Friday Forum: 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 “Gods Many or One?”

Discuss 1 Corinthians 8:4-6
spaceman spiff #2

4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things athat are offered in sacrifice unto bidols, we know that an cidol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 But to us there is but one aGod, the bFather, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one cLord Jesus Christ, by whom are dall things, and we by Him.

Thoughts? Anyone? Please feel free to comment.

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About JA Benson

Joanna entered the world as a BYU baby. Continuing family tradition, she graduated BYU with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years. Growing up in Salt Lake County, her favorite childhood hobbies were visiting cemeteries and eavesdropping on adult conversations. Her ancestral DNA is multi-ethnic and she is Mormon pioneer stock on every familial line. Joanna resides in the Southeastern USA with her five children ranging in age from 8 to 24. Her husband passed away in 2009. She is an avid reader and a student of history. Her current intellectual obsession is Sephardic Jewish history, influence and genealogy. She served as a board member for her local chapter of Families with Children from China. She is the author of “DNA Mormons?” Summer Sunstone 2007 and “Becoming Hong Mei`s Mother” in the Winter Sunstone 2009

27 thoughts on “Friday Forum: 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 “Gods Many or One?”

  1. This has a real life application at present day Hindu temples. There is a Hindu temple in Indianapolis. One of our members is married to a member of the Hindu temple. They often serve a noon meal at the Hindu temple. Sometimes, temple members bring food to donate to the temple which is used for the meal. Sometimes, a temple member makes a donation of money to pay for the whole meal, and in those cases there is no charge for the mail. When such food is donated, there is a ritual in which the food is first presented (waved around, given, donated or offered) to the temple’s idols which represent the various Hindu gods.

    So, if someone goes to the temple, and partakes of the noon meal on those days when it has been donated and “offered to idols”, are they in violation of this scripture?

    On those days when the temple charges a few dollars for the food, it hasn’t been “offered to idols”, but then if you pay, you’re conducting business on the sabbath. On those days when they don’t charge for the food, the donated food has been “offered to idols”, and therefore a good christian shouldn’t eat it, right?

    By the time I leave the chapel, it’s been about 5 hours since I’ve eaten, and that good Indian food is just around the corner, too. Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to try the Korean churches down the street. Korean churches usually have a noon meal right after the services. I’ve been to two other Korean church meals, but not the nearby ones yet.

    Anyone seen the movie “Singles 2nd Ward” in which a non-member buys a sandwich from a kid in sacrament meeting for $5.00?

  2. In his final public discourse, Joseph Smith said:

    Some say I do not interpret the Scripture the same as they do. They say it means the heathen’s gods. Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many; and that makes a plurality of Gods, in spite of the whims of all men. Without a revelation, I am not going to give them the knowledge of the God of heaven. You know and I testify that Paul had no allusion to the heathen gods. I have it from God, and get over it if you can. I have a witness of the Holy Ghost, and a testimony that Paul had no allusion to the heathen gods in the text.

    I couldn’t imagine him being more forceful, and yet at the same time more wrong. Read in context, there is simply no way to conclude that Paul is talking about a plurality of actual Gods. It is painfully obvious that he’s talking about pagan idols.

    This bugs me. Not enough to kill my testimony, but enough to sit in a corner of my brain bugging me.

  3. Thanks Geoff J., My brain goes into idiot mode when I am tired. I am tired a lot.

    Bookslinger- Your explanation puts those verses in the proper context. Now the verses make perfect sense.

    MIke- I was confused when reading this chapter, knowing what Joseph said. Joseph had the bigger picture is what we should remember.

  4. The NIV translation is better and clearer:

    “4So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

    Mike, I know what you mean, and clearly if you read in context Paul seems to be referring to heathen idols. I wonder, however, if Joseph is looking forward and saying that we need to begin changing the definition of idols from the traditional “pagan God” idols to our understanding of idols today, which is anything Earthly that draws you away from the One God and Jesus Christ.

  5. I don’t think it is at all obvious from the text that Joseph Smith’s interpretation isn’t correct. “as there be gods many and lords many” is the key phrase, one that is consistent with Jesus Christ’s own statement on the subject in John 10:34.

    I do think that whoever capitalized “Gods” and “Lords” in that quote didn’t know what they were doing, however. It is an unjustified interposition, a practical self contradiction, etc.

  6. I love the cartoon Joanna!

    Great comments from everyone on here. Leaves me with little to add.

  7. Mark,

    The “gods many and lords many” are the plethora of false gods worshiped in the Greco-Roman pantheon. Paul himself encountered these false systems of worship time and time again during his missionary journeys (recounted in Acts).

    His point is that these gods are “nothing” (8:4), and therefore eating meat sacrificed to them isn’t wrong. However, he counsels that some new converts may not understand this, and so the saints in Corinth should refrain from doing anything that might harm their fragile testimonies (8:7–13).

    His subject is on idols, sacrifice to idols, and protecting new converts. He’s not dealing with the subject of the nature of the Godhead or the divine council. It makes no sense to try to force that into the passage.

  8. FWIW, if Joseph Smith interpreted passages in the Bible out of context, then he was simply following in the footsteps of the New Testament writers, who continually did the same thing. Matthew was certainly the worst offender, completely ripping passages in Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Jeremiah from context before we even get out of chapter 2 of his gospel.

  9. Mike P., I am not saying that was his *point* – I am saying that is what he indicated in passing.

  10. I agree with Joseph Smith on this. As I read it, Paul is not referring to the heathen’s gods, because the idols are _not_ gods, they are just wood and stone. Calling something a “god” doesn’t make it a god any more than calling a cat a dog makes it a dog; it’s still a cat no matter what you call it.

    I think Paul is likely referring to our heavenly aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Those of Elohim’s generation, and prior, who have attained exaltation, and have galaxies or universes of their own. In _our_ universe (or galaxy, or however the divisions are), there is but one God, Elohim, and one Lord, Jehovah.

    Heavenly Father has not seen fit to tell us much of heavenly aunts/uncles in any way other than hints and implications. Maybe more was in the scriptures that got lost or taken out. Somewhere in the D&C it even says He’s only telling us about what and who pertains to just this planet.

    Mike Parker makes a good point: The “gods many, lords many” comment is an aside, and the main point of the passage, the whole chapter actually, is to not be a stumbling block to others by behavior that in and of itself may not be bad, but would cause others to doubt or stumble.

    Today’s examples might be someone seeing you drink caffeinated cola or non-alcoholic beer in brown bottles, or playing with face cards, or buying a bag of ice at a liquor store on your way to a picnic.

    Many of Paul’s writings are very flowery, with complex sentence structure, lots of relative clauses, tangents and asides. It’s easy for me to get lost and confused in his epistles and lose track of the main point of a passage. Paul must have been a great orator, but flowery inflection and tone don’t translate well to the written word.

    Geoff B: It’s hard to say if the NIV is better/clearer. The Amplified Bible also uses the phrase “so-called”, but then goes on to give the other side of the coin, saying “as indeed there are many of them, both of gods and of lords and masters.”

  11. I think the parenthetical statement in verse 5 was intended as a counter-point or opposition to the “so-called gods” that preceeds it in order to emphasize that the idols are _so-called_ gods, not _real_ gods.

    I realize that the Greek doesn’t have parentheses, but other translations besides the NIV set that phrase apart with puncutation.

    I guess the question is whether the parenthetical phrase was intended to be a parallel to what preceeds it, or as an opposite to emphasize the “so-called” nature of the idols.

  12. There’s an evangelical blogger who interprets this sort of halfway between Joseph Smith and Mike Parker: as evidence for the existence of an unknown number of what we might call demigods, and he attributes the such an origin to Satan. Kevin Barney’s paper on Asherah mentioned Hebrew pantheistic beliefs that could be related, IIRC.

    Personally, I’m okay with verse 4 referring to false idols, and verse 5 referring to any of the following:

    1. what Bookslinger describes above as heavenly extended family,

    2. what Joseph Smith calls the Plurality of Gods (maybe the same as 1.),

    3. a subgroup of Heavenly Father’s children who attained godlike status,

    4. the Council of the Gods involved in the creation (which may have members from any or each of the three above groups).

  13. One of the many truths I found on my mission is that the Book of Mormon “is to the the convincing of the Jew and Gentile”. The Book of Mormon was written as a witness to people who did not know the gospel. The Epistles of The New Testament were written to those who already had basic understanding. That is why today people have difficulties understanding the doctrine written by Paul and the other apostles. I think it is perfectly legitimate to say that Paul was slipping little tidbits of “deep doctrine” into a much less complicated discourse.

  14. Wow! what a great conversation. Thanks Mike, Tex, Ben, Bookslinger, Mark, Brian, and Geoff for stopping by with such intelligent thoughtful comments.

    Mike, please define eisegesis for me. Thanks.

  15. Joanna, I think the technical meaning is, “fancy word that nobody really uses.” But for the purposes of this discussion it means, “interpreting the scriptures based on your own biases rather than on what the text says.”

  16. I acknowledge that someone else’s “literal interpretation” of a scripture may be different than my “literal interpretation” of the same scripture. 🙂

  17. Here’s the chapter for everyone to read in the King James version. Very accurate translation from the original Greek.

    There are gods many and lords many—To us there is one God (the Father) and one Lord, who is Christ.
    1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
    2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
    3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
    4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
    5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
    6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
    7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
    8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
    9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
    10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
    11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
    12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
    13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will ceat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

    Okay, let’s set this chapter straight. I stand behind The Prophet Joseph Smith’s words 100% though people shall “fight him in vain”. I will break this down for you and I’ll use small words and clear explanations so you can understand. I first want to focus on verses 1 to 3 and 7 to 13. Paul is talking about a theme of KNOWLEDGE right from the beginning of this chapter. Knowledge is closely related to another word DOCTRINE, which is a list of knowledges that are God’s truths. Keeping these three words (knowledge, doctrine, truths) in mind, Paul talks about MILK TRUTHS and MEAT TRUTHS in other chapters of his epistles. For example, earlier in this very same epistle in chapter 3:1-2, Paul said this: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk [truths], and not with meat [truths]: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” And again in Hebrews 5:12-14, Paul said this, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

    Now, let me help you understand. First off, this is meat doctrine, but since we are talking about meat doctrine, we are baby gods from God our Eternal Father, Who is the Father of our spirits. Our baby god spirits can grow up to be a God in eternity if we are righteous. Who can dispute this? If you do fight this, you fight against Asaph in Psalms 82:5-6, 97:7&12 and Christ in John 10:34-35. So then, I could stop right here with this logic and say, ‘Well, if in our little family of God in which He made us gods to become like Him, then how come God can’t have Brothers and Sisters and Parents and Aunts and Uncles as well like us?”

    Nevertheless, I will continue to explain the important METAPHOR or PARABLE that Paul is using throughout the chapter that people don’t get about eating flesh or meat offered unto idols. When Paul says “things [meat or flesh] offered unto idols” in verse one, he is talking about “MEAT doctrine that seems evil or wrong” to babes in Christ. Re-read Hebrews 5:14. So Paul is talking about this MEAT doctrine of God’s Brothers and Sisters. Does it really seem evil that God has Brothers and Sisters and Parents just like we His children have? If it evil, explain well to this group. But I promise you will fail as much as if explaining that it is evil that we have brothers and sisters and parents and aunts and uncles here on this earth. If you think it’s evil then you are not of “full age” as Paul explained. This whole topic is not necessary as Paul says this in verse 8. “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither if we eat [Meat Doctrine], are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” Only Milk makes us better if we eat or worse if we do not eat because we are babes in Christ. This doctrine of God’s Family is not pertinent to our salvation. Thus Paul finishes this whole topic to not talk about this MEAT doctrine unless just among people that are of “full age” lest we make our “weak” brothers that can’t handle this truth “perish” “through [our] knowledge”.

    Thus, verses 4-6 clearly explains that there are gods in heaven and gods in the earth which are us. And we know that “meat doctrine” is nothing of pertinence to our salvation in this world. But it is a “stumblingblock” like Christ was to the Jews. For the Jews could not accept the Meat doctrine that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah veiled in flesh that wasn’t glowing with power they could see with their physical eyes. Nevertheless, He was the source of the Milk doctrine so He had to be revealed. So accept what I’ve told you and worry no more about your testimony concerning Joseph Smith. He was a prophet and I just explained to you why this chapter is talking about God’s big Family besides us.

  18. Hey Bret- I like your interpretation. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us. Hopefully the M* scriptural giants (not just me) will respond to your comment.

    I do have to mention; nobody at M* fights against Joseph Smith. SO hold your horses. M* and it’s readers are the uber Mormons of the Bloggernacle. Which of course means we are just regular in the North American LDS world. We are on Joseph’s side too.

    Thanks for using small words and simple explanations. I hope our highly intelligent readers do not take offense. 🙂

  19. Hey

    Really glad to get into this forum
    It’s what I am looking for.
    Hope to know more member here.

  20. Read in context, there is simply no way to conclude that Paul is talking about a plurality of actual Gods. It is painfully obvious that he’s talking about pagan idols.

    Not so fast! 🙂

    How you read this passage depends on what you believe Paul believed and had in mind at that moment. I personally do not assume that Paul had any concept of the plurality of gods in mind. But since we are talking about a parenthetical comment, there is no reason to necessarily connect that comment with the false gods of the previous comment.

    Also, keep in mind that the NIV is intentionally translating it to match their own (valid) point of view. There is nothing in the Greek of this verse that is equivalent to the English “so-called.” That’s the translator’s opinion. The KJV’s “called” is more literal because it may or may not mean “so-called” and we have to determine it by context.

    If we were to start with the assumption that Paul did have a belief in something similar to the plurality of gods, then this passage could be rendered something like this:

    So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are [in fact] many called [by the title of] gods, [both] in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many [that legitimately bear the title] gods and many lords), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

    It seems like Richard Lloyd Anderson (or some other scholar I’m not remembering) collected some pretty impressive evidence backing up a possible alternate understanding of these verse to match the above. I can’t remember what he said though. But it is well known that early Christians were apt to refer to Jesus as “the second God” and the like. (I have numerous early Christian quotes to back this up).

    Likewise, the Bible is not anywhere near unanimous about how “God” or “Gods” (generally the same word) can be used. The word is applied equally to the one God, to angels, to evil spirits, to heathen idols, to judges that receive the word of God, to Satan (as god of this world), to Moses, to the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Ghost, etc. Is it really unthinkable that at a minimum Paul was parenthetically saying “well, of course we apply the word ‘God’ legitimately to many things, yet to us there is ultimately only one God the Father and one God the Son.”? I do not find this interpretation to be contradictory to what is actually said in the passage.

    In fact, Joseph Smith’s interpretation does not necessarily imply the plurality of gods doctrine either, though clearly set into that overall context. It merely says that Paul, in the parenthetical comment, wasn’t referring to heathen idols at that moment. This is a believable possibility. So I am not sure we can definitely dismiss Joseph Smith’s interpretation yet.

    However, that being said, I admit that I personally agree that this was probably not talking about anything but idols. Surely reading it as idols is by far the easiest and most likely reading. But “improbable” isn’t the same as “impossible.” So I’m quite open to the possibility that I’m wrong about this. Ultimately, I am not a mind reader. What Paul had in mind for certain can’t be known.

  21. M* and it’s readers are the uber Mormons of the Bloggernacle. Which of course means we are just regular in the North American LDS world.


    JA Benson, I thought I was the only one that said things like this! Well, not counting J Max, of course. 😛 Good to know I’m not alone in my feelings.

  22. “FWIW, if Joseph Smith interpreted passages in the Bible out of context, then he was simply following in the footsteps of the New Testament writers, who continually did the same thing.”

    Mike, I started making a list of out of context quotes from the OT by NT authors and eventually had to stop because I ran out of paper. 🙂

    It changed my view of what scripture is and how God intends for it to be used. It did not reduce my view of the authority of scripture. It did reduce my view of the validity of the exegesis approach (not that it’s wrong in and of itself, it’s just not authoritative apparently) to the Bible and, by extension, it calls into question (and in my mind defeats) the entire Protestant approach to authority.

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