On Being All Things to All Men

1 Cor. 9:19-22: For though I am free from all [men], I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but [only] one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then [do it] to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (NASB)

It’s commonplace to use this section to justify all numbers of supposedly Christian practices – in everything from youth groups, to “seeker sensitive” movements, or any number of such things. What brings us to visit this section are the comments from “Mr. Reader”, who is using this, in our comment section, to justify evidentialism as a “non-sinful pragmatism”, to use his words.

While I included a rather large section of context, recall the overarching context of the book. Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church, and dealing with the various problems that had cropped up in that body during his absence – and those problems were many. As Gill points out, 1 Cor 9 is dealing, overall, with his claim as an apostle, moves on to his practice as such, and moves on with an exhortation to act likewise. So, how are we to look at this passage?

First, note the immediate context. The previous chapter dealt with the “weaker brother” issue concerning meat sacrificed to idols. He offers the following in 8:7ff:

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

Now, it’s readily apparent that Paul is still speaking of liberty in Chap. 9 – that is, in fact, the first point he raises. It’s actually a continuation of the same thought, given that the chapter numbers are just convenient references for us today. Paul segues from the discussion of liberty in regard to weaker brothers to his own liberty as an apostle. He points out that he is at liberty to require sustenance from his flock – yet chooses not to do so. He adds several demonstrations to that effect. He then, after reiterating that while he is free, he is also bound to Christ, and must preach His gospel, begins anew to discuss his prior topic – revisiting it briefly as it pertains to himself. As a Jew, and apostle to the Gentiles, he is in a unique position – between two worlds, as it were. As such, he has to deal with two distinct groups. Jew and Gentile. However, let us note something. This is not a normative period. This is the period where the old is passing away and the new has come. In this period of the passing of the covenant he, as a Jew, is faced with an interesting choice. Does he eschew all trappings of Judaism altogether, or does he work within them, knowing they are passing away soon? This seems to be the thrust of the passage here, and it relates to the prior discussion. As the discussion concerning idols went previously, he seems to be comparing that to his “being all things to all men” – especially due to the immediate inclusion of “to the weak” thereafter.

So, let us address how this relates to the points brought up by our commenter. First, let’s hear Calvin on this passage, and see if we can glean anything of importance from his comments.

Now again he employs a general statement, in which he shows to what sort of persons he accomodated himself, and with what design. He judaized in the presence of the Jews, but not before them all, for there were many headstrong persons, who, under the influence of Pharisaical pride or malice, would have wished that Christian liberty were altogether taken away. To those persons he would never have been so accommodating, for Christ would not have us care for persons of that sort.

Let them alone, (says he,) they are blind, and leaders of the blind. (Matthew 15:14.)

Hence we must accommodate ourselves to the weak, not to the obstinate.

Now his design was, that he might bring them to Christ — not that he might promote his own advantage, or retain their good will. To these things a third must be added — that it was only in things indifferent, that are otherwise in our choice, that he accommodated himself to the weak. Now, if we consider how great a man Paul was, who stooped thus far, ought we not to feel ashamed — we who are next to nothing in comparison with him — if, bound up in self, we look with disdain upon the weak, and do not deign to yield up a single point to them? But while it is proper that we should accommodate ourselves to the weak, according to the Apostle’s injunction, and that, in things indifferent, and with a view to their edification, those act an improper part, who, with the view of consulting their own ease, avoid those things that would offend men, and the wicked, too, rather than the weak. Those, however, commit a two-fold error, who do not distinguish between things indifferent and things unlawful, and accordingly do not hesitate, for the sake of pleasing men, to engage in things that the Lord has prohibited. The crowning point, however, of the evil is this — that they abuse this statement of Paul to excuse their wicked dissimulation. But if any one will keep in view these three things that I have briefly pointed out, he will have it easily in his power to refute those persons.

We must observe, also, the word that he makes use of in the concluding clause; for he shows for what purpose he endeavors to gain all — with a view to their salvation. At the same time, he here at length modifies the general statement, unless perhaps you prefer the rendering of the old translation, which is found even at this day in some Greek manuscripts. For in this place, too, he repeats it — that I may by all means save some But as the indulgent temper, that Paul speaks of, has sometimes no good effect, this limitation is very suitable — that, although he might not do good to all, he, nevertheless, had never left off consulting the advantage of at least a few.

Now, it must be noted that Calvin is speaking of the very same issue we are contending applies when it comes to evidentialism. If, as we have argued extensively all over this website, evidentialism is essentially sinful, as a system, then quoting this verse to us does not constitute an argument against our position. In fact, it strengthens it! As Chris pointed out in his reply, this seems to commit the fallacy of “assumed exegesis” – what the reader wishes is assumed in his quotation of the text – but what the text says is not brought out, nor is it dealt with. The pragmatism spoken of here is in terms of things indifferent – but the very point of contention, at bottom, is whether evidentialism is, or can be an matter of indifference. Saying, in matters of indifference, or even weakness, that a stronger brother may help the weaker brother and not cause him to stumble is one thing; when the question is about whether it is an outright sin to accomodate someone in this regard, it is something else entirely. Use of these verses is not automatic license for whatever you choose to do in the name of Christ. It is license to act in a certain fashion in regard to matters of indifference.

Now, in order to make a valid argument; instead of using this passage as if it were carte blanche for whether evidentialism is sinful, one would have to argue from Scripture that evidentialism, as a system, is Biblical and righteous, in contradistinction to unBiblical and sinful, as we argue. This would involve much more than a passing citation, but instead require the objector to address the material which already exists on this subject, on this site. In other words, to address the position he opposes, as well as offer a claim of his own (a so far unargued claim, to boot). As it lies, I don’t think “Mr. Reader” has offered either an objection or an argument; he has simply assumed that evidentialism is non-sinful, and applied Paul’s statements to it. The question, however, is about whether it is – not what to do, assuming it is. It isn’t a matter of “evidentialism, assuming it is properly understood, intended, and applied, is an apologetic methodology that clearly qualifies under Paul’s description of different methods of getting to the Gospel.” What we’re saying, and have all along, is that evidentialism cannot be properly understood, intended, or applied as a Christian methodology. Do Christians sometimes use it, and get “good” results from it? Sure. This still doesn’t answer the question as to whether God is drawing lines with a crooked stick, or a straight stick at that point. It just assumes the stick is straight, from the outset. What Mr. Reader is doing is called “eiseqesis” – reading into the text something that isn’t there. In order to make an argument, he’d have to actually present a case for how evidentialism, in it’s own terms, is both a Biblical and righteous undertaking. Simply stating this verse doesn’t make that argument. It assumes that it’s both, from the outset. The previous discussion alluded to above can be found here.

I’m on the road, and may not have the time to address comments here. Feel free to respond via trackback, or on the FB page, and I’ll answer as time permits. Comments on this post will be closed.

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