Dr. R.C. Sproul frequently observed that we live in the most anti-intellectual era of church history. In past generations, believers commonly esteemed the deep study of doctrine, expecting it at least of church leaders and theologians even when lay Christians found it hard to engage in such learning. Today, however, the pursuit of theological education and the depths of God’s Word is frequently despised even by church leaders and teachers. Sometimes this attitude will be justified by an appeal to 1 Corinthians 8:1–3, where Paul warns us that knowledge can puff us up with pride.
Certainly, however, the Apostle does not reject deep study and learning. After all, he warns us elsewhere about having zeal without knowledge and calls us to increase in the knowledge of God (Rom. 10:2; Col. 1:10). The problem is not knowledge itself but knowledge that does not show love, which is no real knowledge at all (1 Cor. 8:1–3).
To justify their participation in meals eaten as a part of pagan worship, the Corinthians boasted that “all of us possess knowledge” (v. 1). From today’s passage, they apparently claimed that it was OK to eat such meals because all Christians know that pagan gods have no real existence. Since these gods lack real existence, it cannot possibly be a sin to eat meals in their temples because one cannot worship what does not really exist. That is the meaning of the phrases from the Corinthians that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 8:4. Interestingly, Paul agrees with the premise of the Corinthians’ argument that idols and pagan gods have no real existence. As we will see, he differs with them in the conclusion that the nonexistence of deities means one is not worshiping something in pagan temples (10:20–22). But, Paul argues in 8:4–5, the Corinthians are correct that objectively speaking, the pagan gods are not actually gods. They do not possess deity.
This is a consequence, verse 6 indicates, of there being only one God and one Lord: God the Father and Jesus Christ. Paul here gives us a brief glimpse of his Trinitarian theology by associating Jesus with God and calling Jesus “Lord,” the same title Jews used for the God of Israel. The Apostle here reminds us of God the Son to show the incompleteness of the Corinthians’ knowledge. Yes, there is one God, but this one God in love gave up His only Son to die for His people (see v. 11). True knowledge that there is only one God involves knowing that He is love and acting accordingly. However, the Corinthians were failing to love rightly.