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According to Wikopedia:

Situational ethics, or situation ethics, is a Christian ethical theory that was principally developed in the 1960s by the Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher. It basically states that sometimes other moral principles can be cast aside in certain situations if love is best served; as Paul Tillich once put it: ‘Love is the ultimate law’. The moral principles Fletcher is specifically referring to are the moral codes of Christianity and the type of love he is specifically referring to is ‘Agape’ love. Agapē is a term which comes from Greek which means absolute, universal, unchanging and unconditional love for all people. Fletcher believed that in forming an ethical system based on love, he was best expressing the notion of ‘love thy neighbour’, which Jesus Christ taught in the Gospels of the New Testament of the Bible. Through situational ethics, Fletcher attempted to find a ‘middle road’ between legalistic and antinomian ethics. Fletcher developed situational ethics in his books: The Classic Treatment and Situation Ethics.

Fletcher believed that there are no absolute laws other than the law of Agapē love and all the other laws were laid down in order to achieve the greatest amount of this love. This means that all the other laws are only guidelines to how to achieve this love, and thus they may be broken if the other course of action would result in more love.

Christians have reacted against the tenets of Fletcher’s proposed ethical system because the law of Christ and the moral principles laid out in the Scriptures should not be set aside for subjective interpretation of what is the most loving and expedient thing to do.  That is true for situations where there is a clear moral right and wrong position.  But as the Apostle Paul explains in this passage which concludes his teaching on the issue of eating meat offered to idols, there are occasions where situational ethics must be employed in light of the reality of the Christian’s liberties.

Richard Hays: It remains for Paul to draw general conclusions and wrap up some loose ends left in his lengthy treatment of “food sacrificed to idols.” Unfortunately, this concluding section is a bit muddled, because he is making two different points, and he swings back and forth between them in a potentially confusing way. Still, the two basic emphases are clear enough:

Point A: All our actions should glorify God by seeking the benefit of others rather than ourselves.

Point B: Within the framework of that principle, we are free to eat whatever we like with thankfulness.

The first point is the fundamental one, the guiding principle that has governed Paul’s whole discussion of idol food. By pressing this principle he hopes to change the terms of the discourse at Corinth, to provide a new framework for moral judgment. This principle poses a fundamental challenge to those Corinthians who style themselves strong and wise: they should stop asserting their rights and start thinking of the interests of others in the community. On the second point, however, Paul agrees fundamentally with their judgment about the moral neutrality of food per se, and he affirms — contrary to the scruples of the weak—that outside the temple setting Christians can eat meat without worrying about its source.

This is a delicate balancing act, because Paul’s position does not fit precisely into either of the opposing positions in the Corinthian debate. It is easy to see how each side might accuse him of inconsistency or lack of moral courage. Nonetheless, his position is a coherent one, however difficult it might be to put into practice in a community.

Structure (see also Fee, 478):

A.  Seek the benefit of others (23–24)

B.  Eat whatever you want (25–27)

A1.  Exception: abstain for sake of the other’s conscience (28–29a)

B1.  Defense of freedom to eat (29b-30)

A2.  Do everything for the glory of God by seeking the benefit of others (10:31 – 11:1).

Paul Gardner: Paul now speaks more generally. Bringing glory to God and building up one’s neighbor provide general categories by which to approach the question of what (sacrificed) meat to eat. The theme of stumbling reappears in v. 32. Should the good of the other not be furthered, then it is better not to eat. In a link back to chapter 9, Paul concludes with a return to the first-person singular and urges that people imitate him as he imitates Christ. He especially recalls from that chapter how he seeks not his own advantage but that many may be saved.

Seek Only the Neighbor’s Good and Bring Glory to God (10:23–11:1)

  1.  When to Eat and When Not to Eat (10:23–30)

a.  Seek the Benefit of the Other Person (10:23–24)

b.  Eat Food Sold in the Market (10:25–26)

c.  Eat Food Offered at Dinner with an Unbeliever (10:27)

d.  Do Not Eat to Prove a Point! (10:28–29a)

e.  Understand the Nature of Your Liberty (10:29b–30)

2.  Do All to the Glory of God (10:31 – 11:1)

David Garland: In this section, Paul tries to ensure that the Corinthians do not misconstrue what he says, as they had previously (5:9–10), and think that he is insisting that they withdraw completely from society and have nothing whatsoever to do with unbelievers. He clarifies that food is food, and it is permissible to eat unless it is specifically identified as idol food, which puts it in a special category that is always forbidden to Christians. As Dunn (1998: 705) observes, he does not ask them “to avoid idol food at all costs or to parade their consciences in the matter by making scrupulous enquiry beforehand.” They need not abstain from all food on the chance that it may have been sacrificed to idols. He basically says, “Of course, you can buy food in the provision market” (10:25); “Of course, you can dine with friends” (10:27). His prohibition of idol food does not mean that they must retreat to the seclusion of a gloomy ghetto. Nevertheless, he anticipates potential problems presented by food that a Christian might purchase from the market or food that a Christian might eat in the home of an unbeliever who might have offered it to idols.


A.  (:23a) The Principle of Expediency

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.”

Gordon Fee: For the Corinthians exousia meant the “right” to act in freedom when and wherever they saw fit. For Paul, as with his own exousia already argued for (9:12 and 18), where it meant the “right” to become slave of all, here the “right” is to “benefit” and “build up” others in the body. For him nothing else is genuine exousia.

B.  (:23b) The Principle of Edification

All things are lawful, but not all things edify.”

David Garland: The two statements [“Not all things are beneficial” and “Not all things edify”] recall the corporate dimension of Christian life (Willis 1985b: 226–27) and Paul’s opening thought in 8:1 that love builds up. From his radical perspective, the only thing profitable is that which builds up the church as a whole (R. Collins 1999: 386).   He leaves it to the readers to infer the corollary to this principle: Anything that might destroy another becomes unlawful (cf. 8:7–13). Robertson and Plummer (1914: 219) correctly observe, “There are some things which do not build up either the character of the individual or the faith which he professes, or the society to which he belongs.” But Paul also believes that there are limits beyond which Christians may not go (cf. 10:1–22). Here, however, the limits are defined by the benefit an action brings to another or the church.

C.  (:24) The Principle of Unselfish Love

Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”


Anthony Thiselton: Paul includes two further distinctions raised by case studies. One case study concerns buying meat from the shops; the other arises when a Christian is invited to a Gentile household for a meal, and is offered meat that has probably been resold in the market after it had first passed through a pagan temple. Some argue that almost all the meat sold in the meat market would have followed this route. Often the best quality meats and best cuts would become available this way. In effect, much would have been involved in the liturgical processes of sacrifice, but it would also be of a quality suitable for hospitality to guests.

A.  (:25-26) Case Study #1 – Buying Meat in the Open Market – Avoid the Issue and Exercise Your Freedom

  1. (:25)  Simple Guideline – If the question is not raised it is a moot point

Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake.”

Gordon Fee: In light of the emphasis in the preceding criterion, the reader is not quite prepared for the “applications” that now follow. One might expect illustrations of forbearance for the sake of others; what we get instead are two concrete examples of personal freedom with regard to the meat market, which are finally defended rhetorically in a very personal way at the end (vv. 29b–30). Only in the preceding example of forbearance (vv. 28–29a) is there an expression of concern for others.

  1. (:26)  Universal Principle – Source of the meat ultimately is a Gift from God

For the earth is the Lord’s, and everything that is in it.”

Paul Garland: This is a further indication that Paul’s real concern about eating such food is not the fact that it may, at some stage, have been sacrificed to an idol but the context in which it is eaten. Eaten in the temple itself (8:10), it is being eaten as part of the worship of that idol, and so the eater is caught up in the worship, and the results of that are what Paul has spoken about earlier in this chapter. Eaten in a nonreligious context simply as food rather than as the content of a sacrifice, there is nothing to worry about. Christians may eat this food. Paul gives a theological reason why, in principle, he is prepared to eat this meat, drawing on Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness of it.” In other words, eating food when not as part of temple worship is simply to enjoy God’s creation. It should be done with genuine thanksgiving to God, who supplies all food (v. 30).

Mark Taylor: What is clear in the first example is that believers should not inquire about the food’s history in the buying process. The principle that emerges from both examples is that freedom is restricted in any situation that hints of the participation in or condoning of idolatry. The principle of seeking “the good of others” (10:24) requires a decision-making process guided by the perceptions of others in relation to their spiritual well-being.

B.  (:27-30) Case Study #2 – Eating Meat Served by an Unbeliever at a Private Dinner Party

  1. (:27)  If the Issue is not Raised, Go ahead and Eat – Still a Moot Point

If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything

that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake.”

Craig Blomberg: More central to this section is Paul’s preference for freedom over restraint when commending the gospel to unbelievers. Non-Christian stereotypes of conservative Christianity consistently characterize us as dour, legalistic joy-killers. And at least part of this caricature is deserved. Evangelicals often do argue over where to draw the boundaries in morally gray areas. Fee correctly observes that “conservatives on these issues simply fail to reckon with how ‘liberal’ Paul’s own view really is. Hence Paul is seldom heard for the sake of traditional regulations.”

Paul Gardner: With these matters of “evaluation” and “self-awareness” in mind, Paul argues that it is fine to eat this meat at dinner or when bought in a market, provided it is not seen as a way of evaluating or judging anyone’s self-awareness vis-à-vis the community. As long as eating this food is in no way done to make some point about being spiritually mature or having “knowledge,” then it is fine. Thus Paul insists twice that eating can take place as long as it is “without evaluation for the sake of self-awareness.”

For the sake of clarity we may paraphrase vv. 28–29 thus:

If, at a meal with an unbeliever, one of the so-called “knowledgeable” Christians draws attention to the fact that idol meat is being eaten and that, therefore, this is a good occasion to make a point of your “freedom,” then you should decline to eat. You do not want further to encourage this person in his or her false understanding of self-awareness. Anyway, why should another (and false) type of self-awareness be allowed to decide whether or not I am “free”?

  1. (:28-30)  If the Issue is Raised, Refrain from Eating

But if anyone should say to you, ‘This is meat sacrificed to idols,’ do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;

I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? 

If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?”

Mark Taylor: There is not enough information given to know why the informant makes known the food’s history, whether it is a courtesy to the known believer present at the meal or a subtle test of the Christian’s convictions regarding things associated with idols. Paul simply does not say since the motives of the informant are irrelevant.

Bob Deffinbaugh: Paul now asks two questions in the second half of verse 29 and in verse 30. First, Paul asks why his freedom should be scrutinized and restricted by the conscience of another. Second, he seems to asks why, even though he can partake of the meal with thankfulness, he should be spoken against as though he were doing wrong. I am inclined to understand these as the questions which prompt Paul not to partake of idol-meats, after their presence at the table has been pointed out. He does not wish to offend the conscience of another, and so any indication that another guest would have his conscience wounded by his eating is sufficient reason not to eat the idol-meat. Even though he could eat that meat with thanksgiving, he will not do so because he would be evil spoken of for having done so by another. In either case, Paul stands to lose much more by eating than he could possibly gain by eating.

David Garland: The advice that follows shows that Paul does not expect the Corinthians to give up their interests or rights entirely — only when the situation calls for it. They do not need to give up eating meat, for example (8:13), but love for others is to be the controlling factor in their choices. Food that may have an idolatrous history may be eaten unless it is specifically identified as idol food. When it is identified as idol food, however, the principle of love must overrule assumed knowledge or presumed rights. They must abstain out of concern for another’s conscience as well as to avoid rousing the wrath of God for violating their covenantal obligations. . .

Paul formulates another key hermeneutical principle underlying his advice. The food’s history matters only when it matters to someone else who considers it sacred. Christians know that idols do not exist, that there is no God but one, and that all food belongs ultimately to God; in this sticky situation, however, it is not what the Christian knows that counts, but what others believe. . .

Paul is not concerned here that Christians might endanger a fellow believer who has a weak conscience. Rather, their willing consumption of what has been announced as food sacrificed to idols would do three things:

  1. It would compromise their confession of the one true God with a tacit recognition of the sanctity of pagan gods.
  2. It would confirm rather than challenge the unbeliever’s idolatrous convictions and would not lead the unbeliever away from the worship of false gods (Conzelmann 1975: 178; Ruef 1977: 102). If a Christian eats what a pagan acquaintance regards as an offering to a deity, it would signal the Christian’s endorsement of idolatry.
  3. It would disable the basic Christian censure of pagan gods as false gods that embody something demonic (Cheung 1999: 159) and make that censure seem hypocritical.

Paul expresses concern about the Christian’s witness to the unbeliever. The announcement presents an opportunity to expound one’s faith in the one God and one Lord (see Godet 1887: 97).


Anthony Thiselton: The final verses of this section (vv. 31-33; 11:1) set out the criteria for decision and action in an aphoristic, succinct, summarizing form.

(1)  The highest positive criterion is to do it all for the glory of God (v. 31b).

(2)  The highest negative criterion is to avoid doing damage (NIV, “do not cause anyone to stumble”), whether those under consideration include non-Christians (both Jews and Gentiles, v. 32a), or fellow Christians (God’s church, v. 32b).

(3)  The second positive criterion is to take account of all the interests of everyone (v. 33a), having universal respect for the concerns and well-being of “others.”

(4)  The second negative corollary is not seeking any advantage of my own (v. 33b).

(5)  The specific goal, or final cause, is the good of the many, with a view to their salvation (10:33c).

(6)  The formal cause arises from following the example of Paul, which he, in turn, derives from the way of Christ (11:1).

Craig Blomberg: First Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1 restates the twin principles of freedom and restraint one last time, now in the context of God’s glory — that which conforms to his standards and priorities (v. 31). Paul tries to lead as few into sin as possible, both outside and inside the church, but his most basic underlying motive is the salvation of as many as possible (vv. 32–33; recall 9:19–23). And he has included this somewhat lengthy discussion of his actions and motives precisely so that the Corinthians might imitate him carefully, at least to the extent that he successfully models Christ-like behavior (11:1).

A.  (10:31) Glorify God in All You Do

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

B.  (10:32-33) Give No Unnecessary Offense that Would Hinder the Gospel

  1. Principle Stated

Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God

  1. Reason – Seeking the Benefit of Others – Especially Their Salvation

just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but

the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.”

Not talking about being a “man-pleaser” in a selfish, ambitious sense

C.  (:11:1) Imitate Godly Examples

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”

Doug Goins: Paul is asking every one of us through this entire passage, “Do you want to know what it means to live a consistent Christian life? Do you want to properly balance freedom and restraint? Do you want to be in the world and not of the world? Do you want to have a positive spiritual influence in your community, but not allow that community to mold you so you compromise what’s true and what’s right? Do you want to live a balanced life, not being driven by the extremes of legalism or its opposite, selfish license? If you do, then watch me, follow me, live with me. I may not be perfect, but I try to imitate the selfless life that Christ lived. I want to glorify God in what I say and what I do and in the attitudes of my heart. To the extent that I succeed, then the good news is that you can, too.”

Richard Hays: It is regrettable that the chapter division (introduced centuries later) has caused many readers to miss the connection of 11:1 to the foregoing argument. In fact, the entire treatment of idol food (8:1 – 11:1) should be read in the light of this closing call for imitation. Paul has presented himself as exhibit A of giving up prerogatives in order to reach out to others (8:13, chapter 9 in its entirety, 10:33); furthermore, what has been implicit throughout is now at last made explicit: the fundamental pattern of self-emptying, on which Paul’s own actions are based, is Christ. Paul concludes the section, leaving the word “Christ” hanging in the air, without explanation or elaboration. Perhaps he trusted that the Corinthians, having already heard what he had to say in 1:18 – 2:5 about Jesus Christ crucified, could work out the implication of this for their own lives. If we are less confident of the ability of our congregations to make the connections, we might refer to Phil. 2:1–3 for further elucidation.

Paul’s summons to the church to imitate him (cf. Phil. 3:17; 4:9; Gal. 4:12; 2 Thess. 3:7–9) sounds like breathtaking immodesty, but in fact it reflects simple wisdom: we learn who we are and how to act only by the example of others. Believing that his own life was in fact conformed to the self-sacrificial example of Christ, Paul was willing to offer himself as a role model. Here is a sobering challenge for all who preach the gospel: how many of us would be willing to present our own lives for inspection as models of Christ’s self-giving love?