1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 10:1-5

10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.


Paul shifts the discussion from where it has been. At the end of Chapter 8, Paul stated that he would not eat meat offered to idols, despite it being his right to do so as a free person in Christ. In chapter 9, he explains the idea of freedom and self-denial to his readers, ending with a plea that the readers in Corinth pursue a spiritual prize. We should thus keep in mind that this transition here in Chapter 10 likely has a connection to the previous text. Starting in verse 1 with The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 10:1

Moreover; rather, for. He has just shown them, by his own example, the necessity for strenuous watchfulness and effort. In continuance of the same lesson, he teaches them historically that the possession of great privileges is no safeguard, and that the seductions, even of idolatry, must not be carelessly despised. Although the connection of the various paragraphs is not stated with logical precision, we see that they all bear on the one truth which he wants to inculcate, namely, that it is both wise and kind to limit our personal freedom out of sympathy with others. The reading “but” (δὲ, morever) is probably a correction of the true reading (γὰρ, for), due to the failure to understand the whole train of thought. I would not that ye should be ignorant. This is a favourite phrase of St. Paul’s (1 Corinthians 12:12 Corinthians 1:8Romans 1:13Romans 11:251 Thessalonians 4:13). The ignorance to which he refers is not ignorance of the facts, but of the meaning of the facts. All our fathers. He repeats the “all” five times, because he wishes to show that, though “all” partook of spiritual blessings, most (1 Corinthians 10:5) fell in spite of them. He says, “our fathers,” not only because he was himself a Jew, but also because the patriarchs and the Israelites were spiritually the fathers of the Christian Church. Were under the cloud. The compressed Greek phrase implies that they went under it, and remained under its shadow. The “cloud” is the “pillar of cloud” (Exodus 13:21), of which David says, “He spread a cloud for a covering” (Psalms 105:39). The Book of Wisdom (1 Corinthians 10:17) calls it “a cover unto them by day,” and (19:7) “a cloud shadowing the camp.” All passed through the sea (Exodus 14:22).

The note here explains the connection in Paul’s mind, with what he has been sayin previously. Self-denial and self-discipline are important because they also serve as a safeguard against backsliding. To illustrate this point, he tells the tale of the Israelites passing from Egypt into the Promised Land. Verse 1 lists two of the extraordinary miracles everyone in the group witnessed.

Despite this, we know that many in the group fell away and worshiped idols, anyway. Continuing with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in verse 2:

(2) Were all baptized unto Moses.—The weight of evidence is in favour of the middle voice for the verb here used; signifying that they all voluntarily had themselves baptised to Moses. Moses was God’s representative under the Law, and so they were baptised unto him in their voluntarily joining with that “Church” of God which marched beneath the shadow of the cloud, and passed through the waters of the sea—as Christians, are baptised unto Jesus Christ,—He being (in a higher sense both in kind and in degree) God’s representative in the New Dispensation.

The “cloud” and the “sea” refer to the cloud that overshadowed the Israelites (Exodus 13:21, and see Numbers 14:14), and the passage through the Red Sea (Exodus 13:22Numbers 35:8).

(3) Spiritual meat.—The manna (Exodus 16:13) was not natural food, for it was not produced in the natural way, but it was supplied by the Spirit and power of God. Bread from earth would be natural bread, but this was bread from heaven (John 6:31). Our Lord (John 6:50) had already made the Christian Church familiar with the “true bread,” of which that food had been the typical forecast.

baptized = βαπτίζω baptízō, bap-tid’-zo; from a derivative of G911; to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism:—Baptist, baptize, wash.

In verse 2, the use of the word baptism is not immediately clear. However, I think – looking at the definition – that “beneath” clarifies it well. Paul says “they” were beneath Moses, passing beneath the cloud and passing through the Red Sea. By use of the word baptism, in this way, he draws a parallel between the people of Israel taking up the Law, and the people receiving grace through Christ.

The parallel Paul makes continues in verse 3. Just as Christians take Communion, the Israelites in the desert also were given spiritual meat. Christ describes the Communion bread as his own flesh, thus making it spiritual meat. The manna was spiritual bread sent from Heaven. Christ also described himself as “the bread of life” and made a siilar parallel.

Matthew 26:26-28 – Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

John 6:35 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Exodus 16:35 The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

The parallel continues in verse 4, as Paul discusses “spiritual drink.” From The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 10:4

The same spiritual drink. The water from the smitten rock might (Exodus 17:6Numbers 20:11) be called a “spiritual” drink, both as being a miraculous gift (comp. Galatians 4:29, where Isaac is said to be “born after the spirit”)and as being a type of that “living water” which “springs up into everlasting life” (John 4:14John 7:37), and of the blood of Christ in the Eucharist (John 6:55). These “waters in the wilderness” and “rivers in the desert” were a natural symbol of the grace of God (Isaiah 43:23Isaiah 55:1), especially as bestowed in the sacrament through material signs. They drank; literally, they were drinking, implying a continuous gift. Of that spiritual Rock that followed them; rather, literally, of a spiritual following Rock. This is explained

(1) as a mere figure of speech, in which the natural rock which Moses smote is left out of sight altogether; and

(2) as meaning that not the rock, but the water from the rock, followed after them in their wanderings (Deuteronomy 9:21). There can, however, be little or no doubt that St. Paul refers to the common Jewish Hagadah, that the actual material rock did follow the Israelites in their wanderings. The rabbis said that it was round, and rolled itself up like a swarm of bees, and that, when the tabernacle was pitched, this rock came and settled in its vestibule, and began to flow when the princes came to it and sang, “Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it” (Numbers 21:17). It does not, of course, follow from this allusion that St. Paul, or even the rabbis, believed their Hagadah in other than a metaphorical sense. The Jewish Hagadoth—legends and illustrations and inferences of an imaginative Oriental people—are not to be taken au pied de la lettre. St. Paul obviates the laying of any stress on the mere legend by the qualifying word, “a spiritual Rock.” And that Rock was Christ. The writings of Philo, and the Alexandrian school of thought in general, had familiarized all Jewish readers with language of this kind. They were accustomed to see types of God, or of the Word (Logos)in almost every incident of the deliverance from Egypt and the wanderings in the wilderness. Thus in Wis. 10:15 and 11:4 it is Wisdom—another form of the Loges—who leads and supports the Israelites. The frequent comparison, of God to a Rock in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:1-52., passim; 1 Samuel 2:2Psalms 91:12, etc.) would render the symbolism more easy, especially as in Exodus 17:6 we find, “Behold, I [Jehovah] will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb.”

The parallels here are very clear. The person of Christ can be seen in the miracles from the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites. Communion makes that explicit, but many comments from Jesus throughout his ministry highlight the same parallels.

John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The note above is helpful, in that it shares both that this use of typology was familiar to the audience of the time, because of Philo and others. Utilization of the typology is not something that came about centuries later. We’ll close out this section of verses looking at Ellicott and verse 5:

(5) But with many of them.—Better, Nevertheless not with the greater part of them was God pleased. This introduces the point from which the Apostle seeks to draw the great lesson of self-distrust. All had all these privileges—privileges of a baptism and a spiritual meat and drink which correspond with the sacramental ordinances which are proofs and pledges of all the privileges of us Christians—and yet with the greater part—in fact, with all except two—of that vast multitude God was not pleased, as is proved by the fact that (Numbers 14:16) all except Caleb and Joshua perished in the wilderness.

This section feels very much like a warning, through a historical reminder. God’s chosen people displeased him and there were consequences for that. Paul wants to remind the Corinthians of this, to spur them toward self-denial and self-discipline, so that they run their race better than the generation of Israelites who mostly perished in the wilderness. He does not want his readers to take things for granted.

You get a sense that a lack of seriousness plagued the Church in Corinth, given their open sinfulness and their faction-forming. Paul’s Letter serves multiple purposes, but a loving rebuke is one of those purposes.

Paul clarifies the purpose of the history lesson provided by these verses more explicitly in the next section of verses.