One key problem afflicting the Corinthian church was pride in their wisdom and knowledge. We have seen this already in 1 Corinthians 1:10–31, where it is evident that the Corinthian believers were prizing eloquence of speech and understanding in spiritually unhealthy ways. In chapter 8, we find a similar issue but expressed in a different manner. Taking pride in their knowledge that false gods have no existence, they drew the wrong conclusion that it was therefore all right for Christians to take part in the meals associated with worship in pagan temples (vv. 1–6). Moreover, as commentators note, they were likely going further and pressuring other believers to join them in these cultic feasts.
As Paul develops his argument against the Corinthians’ practice, we see that it was wrong for them to take part in the worship meals of the pagans for two reasons. First, it does not show love to other Christians. Second, to take part in such meals is actually to become “participants with demons” (10:20). In chapter 8, Paul focuses on the eating in pagan temples as not showing love to other believers.
How is this not showing love? Because, as Paul says in today’s passage, not all believers understand the truth that the pagan gods have no real existence as gods. They “eat food as really offered to an idol” (8:7). In other words, less mature believers who had a past association with idolatry had not yet taken to heart the fact that the gods they formerly worshiped were not true deities. Since they lacked this knowledge, to eat meals in pagan temples for them ended up being an intentional act of worship directed to a false god even though that god had no existence as an actual god. This defiled their consciences, causing them to fall into intentional acts of idolatry.
The problem was not the actual eating itself but the context of the eating. Paul notes in 8:8, likely quoting from the Corinthians and agreeing with them, that food in itself is indifferent. What we eat makes us no better or worse off before the Lord. So, there is a good deal of freedom in what we consume. Yet, it is possible to take advantage of this freedom in a way that hurts other believers. The “stronger” Corinthians were doing this, probably even forcing the “weaker” Christians to eat in pagan temples as a way of overcoming their beliefs that pagan gods were really gods. The thought was that if these “weaker Christians” could freely eat, they would see that no worship was taking place. However, the exact opposite was happening (vv. 9–10).