1 Corinthians 10:1-13


The Christians enjoys the liberty with which Christ has set him free.  By faith he is free from the guilt and power of sin, the threat and power of death, and also from the power of the devil. In that sense the Christian is free.

But his flesh constantly tempts him to yield to the temptations of the flesh. Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  The Christian life is like the race of a runner, like the contest of a boxer. Paul says:  "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."  Paul took nothing for granted.  He drowned his flesh.  And so must we.  The struggle with the flesh is a daily necessity, lest we lose our souls.

It is clear that Paul does not consider his hearers more vulnerable than himself.  He begins with his own example and includes himself at least five times in his warnings to his hearers in verses 6 to 10.  We shall point these out as we go along.  The preacher will surely readily agree that he himself is as vulnerable as are his hearers.

Morris: Paul leaves his own example and turns to the history of the people of God recorded in the Scriptures to show that the enjoyment of high privileges does not guarantee entry into final blessing.  The Israelites experienced redemption, baptism and God's continuing succor.  Yet nearly all perished in the wilderness.
Lenski: That one may indeed partake of the full abundance of divine grace and yet in the end be lost, as Paul has feared in regard to himself in the last verse of the preceding chapter, is now verified, first by notable example from the Old Testament which exhibits the terrible experiences of the ancient Jews.
Robertson-Plummer: The fear expressed in 9:27 suggests the case of the Israelites, who, through want of self-control, lost the promised prize.  They presumed on their privileges, and fell into idolatry which they might have resisted.

1 Corinthians 10:1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.

"I do not want you to be ignorant"  is a favorite of Paul meaning  "I want you to know"  when he introduces an important point.  Note that  "all"  occurs five times, in verses 1-4.  Without exception all the Israelites had been signally blessed.  So was Paul.  So were the Corinthian Christians.

Furthermore, we shall note, as we go along, that Paul mentions five sins of the Israelite fathers, verses 6-10.  We have already mentioned above that Paul includes himself with his hearers five times, verses 6-10.  This repetition of the number five is a curious example of what is called artless art.

Paul calls the Israelites  "our fathers."  The Israelites were the spiritual ancestors of all Christians.

The verse informs us immediately that the Israelites were under the protection of the cloud, Exodus 13:21, and passed safely through the Red Sea.  Not one Israelite suffered harm.  At that time they were doing everything with fear and trembling.

1 Corinthians 10:2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

Because of the repetition of  "cloud" and  "sea"  in this verse we are of the opinion that this verse is merely an explanation and expansion on verse 1.  "It is said of all that they were baptized into Moses."  One thinks immediately of parallel expressions found in Romans 6:3 and Galatians 3:27.  Christians have been baptized into Christ.  Some think that here we have an Old Testament type of New Testament baptism, and that Moses is here an Old Testament type of Christ the Savior.  We have no complaint with that thought.

In any case the text implies that the pre-existent Christ delivered the Israelites in the form of a cloud and used the sea to separate the Israelites from the Egyptians, all of whom perished in the sea.  That Christ was constantly with them and sustained them becomes clear in verse 4.

1 Corinthians 10:3 They all ate the same spiritual food

If verse 2 is analogous to baptism in the New Testament, then verse 4 is analogous to the Lord's Supper.  This verse is an obvious reference to the manna with which Israel was fed.  It is called  "spiritual" food. RSV translates  "the same supernatural food."  Beck's AAT has:  "food of the Spirit." 

Morris: It is Paul's way of directing attention to the heavenly origin of this food.
Lenski: The manna given in the desert is called 'spiritual food' because it was in no wise a product of nature, but 'the corn of heaven' and 'angels' food', see Psalm 78:24-25.  This manna should have had an effect also upon the soul.
Bengel: Manna was spiritual food because from Christ there was given to the Israelites, with food for the body, food for the soul, which is far more noble than the material.
Paul calls it  "the same spiritual food"  because all were treated alike.

1 Corinthians 10:4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Here, again, Beck translates  "water of the Spirit."  More is said about the spiritual drink than is said about the spiritual food.  Twice Israel received water from a rock, Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:1ff.  From the Exodus reference a legend arose that, after they received water, the rock rolled along and accompanied them until the death of Moses, always giving them ample water.  Whether Paul did or did not know this legend cannot be ascertained. But he is surely not referring to it here.

"They were constantly drinking etc"  unmistakably tells us that Christ was their constant companion and that He supplied their needs.

Lenski: The God who led Israel out of bondage was Christ, the same Christ who died for us on the cross and arose in glory.

The benefits enjoyed by the people are spiritual because they came from Christ who is the source of all blessings.

1 Corinthians 10:5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

"Nevertheless"  introduces the surprise.  "Contrary to what you would expect."  Of all the hosts of Israel only two men entered the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb, Numbers 14:30-32.

"Bodies were scattered" does not indicate natural death.  God was angry.  He was punishing rebels.

Lenski: 'They were struck down' does not mean that all those who died in the wilderness were also forever damned.  Some were saved, although they suffered this temporal judgment because of their sins.

1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

Beck translates:  "Now, this happened in order to warn us."  Rienecker translates:  "an awful warning example."  The example were actually of two kinds.  Blessings which the people received and sins which they committed.  On the one hand we see God's bountiful blessings, and on the other, the rebelliousness of Israel.

Note Paul includes himself in this verse.

"To set the heart upon"  denotes a person who has a strong desire.  In itself this is not wrong.  But when the desire is turned to the evil, the desire is perverted.

Morris: These things are not to be regarded simply as history.  They were history.  They really happened.  But they were more than that.  They happened as examples.  God has a purpose in them.

God permitted the evils of His covenant people to be recorded for our good.

1 Corinthians 10:7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written:  "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." 

In each of the verses from 7 to 10 we have a prohibition.  The first and last are negative commands and the second and third are negative hortatory subjunctives.  All are in the present tense.  Perhaps the first and fourth mean  "cease to etc."  and perhaps the second and third means  "let us cease to etc."  but we cannot be dogmatic about this.

Before we proceed we call attention to the four  "do not" in verses 6, 7, 8 and 9 and the synonym in verse 10.  Paul is quietly saying  "be utterly unlike them."

The reference in verse 7 is to Exodus 32:6.

Morris: Thus men's lowest passions might be and often were, unleashed in the very act of worship.

True. What started in godly innocence turned into lascivious idolatry.

Lenski: Paul strikes home directly at the Corinthians, who thought that they too could preserve their relation to Jehovah while pretending to make use of their liberty they ate, drank, and amused themselves at idol-celebrations.

ICC: The Apostle intimates, more plainly than before, that the danger of actual idolatry is not so imaginary as the Corinthians in their enlightened emancipation supposed.

There is not such thing as innocent sin.

1 Corinthians 10:8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did -- and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.

Morris: Paul's primary reference is to the incident recorded in Numbers 25 where Israel 'began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab', and 'joined himself unto Baal-peor.'
Lenski: In connection with idol-celebrations fornication was a regular practice.

ICC: It is remarkable that precisely at this point the Apostle changes the form of the exhortation and passes from the second person to the first, thus once more putting himself on a level with his readers.

Of course, Paul is not saying that he had even been in a house of ill fame but he is admitting that his flesh was not less sinful than that of his hearers.  Such remarks by the preacher to his hearers are effective but one must take care how they are made.

In Number 25 the number of the fallen is 24,000.  Here it is 23,000.  Evidently in both cases we have round numbers and therefore the text is not to be faulted.  We avoid the subtleties of other interpreters.

1 Corinthians 10:9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did -- and were killed by snakes.

Morris: 'Test' meant originally 'to test' but usually to test with a view to the person failing in the test.  Thus its secondary meaning is 'to tempt'.  The idea is 'tempting' God is that of putting Him to the test, of seeing how far one can go.  The reference is to the people's complaint about good, as the result of which complaint God sent fiery serpents among them.
Lenski: To try out the Lord is to go to the limit, and to see whether he will show himself as God by punishing those who thus try him out.  The trial to which the Israelites put the Lord is recorded in Numbers 21:4-6.  In Corinth the situation was analogous.  The Christian profession demanded that the Corinthians should forego the old heathen enjoyments.  But instead of rejoicing in their deliverance through Christ, the Corinthians were dissatisfied and longed for the old pagan celebrations.

Do we ever complain about the food we receive?

1 Corinthians 10:10 And do not grumble, as some of them did -- and were killed by the destroying angel.

Rienecker: 'To murmur' is to give audible expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction.

Lenski points out that behind the murmuring lies unbelief, lack of faith and confidence in God's words and actions.

ICC: The warning instance can hardly refer to anything but that of the people against Moses and Aaron for the punishment of Korah and his company, Numbers 16:41ff, for we know of no other case in which the murmurers were punished with death.

Incidentally, when hearers murmur against a pastor who is only doing his God-given duty, the hearers should be warned with this verse.  Moses and Aaron knew what severe criticism was like.  Paul did too.  In such cases pastors warn their hearers, not simply to get rid of the criticism, but to help the hearers, lest they destroy themselves.

1 Corinthians 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.

Compare this verse with verse 6.  TEV translates:  "All these things happened to them as examples for others, and they were written down as a warning for us."  Beck:  "These things happened to them to make them a lesson to others and were written down to warn us."

Again, note that Paul includes himself.

Lenski: 'To whom the ends of the ages have arrived.'  We Christians are the goal of all past history.  All that the past ages have to tell us as this is found in the divine record is to bear its fruit now in us.  Only the End is yet to follow.
ICC: The sum-total has come down to us for whom it was intended. that would seem to mean that we reap the benefit of the experience of all these completed ages.  The Day of Judgment is near and may come at any moment; it is madness not to be watchful.

1 Corinthians 10:12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!

Morris: The Corinthians were cocksure of their position.  But then, so had the Israelites been, and they had reaped nothing but disaster.  Let the self-confident take heed, lest he fall.
ICC: The Apostle adds two admonitions: to those who are so self-confident that they think that they have no need to be watchful; and to those that are so despondent that they think that it is useless to struggle with temptation.
Verse 12 speaks of the deluded person.  "Fall" into what sin?  Any and all sin.  True faith makes one very confident.  But Satan is a master at counterfeit.  He can match true confidence with diabolical self-confidence.  The flesh is constantly producing delusion.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

"Common to man" means "that which is bearable," such as comes to a human being, and such as a human being may endure.  Even Job's temptations were of this kind.  Judas' temptations were of this kind.  He simply rejected Jesus' warning and help.

"And you can trust God (Beck AAT)."  "But God keeps his promise (TEV)"  God never goes back on His Word and promises. And we are told in what respect God is trustworthy:

  1.  God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to resist the temptation.

  2. When you are caught in the temptation He will provide a means of escape from the temptation.

Paul here pictures that negative and positive sides of God's providence.

Morris: The assurance of this verse is a permanent comfort and source of strength to believers.  Our trust is in the faithfulness of God.
Lenski: Even the presumptuous need to be encouraged, lest now they grow discouraged and become afraid.

The old Latin adage:  "impossibilia non iubet" which means  "God does not command the impossible."  At the moment it may seem impossible but God is faithful and will not go back on His Word.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 71-75. Used with permission.

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