/or wrongness. It has moral significance.

If for no other reason, it has moral/ethical significance because the person doing it is a moral being and believes what he is doing is wrong or not wrong.

And maybe it helps to put it that way... wrong vs. not-wrong. There are many things we do every day that we feel are not wrong, though, for whatever reason many are uncomfortable with saying they are definitely right.

  • The color of socks example someone posted above is a good one. We may not think that the option between blue or black socks is "right or wrong," but we do feel that whatever choice we make is not wrong
  • To me, this is just as good as saying it's right. But I realize many don't look at it that way.
  • Interesting, isn't it?
  • But if we are willing to say it is "not wrong," we are making a moral judgment, and acknowledging that the decision is a moral one.

Better minds than mine have already worked through this long ago, and I vaguely recall reading it, but I don't recall the particulars (as in, everything important about it!).

My preferred starting point would have been a particular book I do remember reading, but I don't have access to the book right now. So I'll be doing some exploring.

Fee's comments on I Corinthians 8:8 are quite extended and a bit complicated.  However, having just read them afresh (since it's been several months since I used Fee along with others in expositing this passage), it seems to me that Fee's position is pretty much what I stated in my article.  Unless I misunderstand him, he says that eating or not eating is neutral in regard to our relationship to God.  The only factor which makes eating problematic is when it is performed without loving consideration of a weaker brother.

Thanks for that. I think I may agree that "relationship with God" is not affected in any important way when He has not commanded or forbidden the act (directly or indirectly). Paul's larger point seems to be that when the act harms someone, God has commanded that we not do it. But, as others have pointed out, this means He has conditionally forbidden it, not absolutely forbidden it--based on "context."

I have some data from Fee someone emailed me, so I want to look that over closely and comment on it later.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Sent to me via email...

Here are some excerpts from Fee:

"Even though the verb can be either positive ('present us to God for approval') or negative ('bring us before God for judgment'), the sense in either case is that food as such has nothing to do with our relationship to God.... The puzzle comes in the second sentence.  The natural elaboration of sentence 1 would be, 'therefore, abstaining is of no advantage to anyone; nor is easting of any disadvantage.'  Food does not affect our lives one way or the other.  So the abstainers, who would usually do so in order to gain God's approval will not be so advantaged; and those who indulge, who might fear God's disapproval, will not be judged.  But that is not what Paul says.  His elaboration is precisely the opposite: 'The one who abstains is not disadvantaged; and the one who eats is not advantaged.'  The problem is, How does this relate to sentence 1 as part of Paul's response to the Corinthians who are challenging him, and especially as part of his taking up the cause of the 'weak'? …. A variety of solutions has been offered, none of which is totally satisfactory....The solution offered here is that despite the lack of signals, both sentences reflect what the Corinthians were arguing in their letter, whether they are direct quotations or not.  The reason for the lack of quotation marks is that they fully accord with Paul's own point of view.  The key lies with the word 'food,' which appears again in the conclusion in v.13 and elsewhere in Paul only in Romans 14:15-20 (where food laws seem to be in view) and in 1 Corinthians 6:13, where it also appears as part of a Corinthian slogan (with which Paul was also in essential agreement).  What needs to be noted is that what is here said about food is almost exactly what Paul says elsewhere about circumcision (7:19, Galatians 5:6, 6:15)…. In this view, the Corinthians have picked up one of Paul's own words from a different area and are pressing it to their own purposes; such 'freedom,' they have argued can be applied to the eating of any food, in any circumstance, including the idol temples.  For Paul this is the wrong use of 'freedom' in regard to food (v.9) - first of all because of what it can do to a brother or sister (vv.10-12).

RajeshG's picture

Paul is very clear that anything that I do must be done to the glory of God, which means that it is a moral imperative:

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Whenever I eat, I either glorify God or I do not. To do the former is to act morally; the latter, immorally.

Whenever I choose not to eat, I either glorify God or I do not. To do the former is to act morally; the latter, immorally.

Whatever 1 Corinthians 8:8 may be teaching, it is not teaching that establishes the legitimacy of the view that eating and not eating are morally neutral actions.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, we're all agreed that we ought to do what glorifies God, as best we can discern what that is. But going back to the black socks vs. blue socks example -- it's an extreme case on purpose, to demonstrate in an obvious way that sometimes there is no option that is clearly more glorifying than the other.

Of course, the choices that interest us are ones that some believe strongly are right and others believe are wrong, as in 1 Cor. 8...   as opposed to sock color, which nobody feels strongly about one way or the other. But it's useful for clarifying categories.

Going back to Fee...

I would, so far, have to put him in the "might seem to be claiming some actions are amoral, but that isn't really the question he is considering," so that's probably not what he (or any of the others, for that matter) means. But I can't be dogmatic about that. It would be really interesting if I could have a little round table chat with these guys.

Maybe it's fair to say that though all human behavior is moral, when the rightness and wrongness of the options is not revealed (directly or indirectly), believers should factor in the conscience (per Rom. 14), and impact on other people (per 1 Cor. 8-10), but regard neither choice (do vs. not do) as -- in itself -- having any important impact on spiritual life (or standing with God, which is unchangeable for one who is "in Christ" even when clearly wrong actions are involved).

I remember guys in the dorms at BJU who really thought they needed to wrestle in prayer over what socks to wear. Seriously (well, at least one who thought so and one who seemed to agree). We all thought they were classic cases of "too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good."

Don Johnson's picture

RajeshG wrote:

Paul is very clear that anything that I do must be done to the glory of God, which means that it is a moral imperative:

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Whenever I eat, I either glorify God or I do not. To do the former is to act morally; the latter, immorally.

Whenever I choose not to eat, I either glorify God or I do not. To do the former is to act morally; the latter, immorally.

Whatever 1 Corinthians 8:8 may be teaching, it is not teaching that establishes the legitimacy of the view that eating and not eating are morally neutral actions.

Rajesh, you are misunderstanding the context. 1 Cor 10.31 is not referring to all kinds of eating, just the specific kind of eating discussed in the preceding passages, ie, eating meat offered to idols. To apply it to everything you do is to take it out of context (as many, many believers do). I wrote an article on this years ago, I'll post the link later.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

RajeshG's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

RajeshG wrote:

 

Paul is very clear that anything that I do must be done to the glory of God, which means that it is a moral imperative:

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

Whenever I eat, I either glorify God or I do not. To do the former is to act morally; the latter, immorally.

Whenever I choose not to eat, I either glorify God or I do not. To do the former is to act morally; the latter, immorally.

Whatever 1 Corinthians 8:8 may be teaching, it is not teaching that establishes the legitimacy of the view that eating and not eating are morally neutral actions.

 

 

Rajesh, you are misunderstanding the context. 1 Cor 10.31 is not referring to all kinds of eating, just the specific kind of eating discussed in the preceding passages, ie, eating meat offered to idols. To apply it to everything you do is to take it out of context (as many, many believers do). I wrote an article on this years ago, I'll post the link later.


 

Don, please look again at what I wrote. I based my statements on Paul's command that everything we do must be done to the glory of God. That is an all-encompassing mandate that includes whenever we eat or do not eat, etc.

Don Johnson's picture

I just disagree. I think you are misreading the passage. You are not alone, most people do misread it because they take it out of context and use it as a slogan.

Here is the link I mentioned earlier: http://oxgoad.ca/2006/11/02/on-the-popular-misuse-of-1-cor-1031/

There is a dead link in the article to a more full article I wrote on the topic, unfortunately that place that is hosted doesn't exist anymore. I'm pretty sure I have the full file somewhere, but the computer where it sits is acting up on me, so the abbreviated version at the link above will have to do.

I agree with the principle that our whole life should glorify God. What I disagree with is 1. That this principle is taught in 1 Cor 10.31 and 2. That forcing this principle into 1 Cor 10.31 adds to the misunderstanding and misinformation that swirls around 1 Cor 8, 9, and 10.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

This idol-meat discussion spans ch. 8-10. There are those who eat idol-meat (εἰδωλόθυτος) and those who do not. 

The viewpoint of "strong" was that the Shema ("God is One") teaches that false Gods are nothing AND implies that eating idol-meat is fine to eat. They meant no worship of the idol and therefore felt able at the idol table and eat.

The "weak" were conscious of the idol as a worshipped thing and therefore they believed that eating idol-meat would be defiling (8:7).

In this section (ch.8), Paul introduces the views (vv.1-7) and then speaks most directly to those who had the "strong" view (vv.8-13). 

So, to the OP, Paul begins addressing how to live with the strong view by asserting (8:8) that expression of one's "strength" is not spiritually beneficial. In other words, Paul is saying, "If you have faith to eat, great. But realize that eating is not a matter of obedience. God isn't demanding that you eat."

 

I think we have this same issue every time we apply this sort of thing. Assume:

  • Bob grows up in a no-alcohol family. 
  • Later he realizes that the Scriptures don't teach total abstention. 
  • Does this mean that he has to have a beer in order to please God? No. It just means he can. And sometimes it might mean that, depending on the situation. But also sometimes he better not, depending on the situation.

I apologize in advance if this turns into an alcohol thread! Sorry. But I think we've all seen expressions of the natural human sense that discovering a freedom means that we are somehow obliged to exercise it. And there are times when God positively wants us to use a freedom in a particular situation. I see God's command to Peter to "Kill and eat" like that. Peter was directly told not only that he had freedom, but also to use it - that day. 

RajeshG's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

I just disagree. I think you are misreading the passage. You are not alone, most people do misread it because they take it out of context and use it as a slogan.

Here is the link I mentioned earlier: http://oxgoad.ca/2006/11/02/on-the-popular-misuse-of-1-cor-1031/

There is a dead link in the article to a more full article I wrote on the topic, unfortunately that place that is hosted doesn't exist anymore. I'm pretty sure I have the full file somewhere, but the computer where it sits is acting up on me, so the abbreviated version at the link above will have to do.

I agree with the principle that our whole life should glorify God. What I disagree with is 1. That this principle is taught in 1 Cor 10.31 and 2. That forcing this principle into 1 Cor 10.31 adds to the misunderstanding and misinformation that swirls around 1 Cor 8, 9, and 10.

I read your article and do not find your argumentation convincing. It's significant that you have not found any commentators who support your view.

G. N. Barkman's picture

You hit the bulls eye on this passage, and did so with brevity and clarity.  Bravo!

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Going back to the titular question... I had a eureka/face-palm moment in the car this morning. In my puzzlizng over how choosing uncommanded/nonprohibited things could always be moral without being spiritually significant, I had been focusing on an individual act and thinking the act had to be either wrong or not-wrong, therefore, spiritually significant. 

This is true as far as it goes, but what I'd left out was this now-obvious to me point: mutually exclusive behaviors could still both be not-wrong, even equally glorifying to God (on balance).

So in the blue socks vs. black socks example, it's not that the act of wearing one color or the other is amoral or that the choice is amoral, but that--as far as anyone can tell--they are are equally moral. One is not clearly superior.

So there are some category issues in how I've been thinking about this (and I'm not alone).

Taking it back to 1 Cor. 8, the choice to eat idol-dedicated food or eat some other food is not an "amoral" choice, or even a "spiritually neutral" choice in the sense of "a choice that has no moral or spiritual meaning/importance," but rather it's only "neutral" (not a term I would use!) in the sense of "a choice between two options, both of which are--as far as we know, and for all practical purposes--morally and spiritually equal. One is not better than the other.

(Except, of course, when doing so is harmful to another believer or contrary to one's conscience.)

So with that, I think I may not have any "Part 2" to write on this one! (Unless you all can give me some meaty counterarguments to answer Smile )

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Going back to the titular question... I had a eureka/face-palm moment in the car this morning. In my puzzlizng over how choosing uncommanded/nonprohibited things could always be moral without being spiritually significant, I had been focusing on an individual act and thinking the act had to be either wrong or not-wrong, therefore, spiritually significant. 

This is true as far as it goes, but what I'd left out was this now-obvious to me point: mutually exclusive behaviors could still both be not-wrong, even equally glorifying to God (on balance).

So in the blue socks vs. black socks example, it's not that the act of wearing one color or the other is amoral or that the choice is amoral, but that--as far as anyone can tell--they are are equally moral. One is not clearly superior.

So there are some category issues in how I've been thinking about this (and I'm not alone).

Taking it back to 1 Cor. 8, the choice to eat idol-dedicated food or eat some other food is not an "amoral" choice, or even a "spiritually neutral" choice in the sense of "a choice that has no moral or spiritual meaning/importance," but rather it's only "neutral" (not a term I would use!) in the sense of "a choice between two options, both of which are--as far as we know, and for all practical purposes--morally and spiritually equal. One is not better than the other.

(Except, of course, when doing so is harmful to another believer or contrary to one's conscience.)

So with that, I think I may not have any "Part 2" to write on this one! (Unless you all can give me some meaty counterarguments to answer Smile )

I have thought of this at least once (maybe twice) during my pondering over this discussion but for some reason I never thought it was the time to post it. Since you have now independently come to the same viewpoint, I would like to say that this is a much better way to approach the issue than trying to say that eating food or not eating food is a morally or spiritually neutral matter.

One qualification that I would make is that this approach would only inherently apply to things (or practices) of unquestioned divine origin. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I can't see how origin would be relevant. You can explain?

RajeshG's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I can't see how origin would be relevant. You can explain?

God created foodstuffs for human consumption and says that it is morally good to eat them. For various reasons in certain settings, it may yet be morally good to refrain from eating certain things.

When a practice of human origin uses things of human origin, there is no necessity that using those things in those specific ways for those specific purposes would be morally good. It may be or it may not be.

Don Johnson's picture

RajeshG wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

I just disagree. I think you are misreading the passage. You are not alone, most people do misread it because they take it out of context and use it as a slogan.

Here is the link I mentioned earlier: http://oxgoad.ca/2006/11/02/on-the-popular-misuse-of-1-cor-1031/

There is a dead link in the article to a more full article I wrote on the topic, unfortunately that place that is hosted doesn't exist anymore. I'm pretty sure I have the full file somewhere, but the computer where it sits is acting up on me, so the abbreviated version at the link above will have to do.

I agree with the principle that our whole life should glorify God. What I disagree with is 1. That this principle is taught in 1 Cor 10.31 and 2. That forcing this principle into 1 Cor 10.31 adds to the misunderstanding and misinformation that swirls around 1 Cor 8, 9, and 10.

 

 

I read your article and do not find your argumentation convincing. It's significant that you have not found any commentators who support your view.

First, unfortunately you only have an abbreviated version of the article.

Secondly, it is not that I didn't find any who agree with me, but it is true that most do not. But that signifies nothing. What matters is what the text means. 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

RajeshG's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

First, unfortunately you only have an abbreviated version of the article.

Secondly, it is not that I didn't find any who agree with me, but it is true that most do not. But that signifies nothing. What matters is what the text means. 

Thanks for the clarification. Of course, what matters is what the text means. Who did you find that agreed with your interpretation?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Don, if you find a copy of that article, I might want to post here, if that's of interest to you.

Rajesh, I'm a bit puzzled by your use of the word "origin" ... but I think maybe I get what you mean, maybe. 

Of course, if God commanded it there would be no question that it's right. And if He didn't, the ethics would depend on a variety of factors. But I believe I identified the behaviors I was talking about as neither commanded nor forbidden.

pvawter's picture

Thanks Don,

Next you're going to tell me that Philippians 4:13 isn't saying I can run a marathon or win the big game with God's help. Too bad, I like that slogan! 

ScottS's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Going back to the titular question... I had a eureka/face-palm moment in the car this morning. In my puzzling over how choosing uncommanded/nonprohibited things could always be moral without being spiritually significant, I had been focusing on an individual act and thinking the act had to be either wrong or not-wrong, therefore, spiritually significant. 

This is true as far as it goes, but what I'd left out was this now-obvious to me point: mutually exclusive behaviors could still both be not-wrong, even equally glorifying to God (on balance).

Aaron, I'm glad you came to this realization. That is what I was trying to convey in my original comment to this thread (apparently not so effectively, since you didn't get it reading it then). Likewise, I think there are levels of actions that do not glorify God, such that some may be equally unglorifying to Him, while others are more or less unglorifying. So both on the glory and non-glory side, there are levels within them on actions to take, but that also means that some things will be equal.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Jay's picture

God created foodstuffs for human consumption and says that it is morally good to eat them. For various reasons in certain settings, it may yet be morally good to refrain from eating certain things.

I'm not sure that I agree the bolded section is true. God specifically identifies foods that the Israelites were not to eat in the OT (making it a sin to eat those foods) although that prohibition is largely lifted now.  

Furthermore, how are you defining "foodstuffs"?  Is a Twinkie or Krispy Kreme a God- created foodstuff?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

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