Knowledge, Love, and Idols - Page 5 (Lessons on First Corinthians)
by John Lowe
The sophisticated arguments of the "knowledge" party in Corinth are apparently involved in this controversy. Since idols had no existence in fact, they felt safe in ignoring the popular superstitions regarding them; and Paul allowed the argument to stand, for the moment, since it was certainly true that there is no God but one, and that an idol actually had no existence in reality. However, although Paul did not recognize idols "as having any real existence, even as false deities," he was certain that evil spirits and demons exist, and that in reality these were behind the idols and were using them to seduce men from the worship of the true God—“But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devil” (1 Cor 10:20; KJV).
Furthermore, Paul does not by his statement that they are “not in the world” leave any room for the thought that they may be anywhere else, because the "world" as used here refers to the whole universe. An idol is nothing at all; it has no power over the world; no real existence anywhere. There are no such gods as the heathens pretend to worship. There is but one God; and that fact is known to all of us. The phrase "in the world" seems to be added by way of emphasis, to show the utter nothingness of idols; to explain in the most emphatic manner the belief that they had no real existence: “Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you” (Isaiah 41:24; KJV).
and that there is none other God but one.
This clause may be considered either as a reason for why an idol is nothing; is no deity, is no God, because “there is none other God but one"; or as a part of what believers know, since they know an idol is nothing; so they know, both from reason and revelation, from the books of the Old and New Testament, that there is but one God, and consequently that idols are nothing, and that they cannot defile them, nor anything that is offered to them.
The true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Old Testament and of the Christian scriptures. He alone is God in the true sense. He alone may rightfully be worshiped, and all worship of Him must be in the name of and through his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. “And that there is none other God but one,” was a great cardinal truth of religion: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD…And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut 6:4-5; KJV). To keep this great truth in mind was the grand object of the Jewish religion; and this was so simple and important, that the Corinthians thought that it must be known by all.
But what about Biblical passages which some say suggests that there are other gods? For example, in John 10:34, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:8-9, in saying You are gods. But the judges of Psalm 82 were called "gods" because in their office they determined the fate of other men. Also, in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9, God calls earthly judges "gods." In John 10, Jesus is saying "if God gives these unjust judges the title 'gods' because of their office, why do you consider it blasphemy that I call Myself the 'Son of God' in light of the testimony of Me and My works?" Jesus is not taking the you are gods of Psalm 82 and applying it to all humanity, or to all believers. The use of gods in Psalm 82 was a figure of speech.
In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul calls Satan the god of this age. Certainly, he does not mean that Satan is a true god, a rival god to the Lord God. Satan can be called the god of this age because he is regarded as a god by so many people! Heathen idols are not gods, and they are not to be owned and respected as gods, for there is no other God but one. Note, the unity of the Godhead is a fundamental principle in Christianity, and in all true religion. The gods of the heathens must be nothing in the world, must have no divinity in them, nothing of real godhead belonging to them; for there is no other God but one; therefore, eating food sacrificed to idols was, in itself, inconsequential.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
For though there be that are called gods,
The significant word here is “called,” or rather so called, indicating that the heathen gods, which are represented by idols, are not gods at all. They are gods by name, though not by nature; angels and magistrates who are called gods in Scripture, and many images that are supposed to be representations of divinities: but these divinities are nothing, the figments of someone’s imagination; and these images have no corresponding realities.
Paul acknowledged that many people believed the gods were real. Idolatry takes away from God the worship He is due. Satan is behind all attempts to thwart God; therefore, the power behind idolatry is the demons, the gods and lords of the spirit world: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12; KJV). Demons exist, but they are subordinate to the one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live. God created everything—even the metal, wood, and stone from which people fashion their idols. The pagans divided creation up among the various gods who ruled their own spheres, but the one true God created everything. Those who believe in Him live their lives for Him and His glory.
whether in heaven or in earth,
“Whether in heaven,” means residing in heaven, as a part of the gods were supposed to do. Perhaps the apostle is alluding to the sun, moon, and stars; but I believe this is a reference to the celestial deities, or to those mythical gods who were supposed to reside in heaven, although they were said to occasionally visit the earth; such as the Greek gods Jupiter, Juno, Mercury, etc.
“Or in earth,” is better rendered Upon the earth; or that reigned over the earth, or sea; such as the mythical gods Ceres and Neptune. The ancient heathens worshipped some gods that were supposed to dwell in heaven; others that were supposed to reside on earth; and others that presided over the inferior regions, such as Pluto, the god of the underworld; Hades.
as there be gods many,
There were gods almost without number, which were worshipped by the Egyptians, Grecians, Romans, and others; even among the Jews, there were some who fell into idolatry; their gods were according to the number of their cities: “But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah” (Jer 2:28; KJV). Among heathen nations every city had its protective deity. Judah, after sinking far into idolatry, had adopted this custom. “As there are many gods and many lords” refers to the so-called gods. Indeed, in the ancient world, there were many, many different gods—and even gods known as the unknown god to cover any gods one might have missed! Paul said, “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23; KJV). There were many gods; but they were falsely called that. The heathens had many such gods, some in heaven and some on earth, celestial deities that were of the highest rank and terrestrial ones, men made into gods, that were to mediate for men with the celestial gods, and were appointed by them to preside over earthly affairs. These are commonly called Baalim in scripture. They had gods of higher and lower degree and many in each order; but all of them were imaginary deities and mediators: so called gods, but not such in truth. All their divinity and mediation were imagery. The emphasis should be placed on the word “many;” and the intention of the apostle is to show that the number of these that were worshipped was not a few, but was immense; and that they were in fact worshipped as gods, and allowed to have influence over their minds and lives which they would have if they were real; that is, that the effect of this popular belief was to produce just as much fear, alarm, superstition, and corruption, as they would have if these imaginary gods had a real existence. Although the more intelligent of the heathen put no confidence in them, yet the effect on the great mass of the heathen was the same as if they had had a real existence, and exerted real control over them.