Posted by: mattcolvin | September 23, 2008

1 Corinthians 10

10:1 – πατέρες ἡμῶν πάντες, cf. 8:1 πάντες γνῶσιν ἔχομεν. The πάντες (“all”) is repeated 4 times in 10:1-4.

10:2 – “were baptized in the cloud”? The cloud in question is the pillar of cloud in which YHWH accompanied Israel in the wanderings through the desert after the Exodus. “Baptism” here denotes the utterly stark reality of YHWH’s covenantal presence with Israel. But it is very likely that Paul’s use of ἐβαπτίσθησαν (“were baptized”) is polemical, aimed at the Corinthians, as also is the description of the Israelites food (βρῶμα) and drink (πόμα) and the rock (πέτρα) as “spiritual” (πνευματικός, 3 times).

In Baptistic America in 2008, our problem is that we have a hard time believing that God comes to us by physical rituals of water and food. But that was emphatically not the Corinthians’ problem. As we have seen in Paul’s answers to the Corinthians practice of incest and their views of marriage, divorce, slavery, etc., their problem was not at all that they didn’t have a robust enough view of the sacraments and the new birth. Their problem was that they drew bad conclusions from that vividly apprehended fact. It is Paul’s rhetorical burden in 1 Cor 10:1-13 to disabuse the Corinthians of the false presumption which they had erected on this vivid spiritual, covenantal, sacramental reality.

This understanding of Paul’s polemical aim allows us to solve the apparent difficulty of 10:2. In what sense were the Israelites “baptized” into Moses in the cloud and sea if they did not get wet? The answer is that these experiences of covenant union and identification are designated with a label (“baptism”) that is not appropriate to the Exodus at all — no Israelite at the end of his wanderings with Moses or Joshua would have said that he had “been baptized.” Rather, the language of baptism has been transferred from the Corinthians’ experience, and applied to the experience of Israel and Moses in order to make a polemical point.

It is not that Paul does not agree that baptism makes one a member of Christ; he emphatically asserts that it does (Gal. 3:27, and even within the Corinthian correspondence, 2 Cor. 13:5 — “Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”). But he oes not allow what the Corinthians assume: that they therefore have eternal security. Paul holds two truths without conflict: “Yes, you Corinthians are right: you have real relationship with Christ, not fake,” and at the same time, “No, that doesn’t mean you can’t fall away!”

10:4 – Note Paul’s very inventive interpretation of the OT: “the rock was the Messiah”??!! Precisely the sort of thing we cannot get away with now, because there are no controls on this sort of interpretation, no brakes to prevent it from running off the rails. It is not enough to say that “the rock was YHWH; he was the one with whom Israel had to do during the wilderness wanderings.” No, for Paul does not say that “the rock was ὁ κύριος,” but that it was “the Messiah”: God’s anointed eschatological king.

10:6 – ταῦτα δὲ τύποι ἡμῶν ἐγενήθησαν. “These things happened as examples for us” does not quite catch the sense of τύποι ἡμῶν. “Things corresponding to us” might be better. Paul is asserting that the Israelites and Corinthians are precisely parallel, corresponding as a wax seal to the signet ring that impressed it.

10:6-11 – So that we might not be…
1. ἐπιθυμητὰς κακῶν (10:6) – “desirous of evil.”
2. “idolaters”, εἰδωλολάτραι (10:7) – Paul is in the middle of discussing meat that has been dedicated to idols.
3. “committing sexual immorality” (πορνεύωμεν) (10:8) – the Corinthians practice of πορνεια not named even among the Gentiles corresponds precisely.
4. “testing the Messiah” – note who is doing the tempting/testing to whom. Cf. Heb 3:9 – “your fathers tested me, tried me, and saw My works forty years.”
5. γογγύζειν (10:10) – grumbling. Beware of its entertainment value. The Israelites who did this were destroyed by the ὀλοθρευτης, “destroyer.”

10:12 – The sum of the matter: God wants us NOT to believe any such false and foolish slogan as “once saved, always saved.” Paul’s whole point in this passage is that the Corinthians do indeed have a real relationship with the living Christ, just as Israel did with the pre-incarnate Christ. And they have really been saved — they all passed out of Egypt, and were “baptized into Moses”. God killed them, and God is killing the Corinthians because of their evil behavior. Their eating of spiritual food, and their baptism will not keep God from destroying them for their apostasy.

10:13 – πειρασμὸς ἀνθρώπινος – This is not a guarantee that God will give you a “way of escape” for all temptations that are “common to man.” What would that mean, anyway? “I have a hankering to do a little boozing, bingeing, or wenching, but then, so do the four other guys on my block. So that sort of temptation is ‘common to man’, and I am to be assured that God has provided me a way of escape so that I can endure it.” Hardly. Rather, the persecution or testing that the Corinthians are experiencing is human in origin — whether that means their own sinful human natures, or human persecutors (hostile Jews, Romans, etc.). I prefer te latter: it marks a nice constrast with the story of Israel in the desert: at that time God was killing the Israelites by…
1. causing the earth to swallow them (Korah, Datahan, and Abiram),
2. consuming them with fire (Nadab and Abihu),
3. snakes (see 10:9 above),
4. a destroying angel(?), or ὀλοθρευτης
These things are not a πειρασμὸς ἀνθρώπινος; there is no way of escape when God has determined to kill you. On the other hand, as was pointed out by Brad Peppo at our study, there doesn’t seem to be any indication in the text that the Corinthians were the objects of human testing (persecution). And furthermore, the fact that the Corinthians were “falling asleep” because of their unworthy participation in the Lord’s Supper might be taken as a counter-argument: “See, some testing other than human has overtaken them!” I am simply trying to do justice to the passage’s obvious contrast: “human testing” vs. “but God is faithful.” The source of the testing is human; the source of the escape, Divine.

10:14 – “Therefore, flee from idolatry” – Don’t see how cosy you can get with it; don’t exercise your rights (ἐξουσία) because you have “knowledge” (γνῶσις) that “idols are nothing.” Don’t see how close to the fire you can edge. Applications abound: Don’t fool around with fire, drugs, porn, academic cheating…

10:15 – ὡς φρονίμοις λέγω – “I speak as to wise men” – A very arch, very pointed ad hominem way to address the Corinthians, who have been vaunting themselves on their wisdom (2:6), and whom Paul has rebuked as “still fleshly”, not wise.

He continues, κρίνατε ὑμεῖς ὅ φημί – “you yourselves, judge what I am saying.” Not “do it because I say so.” Not implicit faith. Not “do it because of mindless Anglican traditionalism unexamined in the light of the Scriptures.” Not “do it because of the example of friends.” No. Judge! Judge rationally! Follow what Paul is saying, make sense of what he teaches. Be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Paul is against the idea that understanding the Bible is something that a clerical class can do for you.

But note well: his argument in this particular case starts from the sacraments. He reasons from the sacraments, as something that the Corinthians of course understand. In 2008, we are so far gone that now it will only be after a long season of exorcising the idols of modernity (cf. Barfield, Saving the Appearances) that pastors might eventually be able to get their flocks to understand the sacraments with something even approaching the vividness and power of the Corinthians’ relatively untaught and naive experience of them.

10:16 – τὸ ποτήριον τῆς εὐλογίας – “the cup of blessing”. According to Louis Bouyer, the Ethiopic Church Order divides the Supper into two distinct rites: a wine rite called εὐλογία, “blessing,” and a bread rite called εὐχαριστία.

J. Jeremias notes in The Eucharistic Words of Jesus that the phrase “cup of blessing” is a Hebraism, kos shel beraka, a technical term for the cup of wine over which the grace after the meal was said. Just so, the Lord’s Supper rites followed the agape meal in the early church.

The verbal similarities are very precise, and together they add up to sufficient warrant for Jeremias to reconstruct the precise actions and utterances (prayers) of Jesus at the Last Supper. See Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, p. 110.

Note especially that there is no question of “blessing the cup” — no consecrationism at all. That is utterly without historical or textual basis, a remnant of medieval theology that in turn drew inappropriately on the Mosaic Covenant, with its sacred spaces, vessels, water, and other consecrated (and therefore holy) paraphernalia. As we will see in 1 Cor. 11, the only thing that is “blessed” at the Last Supper is God, in the words of the usual Jewish table grace: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, etc….” Even a prayer book such as the 1662, which contains a rubric disavowing transsubstantion, still encourages the congregation to think that something invisible changes in the elements when certain words or prayers are said over them: “vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death nd passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.” On reading such a prayer, the question may be asked, “Is there some chance that He may not so vouchsafe? And that then we may be partakers of nothing but bread and wine?” These are the sorts of questions that the error of consecrationism.

Note also that the bread is a κοινωνία, not a body, and the cup is a κοινωνία, not blood. I mentally left Lutheranism after debating this verse with my Lutheran pastors in the church I grew up in.

10:17 – This explains the sense in which the Lord’s Supper is a κοινωνία in Christ’s body and blood. It is a sacrament of unity. Note that the contrapositive is also true: if we are not one body, we do not share bread. The excommunicated and sectarians are not one body with us, so they do not share bread. Closed communion is a denial of the one body. The REC’s BCP is excellent on this point: “Our fellow Christians of other branches of Christ’s church are affectionately invited to the Lord’s Table.”

10:18 – Israelites have κοινωνία τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου by eating sacrifices: they eat with God.

10:19-20 – While granting the unreality of idols, Paul asserts the reality of demons: the idol is nothing, and meat dedicated to it does not have some magic power to possess you. But don’t play near the flame. Those who offer to idols are worshipping demons, and you cannot, must not get involved in that. (10:21)

10:22 – The reason not to eat in honor of idols is a reason that has nothing to do with impersonally pollution, and everything to do with the personal Lord.

Paul’s rhetorical question in 10:22, μὴ ἰσχυρότεροι αὐτοῦ ἐσμεν;” is another pointed rejoinder to the Corinthians: if the problem of meat sacrificed to idols is framed as a matter of weak and strong, Paul asks, “Well, how strong are you? Think you can beat Jesus?”



  1. […] Some helpful exegetical remarks on 1 Corinthians 10 10:4 – Note Paul’s very inventive interpretation of the OT: “the rock was the Messiah”??!! Precisely the sort of thing we cannot get away with now, because there are no controls on this sort of interpretation, no brakes to prevent it from running off the rails. It is not enough to say that “the rock was YHWH; he was the one with whom Israel had to do during the wilderness wanderings.” No, for Paul does not say that “the rock was ὁ κύριος,” but that it was “the Messiah”: God’s anointed eschatological king. […]

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