(1 Cor. 8:11) Can believers be “ruined” or “destroyed” and go to hell for eating idol-meat?

CLAIM: Paul writes, “He who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.” Both Gordon Fee and David Garland argue that “ruined” (apollytai) refers to “eternal loss”[1] or “eternal, final destruction… perishing.”[2] They argue this on the basis that (1) the eating of known idol-meat is a form of apostatizing into idol worship in 1 Corinthians and (2) the term apollytai always refer to utter destruction. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: We disagree with this contention for several reasons:

First, it would be odd that the “know-it-all” believers could have such power over the “weak.” This sounds as though the “weak” passively go to hell because of the “know-it-alls” dining practices.

Second, why doesn’t Paul tell the “know-it-alls” that they themselves are also going to hell if this is what he intended?

Third, the grammar is in the present tense—not the future tense (“is ruined”). This doesn’t refer to “destruction” or “ruin” at the final judgment, but destruction in their present spiritual lives.

Fourth, the parallel account doesn’t support eternal judgment. In Romans 14, Paul writes, “If because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15). In this context (v.14), Paul himself doesn’t consider the food to be unclean (“Nothing is unclean in itself”), so apostasy into idolatry cannot be in view (as in 1 Cor. 10:1-30). Moreover, the parallel in Romans 14 is between “hurting” your brother and “destroying” him. The term “hurt” (lypeitai) means “to cause severe mental or emotional distress” (BDAG). Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 8:12, the parallel is made with “wounding their conscience.” Thus, Paul is comparing a subjective spiritual experience with being “destroyed.”

Finally, this alternate interpretation assumes that salvation for a true “brother” can be lost—a contention we deny (see “Eternal Security”).

Instead of holding that this refers to eternal death, we contend that this refers to a “ruining” or “destroying” of spiritual growth. More specifically, it is their “conscience” that has been “wounded” (v.12).[3]

[1] Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 387). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] David Garland, 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 389.

[3] Commentators such as Gary Meadors (see lecture 22) and W. Harold Mare also agree with this reading. See Mare, W. H. (1976). 1 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 240). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.