Calvinism and Romans 14:15, 1 Corinthians 8:11

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Some argue that Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11 demonstrate that Calvinism and the doctrine of limited atonement cannot be true because they teach that “one for whom Christ died” can be “destroyed.”

However, it can easily be argued that the word “destroy” in these verses do not refer to salvation, but rather to tearing down.

Calvinism and Romans 14:15, 1 Corinthians 8:11 – The Argument

Romans 14:15

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Romans 14:15

1 Corinthians 8:11

And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.

1 Corinthians 8:11

Roger Olson’s Argument Against Calvinism

In all my reading of Calvinist and anti-Calvinist literature I have not run across any mention of 1 Corinthians 8:11, even though this single verse seems to contradict it. There Paul writes to the Christian who insists on flaunting his freedom to eat meat in a pagan temple, even in sight of Christians who have weaker consciences and might thereby ‘stumble’: ‘So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.’ Clearly, Paul is issuing a dire warning to those of ‘strong faith’ to avoid offending the consciences of their weaker brothers and sisters.

Now, if limited atonement is true, Paul’s warning is an empty threat because it cannot happen. A person for whom Christ died cannot be destroyed. Christ died only for the elect,

The plain sense of the text is that Paul is warning Christians of stronger conscience to beware of causing the utter ruin and destruction, spiritually, of a weaker Christian or at least someone for whom Christ died. If that is so, and I am firmly convinced no other exegesis is reasonable, this one verse destroys the doctrine of limited atonement by demonstrating that Paul did not believe in it.

Roger Olson, ”Against Calvinism” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 147-148.

The Answer to Calvinism and Romans 14:15, 1 Corinthians 8:11

Writings on Calvinism and 1 Corinthians 8:11

Olson’s assertion that no Calvinist writer has dealt with 1 Corinthians 8:11 is simply false. For example, here is what George Smeaton has written about the topic.

George Smeaton

Before leaving this passage, it is necessary to obviate an Arminian comment. From the expressions here used, a false conclusion has been drawn as to the extent of Christ’s death. and the security of those for whom He died. That is a false deduction springing from a wrong idea of ”’the word “destroy,” which does not here denote eternal destruction. It often means to hurt, to injure—the opposite of that which tends to the use of edifying.”’ The apostle does not mean that one man destroys another; for that is not competent to man, and is the sole prerogative of God, who can destroy soul and body. But one brother may put a stumbling block in another’s way, and by this means mar his piece, defile his conscience, and occasion weakness, trouble, and sorrow. The apostle does not mean actual perdition, as if any for whom the Saviour offered himself a surety could finally be destroyed. How could they perish finally, when Christ had offered himself an eternally valid sacrifice, expiating their sin, and satisfying all the claims of the law in their room instead? (John 6:39) They are kept not only by power, but by the security furnished by divine justice itself, to the salvation ready to be revealed.

George Smeaton, ”The Apostle’s Doctrine of the Atonement” (Edinburgh, UK: T & T Clark, 1870; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), 202. (emphasis added)

The Immediate Context: verses 12-13

The immediate context of 1 Corinthians 8:11 helps us understand what Paul means when he uses the word “destroyed” in verse 11.

11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother ”’stumble”’.

1 Corinthians 8:11-13

In verses 12 and 13, Paul clarifies what he means by the word “destroyed”: he is essentially saying that the weak person’s conscience is wounded, or that the weak person is made to “stumble.”

Perhaps the reason why not many Calvinist writers have addressed 1 Corinthians 8:11 is that its immediate context makes it extremely clear what Paul meant when he used the word “destroyed in verse 11.

1 Corinthians 8:11 is a contrast to 1 Corinthians 8:1

In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul writes, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, ”’but love builds up”’.”

So, the most plausible reading of 1 Corinthians 8:11 is that it is in contrast to the concept of “building up,” which does not refer to eternal salvation or destruction. The weak person who is being “destroyed” is being torn down, rather than built up.

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