1 Corinthians 10
Pulpit Commentary
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
Verses 1-14. - Warnings against over confidence in relation to idolatry and other temptations. Verse 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 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8; Romans 1:13; Romans 11:25; 1 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 (ver. 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" (Psalm 105:39). The Book of Wisdom (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).
And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
Verse 2. - Were all baptized. This reading, though well supported, may, perhaps, be a correction for the middle, "they baptized themselves," i.e. accepted baptism. The passing under the cloud (Exodus 14:19) and through the sea, constituting as it did their deliverance from bondage into freedom, their death to Egypt, and their birth to a new covenant, was a general type or dim shadow of Christian baptism (compare our collect, "figuring thereby thy holy baptism"). But the typology is quite incidental; it is the moral lesson which is paramount. Unto Moses; rather, into. By this "baptism" they accepted Moses as their Heaven-seat guide and teacher.
And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
Verse 3. - And did all eat the same spiritual meat. As the cloud and the Red Sea symbolized the waters of baptism, so the manna and the water of the rock symbolized the elements of the other Christian sacrament, the Lord's Supper. The manna might be called "a spiritual food," both because it was "angels' food" (Psalm 78:25; Wisd. 16:20) and "bread from heaven" (Psalm 78:24; John 6:31), and also because it was a type of "God's good Spirit," which he "gave to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:20). St. Paul only knows of two sacraments.
And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
Verse 4. - The same spiritual drink. The water from the smitten rock might (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 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 4:14; John 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 43:23; Isaiah 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 Wisd. 10:15 and Wisdom 11:4 it is Wisdom - another form of the Logos - who leads and supports the Israelites. The frequent comparison, of God to a Rock in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32, passim; 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 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."
But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Verse 5. - With many of them; rather, with most of them. They were overthrown in the wilderness. A quotation from the LXX. of Numbers 14:16. All but Caleb and Joshua perished (Numbers 26:64, 65; comp. Jude 1:5). In Hebrews 3:17 the word used is "they fell."
Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
Verse 6. - These things were our examples. If this rendering be adopted, perhaps "examples" is the best equivalent of the original tupoi, as in Philippians 3:17, "Walk so as ye have us for an example (tupelo)." It may, however, mean "types," i.e. foreshadowing symbols, as in Romans 5:14, where Adam is the "figure" (tupos) of Christ. But, in spite of Alford's decisive rejection of it, the rendering, "Now in these things they proved to be figures of us," is at least equally probable. To the intent. Of course, the events had their own immediate instruction, but the example which they involved was the ulterior purpose of their being so ordained by the providence of God. As they also lusted. (For quails, Numbers 11:4, 33; and see Psalm 95:7-11.)
Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Verse 7. - As were some of them. As in the case of the golden calf, the worship of Moloch, Remphan, Baal-peor, etc. In the prominent instance of the calf worship, they (like the Corinthians) would have put forth sophistical pleas in their own favour, saying that they were not worshipping idols, but only paying honour to cherubic emblems of Jehovah. To play. The word is, perhaps, used euphemistically for the worst concomitants of a sensual nature worship (Exodus 32:3-6), which resembled the depraved and orgiastic worship of Aphrodite Pandemos at Corinth.
Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
Verse 8. - Commit fornication. This sin was not only an ordinary accompaniment of idolatry, but often a consecrated part of it, as in the case of the thousand hierodouloi, or female attendants, in the temple of Aphrodite on Acro-Corinthus. Three and twenty thousand. The number given in Numbers 25:9 is twenty-four thousand. We cannot give any account of the discrepancy, which is, however, quite unimportant.
Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
Verse 9. - Tempt Christ (see the note on ver. 4). Christ is here identified with the angel which went before the Israelites, whom they were specially warned not "to provoke," because "my Name is in him" (Exodus 23:20, 21). Another reading is "the Lord." "Christ" may have come in from a marginal gloss. On the other hand, since "Christ" is the more difficult reading, it was, perhaps, the more likely to be altered by copyists. The word for "tempt" means "tempt utterly," "tempt beyond endurance." As some of them (Exodus 17:2, 7; Numbers 14:22; Numbers 21:5, 6). Of serpents; rather, perished by the serpents, viz. the "fiery serpents" of the wilderness (Numbers 21:6).
Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.
Verse 10. - Neither murmur ye (Numbers 14:2, 29; Numbers 16:41, 49). The Corinthians were at this time murmuring against their teacher and apostle. Of the destroyer. All plagues and similar great catastrophes, as well as all individual deaths, were believed by the Jews to be the work of an angel whom they called Sammael (see Exodus 12:23; 2 Samuel 24:16; Job 33:22; 2 Macc. 15:22). In the retribution narrated in Numbers 16:41, etc., fourteen thousand seven hundred perished.
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Verse 11. - For ensamples; literally, by way of figure; typically. The rabbis said, "Whatever happened to the fathers is a sign to their children." The thought is the same as in Romans 15:4, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning." The example in this instance would come home more forcibly from the sickness and mortality then prevalent among the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 11:30). The ends of the world; rather, of the egos. The expression is in accordance with the view which regarded the then epoch as "the close or consummation of the ages" (Matthew 13:39; 1 Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is at hand;" 1 John 2:18, "It is the last time;" Hebrews 9:26; Matthew 13:39).
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
Verse 12. - Take heed lest he fall. The Corinthians, thinking that they stood, asserting that they all had knowledge, proud of the insight which led them to declare that "an idol is nothing in the world," were not only liable to underrate the amount of forbearance due to weaker consciences, but were also in personal danger of falling away. To them, as to the Romans, St. Paul means to say, "Be not highminded, but fear" (Romans 11:20).
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Verse 13. - But such as is common to man; rather, except such as is human; i.e. such as man can bear. The last verse was a warning; this is an encouragement. Having just heard what efforts even St. Paul had to make to run in the Christian race, and how terribly their fathers in the wilderness had failed to meet the requirements of God, they might be inclined to throw up every effort in despair. St. Paul, therefore, reminds them that these temptations were not superhuman, but were such as men had resisted, and such as they could resist. God is faithful He had called them (1 Corinthians 1:9), and since he knew "how to deliver the godly out of temptations" (2 Peter 2:9), he would surely perform his side of the covenant, and, if they did their parts, would stablish and keep them from evil (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Also. The mode of deliverance shall be ready simultaneously with the temptation. Away to escape; rather, the way to escape. The way to escape is different in different temptations, but for each temptation God would provide the special means of escaping it.
Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
Verse 14. - Wherefore. As a result of the whole reasoning, which has been meant to inspire the weak with a more liberalizing knowledge, and the strong with a more fraternal sympathy. Dearly beloved. The word "dearly" should be omitted. Flee from idolatry. The original implies that they were to turn their backs on idolatry, and so fly from it.
I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
Verses 15-22. - The inherent disgracefulness of any tampering with idolatry. Verse 15. - I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. An appeal to their own reason to confirm his argument (comp. 1 Corinthians 11:13), perhaps with a touch of irony in the first clause (1 Corinthians 4:10; 2 Corinthians 11:19). The word for "I say" is φημι, I affirm.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
Verse 16. - The cup of blessing. A translation of the name cos haberachah (comp. Psalm 116:13), over which a blessing was invoked by the head of the family after the Passover. The name is here transferred to the chalice in the Eucharist, over which Christ "gave thanks" (1 Corinthians 11:24; Matthew 26:27). There seems to be a close connection between the idea of "blessing" (eulogesas, Matthew 26:22; Mark 14:22) and "giving thanks" (eucharistesas, Luke 22:19), and here, as always, St. Paul and St. Luke resemble each other in their expressions. The communion of; literally, a participation in. By means of the cup we realize our share in the benefits wrought by Christ's precious blood shedding. The cup is at once a symbol and a medium. The blood of Christ; of which the wine is the sacramental symbol. By rightly drinking the wine, we spiritually partake of the blood of Christ, we become sharers in his Divine life. The bread; perhaps rather, the loaf, which was apparently passed from hand to hand, that each might break off a piece. Is it not the communion of the body of Christ? The best comment on the verse is John 6:41-59, in which our Lord taught that there could be no true spiritual life without the closest union with him and incorporation into his life.
For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
Verse 17. - We being many are one bread, and one body. It is easy to see how we are "one body," of which Christ is the Head, and we are the members. This is the metaphor used in 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13 and Romans 12:5. The more difficult expression, "we are one bread," is explained in the next clause. The meaning seems to be - We all partake of the loaf, and thereby become qualitatively, as it were, a part of it, as it of us, even as we all become members of Christ's one body, which that loaf sacramentally represents Some commentators, disliking the harshness of the expression, render it, "Because there is one bread, we being many are one body;" or, "For there is one bread. We being many are one body." But the language and context support the rendering of our version; and the supposed "physiology" is not so modern as to be at all surprising.
Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
Verse 18. - Partakers of the altar. It is better to render it "Have they not communion with the altar?" for the word is different from that in the last verse. The meaning is that, by sharing in the sacrifices, the Jews stood in direct association with the altar, the victims, and all that they symbolized (Deuteronomy 12:27). And St. Paul implied that the same thing is true of those who sympathetically partook of idol offerings.
What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
Verse 19. - What say I then? What is it, then, which I am maintaining (φημι)? That the idol is anything. St. Paul repudiates an inference which he had already denied (1 Corinthians 8:4). Is anything. Has any intrinsic value, meaning, or importance. In itself, the idol offering is a mere dead, indifferent thing. Of itself, the idol is an eidolon - a shadowy, unreal thing, one of the elilim; but in another aspect it was "really something," and so alone could the rabbis account for phenomena which seemed to imply the reality of infernal miracles ('Avoda Zarah,' fol. 54, 2; 55, 1; and see note in 'Life of St. Paul,' 2:74).
But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
Verse 20. - But. The word rejects the former hypothesis. "[No I do not admit that], but what I say is that," etc. They sacrifice to devils, and not to God. The word "demons" should be used, not" devils" (Deuteronomy 32:17). The argument is that, though the idol is nothing - a mere stock or stone - it is yet the material symbol of a demon (see Psalm 96:5; Psalm 106:37; Baruch 4:7). So Milton -

"And devils to adore for deities;
Then were they known to men by various names,
And various idols through the heathen world,...
The chief were those who, from the pit of hell,
Roaming to seek their prey on earth, durst fix
Their seats long after next the seat of God,
Their altars by his altar, gods adored
Among the nations round."


(Paradise Lost,' 1.) St. Paul uses a word which, while it would not be needlessly offensive to Gentiles, conveyed his meaning. The Greeks themselves called their deities daimonia, and St. Paul adopts the word; but to Jewish ears it meant, not "deities" or "demigods," but "demons."
Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.
Verse 21. - Ye cannot. It is a moral impossibility that you should. The Lord's table. This is the first instance in which this expression is used, and it has originated the name. The table of devils (see Deuteronomy 32:37). In the fine legend of Persephone, she might have been altogether liberated from the nether world if she had eaten nothing since her sojourn there; but unhappily she had eaten something, though it was only the few grains of a pomegranate; and hence she must leave the upper air, and become the Queen of Hades.
Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?
Verse 22. - Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? (Deuteronomy 32:21," They have moved me to jealousy by that which is not God"). The expression, "a jealous God," is used in the second commandment with express reference to idolatry, as in Exodus 34:14, 15. Are we stronger than he? Can we, therefore, with impunity, kindle his anger against us? "He is... mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?" (Job 9:4). Ver. 23 - 1 Corinthians 11:1. - Directions about eating idol offerings, founded on these principles.
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
Verse 23. - All things are lawful for me (see 1 Corinthians 6:12). The "for me" is not found in א, A, B, C, D. St. Paul repeats the assertion and its limitations, because he has now proved their force. He has shown that Christian liberty must be modified by considerations of expediency and edification in accordance with the feelings of sympathy and charity.
Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.
Verse 24. - But every man another's wealth. The addition of the word "wealth" is very infelicitous. Rather, as in the Revised Version, but each his neighbour's good (comp. ver. 33 and Romans 15:2).
Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:
Verse 25. - Whatsoever is sold. By this practical rule of common sense he protects the weak Christian from being daily worried by over scrupulosity. If a Christian merely bought his meat in the open market, no one could suspect him of meaning thereby to connive at or show favour to idolatry. It would, therefore, be needless for him to entertain fantastic scruples about a matter purely indifferent. The fact of its forming part of an idol offering made no intrinsic difference in the food. Shambles; rather food market. Asking no question for conscience sake. Do not trouble your conscience by scruples arising from needless investigation (ἀνακρίνων) about the food.
For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.
Verse 26. - For the earth is the Lord's (Psalm 24:1). Consequently, "Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:4). The text formed the ordinary Jewish "grace before meat." The fulness thereof. The plenitude of its created furniture - plants, animals, etc.
If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
Verse 27. - Bid you to a feast. It is assumed that the feast is to take place in a private house, not an idol temple (1 Corinthians 8:10). Ye be disposed to go; rather, ye wish to go, with an emphasis on the "wish," which, as Grotius says, perhaps implies that the wish is not particularly commendable, although the apostle, in his large-hearted tolerance, does not actually blame it. The rabbis decided very differently. "If," said Rabbi Ishmael, "an idolater makes a feast in honour of his son, and invites all the Jews of his town, they eat of the sacrifices of the dead, even though they eat and drink of their own" ('Avodah Zarah,' fol. 18, 1). There are many passages of the Talmud which raise the suspicion that the rabbis are purposely running counter to the teaching of the New Testament.
But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:
Verse 28. - But if any man say unto you. Who is the "any man" is left undefined. Perhaps some "weak" Christian is meant, who happens to be a fellow guest. This is offered in sacrifice unto idols. The true reading is probably, hierothuton, sacred sacrifice, not eidolothuton, idol sacrifice. Perhaps there is a touch of delicate reserve in the word, implying that the remark is made at the table of heathens, who would be insulted by the word eidolothuton, sacrificed to idols. Whoever the interlocutor is supposed to be - heathen host or Christian guest - the mere fact of attention being drawn to the food as forming part of a heathen sacrifice is enough to make it your duty to give no overt sanction to idolatry. In that case, therefore, you ought to refuse it. It will be seen how gross was the calumny which asserted that St. Paul taught men to be indifferent about eating things offered to idols. He only taught indifference in cases where idolatry could not be directly involved in the question. He only repudiates the idle superstition that the food became inherently tainted by such a consecration when the eater was unaware of it. In later times, when the eating of such offerings was deliberately erected into a test of apostasy, he would have used language as strong against every semblance of compliance as any which was used by St. John himself or by Justin Martyr. Difference of time and circumstances necessarily involves a difference in the mode of viewing matters which in themselves are unimportant. For the earth is the Lord's. It is doubtful whether the repetition of this clause is genuine. It is omitted by all the best uncials.
Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?
Verse 29. - Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other. You may be well aware that you intend no sanction of idolatry, but if the other supposes that you do, you wound his conscience, which you have no right to do. Your own conscience has already decided for itself. For why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? These words explain why he said "conscience not thine own." The mere fact that another person thinks that we are doing wrong does not furnish the smallest proof that we are doing wrong. We stand or fall only to our own Master, and our consciences are free to form their own independent conclusion. Perhaps in this clause and the next verse we have an echo of the arguments used by the Corinthian "liberals," who objected to sacrifice themselves to the scruples of the weak. The independence of conscience is powerfully maintained in Romans 14:2-5.
For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?
Verse 30. - For if I. The "for" should be omitted. There is no copula in the best manuscripts. By grace. The word may also mean "with thankfulness" (comp. Romans 14:6. "He that eateth, to the Lord he eateth, for he giveth God thanks;" 1 Timothy 4:3, "Meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving;" compare our phrase," saying grace"). Another view of these clauses interprets them to mean "You should refrain because, by net doing so, you give occasion to others to judge you" - a rule which has been compared with Romans 14:16, "Let not your good be evil spoken of." Whichever view be taken, it is clear that theoretically St. Paul sided with the views of the "strong," but sympathetically with those of the "weak." He pleaded for some concession to the scrupulosity of ever morbid consciences, he disapproved of a defiant, ostentatious, insulting liberalism. On the other hand, he discouraged the miserable micrology of a purblind and bigoted superstition, which exaggerated the importance of things external and indifferent. He desiderated more considerateness and self denial on the one side; and on the other, a more robust and instructed faith, he would always tolerate the scruples of the weak, but would not suffer either weakness or strength to develop itself into a vexatious tyranny.
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Verse 31. - All. There is much grandeur in the sweeping universality of the rule which implies that all life, and every act of life, may be consecrated by holy motives. To the glory of God. Not to the glorification either of your own breadth of mind or your over-scrupulosity of conscience, but "that God in all things may be glorified" (1 Peter 4:11).
Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
Verse 32. - Give none offence. Of course St. Paul means "give no offence in unimportant, indifferent matters" (comp. Romans 14:13). "Offence" means "occasion of stumbling." The word only occurs in Acts 24:16; Philippians 1:16. Nor to the Gentiles; rather, nor to the Greeks.
Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
Verse 33. - That they may be saved. All the sympathy, tolerance, forbearance, which I try to practise has this one supreme object.



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