Did Paul Lie To The Corinthians?

Of Masks And Weaker Brothers Revisited

G writes,

Your post on masks has aged poorly. You chose to side with deceit. Truth tells people regardless of their fear or sadness that the masks are ineffective. Now, the people who became dependent on them, like an amulet around their ankle, are now so superstitious that they can’t function without them. You did not help the weaker by going along. You hurt them.

Dear G,

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul wrote,

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble (1 Cor 8:4–13; ESV).

Paul acknowledged the truth: an idols has no real existence yet he not only indulged the weaker brothers regarding meat offered to idols—all the meat eaten by the pagans was dedicated to the pagan gods, the idols—and required of the Corinthians not to eat meat offered to idols if that exercise of their Christian liberty might cause one of the weaker brothers to stumble back into paganism.

In many of the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed congregations, since the Covid crisis began, there have been differences of opinion and, tragically, even divisions over how to respond to mask mandates. Now, as mask mandates are easing in some places, it seems the time for recriminations has arrived.

Did it hurt the weaker brothers in Corinth not to insist that they eat meat? Did Paul align with deceit when he advocated that the strong not exercise their freedom for the sake of the weaker? After all, the gods to whom the meat was offered are no gods at all. Paul’s clause in 1 Corinthians 8:7 is essential: “not all possess this knowledge.” Paul urged patience, grace, and mercy toward the weaker brothers even though they were wrong about meat offered to idols. Should we accuse Paul of aligning with deceit? May it never be.

Paul was not telling the weaker brothers that the gods were real. He was teaching “the strong” how to love their brothers. G’s complaint mistakes my concern for the weaker brothers for a conviction about masks. It has been fairly clear to me from the beginning, when the Trump administration first told us that non-N95 masks were worthless against the spread of disease, that we should not use and then and then, after a time, when they did the supplies they needed for the medical professionals, that the authorities were just making up things as they went along. It has been characterized as Dr Fauci’s “noble lie.”

I wondered how long it would take for an email like this to come over the transom. What G does not seem to understand is that just as Paul was less concerned about disabusing the weaker brothers of their bad theology, so public health policy was never the point of the essay. I am not a physician and I do not practice medicine here. I try to edify the church as best I can. My interest was (and remains) the preservation of peace in the church and how to love the weaker brothers.

The church’s calling in the world is not to practice medicine or public health policy, at least not as far as I can tell. I agree that some people have become psychologically dependent on masks. Does this make the church complicit? I think not—no more than the church is complicit for not preaching against the use of cigarettes or the moderate use of alcohol, both of which can lead to addiction and dependency. Is it the church’s job to help wean people from nicotine or vaping or other dependencies? I doubt it. Again, I should like to see the brief for this aspect of the church’s vocation. As far as the Reformed churches know our vocation is the preach the gospel purely, administer the sacraments purely, and to use church discipline (Belgic art. 29).

The Covid pandemic has been a trying time for all of us. Without a doubt the Evil One has used it to divide the church and, in some cases, to close congregations. I am grateful for my brothers and sisters who bore patiently with one another and with their pastors and elders who sought and continue to seek to be faithful to their charge to preach the Word when it is well received and when it is not (2 Tim 4:2). Going forward we need to continue to preach the law and the gospel, to call sinners to repentance and faith, to administer the sacraments and discipline faithfully. There will come a time when we should take stock of how we responded to Covid. When that time comes let us do graciously and in the clear light of Scripture.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I still believe it’s been shown that the wearing of a mask reduces the probablity of others catching Covid from the wearer, and is, therefore, worthwhile, even if it doesn’t protect the wearer. But then, I’m in the UK.

    • John,

      The authorities in the USA have admitted repeatedly, from February and March, 2020 that non-N95 masks provide no protection to the wearer and little to no protection to others from the wearer and this has become even clearer during the Omicron outbreak.

      It seems reasonably clear here that when grownups are allowed to mask-free but school children (for whom omicron poses little threat) are required to be masked indoors (and only today did LA Public Schools relent on masks outdoors–where there’s virtually no likelihood of spreading or catching the virus) that this has mostly been about political theatre. The public health authorities here have damaged their credibility for a generation.

    • I’m also in the UK. The virus doesn’t behave differently depending on location.

      You say ‘I still believe it’s been shown’. It hasn’t, but if you believe otherwise then please provide solid evidence. I have looked long and hard, and there is no evidence that pieces of clothing fabric stop an aerosol-borne respiratory virus. You might as well use chiken wire as a mosquito net as use clothing fabric against an aerosol-borne virus. Moreover, clothing fabric is hydrophilic, and so becomes a ‘spit to aerosol’ converter, making the spread worse. Studies in 2020 on the effects of of different fabrics on Covid-19 transmission plainly showed that coverings made of clothing material increased the spread of the virus because of that ‘spit to aerosol’ effect.

      The only significant ‘effect’ has been a psychological one, not a medical one, serving a false narrative. And doing lasting psychological harm to the whole of society, but particularly to the nervous and vulnerable.

  2. Everybody is skipping over Dr. Clark’s point: we love our sisters and brothers when they are wrong, about masks or whatever. The church dare not divide over masks.

  3. “Aligning with deceit” today, or posthumously charging the Apostle Paul with this might be an unhelpful way to speak about it. The fact of the matter is that the Reformed churches have an aspect, a ministry of “prophetic witness”, or “prophetic concern” to the State and to the larger secular society, do they not? R.C. Sproul used to say this to people at Ligonier Q&A’s. The very point of NOT establishing State churches was so that the church could be free to carry out this ministry. It seems to me that there can be a “spirit of worldliness” in the churches that goes beyond the perennial vexation of “Side B” “Christianity”, immutable characteristics, discussion over “race”relations, etc. There are more insidious and pernicious ways that local Sessions/Consistories can “ape” the world. In many churches (I imagine particularly in “Blue States”), an attempt to bind consciences in the context of this kinderspiel happened, and is STILL happening. And as Brad Isbell rightly pointed out in a post found in this space some days ago, it is the “conservatives” (for my purposes, this is the anti-mandate crowd) who will always be portrayed as divisive and spiritual bullies. If weaker brothers exist (and they always do), why not INSTRUCT them? Why not STRENGTHEN them in truth? Let them know that it doesn’t violate the moral law to enjoy a martini before dinner—and a premium cigar after dinner. Why not seek to free them from the bondage of these scruples? And a one week old Christian formerly rescued from the local Satanic temple is a different case than someone who has named the name of Christ for decades, isn’t he? Distinctions can be made, yes? And, if this is not the church leadership’s responsibility, then whose is it? If someone at church politely asks me to don a mask—and I see that they are elderly, or sense them to be afraid—am I so callous and heartless that I would refuse to? Of course not! That is different than a context of no discussion, no dialogue, knee jerk rubber stamping the tyrants du jour. Irrespective of what the secular Ministry of Truth may claim, the churches should be strongholds against lies—be those involving something like the FV, sexual perversions, or…something more invidious concocted by globalists, Deep Staters, and other sundry species of assorted wicked in high places. The abrogation of the duty of prophetic concern is constantly indulged—even to several matters which pre-date COVID—and it’s a perpetual source of aggravation, frustration, and disgust for those Christians who can see it. Elders in the churches should be repenting in sackcloth and ashes for indulging this tomfoolery—at least past the summer of 2020. Does it not matter a whit to them that where cowardice may be construed, trust might be forever lost? If the conversation to assess the past 2 years must be put off to a later date, then when? Where? On what grounds? This will only further fester. Just my thoughts—

    • Greg,

      1. Paganism was the state religion of Rome.

      2. Paul did not tell the Corinthian church to dispute, to Rome, the false state-religion.

      3. Further. in v. 7, he openly admitted that the pagan gods are nothing but idols.

      4. Nevertheless, he still required the stronger Christians to forego their freedom to eat meat when that eating caused the confused, erring weaker brothers to stumble.

Comments are closed.