Posted by: Damon Whitsell | July 12, 2010

Are there “many gods” and “many lords”? An Exegesis of 1 Cor. 8:5

I have been participating in debates over at the CARM Mormon (LDS) Forum. This is a study done by THEO. Although this study is addressed to Mormons, it also addresses the way WoFers take 1 Cor. 8:5 and other verses out of context to try to say that they are also Gods. At least Mormons only believe they are “gods in embryo”. This study does an excellent job of showing how 1 Cor. 8:5 does not support the ideas of plural Gods/gods. Damon

A common “proof-text” Mormons use to try to prove their polytheism, or “plural gods” doctrine, is that of 1 Cor. 8:5:

1 Cor. 8:5 … there be gods many, and lords many …

But as we saw in the Phil. 2:5-6 thread, we will also see here that Mormons simply ignore the contextual content of the passage in trying to misrepresent Scripture to try to make it conform to their false doctrines. In fact, I would assert that one only needs to read the entire chapter, beginning at verse 1, to see the fallacious nature of the Mormon argument.

We will look at the following:

1) The overall theme of 1 Cor. 8;
2) The nature of the “gods many” according to verse 5;
3) The contrasting teaching Paul gives in light of “gods many and lords many”;
4) The overall teaching of monotheism in the Bible
5) A comparison with the Jewish Sh’ma, Deut. 6:4

The Theme of 1 Cor. 8

I Cor 8:1: Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
I Cor 8:2: And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
I Cor 8:3: But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
I Cor 8:4: 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.
I Cor 8:5: For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
I Cor 8:6: 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.
I Cor 8:7: 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.
I Cor 8:8: 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.
I Cor 8:9: But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
I Cor 8:10: 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;
I Cor 8:11: And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

I think it is fair to say that when something (“idols”) is mentioned seven times in one chapter, it is a candidate for being the main “theme” of the passage. Paul is clearly speaking of idols, and in particular whether it is okay to eat meat which has been sacrificed to idols. In effect, the question is whether such meat has “idol-cooties”, or whether it makes you associated with the idols the meat came from. That is the context of “gods many and lords many”, the existence of a world full of “idols”, false gods.

So the mere mention of “there be gods many” in a passage speak of idols hardly is supporting evidence for polytheism, or “plural gods”, the existence of multiple true gods.

The Nature of “Gods Many”

Sadly, in 1 Cor. 8:5 we see the same fallacious abuse of Scripture that we saw in Phil. 2:5-6, namely Mormon apologists cutting Paul off “mid-sentence”, and in effect hiding the part of the passage which contradicts the Mormon usage:

I Cor 8:5: For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

Paul here refers to “there be that are CALLED gods”. Why would he say, “called” gods, rather than simply “are” gods, simply denoting existence? The answer is clear, that they are not truly gods, other than the fact that people “call” them gods. That people in Biblical times called “Ashtoreth” a god, didn’t make her one. That people called “Zeus” a god, didn’t make him a real being. That peopled called Caesar “god” and “lord”, didn’t make him divine (except in his own mind, of course). But the meaning becomes even more clear when one reads all of Paul in context:

Paul’s Contrasting Assertion

Not just once, but twice, not just before, but after as well, Paul reiterates monotheism, in contrast to the polytheism associated with idols:

I Cor 8:4: 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.
I Cor 8:5: For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
I Cor 8:6: 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.

He states:

an idol is “nothing in the world” (ie. they don’t exist);
“there is none other God but one” (monotheism);
“there be them called gods (“called”, in name only);
“there is but one God” (monotheism again)

Isn’t it ironic then, that just as we saw in Phil. 2:5-6, 1 Cor. 8 when read in context states the opposite of what Mormons try to twist it to mean. They try to force it to teach “plural gods”, but the only “plural gods” it teaches are non-existent “idols”, and in fact it teaches (not once, but twice) that only one god exists. Monotheism, true and true.

Paul’s basic argument… If it isn’t sacrificed to YHWH, it’s sacrificed to a non-existent idol entity, and it is just normal meat, free to be eaten. YHWH is the only god who exists.

The Consistent Biblical Testimony

Of course, the bulk of Mormon “proof-texting” is nothing but glorified “cherry-picking” of verses they think can be manipulated (such as 1 Cor. 8:5), all the while ignoring any and all passages which contradict the false belief. The foundational belief taught in the TaNaKH (ie. Old Testament) is monotheism, only one god exists, only one deity exists:

Deut. 4:35: Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.

Deut. 4:39: Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.

I Kings 8:60: That all the people of the earth may know that the LORD is God, and that there is none else.

Isaiah 43:10: Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.

Isaiah 44:6: Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.

Isaiah 44:8: Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.

Isaiah 45:5: I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:

Isaiah 45:21: Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.

Isaiah 45:22: Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

Isaiah 46:9: Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,

John 17:3: And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

I Cor 8:4: 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.

Can it be any clearer that it is foundational that the Bible teaches monotheism, and that only one deity exists? And can a twisted verse which is actually about mythical “idols” really be used to overturn such a foundational Biblical teaching?

The Sh’ma

The “Sh’ma” is a reference to Deut. 6:4, a prayer recited twice daily by devout Jews, and named after the first word of the passage:

“Sh’ma yisrael adonai eloheinu adonai echad” (Hebrew)
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (English)

This is the verse Jews use to proclaim the fundamental belief in monotheism.

Notice the parallel between 1 Cor. 8:6, the teaching of Paul (a Jew, a “Hebrew of Hebrews”), and the Sh’ma, Deut. 6:4:

I Cor. 8:6: 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.

Deut. 6:4: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

And lest Mormons wish to argue that the Father alone is “God” and Jesus alone is
“Lord”, Scripture says otherwise:

Of the Father:

Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Of Jesus:

John 20:28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

——————————————————————————————

Summary

In summary, 1 Cor. 8:5 is another “proof-text” Mormons try to twist to support their false doctrines. Apparently the hope is that those they witness to are unfamiliar with 1 Cor. 8, and that they won’t actually look it up and read it for themselves. The “gods many” in 1 Cor. 8:5 is actually about “idols”, imaginary false gods, those who are merely “called gods”, and Paul twice asserts monotheism in contrast in the passage (“there is none other God but one”, v. 4, “to us there is one God”, v. 6), as well as making reference to the “Sh’ma”, the ultimate proclamation of monotheism to any Jew within earshot.

1 Cor. 8 teaches monotheism, not “plural gods”.
The Bible teaches monotheism, not “plural gods”.

Mormons are (once again) ripping verses (or half-verses) out of context.

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