Friday, May 17, 2013

1 Corinthians 8:13; Never Ever Forever!

13 For this very reason, if food causes my brother (or sister) to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother (or sister) to stumble. My Translation

Paul has been talking to the Corinthians about how their “knowledge” that idols are nothing in this world, so it is fine to eat food sacrificed to idols in the Pagan temples will cause weak conscience fellow Christians to sin.  As a result, the “knowledgable” Corinthians sin against Christ (εἰς Χριστὸν ἁμαρτάνετε, verse 12).  He follows that up with a statement about himself that can be translated in many ways.  Here are a few examples:

“Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”
(1 Corinthians 8:13 NIV11)

“For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin.”
(1 Corinthians 8:13 NET)

“Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
(1 Corinthians 8:13 ESV)

“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
(1 Corinthians 8:13 KJV)

First of all, let’s discuss the two main verbs in the verse: σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō).  The base meaning of this word is “to cause to stumble”.  Morally, it became “to cause someone to sin”.  In other ways, it means “to offend someone”.  It’s cognate noun is σκάνδαλον (skandalon), which can mean “a stumbling block”, “a trap”, “an enticement” or “an offense”.  We get our modern term “scandal” from this word.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this verse is Paul’s emphatic response.  Let me try to demonstrate this.  First of all, Paul uses οὐ μὴ (not not) when he says “I will never eat meat”.  This use alone causes the statement to be emphatic.  Almost all translators will translate this as I have; “never”.  But for Paul, οὐ μὴ is not enough.  At the end of this phrase, he adds εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα which means “into the age”.  This is the normal Greek idiom for “forever”.  Since “I will never eat meat forever” is awkward English, most translators either translate it out of the verse (See blog on John 4:14 which features the same expression) or translate this prepositional phrase as “again”.

So, for you purists (I’m being funny) who think that the Bible must be translated literally, here goes:

“I shall/will not not eat meat into the age”

If we are to maintain the Greek word order, then:

“not not I shall/will eat into the age”.

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