From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 7-12     Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011







Chapter 10






            If there was anything a Jew knew about, it was the Exodus, the great saga of liberation, redemption, and salvation.  Indeed, any Gentile Christian would learn the story from Jewish converts because of its importance in their self-definition as a people.  Similarly, both would be extraordinarily dense if they did not see in their shared Christianity a spiritual parallel to what the ancient Jews had gone through.  Hence it provided an excellent example that Paul could use to warn his brethren of the danger of falling into the faults that had so endangered the chosen people on their journey to the promised land.

            That ancient people, Paul stresses, were truly one—and he repeats that several times.  Perhaps a mild “dig” that they were more “united” than the Corinthians and represented a better “ideal people” that they?  If so, the point would be even more emphatic that if the consequences for misconduct had been so great for  them, how much more so for the Corinthians!  Those ancients, in spite of being so profoundly blessed, had fallen into a wide-variety of transgressions.  Not everyone was guilty of the same sin:  but when you considered how many different evils they had, cumulatively, indulged in, it was as if virtually every one had eventually cast restraint to the four winds.

And suffered Divine wrath as the result.  Quickly, unexpectedly, and decisively, on one occasion after another.  They had the “right” to live as they wished, of course.  The right to be a fool has always been a prerogative of the unwise, but God reserved the sovereign’s right to punish them for their stupidity as well.

            Faced with the allure of evil, how does one resist it?  The apostle deals with this by discussing the “way station” between moral living and reprobate action, that is, temptation.  Paul argues that though temptation is inevitable, God will still provide a way to escape yielding to that temptation.  In other words, He will provide the means but they have to utilize it.  He’s not going to do the work for them.

            He then eases into the topic of the worship of idols.  Just as the Israelites are “joined” to the holy altar in Jerusalem in their sacrifices (and the God being worshipped), similarly when a Christian partakes of worship sacrifices offered to a pagan god, he or she is “united” as if one with that altar and that God.

            Lest someone play word games and argue that this concedes that these gods are actually real, Paul insists that these are only called gods.  To the extent that they represent anything objectively real at all, it would be more proper to call them “demons.”  Like so



[Page 115]   many other moral principles, this idolatry was still wrong even though centuries had passed.

There were three potential dangers they faced in this regard, the most extreme of which was overt idolatry.  He hits hard that partaking of the Lord’s Communion is utterly incompatible with creating a sacred relationship with a pagan deity.

The second is eating meats purchased in the market.  Unspoken is the social reality they would have all known:  virtually all meat in a city like Corinth was sacrificed (even if only a tiny part) to some deity or other.  Since one had not seen it done or participated in it or encouraged it, buying meat in the market place was a different matter than partaking in worship of an idol.  In effect, Paul is arguing that what was done by the seller, out of your sight, was his business not ours and he had not forced it to our attention.  (What Paul is driving at is a kind of ancient “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, if you will.)  Under those circumstances, feel free to eat the meat.

The third situation concerns eating such meats in private dinners.  If the host brought up the fact of the sacrificial origin, then that was to serve as a kind of “red flag” to the believer.  It was highly probable that he would think your participation in the meal provided a kind of validation of his own belief in the deity that had received the offering.  In such cases, the Christian should avoid eating any of the animal. 

One can expect other reasons behind such a situation as well:  a kind of “in your face” contempt for your monotheism, the desire to (playfully?  maliciously?) put temptation in your way, etc.  Whatever the motive in the individual case, abstention would  show the depth of one’s convictions and dedication and avoid giving the person an excuse to reject or belittle them.       

               This was not to be a matter of “spiritual showmanship” or “grandstanding,” which one could easily make it.  It was not a matter of “putting him in his place.”  (Think:  “I’m better than you and here’s the proof.”)  Instead the purpose was to give God the honor and respect He is due.  By your steadfastness in this potentially embarrassing situation, your dedication may actually lead the host to consider the credibility of the Christian gospel and, by its embracing, save his soul.  






How the Themes Are Developed  







 Those involved in the Exodus constituted

one community called out of

Egypt and shared many blessings

in common (10:1-10:4)


[Page 116]         ATP text:  1Moreover, comrades, I do not want you to forget that all our ancestors walked under the cloud and all passed through the sea from Egypt.  2By being buried by the cloud and the sea all became followers of Moses.  3All ate the same supernatural food 4and all drank the same spiritual water, for they were continually drinking from the spiritual “rock” that followed them and that rock was Christ.”

            Development of the argument:  Paul proceeds in this chapter to the fourth major theme of the epistle:  how decorum in the church assembly is a positive measure on its own merits but also is a way of retaining the respect of outsiders.  Just as he had finished the previous chapter with an emphasis on the need for himself to be faithful to the standard he taught (9:24-27), he now emphasizes that the same is also true of believers in general.  In the first thirteen verses of the chapter he hits hard on the tempting delusion that just because they are God’s people, that this somehow guarantees that God will overlook their obvious warts and failures.  To convey this point, he cites repeated examples from the Torah narrative of the Exodus wanderings to demonstrate the total futility of such a view.  

God’s new people now consisted of both circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles and, as part of God’s people, even these Gentiles could look back upon the ancient Hebrews as their (spiritual) ancestors (cf.  Romans 9:6; 11:17-24).[1]  Furthermore, this new community faced the same temptations and dangers faced by temporal Israel in the Exodus from Egypt.[2]  Hence these examples were of relevance to all of them.  This idea of spiritual continuity in the expanded covenant community (from a Jewish one to a Christian one), may well explain why Paul speaks of how “our fathers were under the cloud” (1 Corinthians 10:1), even though—strictly speaking—that was true only of those of Jewish ancestry who were among them.[3]

            Richard B. Hays rightly observes that “Paul is not trying to convince his Gentile readers to accept this identity description as a novel claim; rather, he assumes their identification with Israel as a given and tries to reshape their behavior in light of this identification.”[4]  In short, Gentile Christians were encouraged to view the church—from its early days—as constituting a larger, wider, more inclusive Israel.  Paul alludes to this usage in 1 Corinthians 12:2 when he refers to “you were”—not “are”—Gentiles (“when you were,” BBE, God’s Word, Holman, ISV, NASB, Rotherham, RSV, Weymouth; “before you became,” CEV; “while you were still,” TEV).

He begins by stressing the importance of what he is about to say:  “I do not want you to be unaware,” i.e., “Wake up and pay attention!  This is important!”[5]    He then establishes the premise that ancient Israel constituted one people just as Christian believers were:  They “all” passed through the Sea into freedom (10:1).  They “all” were buried in the waters of the Sea with its walls of water high above them and the cloud overhead--hence the allusion to how they were “baptized” by the crossing of the waterway (10:2).  (The usage of “baptized” in this manner uses an unusual visual image, but conveys the concept of submersion or immersion in a most effective manner.)  Furthermore they “all” ate of the same spiritual food (10:3) and water (10:4) as well.  They had become one people by a shared calling and all undergoing the same events and dangers.



[Page 117]         This is the image they Corinthians surely held of themselves—a people united by a bond that no one else had, just like the Israelites were united by the bond of shared liberation and exodus from slavery into freedom.  The ancient saga was literal; their’s was spiritual.  (Truth be told, though, the Israelite Exodus had an intended moral and spiritual element to it as well—leaving behind polytheism and embracing a new ethical system explicitly built on fair treatment of each other.)






Yet most of that community angered God

by a variety of transgressions




            ATP text:  5Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, as shown by the fact that their bodies were left scattered all over the wilderness.  6These things happened as warning examples for us, so that we would not passionately desire evil things as they craved them.  7Do not become idolaters as some of them did.  Remember it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to sinfully enjoy themselves."  8Nor let us sexually sin, as some of them did.  In one day twenty-three thousand died.  9Neither let us try the Lord’s patience, as some of them did, and were destroyed by poisonous snakes, 10nor complain, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  11Now these things happened to them as cautionary examples and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the climax of the ages has arrived.”

            Development of the argument:  In spite of sharing all this in common, God was not pleased “with most of them” and their bodies died in the wilderness (10:5).  The proportion is interesting:  we tend to define proper ethics in terms of what is acceptable to the majority of people.  Here we find that “good morals” are not the automatic response of a majority—even when they had been rescued from slavery and had a prophet (Moses) to teach them.  A majority doesn’t have to be wrong, but when it comes to ethical behavior, self-interest, preference, and desire can easily outweigh prudence and restraint.

The record of how they stumbled was prepared so that we might be warned by it (10:6). They acted drunkenly and irresponsibly (10:7).  They “commit[ed] sexual immorality” on a massive scale (10:8).  They “tempt[ed] Christ” (10:9) and “complained” (10:10) and in both cases quick death was the result.  Again Paul emphasizes that such examples were written to warn us of the potential dangers we ourselves face (10:11).  Indeed, B. J. Oropeza, is surely right when he argues that the specific transgressions mentioned were selected as the most parallel to the ones plaguing the Corinthian congregation.[6] 

Israel repeatedly fell into strife—with Moses as its target upon occasion, with God’s instructions even more often.  Even though these “factions” weren’t aimed at each other as were those in Corinth, they created repeated internal divisions just as dangerous.[7]  Indeed, Josephus uses the word “factionalism” to describe the Israelite behavior in



[Page 118]   Numbers 11.[8]  Describing the rebellious internal conditions in Exodus 32, the Jewish philosopher Philo found a parable, so to speak, to warn one and all, “For where else do we find contentions, combats, hostilities, and all the works that go with bitter and persistent war, but in the life of the body which in this parable he calls the camp?”[9]  History as moral instruction, therefore, was neither a Pauline nor Christian invention. 

In the Exodus, Israel had reasons for delusionary self-approval.  The one time fantasy of freedom had become a reality; an overwhelmingly oppressive regime had been humbled; they were clearly the beneficiaries of God’s good favor.  In the Corinthian context, this may have been especially relevant.  It would have been easy for them to have believed that because they were abundantly blessed with “spiritual gifts” that everything must be basically fine and good in God’s sight.[10] 

As in the ancient parallel, however, being the beneficiary of Divine favor carried with it a moral obligation of ethical and restrained behavior.  Both were God’s people, but neither had been given a blank check to determine their own moral path nor was either exempt from Divine wrath for grievous violation of His standards.[11]






Just because they also were capable of

committing such sins today, did not mean

that it was inevitable (10:12-10:14)



            ATP text:  12Therefore, whoever is confident of standing securely should be careful lest they stumble.  13No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to everyone.  On the other hand, God can be trusted not to let you be tempted beyond what you are able to resist, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape so that you may be able to triumph over it.  14Therefore, as those I love, I urge you to continue to flee from any worship of idols.”

            Development of the argument:  Because we recognize the power of such temptations as those that plagued the ancient Israelites, we should never allow ourselves to be puffed up as to our ability to resist sin (10:12).  The good news is that the temptations we endure—both in the sense of encouragements to sin as well as that of hindrances and difficulties of life--are not unique to ourselves.  We may not know how common they are, but the reality is that others have to face the same thing (10:13a).

Upon occasion, part of us rebels against accepting this reality.  “Sometimes we are all a bit paranoid about the suffering we go through, and we look around and get the feeling that everyone else is having it easy while we, alone, are having a hard time.”[12]  Perhaps among our limited group of close acquaintances.  Perhaps at the present, while their hard times may have been past or in the future.  Perhaps because the hard times that afflict them are, have been, or will be of a different nature—though they too will hurt, be in anguish, and cry out in frustration just as we do.  The trying time will come for all of



[Page 119]   us, however--because we are humans and injustice and disease, in one form or another, are universal.  

            Yet it is reassuring when we set our own sufferings, difficulties, and temptations in a broader setting:  it does not remove them, but in its own strange way, it’s comforting to recognize that we are not alone, we have not been singled out.  Even better good news is the promise that God will assure that the temptation does not come in an intensity superior to our ability to resist.  A “way of escape” will be provided to avoid caving in (10:13b).  That requires desiring such an escape, consciously looking for it, and actually taking advantage of the opportunity.  At any one of those points our will to resist might still collapse.  Opportunity is provided; not an irresistible determination to utilize that opportunity.  That decision must come from within.  

He applies this warning and encouragement, first of all, to idolatry and urges them to “flee” from it (10:14).  We find that word in the present tense in the Greek,[13] i.e., it needed to be an on-going reaction, not just a sporadic one.

Idolatry, though.  This is startling.  Christians tempted by such behavior?  For one thing many of these (probably the bulk) were Gentiles who had been raised in just such an environment and lifestyle.  Furthermore, Jews (at least in the Diaspora) were far from immune to the contagion.  For example, the cult of Sabazios in Roman Asia appears to have been a Jewish-pagan hybrid, mixing elements of the Yahweh cult with pagan ones.  Hence it was a warning of potential importance to anyone, regardless of ethnic background.






By partaking of that which was offered in

worship, they simultaneously partook

of the worship of the one being

reverenced (10:15-10:18)



            ATP text:  15I speak to you as to those who are perceptive:  judge for yourselves what I say.  16The cup of blessing which we bless in our worship, is it not our collective sharing in the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not our collective partaking of the body of Christ?  17Because there is only one bread, we who are many individuals constitute one body, since we all share of the same bread.  18Observe physical Israel:  are they not joint partakers in the altar when they eat the sacrifices offered there?”

            Development of the argument:  Paul accepts that he is dealing with those who are “wise” (or, at least, claim to be such!) and, therefore, challenges them to “judge for yourselves” the validity of what he has to say (10:15).  The bread and the fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper unite us as one (10:16-17).  On the precedent of ancient Israel, those who eat of a sacrifice become “partakers” of it as well (10:18).

Hence, though we are “many” in number, we become “one” through partaking of “that one bread” in the Communion (10:17):  “The idea behind the verse is to be found in



[Page 120]   the old saying, ‘A man becomes what he eats.’  Many partake at the Communion of the one loaf.  By this partaking they can be said to be ‘one loaf’ (as they were called ‘unleavened bread’ in 5:7).”[14] 

Our partaking of the loaf is our way of openly, consciously and intentionally aligning ourselves fully and completely with Christ and publicly manifesting ourselves as being part of His body (the church, in Ephesian imagery).  Just as baptism was our “doorway” into that one body, our continuing to partake of the memorial Supper demonstrates our continued determination to remain part of it.

We intentionally merge ourselves into one, so to speak, with Christ.  This “unifying” nature of religious service will be important in the argument that follows: if we “merge” into oneness with Him through the Communion, we also “merge” into oneness with evil by sacrificing to idols.  






This did not mean that idols were actually real

gods, but they represented the earthly

expression of demonic powers and one could not

rightly give them the honor or reverence that

was only due to Jesus (10:19-10:22)



            ATP text:  19What do I imply then?  That either food sacrificed to an idol is what it claims to be, or that an idol is a real divinity?  20In no way.  Instead the food sacrificed by Gentiles is actually offered to demons and not to God and I never want you to have anything in common with demons.  21You cannot drink both the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons; you cannot share in the table of the Lord as well as the table of demons.  22We would provoke the Lord to jealousy if we did that.  Are we stronger than the Lord?”

            Development of the argument:  On the intellectual level we recognize that an idol is really nothing in itself (10:19) yet sacrifices offered to them are really “sacrifice[s] to demons” (10:20a).  Take your choice, he is saying:  if idols represent nothing at all, why are you sacrificing to them?  If you recognize that, to the extent that they have any objective and “real” existence at all, it is demonic in nature, the question is the same—why do it? 

To stress that it is not a mere “neutral” act involved, he hits hard on this theme:  by participating in such sacrifices one is actually having “fellowship with demons” (10:20) and we cannot consistently have fellowship with both “demons” through pagan sacrifices and the “Lord” through the commemoration of His death (10:21).  To do both is to “provoke” God--something extremely unwise unless we are “stronger than He” (10:22).  (A manifest absurdity.) 

In the modern West, we are inclined to look upon the eating and drinking of a meal in purely utilitarian terms—as the way to get the food we wish or need.  It carried



[Page 121]   far greater social connotations in the ancient world.  “To eat at table with another was a sign of friendship and loyalty in Semitic culture.”[15]  Hence Judas’ treachery was magnified because it happened immediately after the Passover meal he had shared with the other apostles and Jesus.[16]  To be eating or drinking at a demon’s table, therefore, carried the connotations of intimacy, friendship, and respect.  And does not that inherently involve acceptance, embracing, “sharing in or reflecting the nature or attributes of the demons. . .”?[17]   

Were Christians, of all people, to treat the demonic in such a friendly and compromising manner?  Indeed, with “entangling alliances” already pulling one in the wrong direction, how can the “Christian” component be anything but drained of strength and emptied of resistance? 






One might make whatever legalistic argument

one desired that such behavior was technically

lawful,” but that could never change the fact

that even lawful rights must yield to

benefiting others (10:23-10:24)



            ATP text:  23All things may be “lawful" for me, but not all things are beneficial.  All things may be “lawful," but not all things build us up.  24None of us should think just about our own good, but even more so about that of others.”

            Development of the argument:  Other considerations beyond the “demonic” also encourage abstinence from partaking in idolatrous sacrifices.  Even in situations where “all things are lawful,” that does not mean all things are “helpful” and “edify” (spiritually build up) (10:23).  And this would clearly be such a situation!  We might think we are advancing our own interests by partaking of such sacrifices (10:24a)--friendship, business, political possibilities come to mind. 

But even if that were the case, we should never allow such self-promotion to take priority over avoiding doing harm to others:  When other people are involved as well, it is never just a matter of “my” rights and privileges.  The negative—even devastating—impart upon others must be considered as well. 

“Do no harm,” was the fundamental principle of doctors ancient and modern; the same should be true of believers as well.  It is our obligation to promote “the other’s well-being” rather than potential harm (10:24b).  In marked contrast to encouraging pagans in the “rightness” of their behavior or undermining the abstinence of fellow believers by our compromising conduct.




[Page 122]  


So long as they did not know by personal

observation that an animal had been offered

in pagan sacrifice, there was nothing

wrong with buying or eating it (10:25-26)



            ATP text:  25For the sake of your conscience buy whatever is sold in the meat market without asking questions about its origin.  26Remember that the earth is the Lord's and everything in it.”

            Development of the argument:  Paul has edged from idolatry per se to eating of the meats offered to idols.  Yes there are situations in which such meats can be eaten, insists Paul and this is definitely one.

Conscience is shaped by one’s own definition of right and wrong but also by how surrounding society interprets an action.  Hence, it would be easy for a hyper-sensitive conscience to come to the conclusion that since pagans took more or less seriously the pagan gods’ reality, the fact that one purchased meat probably offered to them implied a similar recognition by the Christian as well.[18] 

Paul argues for a very different approach:  When it is bought in the market place, the Christian is to abstain from asking whether a portion has been offered to some deity (10:25).  It probably was, but so long as that is not explicitly affirmed, one should act as if it had not been.  After all, everything in the earth is truly and ultimately from the Lord, which means these meats are also (10:26).  Therefore indulge and enjoy them with a clear conscience!






On the other hand, if a dinner host stressed

the fact that the food had been so sacrificed,

they were to abstain from partaking lest

they cause the unbeliever(s) to stumble by making

them think that Christians acknowledged the

objective reality of their idol-gods (10:27-10:30)



            ATP text:  27Applying this principle further, if one of the unbelievers invites you to a meal and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience about where the food came from.  28But if anyone says to you, "This meat was sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for conscience sake.  29By "conscience," I do not mean your own, but that of the other person.  Someone may wonder why my freedom is limited by



[Page 123]   another person’s scruples?  30If I partake with thankfulness, why am I rebuked because of the food for which I give thanks?”

            Development of the text:  One is to follow a “don’t ask” policy in regard to the food one purchases in the market (10:25-26).  A similar course is to be followed in social intercourse with others.  Whether he is speaking of believers or unbelievers is not explicitly mentioned, but the principle would apply to either situation.  Paul simply affirms that one should not raise the question (10:27).[19] 

On the other hand, if the host is an unbeliever—to begin with the possibility that is most likely under immediate consideration—idol meat was such an “accepted” part of the meal and of life it would, seemingly, be unlikely to rise to a conversation topic level at all.  On the other hand, it might even be a highly ethical unbeliever who did not want to cause a friend to violate his or her principles.  It means nothing to them, personally, but the bonds of friendship make them concerned lest they create a problem for your conscience.  How does this monotheism play out in real life?  And does it have an impact on this particular behavior?[20]

In the case of those of a more hostile mind frame, to some nonbelievers it may well be a test case of whether you are “truly” converted to your new monotheistic faith at all.  It may even be a mischievous, mean, or simply misguided effort to return you to your previous polytheistic “broadmindedness” that now endangers your standing and status in the sight of others.  In any of these scenarios, eating will mislead the conscience of your host-questioner.  Hence in such cases one must decline to eat both out of respect for one’s own conscience as well as that of the other person (10:28-29). 

But what if it is a fellow Christian who is also attending who raises the issue?  If he is speaking because he believes it is a sin and is seeking verbal reinforcement to avoid yielding to the temptation, then you are causing him a positive harm if he imitates your example.[21]  If he is doing it out of genuine uncertainty, then it is highly questionable to prejudge the matter for him:  it is of such a nature that a decision must be made immediately and the required discussion would take time and could not realistically be carried out in the confines of a meal.  If he eats at all, he will do so with ambivalent feelings or with a positive conviction that one is honoring the idols.  In such cases, your individual “right” to eat yields to the greater priority of avoiding doing harm to a fellow believer.[22] 






This standard allowed them to give God

the ultimate glory rather than their own

preferences and to avoid causing others

to spiritually stumble (10:31-33)



            ATP text:  31What we must remember is that whether we eat or drink or do anything else, we must always do it to give God honor.  32Never give an excuse to



[Page 124]   stumble--whether to Jews, or to Gentiles, or to members of God’s congregation.  33This is why I try to please everyone in all things, not seeking my own advantage but the benefit of the many, in the hope that they may be saved.”

            Development of the argument:  Paul had conceded that your “liberty (ATP:  freedom)” (10:29) is curbed by the need to abstain from foods offered to idols when it is pointed out to you.  Verses 30 may be linked together with verses 29 and 31 in one of two ways.  In one reconstruction, Paul returns to the situation where no mention of the dedication of the meat is made at all.  In such situations, there is no harm in partaking if one gives proper “thanks” for such blessings (10:30) and any criticism one receives is unjustified:  The thanksgiving to God would show that one is partaking out of respect to one’s deity rather than in defiance of Him.  A person might agree or disagree with your decision, but none could reasonably question your sincerity and good intentions.[23] 

            Alternatively, Paul could be discussing the case of eating knowing it is idol sacrificed—and the point has been emphasized to the visitor.  In such cases, it is not a case in which one gives honor to God by partaking (10:31) even if one has given thanks (10:30).  In the first reconstruction, God is given due honor and in the second He is not.

            In all candor, however, verse 30 seems more likely to be intended as a re-emphasis of the criticism.  He raises the question twice, in both verses 29 and 30, as to whether a person should be criticized for knowingly eating idol sacrificed food when that origin has been stressed to the partaker.  The answer, he implicitly gives is that it disrespects the glory properly due deity (10:31) and, therefore, the prayer (10:30) was but an empty formality.       

            Regardless of whether it is a situation when one can eat idol meat with a clear conscience or one when a Christian can not, the pivotal factor (in addition to the conscience of the other person) is to give proper honor to God (10:31).  In addition one was obliged to strive the maximum to avoid giving needless offense to Jew, Gentile, or fellow church member (10:32):  in other words, cause no needless problems for people of varying cultural and social backgrounds.[24]  This is not a one way street for they should treat you with similar courtesy and respect.  This was the guiding principle of Paul himself (10:33).  What he expected of others, he expected of himself as well.      







Invoking of Explicit Old Testament

Quotations to Justify His Teaching:






            10:7:  The moral excesses connected with the worship of the golden calf.  When Moses had been on the mountain for long enough to worry the waiting multitude, mass panic swept the camp.  To revive their spirits and hope, a golden calf was built to



[Page 125]   worship.  This is commonly interpreted to mean it was regarded as the representation of a deity other than Yahweh; they had decided to attribute their rescue to a different divine being than the one taught by Moses.[25]

However, since the feast day to honor it was to be “a feast to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5), this would argue that they had not returned to their old Egyptian gods.  Instead they were determined to give Yahweh Himself a bodily image under which they could reverence and worship Him.  They had turned non-idolatrous Yahwehism into an idolatrous form.  They had added a fatal and debilitating element to their religious practice.  (Yet extremely comforting since any resident of Egypt was all too familiar with pervasive idolatry!)

Paul quotes what happened next, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play (ATP:  sinfully enjoy themselves).”  The text comes from Exodus 32:6, as found in the LXX.[26]   A modern paraphrase would run something along this line:  “they ate too much, drank too much, got drunk, got up and made fools of themselves.”  The extent of the debauchery is left to the imagination though “dancing” of some sort was involved as part (32:19).  A vague reference is made to them being “unrestrained” as well (32:25) and that it was not stopped by the destruction of the idol.

            It is a phenomena far from unknown in the modern world, especially if one is far from home and one’s shenanigans are unlikely to become knowledge among our friends and associates.  In this case the behavior was psychologically encouraged by the alien conditions of being far from their “homeland” of Egypt and being relieved of the inhibiting presence of Moses.

            Moses’ retaliation was both collective and individual.  He smashed the tablet with the Ten Commandments (32:19) and burned down their much desired idol into powder (32:20).  Then he mixed it in with water and made the people drink of the presumably vile tasting concoction (32:21).  The latter, however, might only mean that he threw the “dust into the brook that descended from the mountain” and whose waters they were drinking (Deuteronomy 9:21).  They had polluted the worship of God; Moses would pollute the very water they drank!

            The use of “play” as a euphemism for sexual play was one known in both the Septuagint and Greek secular literature.  Karl O. Sandnes notes that the term Paul uses to describe the Israelite behavior “is attested in an amorous meaning in Genesis 26:8 (LXX).  The context there makes it perfectly clear that it refers to sex, probably intercourse.  Xenophon, Symp. 9:2 uses this verb to describe the relationship between Ariadne and Dionysus after they got drunk at a banquet.”[27] 

The term does not have to have such a connotation.[28]   Strictly speaking it could only mean that “they danced, leaped and made merry after the fashion of the period.”[29]  Others would add “singing” to their list of activities.[30]

On the other hand, it is hard to imagine it having an innocent, nonsexual connotation in the context in which Paul speaks.[31]  Paul describes the people as eating and feasting—and then misbehaving.  The Corinthians would surely have recognized the parallel to the guild-type or social group-type gatherings of their own era:  overindulgence would be accompanied by flirtation, sexual fondling, and sometimes even full blown sexual intercourse of one type or another with the female (and sometimes young male) attendants and entertainers at the festivities.[32] 

The sexual aspect—regardless of what quasi-religious dancing and “exaltation”



[Page 126]   might have been involved—also seems unavoidable in the context in which it is described in Exodus:  they party (with its connotation of getting drunk) and they worship an idol as their god (and behavioral excesses easily went hand-in-hand with such worship—the fertility cults of ancient Canaan being prime examples).[33]  They are clearly trying to throw off the even the most basic restrictions the text depicts as binding upon them (i.e., the idolatry itself).  How then are we to assume that the remainder of their activities were totally innocent? 

This does not rule out other non-sexual excesses (such as drunken violence) being present as well, of course.[34]  Indeed, in our present world they not uncommonly go hand-in-hand with the throwing aside of moral inhibitions.    



            10:25-26, 28:  Precedent for eating all types of meat without questioning its origin.  Paul’s stance is that we should eat whatever is set in front of it and not question its origin (in this context, meaning, technically offered to idols by its previous owner).  His Biblical precedent is the expression “the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness (ATP:  everything in it)” (10:26, 28—the second reference not[35] being found in critical texts and the bulk of modern translations).

            This is cited from Psalms 24:1, which also applies it to the world and its inhabitants, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.”  (The LXX form is quoted.)[36]  Some regard this as more of an allusion than a quote since Paul makes no explicit reference to it being such and that, therefore, such an intended direct reliance could easily be missed by a Gentile reader.[37]

In surviving ancient rabbinical literature, this text was regularly cited to prove the necessity of giving thanks to God for one’s food.[38]  For example, one text refers to how, “One should not savor anything until one has blessed, as it is said, ‘The earth is the Lord and its fullness.’ ”[39]  At least one Talmudic text quotes the passage as appropriate words to repeat, before one begins to eat, as the prayer itself.[40]  Paul’s acquaintance with this use of the Psalms text may well be indicated by the fact that only a few verses after quoting it, he refers to the fact that he gave thanks for the food he himself partook of (verse 30).[41]    

In another passage from the Psalms, the idea of God’s authority over all creation is expressed only mildly different, “the world is Mine, and all its fullness” (50:4).  Psalms 89:11 expresses it this way, “The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness, You have founded them.”  In the Torah we find it this way, “Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14).  And even earlier, “all the earth is Mine” (Exodus 19:5).

            Paul does not explain why the earth is the Lord’s.  The unspoken assumption (explicitly asserted in other texts in both testaments) is that both the human species and all of the world is a Divine creation.  Hence “the Lord’s” by virtue of having made it.  The authority of deity over the human species and the visible universe is another theme found in both testaments and provides further reason the world would be described as “the Lord’s.” 

            In an age when chance evolution is the dominant explanation of both cosmos and humankind, there is, of course, intense unwillingness to concede the power relationship of creator-to-created that is inherent in such reasoning.  In both testaments, however, it is


[Page 127]   a “given,” a fundamental reality that is to be ignored at only the greatest risk to one’s own immediate and long-term well-being.     

            Paul applies the principle that the visible world originates with God to the specific problem of eating meats:  Give the food the benefit of the doubt, unless the issue is thrust in your face.  God made everything and therefore the food should be accepted as the blessing of God. 

            It should be observed that Paul is not discussing the issue of kosher versus non-kosher food (to use modern terminology).  Whether the foods in question would have violated those restrictions as well is not even raised.  So far as his argument goes, all that is involved is the partaking of meat that one would--all other circumstances being the same--have enjoyed without any feeling of guilt.  For a Jew, this would represent within kosher limitations; for the non-Jew it would represent a wider variety of meats.   








How Old Testament Concepts Are

Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

into the Heart of His Argument





            10:6ff.:  The use of Biblical history to teach moral right and wrong.  Citing explicit “thou shalt” and “thou shalt nots” to establish ethical guidelines is inherent in the concept of God speaking:  He speaks; we listen—or else.  Paul moves beyond such direct statements by citing several different examples from the Torah itself; examples—not direct instructions.  These are presented as learning tools as well; they show how God desires the believer to listen to the implicit warnings embodied in examples of punished behavior.

            In Psalms 79, the Psalmist goes on at length about how Yahweh struck out at both the polytheists and Jews for disobeying His commands (79:9-12), but emphasizing that Divine forgiveness had been available if it was sought.  Introducing this lengthy poetic description is a section in which the Psalmist stresses that God wishes His followers to learn from the history of His dealings with them (we quote from the God’s Word Translation because it makes the NKJV even clearer and more emphatic):


Open your ears to my teachings, my people.  Turn your ears to the words from my mouth.  I will open my mouth to illustrate points.  I will explain what has been hidden long ago, things that we have heard and known about, things that your parents have told us.  We will not hide them from our children.  We will tell



[Page 128]   the next generation about the Lord’s power and great deeds and the miraculous things He has done.

He established written instructions for Jacob’s people.  He gave His teachings to Israel.  He commanded our ancestors to make them known to their children so that the next generation would know them.  Children yet to be born, would learn them.  They will grow up and tell their children to trust God, to remember what He has done, and to obey His commands.  Then they will not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation.  Their hearts were not loyal.  Their spirits were not faithful to God (79:1-8). 


            The historian/politician’s traditional adage is applicable on a spiritual level as well:  The one who refuses to learn from history is doomed to repeat it. Examples teach and we either learn from them or run the danger of repeating the same acts of folly.  Paul clearly believed that as did the Psalmist.



            10:12:  Recognition that we are never so morally upright that sin is impossible.  This would be one application of Proverbs 16:28, which speaks of how “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  The person who is confident they are untemptable may not be such on a particular matter (then again the strength may be nowhere near as deep as envisioned either!); on the other hand on some other potential weakness, there will certainly be vulnerability.  Either way, the “fall” comes.  The question is never “is there weakness,” but, “exactly where is it.”  Your pattern may not match that of your closest friend.  

            Proverbs 28:14 might refer to this indirectly when it warns, “Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”  So self-assured of success is that person that the power of conscience is callused and a “fall” into either sin or embarrassment or both is inevitable.


            10:13:  God being able to deliver a person from a temptation that would otherwise be overpowering.  What Paul does is apply on an internal moral or ethical plane, the Old Testament’s emphasis on Yahweh’s ability to save from external oppression, danger, and death.  Daniel presents the concept in one of its more pointed forms when criticizing Nebuchadnezzar’s delusion that whatever punishment he decreed would inevitably be successfully carried out (Daniel 3:15).  “Our God whom we serve,” the three Hebrews insisted, “is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king” (3:17).  

            The Psalmist speaks of God opening a way of escape when all seems hopeless,  “Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.  Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.  Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (124:6-8).



            10:15:  The challenge to those who claim to be “wise” to judge the validity of what is being taught.  The assumption in both testaments is that the individual human being has not just been given a brain to function in daily live, but to judge matters of



[Page 129]   religious content and difference as well.  Hence Paul challenges those who claimed to be “wise” to exercise that intelligence.  In a similar vein Elihu contends in the book of Job, “Hear my words, you wise men; give ear to me, you who have knowledge.  For the ear tests words as the palate tastes food.  Let us choose justice for ourselves; let us know among ourselves what is good” (34:2-4).



            10:18:  The concept of a “fleshly” versus “true” Israel.  Paul here refers to “Israel after the flesh,” clearly implying the existence of an “Israel not after the flesh.”  In Romans 9:6, he again alludes to the idea by noting that, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel.”  He spells it out in Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”

            This approach was not that far below the surface in the Old Testament itself.  The repeated denunciations of the apostate elements inside Judaism—during the various bouts of idol worship becoming popular—carried with it the recognition that being part of “Israel” did not automatically make you acceptable to Yahweh.  Both segments of the population wore the name—and were such, physically—but since only that minority faithful to Yahweh’s worship and cult were truly such on a spiritual level, the idea of a “true” versus “apparent” Israel was never that much below the surface. 

The idea of Gentiles being part of that “true” Israel would have been unthinkable because the Gentile world was polytheistic.  On the other hand, if a significant number of Gentiles (as in Paul’s day) had embraced Jehoviastic monotheism could the development of Paul’s concept have avoided being overtly  developed?  Indeed, does not the dream/hope of being a “light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), convey at least the ideal of Gentiles being spiritually enticed into God’s fold? 

            Being an Israelite the way one should be, Moses insisted to his people, meant to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked [= rebellious] no more” (Deuteronomy 10:16).  This grew out of the fact that they were uniquely His people (verse 15) and that God “shows no partiality” (verse 17), i.e., their evil was not going to be benignly overlooked because of their physical circumcision.  They needed to both avoid doing wrong (being “stiff-necked” and rebellious) and make the inner nature receptive to doing the right thing (“circumcise the foreskin of your heart,” cut off that which would impede or discourage them from doing so).

            The Lord appealed, through Jeremiah, to those of the prophet’s day to heed that abomination, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings” (4:4).  Again it wasn’t just enough to “circumcise yourselves” externally; removing “the foreskins of your hearts” to make their commitment internal as well was equally essential.  

            Inherent in such remarks are the distinction between Israel and faithful Israel, between one who has the physical sign of an Israelite (circumcision and heritage) and one who has the whole being dedicated to God.  In short the root of a “true” and “real” Israelite versus mere “physical Israel” comparison.



[Page 130]         10:20:  Idol sacrifices are actually sacrifice to “demons.”   In Moses’ major address to Israel at the end of Deuteronomy, the leader of the Exodus reminds them how angry this had made God, “They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger.  They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals, that your fathers did not fear” (32:17-18). 

Brian S. Rosner contends that, “The ‘demons’ in this context are spirits that appear in Mesopotamian texts as protectors of places and people.  Moses accuses Israel of worshipping inferior spiritual beings instead of God.”[42] 

Many individuals of the ancient world would surely have interpreted the reference as a derogatory way of referring to genuine, living beings that are rivals to Yahweh—virtually a concession that Jehovah is only one among many real supernatural beings.  The Old Testament’s stress that there was only one true God, however, means that whatever actually existed, it didn’t deserve any valid use of the word “God.”  In this conceptual reality we surely have the root of the concept of the “demonic” that we are far more acquainted with in a New Testament sense—beings originally created by Yahweh but defying His will and encouraging humankind to do so as well. 

            Furthermore, they were not just polytheists, they were unthinking polytheists, ready to reverence any god that came their way.  The NAB renders it in even more mocking terms, the ridicule that is inherent, “They offered sacrifice to demons, to ‘no-gods,’ to gods whom they had not know before, to newcomers just arrived, of whom their fathers had never stood in awe.”  Well established or only new to the land, they worshipped anything and everything offered to them.  Note the implicit “dig” at their own lack of selectivity and willingness to follow any cult offered to them.  They weren’t so much making a bad decision; by worshipping everything, they avoided making any decision.

            Our comparative translations (NKJV, NRSV, NAB, and GW) all utilize “demons” in the above text.  In other passages the four sometimes go in varying paths in rendering the Hebrew into English.  The plea in Leviticus 17 is that “they shall no more offer their sacrifices to demons, after whom they have played the harlot . . .” (17:7, NKJV).  The NRSV opts for “goat-demons;” the GW prefers “goat idols.”  It is translated “satyrs” in the NAB.    

            In the days of Jeroboam the “high places” of rural pagan worship are described as being “for the demons and the calf idols which [Jeroboam] had made” (2 Chronicles 11:15, NKJV).  Again we find “satyrs” in the NAB.  “Goat demons” is the preference of the NRSV while the GW is content with “demons” alone.

            Such mistaken allegiances even overcame the ties of basic family loyalty thanks to their unfriendly environment, 


                        But they mingled with the Gentiles and learned their works; they served their idols, which became a snare to them.  They even sacrificed their sons and         their daughters to demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and       daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted          with blood.  Thus they were defiled by their own works, and played the harlot by      their own deeds (Psalms 106:35-39, NKJV).   (“Demons” is preserved in the GW    

and NRSV, while the NAB prefers “gods.”)



[Page 131]         In the standard Hebrew text of Isaiah 65:3, the nation is rebuked as “a people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face; who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on altars of brick.”  The Septuagint adds a closing reference to the worship being “to non-existent demons.”[43]      

            The equation of alternate recipients of worship with inherent inferiority continued in later Hebrew literature.  In Baruch 4:7, the cause for Israel’s exile is explained as due to acting in this manner, “For you provoked the one who made you by sacrificing to demons and not to God” (NRSV).[44]



            10:20-21:  Partaking of the “cup” and “table” of demons through idol worship.  This grows out of the assertion of the previous verse that the one who sacrifices to idols “sacrifice[s] to demons and not to God (ATP:  is actually offered to demons and not to God).”  Just as one is communing with God through the Lord’s Supper, so also one is expressing unity with the pagan deity and the demonic forces they represent by partaking of polytheistic rituals.  In the case of the Corinthians they may not have been intending to establish any kind of real or imagined tie between themselves and the demonic powers behind idolatry.  Intent did not change the fact, however, that they had implicitly done so.[45]

            Although polytheistic cults did not have anything strictly comparable to the Communion in the Christian sense, they did have cultic practices to demonstrate their allegiance and participation in the movement.  Hence Yahweh speaks in Deuteronomy 32:38 of those “who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering. . . .”  

            Paul’s language of “partaking of the Lord’s” table would automatically convey the implicit contrast, if involving anyone else, but he avoids any danger of them missing the point by spelling it out, “partaking . . . of the table of demons” (10:21).  In the Old Testament the “table of the Lord” is synonymous with the place that God is worshipped—in particular the altar.  Hence “partaking of the table of demons” would be to worship anyone else.

            In the vision of the Lord’s “sanctuary” (Ezekiel 41:1), Ezekiel records how, “The altar was of wood, three cubits high, and its length two cubits.  Its corners, its length, and its sides were of wood; and he said to me, ‘This is the table that is before the Lord’ ” (41:22).

            In Malachi, the religious leadership is so unconcerned that they offer “defiled food” and treat “the table of the Lord [as] contemptible” (1:7) because they knowingly and willingly accepted “blind,” “lame” and “sick” animals for use on the altar (1:8).  He drives home with a spike the kind of blindness that would dismiss such actions as inconsequential when they are really insulting to God:  “Is it not evil?  Offer it then to your governor!  Would he be pleased with you?  Would he accept you favorably?” (1:8). 

They, of course, knew full well they would be beaten, insulted, or banned from the ruler’s presence at the very least.  Yet that which would be insulting to give to a human ruler they saw quite adequate to offer on “the table of the Lord” in honoring the ruler of the world!  In 1:11-13 Malachi again throws the same practices of the religious



[Page 132]   leadership in their face with the observation that “the table of the Lord is defiled” by such actions (1:12).    

            Most relevant because of the false God/demonic contrast in Paul is the table language in Isaiah 65:11-12:  But you are those who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain, who prepare a table for Gad, and who furnish a drink offering for Meni.  Therefore I will number you for the sword, and you shall all bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.”

Verse 11 is altered in the LXX into a reference to the underlying concept, probably because the first deity referred to in the Hebrew was unidentifiable or little known to the Greek speaking and reading audience addressed by the Septuagint, “But ye are they that have left me, and forget my holy mountain, and prepare a table for the devil, and fill up the drink-offering to Fortune.”[46]   

The recent Greek Orthodox Study Bible (which utilizes the NKJV in the New Testament but uses the Greek rather than the Hebrew as authoritative in modifying Old Testament texts) renders the verse very similarly, “But you are those who forsook Me, and forget My holy mountain, and prepare a table for the devil, and fill a drink-offering to Fortune.”  The recent New English Translation of the Septuagint takes it even closer to Pauline terminology when it renders the verse, “But as for you who forsake me and forget my holy mountain and prepare a table for the demon and fill a mixed drink for Fortune.”



            10:22:  The danger of “provok[ing] the Lord to jealousy.”  The danger is explained in the second rhetorical question of the verse, “Are we stronger than He?”  Since we are not, hence the danger.  In its Old Testament sense of angering Yahweh by their behavior, the concept was familiar to the reader of the Torah, prophets, and wisdom literature.

            Paul’s two themes of the peril of provoking the Lord’s wrath and God superior power to punish those who do so, are linked together in Yahweh’s threats in Deuteronomy 32:21-25,


                        They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; they have moved        Me to anger by their foolish idols.  But I will provoke them to jealousy by those        who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation.  For a fire is       kindled in My anger, and shall burn to the lowest hell; it shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. 

                        I will heap disasters on them; I will spend My arrows on them.  They shall          be wasted with hunger, devoured by pestilence and bitter destruction; I will also            send against them the teeth of beasts, with the poison of serpents of the dust.  The          sword shall destroy outside; there shall be terror within for the young man and    virgin, the nursing child with the man of gray hairs.            


            The element of God’s ability to humble any resistance is stressed in Job 9:4, “God is wise in heart and mighty in strength.  Who has hardened himself against Him and prospered?”  To use a modern phrase, “a head butting contest” with Yahweh is a guaranteed losing proposition.  The threat in Ezekiel is similar, “Can your heart endure,



[Page 133]   or can your hands remain strong, in the days when I shall deal with you?  I, the Lord, have spoken and will do it” (22:14). 

            The unstated rationale why offering worship to anyone other than Yahweh is both wrong and a reason to expect jealous defense of His exclusive right to such honor is found in Psalms 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.”[47]

            In 24:3 the question is implicitly raised as to how one finds acceptability with God.  The answer in 24:4, in the traditional reading, is, in part, to avoid idolatry, “He who has clean hands, and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.”  Hence one of the practical consequences of recognizing Yahweh’s exclusive claim to the earth is avoiding giving credence to any idols.

            Although this seems an inescapable deduction from 24:1, whether it is made explicit in verse 4 has been questioned.[48]  In the New American Standard Bible the phrase is “not lifted up his soul to falsehood.”  The Revised Standard Version has it, “does not lift up his soul to what is false.”  God’s Word prefers “does not long for what is false.”   



            10:31:  “Glory” is to be given to God in all of life, even in partaking of nourishment.   “Glory (ATP:  honor)” could take the form of respect, reverence, thankfulness--anything that would show recognition that we are blessed by God.  In Deuteronomy, the people are told to “rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households” and attributes this to the fact that “the Lord your God has blessed you” in these endeavors (12:7; cf. 12:18).  In times of abundance and prosperity it is easy to forget this.  As to eating food in particular, Zechariah 7:5-6 implies that when they did “eat and drink” it was strictly for their own benefit and showed none of the respect owed Yahweh.   








Historical Allusions to the

Old Testament






            If the previous chapters have been a near barren area as to historical allusions, Psul more than makes up for it in the current chapter.  Here Paul appeals to a number of examples from the period of the Exodus to hammer home his theme of subjection to the Divine will.



[Page 134]         The crossing of the Red sea (10:1-3).  After the death of the first born throughout Egypt, the Israelites were surely regarded as a plague upon the nation and Pharaoh approved them leaving with all they had (Exodus 12:31-33).  After the departure Pharaoh’s pride rose again and he calculated that he now had his former slaves at a tremendous disadvantage:  “they are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in” (14:2).  He was angry with himself for his temporary weakness (14:5) and ordered his elite chariot fighting force to follow them (14:7).  Accompanying them were his mounted troops and foot soldiers (14:9)--presumably the elite of those as well.

            The cream of his military against untrained “rabble.”  Subjugation or annihilation was inevitable.  Faced with the sea on one side and the approaching forces on the other, there was no way out and the Israelites felt certain that their death was imminent (14:12).  Moses insisted that God would provide a way out (14:13).  As the text describes it, the waters were divided right and left and they followed the path down the middle (14:22, 29). 

            In a sense they were “buried” by the water, so to speak; hence explaining the “baptism” reference used in connection with the crossing in 1 Corinthians 10:2.  Paul argues that they were “under” the cloud (1 Corinthians 10:1) that traveled with the camp, thereby completing the burial/immersion imagery.  The “water” was on both sides and above as well.[49] 

            Paul’s image is in accord with the Biblical tradition that preceded him.  Psalms 105:39 makes the broad remark (with no specific time frame in mind) that God “spread a cloud for a covering,” “covering” implying that it was “over” the Israelites.  The Septuagint made this explicit.[50]  This “baptism” equivalent was both an act of Divine mercy and grace (in opening the Sea) and salvational (by destroying the following army and closing the Sea behind the escapees).  In both aspects one can see a meaningful conceptual parallel to the redemptive aspect attributed to baptism in the New Testament (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:36; Acts 22:16; etc).[51]

            Jewish practice in regard to the conversion of proselytes eventually required circumcision, then an immersion, and then receiving the sprinkling of animal blood.[52]  The first was a continuation of a practice going back to Abraham and the last imitated the practice of Moses in Exodus 24:8.  The only precedent analogous to “baptism” in the Jewish experience was the crossing of the Red Sea and this, presumably, was the root of this requirement.  Richard Longenecker argues, with considerable justification, that, judging “by the apostle’s rather abrupt introduction of this episode into the argument as though it were self-evident,” the parallel was likely one of the fundamentals he had learned in his youth under the tutelage of Gamaliel.[53]   

            Be that as it may, to return to a consideration of the Old Testament incident itself, where a barely organized mob of refugees could go, the elite Egyptian army could as well.  So they confidently followed down the same middle way that the Israelites had taken.  Moses “stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it” (14:27).  The entire force was wiped out (14:28).  Viewed as mythology this was display of the mighty power of Yahweh over the gods of Egypt; viewed as history, the destruction of the cream of the armed forces guaranteed no Egyptian force would be available for years to again harass the Israelites. 



[Page 135]         Assuming that a genuine large scale exodus of the Hebrew slaves did occur in some form, something had to have happened to preempt an Egyptian effort to bring them back.  It was not a question whether such a confrontation would eventually occur when dealing with a mighty international power such as Egypt, but only the timing and form of it.  It was simply too great a national political humiliation to allow to go unavenged. 

            Perhaps the need to avoid conceding the reality of either the “Red” Sea disaster or something equally dramatic, provides part of the underlying psychological rationale for those many Old Testament students who believe that if any “exodus” actually occurred, it wasn’t in one dramatic event but over a very prolonged period of many decades or longer.  Of course, even this revisionist approach requires one to conjure up scenarios in which significant numbers were repeatedly permitted to leave--and if there is any historical kernel in the early chapters of Exodus at all, it is that they were regarded as a valuable (though despised and feared) slave resource.  

So it wasn’t going to happen more than once—certainly not multiple times--before the Egyptians took severe measures to avoid a repetition.  Hence “multiple exoduses” have far less probability than a decisive, one time event. You can be certain that no other slaves were permitted within escape distance of the border after the successful departure of the Hebrews.  (Or any Hebrews, for that matter, if any foolishly stayed behind out of fear of the unknown.)



            The language of how “all our fathers were under the cloud” (10:1), at the time of passing through the sea.   (With water on both sides and the cloud of water above, it erects a firm baptismal analogy as brought out in verse 2).  It also shares in the textually unifying theme of how “all” of the people went through the same experiences.

Even so being “under the cloud” sounds a bit strange.  The description of God as being “in a pillar of cloud to lead the way” (Exodus 13:21) and how it was in the sight of the people all the time (vs. 22) is language easier for us to grasp.  Later rabbinic tradition does utilize the Pauline image of the people being “under” (God “over”) the people in their migration.[54] 

Psalms 105:39 uses this image of how “He spread a cloud for a covering.”  Numbers 9:17 implies something similar though it doesn’t quite come right out and say it, “Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents,” i.e., under its location, at least in part, for the text to make sense. 

            Furthermore, the tabernacle place of worship was located in the center of the Hebrew encampment.  There we read explicitly that “the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38).  Hence the cloud was over at least the center of the Hebrew camping site and, perhaps, the rest as well if we press the “literalistic” language to its fullest.  The apocryphal Wisdom indicates that this was a well accepted conclusion by at least the intertestamental period, “The cloud overshadowed their camp; and out of what had been water, dry land was seen emerging:  Out of the Red Sea an unimpeded road and a grassy plain out of the mighty flood” (19:7; New American Bible)



[Page 136]         Being given “meat” and “drink” in the wilderness (10:3-4).  The “meat” refers to quail that appeared in the evenings (Exodus 16:12).  Psalms 78:26-29 describes this at greater length, “He caused an east wind to blow in the heavens; and by His power He brought in the south wind.  He also rained meat on them like the dust, feathered fowl like the sand of the seas; and He let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings.  So they ate and were well filled, for He gave them their own desire.”

            This was supplemented by the mysterious manna that appeared each morning during the wilderness journey and served as “bread” (Exodus 16:12-26; but not on the Sabbath, verses 27-31).        

            Water was not always readily available in the wilderness.  Hence we read of the people grumbling over the lack of it for themselves and their cattle (Exodus 17:1-3) and Yahweh commanding Moses to smite “the rock in Horeb” and that “water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (17:4-7).  This is recalled in Nehemiah 9:15, 20. 

            On a different occasion, Numbers 20:8 describes Moses as being commanded to “speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water.”  Perhaps the command to speak to the rock rather than hit it (as in the previous case) was to convey to the people that there was nothing magical in Moses’ rod, that what was the controlling factor was that Yahweh was acting to provide for their needs. 

            Being a massive traveling company of refugees, one would anticipate a considerable amount of water being required.  On this point the Pentateuch text is extremely conservative and does not stress that aspect.  The Psalmist does mention it, however, when he much later recalls that incident from his nation’s early history, “He split the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink in abundance like the depths.  He also brought streams out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers  (78:15-16).  And this is amplified a few verses later by the reminder, “Behold, he struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed . . .” (78:20; 105:41; Isaiah 43:20; 48:21).

            How they managed to have water throughout their journey is not explained; the subject only comes up when the lack of it drives the problem to the front of the narrative.  To us, the deduction would likely be that their supply was normally adequate even if not ideal.

            The alternative would be that the water supply traveled with them.  Hence Jewish exegesis may have thought in terms of the smitten rock that provided water as always traveling with them.  This would certainly explain the concept of the “rock” being with them in their travels that is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 10:4. 

In support, Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner note that in Numbers 21 we read of Israel singing the song, “Spring up, O well!  All of you sing to it” (vs. 16).  They note that, in other contexts, springing up or going up can allude to traveling; hence a moving water supply.[55]  However this is after the rock-water incidents rather than referring to them and it also refers to a well rather than a rock as the source of refreshment. 

It is quite possible the popular Jewish symbolic exegesis took the rock as being a “traveling” one without any conscious reference to the Numbers 21 text.  Furthermore, whenever water comes out of a rock it becomes, in effect, a well.  As one ancient Jewish



[Page 137]   tradition puts it, “And so the well which was with the Israelites in the wilderness was a rock, the size of a large round vessel, surging and gurgling upward, as from the mouth of this little flask, rising with them up onto the mountains and going down with them into the valleys.  Wherever the Israelites would encamp, it may camp with them, on a high place, opposite the entry of the Tent of Meeting.”[56]

However if the Mosaical text intended a traveling well-rock-water supply, it would be hard to explain why the people wondered later in their travels where they were going to get their water from—why the same place they always were getting it from, the rock!  So the interjection of this scenario into the text would make their behavior without reason.

            The application of the term “spiritual” to both the food and drink is a natural outgrowth of the concept of Yahweh as a spiritual being, since He is repeatedly pictured as the origin of the food and water.  The point would be the same if we take “spiritual” in this context to be synonymous with supernatural.[57]  The food and drink differed nothing in physical nature or appearance from that normally available, but had its origin through the miraculous action of Yahweh.[58]

The unexpected wording of Psalms 78:23-25 may also be intended to convey the  idea of spiritual or supernatural nourishment, “Yet He had commanded the clouds above, and opened the doors of heaven, had rained down manna on them to eat, and given them of the bread of heaven.  Men ate angels’ food; He gave them food to the full.” 

            The term rendered “angel” is one that refers to strength and can be applied to even humans and animals, according to the context.[59]  In this context of supernatural action on Israel’s behalf, either “angels” or God Himself would be the natural actors on the nation’s behalf.  The Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and the Syriac[60] created the precedent for considering “angels” rather than God personally being involved.  Either way it would be the supernatural, the “spiritual” world providing assistance and it would be quite natural to project the nature of the Giver upon the object given, rhetorically considering that “spiritual” as well. 



            Death in the wilderness as punishment for their sin (10:5).  Since specific incidents are mentioned in the verses that follow, this may be a summary statement to encompass those events.  Alternately, and more likely, this could be an allusion to the fact that virtually the entire generation that left Egypt died before the next generation entered the promised land. 

            The forty years’ curse of wilderness wandering is put upon the nation when they accepted the report of the bulk of the spies that conquest of the land was impossible.  Such disbelief is described as irrational “because all these men have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness” (Numbers 14:22).  Furthermore they had rebelled against His will not merely once or twice but “ten times, and have not heeded My voice” (14:22). 

            Looking back at it retroactively, their entire mind frame was one of constant, unjustified complaining (14:27).  Hence comes their condemnation to wander in the wilderness until every one twenty years old and older was dead (14:29).  The one exception were the two spies who had insisted that the promised land was, indeed, conquerable (14:30; cf. Numbers 26:64-65).



[Page 138]       Desire for evil things (10:6).  Paul speaks of “evil things” that they lusted after and since sexual lust/evil conduct is mentioned separately (10:8), a different frame of reference seems most probable.  This is likely a reference to their passionate longing for their blessings back in Egypt (conveniently overlooking the abuse of their slavery!),


                        Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense        craving [a good conceptual parallel for the “lust”/desire mentioned by Paul]; so        the children of Israel also wept again and said:  “Who will give us meat to eat?      We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons,             the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”  (Numbers 11:4-6)      


            “Intense craving” is rendered “strong craving” (God’s Word, Revised Standard Version, Today’s English Version) and “greedy desires” (New American Standard Bible).

            Nostalgically, they recalled that “it was well with us in Egypt” (12:18).  So God promised them so much food they would be nauseated by its abundance (12:18-20).  This he did through a vast profusion of quail (12:31-32).  And while they were in the process of enjoying the feast “the Lord struck the people with a very great plague” (12:33; cf. Psalms 78:29-31).  Afterwards they “buried the people who had yielded to craving” (12:34; again, that effective synonym for “lust” or desire).



            The conduct associated with the golden calf incident (10:7).  Discussed in the direct quotations section above.



            Mass sexual immorality; mass deaths in retribution (10:8).  This was the aftermath of the successful encouragement of “the women of Moab” to the males of Israel to join in their pagan sacrifices (Numbers 25:1-2).   We read of one person being immediately executed by a javelin (25:6-8).  Beyond this death, we read of how the leaders in particular were executed (25:4) while the masses died of what is called “the plague” (25:9).  “Since no symptoms are given, the nature of the plague affecting the Israelites is unclear. . . .  Endemic and epidemic diseases in the ancient world included typhoid, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, anthrax, burbonic plague, diphtheria and more.”[61]  A miraculous element is clearly implied since the time from incubation to death was the same day (25:9).



            “Tempt[ing]” God/Christ (“try[ing] the Lord’s patience”, ATP) and destruction by the serpents’ bite (10:9).  This is attributed, by Paul, to the fact that they had been guilty of having needlessly “complained.”  This fault is attributed to them in their doubting the ability of Yahweh to provide them the necessary water to survive in the wilderness (Exodus 17:2, 7). 



[Page 139]         Their particular complaint is quoted as being, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (17:3).  (This was not “normal” bellyaching either; they were on the verge of stoning Moses to death, 17:4.)  Looking back on this, some translations of Deuteronomy 6:16 refer to this as “tempt[ing] the Lord your God.” In this particular incident, however, destruction did not occur.

            Later we again find similar complaining language being used though this time the epithet “tempting” is not explicitly applied to it, “And the people spoke against God and against Moses:  ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread” (Numbers 21:5).

In this case Yahweh’s patience had been tested once too many times and “fiery serpents” were sent among the people and their bite caused many to die (21:6).  They confessed that they had “spoken against the Lord and against you [Moses]” (21:7) and were told what to do to stop the disaster (21:8-9).  Clearly the idea of “tempting” (= provoking, annoying, outraging) was present in both cases and one can understand Paul’s application of the term to the event.    



            Complainers destroyed in the wilderness (10:10).  This might, at first glance, be viewed as a return to the theme of the destruction of the Exodus generation via natural death during the wilderness wanderings.  In Numbers 14, the people despaired of conquering their new homeland because of the strength of its inhabitants.  They mourned for the life they had left behind (14:2) and even attempted to organize a return (14:3-4).  Their punishment was not to be permitted to enter the promised land but to die during forty years of wilderness wandering (14:26-45).  In that case the “destroyer” Paul speaks of in 10:10 would be death personified.

            Paul, however, speaks of “some” suffering this death for their complaining, while the curse upon the nation applied to all except for the two spies who brought back a favorable report as to the feasibility of the conquest.  The majority of spies, however, received a special punishment and this is explained in terms of their having caused the offense Paul alludes to,


                        “I the Lord have spoken that.  I will surely do so to all this evil   congregation who are gathered together against Me.  In this wilderness they shall            be consumed, and there they shall die.”  Now the men whom Moses sent to spy       out the land, who returned and made all the congregation complain against him   by bringing a bad report of the land, those very men who brought the evil report        about the land, died by the plague before the Lord (14:35-37).     


            Although “most” of the spies died (i.e., in proportion to the total spies sent), their limited numerical size (in proportion to all of Israel) better fits Paul’s reference to only “some” suffering death.

Even so, the far better parallel for this particular reference would be a few chapters earlier and can easily be shown by running two verses parallel to each other.

1 Corinthians 10:10:  “Nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”



[Page 140]   Numbers 11:1:  “Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused.  So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.”  Although “some” is a translators’ addition to complete the sense of the text the geographic limitation of the scope of the burning fire to “the outskirts of the camp” argues strongly that just that limitation is, indeed, in mind.  

The specific subject they were complaining about was lack of meat to eat (Numbers 11:4) and the varied products of Egypt that satisfied their tastes are listed (11:5).  They were sick and tired of the one and only thing on their menu—manna (11:6).  Nutritious and filling it might be but after a good while, ultimately boring as well. 

So the Lord provided them an abundant supply of quail (11:32).  But the very meat they craved—had complained about not having—would become the death judgment of a cross-section of them:  “But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague.  So he called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving” (11:33-34).  Since “the people” continued their travels afterwards (11:35), we again have “some” struck down for the “craving” they had “complained” about.       







Problem Texts






            10:4:  The “rock” that followed the Israelites in the wilderness was Christ.  Some suggest that Paul is “introducing a rabbinic legend.”[62]  Jesus’ “bias” against contemporary traditions and Paul’s own sentiments against the “Judaizing” elements in the church, make this commentator extremely wary of adopting such an interpretation. On the other hand, Paul’s allusion could represent a Christianized form of figuratively interpreting the Exodus that traditional Jews embodied in a considerably different form in their legends.  The nature of the story as it existed in the first century is unknown, further complicating the question of Paul being encouraged in his mode of argument by such a source.[63]       

            So far as we have data on the matter, the story could be presented in two forms, the first being thoroughly unlikely to have been in the apostle’s mind.  In this one a literal rock--the same literal rock--followed the Israelites throughout their journeys to provide the water they required for survival.  Since bringing water out of a rock is referred to more than once during the wanderings, the rabbis assumed the identity of the two rocks as one and the same, which led to the deduction that it had somehow “followed” them.[64] 



[Page 141]   In the writings of Pseudo-Philo (10:7), typically dated after 70 A.D. but before the end of the century, we find either that concept or something edging up to it, “For forty years He led his people in the desert . . . and provided for them a well of following water.[65]  In t. Sukkah 3:11, the ancient Jewish rabbinic interpreter argued that, “So the well which was with the Israelites in the wilderness was a rock. . . .  Wherever the Israelites would encamp, it made camp with them.”[66]

            In the other form of the story, we find an attitude more congenial to the mind frame of the apostle.  In this one, though the rock did follow them throughout their journeys, but the “rock” was spiritualized:  Yahweh was identified as the rock that provided the needed water.  Since He went everywhere Israel journeyed, the rock followed therefore them.[67] 

In presenting the story this way, they were building upon a firm Old Testament tradition of describing God as His people’s “rock.”[68]  In a New Testament sense, since Jesus is so intimately interlocked and interwoven with Yahweh’s nature and deityship, one can see how Jews who spiritualized the rock as God could, if they became Christians, spiritualize the rock as Jesus as well.[69]

            The Jewish philosopher Philo similarly figurativized and blended the rock image with that of the Divine, equating it with Divine wisdom.  Hence he wrote in De legatione ad Gaium Quad deterius, 115, “He uses the word rock to express the solid and indestructible wisdom of God, which feeds and nurses and rears to sturdiness all who yearn after imperishable sustenance.”[70]  

            In such approaches we are dealing with figurative illustrations rather than anything intended to be taken as literal.  The latter are legends; the former sermonic type parallelization.  Indeed, Paul’s description of the rock as “that spiritual Rock” (10:4) argues strongly that he had no intention of accepting the idea of a literal rock as found in certain Jewish traditions.[71]

            In a similar vein, the Spirit that guided the Old Testament prophets is identified with Christ (“the Spirit of Christ who was in them,” 1:11).  Jesus’ adversaries cited the text about the manna being given to their forefathers as “bread from heaven to eat” (John 6:31).  In response, Jesus agrees that God gives such bread (6:32) but identifies the bread with Himself (implied, 6:33, and so they understood Him, 6:41).  Since Jesus identifies Himself as the then contemporary equivalent, one can see how the reader of His words might also deduce that He was, in a similar manner the bread the Israelites ate in the wilderness and the water they drank.[72]  

            The first century Jewish philosopher-theologian Philo spiritualized both the rock and what it provided the people.  To him it became God providing them with wisdom, “The Akrotomos Rock is the wisdom of God, which He separated as the highest and the first from his powers, out of which he gave a drink to the souls who love God.”[73]

            It seems fair to stress that both the “rock” image as literal and as a depiction of Yahweh who utilized the rock (i.e., to provide water for His people) are rooted in the Old Testament itself.  As to the latter, toward the end of Deuteronomy we read a lengthy song of Moses that was presented to the entire “assembly” (31:30).  The very opening verses blend figurative and literal together,


                        Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my         mouth.  Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, as          



[Page 142]   raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass.  For I

proclaim the name of the Lord:  ascribe greatness to our God.  He is the Rock. 

His work is perfect; for all His ways and justice, a God of truth and without

injustice; righteous and upright is He (32:1-4).  


            In the final analysis it should be noted that Paul makes no effort to explain his reference.  Discussions of the “manner” or “mode” were irrelevancies to his argument.  For Paul the sole thing of importance was that Christ was there.[74]  The explanations were not of major significance and it is quite possible that he had more than one idea in his mind.

            Working with a Christocentric interpretation of the Exodus 14 text, it was not that difficult to envision His presence at the event.  In verse 19 we find a mysterious angelic figure, “And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them.”  One could easily assume the angel to be Christ. 

For that matter some have argued that Paul would have taken both the Angel and the cloud moving to the rear of the camp as an indication that the text equated the two.[75]  Indeed in the Septuagint of 14:24 we read, “And Kyrios looked upon the camp of the Egyptians in the pillar of fire and cloud.”[76]  Again the reader could easily view the two as being equated; certainly the point from which the events are “viewed” is presented as the cloud.

            Hence the conviction that Jesus had been present would have been an easy conclusion for the first century Jew with Christian convictions.  Similarly would be the equating of the cloud—or, rather, the assumed Being in the cloud--with the Christ-like figure. 

But how did Paul get Christ as embodied in the “rock” as well?  Was Paul working from the assumption of that if Christ had been manifested in one supernatural phenomena (the cloud) He must have been manifested in the “rock” as well?  Exodus 17:1-3 has the people grumbling about their water supply and in verse 4, Moses takes the problem to God.  God responds that he is to take his rod and fellow leaders (verse 5) and “behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (verse 6). 

Although it does not equate God and the rock, it vividly conveys the idea that God is going to be present at and utilize the rock.  Working from the Septuagint, where the context refers to kyrios and utilizing the kyrios/angel/Christ equation already discussed, one could easily suspect Paul is seeing in this text an indication of Jesus’ presence in the rock as well.[77]  (What is unanswerable to us is to what extent Paul took this as “literally” true versus “sermonically applicable.”  In light of the mysterious angelic figure mentioned in the Exodus text, he probably took it, in a very real fashion, in both ways.)        



            10:8:  Twenty-three thousand “fell (ATP:  died)” in “one day” as the result of sexual immorality.  Numbers 25:9 refers to 24,000 dying and that number is found in both the surviving Hebrew text as well as the Greek Septuagint.[78]  It can be argued that Numbers only claims to be given the ultimate total.  Paul, for unknown reasons, speaks in terms of how many were killed “in one day,” rather than the complete figure.  In contrast,



[Page 143]   the Numbers text does not provide any time period involved.[79]  In other words the two accounts supplement each other; Paul giving the total casualty figures and Numbers the one day body count.[80] 

            Of the reconciling explanations this one seems the strongest.  On the other hand why the specificity (“one day?”)?  And how did he gain knowledge of it?  He doesn’t claim to be giving “new knowledge” (i.e., via inspiration) and even if he had, one would wonder why it was now needed after centuries in which the 24,000 figure circulated. 

            A related approach is to argue that two different means of death were involved and that Paul is concerned only with the one most immediately relevant to his argument against sexual promiscuity.  Numbers 25:4 is appealed to as evidence that others perished (quite possibly on a different day), than were killed in the slaughter of the idol worshippers among the people,[81] “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’ ”[82]

            The scenario would then be that the leaders were rounded up while the rank and file were immediately executed by rampant disease (Numbers 25:5-9).  Due to so many  being involved, it would not be illogical for the process of pruning them out from those who were immediately killed could have taken one or more days.  Arresting or even outright hanging them in the midst of a simultaneous plague outbreak, virtually guarantees confusion and delay.  In that case the executions—if all at once--surely could not have taken place at least until the following day if not even later; there was simply too much chaos in the camp.  Even if begun on the same day, could they be completed within that narrow time frame? 

            The problem with this reconstruction is reconciling a hypothetical thousand “leaders” executed with 23,000 killed immediately.  This would produce a ratio of about 1 to 5, which would seem rather high.  On the other hand this might be the case if  leaders” were roughly equivalent to family heads and those especially involved in the Baal of Peor cult as de facto leaders of the worship.

            Some would dismiss such efforts as old fashioned “harmonizing” (and in the bad sense of the term).  On the other hand, Paul was too close a student of the Old Testament for something not to be behind the odd difference in numbers.  This particular reasoning, however, suffers from a major inherent difficulty.  Robertson and Plummer properly remind us that the wording of Numbers 25:9 is quite specific, “And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.”  Not 24,000 total, including the others, but 24,000 “in the plague” by itself.[83]  

            Others insist that the textual reference is to Exodus 32.  As punishment for their idolatry and sexual misconduct while Moses was on Mount Sinai, we read that the Levites executed 3,000 individuals (32:27-28).  Then verse 35 refers to how “the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.”

            Hence it can be argued that those numbered the 23,000 Paul referred to or that the executed and those who died of plague, together, totaled that figure.[84]  It would be reassuring, however, if Exodus 32 actually provided a total figure of the number who died of the plague but it does not (unlike the case in Numbers).  In addition, when we read Exodus 32:34-35 as a consecutive unit of text, it is far from clear that the promised “plague” was immediately visited upon them.   



[Page 144]       Perhaps the most unsatisfactory “reconciliation” is to contend that the actual number fell somewhere between 23,000 and 24,000.  On its own merits, that is quite likely.  John Calvin considered this the likely explanation when he wrote, “Although they [Paul and the Old Testament, RW] differ about the number, it is easy to reconcile their statements.  For it is not unheard of, when there is no intention of making an exact count of individuals to give an approximate number.  For example, there were those the Romans called Centurmviri, The Hundred, when in fact, there were one hundred and two of them.”[85] 

In the abstract this is fine.  However applying it to a particular situation—this one—it seems that one treads on far more questionable ground when one then proceeds to argue that Numbers rounds off the figure upward and Paul downward.[86]  This might well make sense if Paul and Numbers (to personify the book) were living simultaneously or if both utilized a common source (or even if Paul had claimed to have received the number by inspiration), but Paul lived far more than a millennium after Numbers and the only text he had to work from was Numbers.   

            Unless, of course, there was a non-Biblical tradition that rounded off in the opposite direction--though on what grounds would still be a mystery.  Walter Riggins argues that the very existence of our current verse argues for such a tradition though it is otherwise undocumented, “Estimates must have varied on the exact number, and presumably different traditions grew up around these estimates, for in 1 Corinthians 10:8 the figure given is ‘twenty-three-thousand.’ ”[87]   

            Others see no reason to search out a reconciliation at all.  Paul was guilty of a very human memory lapse.[88]   He had simply not taken the time to “verify his source.”[89]

            Even if one goes this route, this would still raise the perplexing question of how and why it came about.  One suggestion is that Paul had read of twenty-four thousand dying over the Moabite transgression and of three thousand dying as the result of worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:28).  Paul’s faulty memory blended these two numbers together, producing a figure of 23,000 slain.[90] 

            Others point to the total number of Levites being composed of 23,000 males (Numbers 26:62).  Since this is mentioned in the very next chapter after we read of the 24,000 perishing (25:9), perhaps Paul unconsciously substituted the latter figure into the earlier account.[91]

            If one is to pursue the erroneous recall scenario these at least provide rational explanations for how the mistake could have been made.  On the other hand, can one embrace it and still claim to give any serious acceptance to Paul’s claims to have been miraculously guided by the Spirit in what He taught (1 Corinthians 2:10-13; cf. “words” given by the Spirit in verse 13)?  The problem is severe in the opposite direction as well:  how do we reconcile such sweeping assertions by the apostle with our difficulty in reaching a compelling explanation in this case?

            To increase the oddity of the situation, the Ethiopian version of 1 Corinthians speaks of 22,000 dying.[92]  Perhaps in an effort to bringing the Corinthian text into agreement with the Old Testament account, the Armenian version speaks of 24,000 dying, as does a textual strain of Syrian manuscripts.[93]  The possible (probable?) reconciliation motive combined with the limited evidence for the higher reading, argues that this is not a case where either the dominant number of manuscripts nor the “critical” Greek New Testament texts have preserved an erroneous wording.



[Page 145]          Aside:  When we read of “fornication” and “adultery” in the same text, the intended distinction seems clearly between premarital sexual relations and extramarital sexual relations.  (Using both argues that the author has a distinction in mind between the two.)  In 1 Corinthians 10:8 we have simply “fornication” as the sin in older translations and some form of “sexual immorality” utilized in more modern ones.  Since out of 20-odd thousand folk all of those committing sexual immorality were hardly likely to be unmarried, this is an unusually clear passage to show the broader use of porneia.  Its use to include sexual misconduct, regardless of its nature, is similarly brought out by the term being used to apply to a case of incest (1 Corinthians 5:1) and of having sex with a prostitute (1 Corinthians 6:18).[94] 



            10:11:  The moral teaching value of Old Testament example.  Paul cites a number of negative examples from the Old Testament (10:1-10) and draws the conclusion that “all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have come (ATP:  these things happened to them as cautionary examples and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the climax of the ages has arrived, ATP)” (10:11).

            In one sense Paul is utilizing typology to make his point.  As James L. Price observes, “He uses a mode of scriptural interpretation known as ‘typology,’ which was as familiar in his day as it is strange in ours.  This method sees events described in the Old Testament as ‘types’ or foreshadowings of contemporary experiences which, though generally different, have some suggestive similarity.”[95]

            Even after this is said and conceded, Paul’s emphasis is not just on religio-historical parallels but with similar forms of behavior  (tempting God, sexual immorality, and such like).  These go far beyond typology and bring the comparisons into the world of genuine, everyday life.       

            If they were “examples” and truly provided “admonition” (warning) about improper forms of conduct, then there are certainly fundamental norms that Paul regards as expected of God’s people throughout history.  Indeed, as one studies the Torah and compares it with the New Testament, one repeatedly finds an underlying current of consistency and perpetuation of the same basic standards.

            Paul considers Christians as living in the period “upon whom the ends of the ages have come,” the period when the ancient Divine promises were being brought to fruition.  The ultimate purposes of God working overtly and covertly in history were finally being realized.[96]  Hence it was required of them--just as much, if not even more than previous generations--to abide by those principles. 

            To argue that both explicit Old Testament prophecy and Old Testament historical events were to be “fulfilled” and “have parallels in the life of the Church”[97] misses Paul’s point in this text.  He does not want the examples he has listed to have parallels in the church’s life, but knows from the Corinthians record of laxity that they either have or may have in the future.  He cites these events not as “history as prophecy” (if we may use the term) but “history as precedent” and “history as morally instructive.”  Perhaps to be even more exact, “history as prohibition.”  

            The idea of earlier narrative providing a direct teaching lesson for a later generation was one with precedent in Paul’s studies of the Hebrew Testament.  Of the strange Genesis 32:24-30 account of Jacob wrestling with an angel, Hosea writes, “Yes,



[Page 146]   he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; he wept, and sought favor from Him.  He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us” (12:4). 

The unanticipated “us” led some twentieth century versions to prefer the reading that would be anticipated, “to him.”  The NRSV footnote justifies this on the basis of the Greek and Syriac translations of the Hebrew while conceding that the Hebrew actually mentions “to us.”  The wording of the Hebrew text could, however, have easily served as conceptual basis for Paul’s moral parallelism regardless of one’s ultimate judgment on the “best” reading in the verse.      

            Nor is this the only case where Paul “redirects” teaching or events to his own generation.  The broad principle in Romans 15:4 is, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”  In a similar manner the author of Hebrews may be citing (or at least alluding to) the teaching of Numbers 23:19 that God can not lie as an axiom written for the “we” living in his own day (Hebrews 6:18).[98]              








[1] Harris, 128.      


[2] Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1989), 97.     


[3] Cf. Ciampa and Rosner, 723.


[4] Hays, 9.


[5] David M. Stanley, 115.


[6] B. J. Oropeza, Paul and Apostasy:  Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation (Tubingen, Germany:  Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 128.      


[7] Cf. Margaret M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation:  An Exegetical Evaluation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians, First American Edition (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press:  1991), 138.


[8] A.J., 3.295, as cited by Ibid., n. 441, 139.


[9] Ebr., 99, as quoted by Ibid., n. 443, 139.


[10] Schnackenburg, 94.    


[Page 147]     [11] La Verdiere, 36.  


[12] Chafin, 126.


[13] Ronald Trail, An Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 10-16 (Dallas, Texas:  SIL International, 2001), 31.


[14]Harris, 135.   


[15] Ellis, 84.   




[17] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship:  A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 2008), 229.


[18] Cf. Pheme Perkins, Love Commands in the New Testament (Ramsey, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1982), 69-70, who edges up to this theme.   


[19] For details on the three daily meals Romans and Greeks alike tried to have, see Fotopoulos, 159-164.   


[20] Trail, 10-16, 31.


[21] On this type of motive being behind the question, see Harris, 138, and Weiss, Commentary, 220.   


[22] Perkins, Love, 71, though expressing the idea differently.


[23] Weiss, Commentary, 220.   


[24] Cf. Gutzke, 98.  


[25] For example, Ciampa and Rosner, 725.


[26] Lenski, 397, and David M. Stanley, 197. 


[27] Karl O. Sandnes, Belly and Body in the Pauline Epistles (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2002), 199.  Others who take the rampant self-indulgence approach to the text include Howard, 84, and U. Cassauto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem:  Magnus Press/Hebrew University, 1967), 414.        


[28] Richard E. Friedman, A Commentary on the Torah (San Francisco:  HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 281, cites Genesis 19:14; 21:9; and Judges 16:25, as contexts [Page 148]   in which that element is lacking and uses this to contend that it is “not justified . . . to imply that sexual play is implied here.”  Terrence E. Fretheim, Exodus, in the Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, Kentucky:  John Knox, 1991), 282, also takes “play” as ambivalent in meaning and not necessarily implying—or not implying—something wrong in and of itself.


[29] Herman J. Keyser, A Commentary on Exodus (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  1940), 416.   


[30] J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs:  Hebrew Text and English Translation and Commentary (London:  Soncing Press, 1952), 357.   


[31] Sandnes, 199, casting it in the broader context of chapters 8-10.    


[32] See the discussion in Heil, n. 21, 153-154.


[33] Martin Noth, Exodus:  A Commentary, translated from the German by J. S. Bowden, in the Old Testament Library series (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1962), 248.


[34] Herbert S. Goldstein, Bible Comments for Home Reading:  The Book of Exodus (New York:  Hebrew Publishing Company, 1930), 116, cites 2 Samuel 2:14-16 as intending the latter interpretation.


[35] Heil, 161.



[36] H. H. Drake Williams III, “The Psalms in 1 and 1 Corinthians,” in The Psalms in the New Testament, edited by  Steve Moyise and M. J. J. Menken (London:  T. & T. Clark, 2004), 168.


[37] Ibid.


[38] Tomson, Jewish Law, 205.        


[39] As quoted by Ibid.        


[40] Parry, 109.        


[41]Ibid., and Ciampa and Rosner, 730.  


[42] Rosner, “Deuteronomy,” 130.


[43] As quoted by Bruce, Corinthians, 96.  


[44] On the meaning of “demons” in ancient Roman and Jewish thought, see Newton, 347-364.   


[Page 149]      [45] Cf. Wendell L. Willis, Idol Meat in Corinth:  The Pauline Argument in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 (Chicago, California:  Scholars Press, 1985), 190-191.   


[46] Brenton translation.


[47] Ciampa and Rosner, 729.


[48] Cf. Ibid.


[49] For Jewish midrash versions conveying the same image of a waterly “burial” in crossing the Sea, see Schnackenburg, 92-93.    


[50] Conzelmann, 165.  Wisdom 10:17; 19:7 have the same idea of the cloud functioning as a “cover.”  For the use of the imagery in the post New Testament Targums (which translated/paraphrased/explained/amplified the Old Testament narratives) see the quotations in Conzelmann, n. 15, 165.    


[51] Schnackenburg, 91, though without citing the specific texts.    


[52] For quotations from rabbinical sources, see Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period ([N.p.]:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 118.    


[53] Ibid., 118.   


[54] Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 381.


[55] Ciampa and Rosner, 724.


[56] T. Sukk. 3.11, as quoted by Boring, Berger, and Colpe, 422.


[57] Willis, 132.   


[58] Ibid.  


[59] A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms; volume 2:  Psalms 73-150, in the New Century Bible series (London:  Oliphants, 1972), 568.


[60] George R. Berry, The Book of Psalms, in the American Commentary on the Old Testament series (Philadelphia:  American Baptist Publication Society, 1934), 153, noting that the Hebrew word is never utilized in an unmistakable angelic context though a term with the same import is utilized in Psalms 103:20.


[61] John H. Walton and Victor H. Matthews, The IVP Bible Background Commentary:  Genesis-Deuteronomy (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1997), 205. 


[Page 150]     [62] Kugelman, 268-269. 


[63] Longenecker, 119.  For the text of various Jewish traditions describing a literal “rock” following the people, see James W. Aageson, Written Also for Our Sake:  Paul and the Art of Biblical Interpretation (Louisville, Kenticky:  Westminster/John Knox Press,1993), 122-123.   


[64] Price, 804. 


[65] As quoted by Fitzmyer, Corinthians, 383.


[66] As quoted by James W. Aageson, “Written Also for Our Sake: On Paul’s Use of Scriputre in the Four Major Epistles, with a Study of 1 Corinthians 10,” in Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament, edited by Stanley E. Porter (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 164-165, who also provides other such citations.


[67] A midrash discussing Exodus 17:6 takes this approach.  See Orr and Walther, 245.   For midrashes on other texts, see Willis, 133.  On Philo’s use of the rock motif and that of Jewish synagogues, see Willis, 134-136.  


[68] Kistemaker, Exposition, 325, citing Genesis 49:24; Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31; and Psalms 18:31; 62:2; 78:35; 89:26; and 95:1.  


[69] Cf. Parry, 101.        


[70] As quoted by Aageson, “1 Corinthians 10,  167.  Philo also figurativized the well before which Moses praised God, “For wisdom lies deep below the surface and gives forth a sweet stream of true nobility for thirsty souls” (De somniis 2:271, as quoted by Ibid.)


[71] McFadyen, 133.  


[72] Parry, 102, wonders whether Jesus Himself might have suggested the usage.        


[73] Legum Allegoriae 2:21, as quoted by Orr and Walther, 245.   


[74] Paul D. Gardner, 148.    


[75] Anthony T. Hanson, Jesus Christ in the Old Testament (London:  SPCK, 1965), 12.  


[76] As quoted by Ibid.  Hanson also notes (12) that 14:19 could also be read as distinguishing between Kyrios and the God who rescued them.  


[Page 151]   [77] Ibid., 17.  


[78] Mare, 249. 


[79] Ibid. 


[80] Willis C. Newman, You Can Believe the Bible (Tacoma, Washington:  Newman International LLC, 2010), 90.


[81] Mare, 249. 


[82] Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers, in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), n. 41, 521, objects to the interpretation that Paul arrives at the 23,000 by subtracting the thousand leaders who were executed on the ground that the Numbers text “does not say that any number of leaders were killed at all.”  Although one might challenge the interpretation of Paul on the grounds that the number of leaders is not specified (hence we can’t prove whether the number was a 100, 500, or a 1,000), yet the text seems crystal clear that there was every intention to execute a separate group—however large it may have been.   


[83] Robertson and Plummer, 205.   


[84] For the latter option:  Archer, 401; Heil, 154; Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses:  Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages (Eugene, Oregon:  Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 227


[85] John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority:  A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Corporation, 1982), 62.


[86] Ibid.; Lenski, 398. 


[87] Walter Riggans, Numbers, in the Daily Study Bible series (Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1983), 193.


[88] Barclay, 98; Barrett, 225; Harris, 130; Moffatt, 131; Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 99; and John Sturdy, Numbers, in the Cambridge Bible Commentary:  New English Bible series (London:  Cambridge University Press, 1976) 185.      


[89] Oropeza, 145.   


[90] Orr and Walther, 246.  William Baird, 1 Corinthians/2 Corinthians, in the Knox Preaching Guides series (Atlanta, Georgia:  John Knox Press, 1980), 41, also seems to have the same approach in mind.   


[Page 152]     [91] Conzelmann, 168, who also believes Exodus 32:28 may have been involved in creating the confusion. 


[92] Hering, n. 27, 90.   


[93] Ibid., 90.   


[94] Woodbridge, 74, provides a lengthy list of texts to prove this wider usage of the term.


[95] Price, 804. 


[96] Witherington, Conflict, 223. 


[97] Thrall, 74. 


[98] On the use of this “modern application” principle in both testaments, see Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., 212-213.