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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 10:19-24

19. What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?

19. Quid ergo dieo? idolum, aliquid esse? aut idolo immolatum, aliquid esse?

20. But I say, that the things which the Gentiles saerifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.

20. Sed quae immolant Gentes, daemoniis immolant, non Deo: nolo autem vos participes fieri daemoniorum.

21. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.

21. Non potestis calicem Domini bibere, et calicem daemoniorum: non potestis mensae Domini communicare, et mensae daemoniorum.

22. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?

22. An provocamus Dominum? numquid fortiores illo sumus?

23. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

23. Omnia mihi licent, sed non omnia conducunt: omnia mihi licent, at non omnia aedificant.

24. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth

24. Nemo quod suum est quaerat, sed quisque quod alterius est.

19. What do I say then? It might seem at first view as if the Apostle either argued inconclusively, or ascribed to idols something of existence and of power. Now it might readily be objected -- |What comparison is there between the living God and idols? God connects us with himself by the sacraments. Be it so. How comes it that idols, which are nothing, (1 Corinthians 8:4,) have so much power, as to be able to do the like? Do you think that idols are anything, or can do anything?| He answers, that he does not look to the idols themselves; but rather has in view the intention of those who sacrifice to idols. For that was the source of the pollution that he had indirectly pointed out. He confesses, therefore, that an idol is nothing. He confesses that it is a mere delusion when the Gentiles take it upon them to go through solemn rites of dedication, and that the creatures of God are not polluted by such fooleries. But as the design of them is superstitious and condemnable, and as the work is base, he infers, that all who connect themselves with them as associates, are involved in pollution.

20. But the things that the Gentiles sacrifice. To complete the answer, a negative must be understood in this way: |I do not say that an idol is anything, nor do I imagine it to be endued with any virtue, but I say that the Gentiles sacrifice to the devil and not to gods those things which they do sacrifice, and hence I estimate the work by their wicked and impious superstition. For we must always look to the intention with which a thing is done. He, then, who connects himself with them, declares that he has fellowship with them in the same impiety.| He proceeds accordingly with what he had commenced: |If we had to do with God only, those things would be nothing, but, in relation to men, they become faulty; because no one sits down to an idol feast, who does not declare himself to be a worshipper of the idol.|

Some, however, understand the term demons here as meaning the imaginary deities of the Gentiles, agreeably to their common way of speaking of them; for when they speak of demons they meant inferior deities, as, for example, heroes, and thus the term was taken in a good sense. Plato, in a variety of instances, employs the term to denote genii, or angels. That meaning, however, would be quite foreign to Paul's design, for his object is to show that it is no light offense to have to do with actions that have any appearance of putting honor upon idols. Hence it suited his purpose, not to extenuate, but rather to magnify the impiety that is involved in it. How absurd, then, it would have been to select an honorable term to denote the most heinous wickedness! It is certain from the Prophet Baruch, (4:7,) that those things that are sacrificed to idols are sacrificed to devils (Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 96:5.) In that passage in the writings of the Prophet, the Greek translation, which was at that time in common use, has daimonia -- demons, and this is its common use in Scripture. How much more likely is it then, that Paul borrowed what he says from the Prophet, to express the enormity of the evil, than that, speaking after the manner of the heathen, he extenuated what he was desirous to hold up to utter execration!

It may seem, however, as if these things were somewhat at variance with what I stated a little ago -- that Paul had an eye to the intention of idolaters, for it is not their intention to worship devils, but imaginary deities of their own framing. I answer, that the two things are quite in harmony, for when men become so vain in their imaginations (Romans 1:21) as to render divine honor to creatures, rather than to the one God, this punishment is in readiness for them -- that they serve Satan. For they do not find that |middle place| that they are in search of, but Satan straightway presents himself to them, as an object of adoration, whenever they have turned their back upon the true God.

I would not that ye. If the term demon were used in an indifferent sense, how spiritless were Paul's statement here, while, instead of this, it has the greatest weight and severity against idolaters! He subjoins the reason -- because no one can have fellowship at the same time with God and with idols. Now, in all sacred observances, there is a profession of fellowship. Let us know, therefore, that we are then, and then only, admitted by Christ to the sacred feast of his body and blood, when we have first of all bid farewell to every thing sacrilegious. For the man who would enjoy the one, must renounce the other. O thrice miserable the condition of those who, from fear of displeasing men, do not hesitate to pollute themselves with unlawful superstitions! For, by acting in this way, they voluntarily renounce fellowship with Christ, and obstruct their approach to his health-giving table.

22. Do we provoke the Lord? Having laid down the doctrine, he assumes a more vehement tone, from observing, that what was a most atrocious offense against God was regarded as nothing, or, at least, was looked upon as a very trivial error. The Corinthians wished the liberty that they took to be reckoned excusable, as there is not one of us that willingly allows himself to be found fault with, but, on the contrary, we seek one subterfuge after another, under which to shelter ourselves. Now Paul says, and not without reason, that in this way we wage war against God; for nothing does God more require from us than this -- that we adhere strictly to everything that he declares in his word. Do not those, then, who use subterfuges, in order that they may be at liberty to transgress the commandment of God, arm themselves openly against God? Hence that curse which the Prophet denounces against all those who call evil, good, and darkness, light (Isaiah 5:20.)

Are we stronger? He warns them how dangerous a thing it is to provoke God -- because no one can do this but to his own ruin. Among men the chance of war, as they speak, is doubtful, but to contend with God is nothing short of voluntarily courting destruction. Accordingly, if we fear to have God as an enemy, let us shudder at the thought of framing excuses for manifest sins, that is, whatever stand opposed to his word. Let us, also, shudder at the thought of calling in question those things that he has himself pronounced upon -- for this is nothing less than to rise up against heaven after the manner of the giants. (Genesis 11:4.)

23. All things are lawful for me Again he returns to the right of Christian liberty, by which the Corinthians defended themselves, and sets aside their objection by giving the same explanation as before. |To eat of meats that were sacrificed, and be present at the banquet, was an outward thing, and therefore was in itself lawful.| Paul declares that he does not by any means call this in question, but he replies, that we must have a regard to edification. All things are lawful for me, says he, but all things are not profitable, that is, for our neighbors, for no one, as he immediately adds, ought to seek his own advantage exclusively, and if anything is not profitable to the brethren, it must be abstained from. He, in the next place, expresses the kind of advantage -- when it edifies, for we must not have respect merely to the advantage of the flesh. |What then? Does a thing that is in other respects permitted by God, come on this account to be unlawful -- if it is not expedient for our neighbor. Then in that case our liberty would be placed under subjection to men.| Consider attentively Paul's words, and you will perceive that liberty, nevertheless, remains unimpaired, when you accommodate yourself to your neighbors, and that it is only the use of it that is restricted, for he acknowledges that it is lawful, but says that it ought not to be made use of, if it does not edify

24. Let no one seek his own. He handles the same subject in the 14th Chapter of the Romans. Let no one please himself, but endeavor to please his brethren for their edification This is a precept that is very necessary, for we are so corrupted by nature, that every one consults his own interests, regardless of those of his brethren. Now, as the law of love calls upon us to love our neighbors as ourselves, (Matthew 22:39,) so it requires us to consult their welfare. The Apostle, however, does not expressly forbid individuals to consult their own advantage, but he requires that they should not be so devoted to their own interests, as not to be prepared to forego part of their right, as often as the welfare of their brethren requires this.

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