1 Corinthians Chapter 10:1-13

1 Οὐ θέλω γὰρ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν πάντες ὑπὸ τὴν νεφέλην ἦσαν καὶ πάντες διὰ τῆς θαλάσσης διῆλθον,

For I don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers all under the clouds were and all through the sea came through (redundancy deliberate),

The cloud and the sea are references to the Exodus: following the pillar of cloud, then passing through the (Red) sea when it parted. Now, the interesting part is that this seems to be implying that he’s speaking to an audience of Jews, which seemingly runs against the grain of my Greek thought hypothesis. But not necessarily. Minority cultures have some awareness of the thought-world of the majority; and, especially if a significant contingent of the Community were wealthy, there’s a good chance that they had received some Greek education. And remember, in the last chapter Paul talked about members of the Community attending idol sacrifices.

1 Nolo enim vos ignorare, fra tres, quoniam patres nostri omnes sub nube fuerunt et omnes mare transierunt

2 καὶ πάντες εἰς τὸν Μωϋσῆν ἐβαπτίσθησαν ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ καὶ ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ,

and all in Moses were baptized in the cloud and in the sea,

Recall Paul’s less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards baptism in Chapter 1. But also recall our discussions of “John the Dunker”; just because we see the word ‘baptize’, we cannot automatically assume the reference is to Christian baptism. Recall that Josephus, in describing John’s practice, said that the washing was for the body, and did not relate to cleansing sins. The outward washing (dunking) was the culmination, the outward sign that the sins had been repented (and absolved?). The point is, ‘baptise’ was a common verb, lacking our specialised meaning of the word. So, it would be appropriate for the Hebrews to have been symbolically ‘dunked’ by passing through the Red Sea. The idea of  being ‘baptized’ by a cloud does not quite make sense in our understanding of the word. So the point is that to think of this in terms of later Christian baptism is an anachronism. I truly do not think that Paul is using the word ‘baptize’ in that sense, so I think it would be a bit of a misinterpretation to take it that way.

2 et omnes in Moyse baptizati sunt in nube et in mari

3 καὶ πάντες τὸ αὐτὸ πνευματικὸν βρῶμα ἔφαγον,

and all ate the same spiritual food,

Presumably a reference to the manna? Or to the inculcation of the belief system that became Judaism?

3 et omnes eandem escam spiritalem manducaverunt

4 καὶ πάντες τὸ αὐτὸ πνευματικὸν ἔπιον πόμα: ἔπινον γὰρ ἐκ πνευματικῆς ἀκολουθούσης πέτρας: ἡ πέτρα δὲ ἦν ὁ Χριστός.

and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from spiritual stones following (them); the rock was the Anointed.

Taking this with the spiritual food in the previous verse and I think we can figure out where this is going. It’s akin to the lengthy metaphor in Galatians, where he compared the Law as the precursor to the coming of Jesus; the pedagogue that was necessary to keep us on the straight-and-narrow during our youth, until we had matured spiritually enough to be able to stand on our own in the Faith in Jesus the Anointed.

[ And I’m going to be translating this as “the Anointed”; “the Christ”, or even “the Messiah” have too many connotations that were not in Paul’s text. These terms are now loaded for us; “the Anointed” doesn’t have all the baggage. ]

4 et omnes eundem potum spiritalem biberunt; bibebant autem de spiritali, consequente eos, petra; petra autem erat Christus.

5 ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν τοῖς πλείοσιν αὐτῶν εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεός, κατεστρώθησαν γὰρ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ.

But God was not pleased by many of them; he cast them down in the desert.

Comment deferred. I’m going to discuss V4-11 as a unit below.

5 Sed non in pluribus eorum complacuit sibi Deus, nam prostrati sunt in deserto.

6 ταῦτα δὲ τύποι ἡμῶν ἐγενήθησαν, εἰς τὸ μὴ εἶναι ἡμᾶς ἐπιθυμητὰς κακῶν, καθὼς κἀκεῖνοι ἐπεθύμησαν.

These things became our examples, toward the not being desiring of evil things, in the way that even some of them desired (evil things)

This is a fairly long bit of extended metaphor. Or analogy. Or just moralizing.

6 Haec autem figurae fuerunt nostrae, ut non simus concupiscentes malorum, sicut et illi concupierunt.

7 μηδὲ εἰδωλολάτραι γίνεσθε, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν: ὥσπερ γέγραπται, Ἐκάθισεν ὁ λαὸς φαγεῖν καὶ πεῖν, καὶ ἀνέστησαν παίζειν.

Nor do not become idolaters, in the way some of them (did); as it is written, “The people sat down and ate and drank, and they stood up to play (lit= ‘to child’).

This probably doesn’t need to be pointed out, but this is a cite from Exodus. What gets translated here as “to play”, in my Revised English Bible and in the NIV is rendered here and in Exodus 32:6 as ‘to revel’, or ‘revelry’. Now, both the Greek and Latin (ludere) very much correspond to our word ‘to play’, in the sense of what a child does, or to play a game, or at a sport, or even ‘to jest’ or to ‘make a joke’.  The KJV, the Vulgate, NASB and ESV all choose ‘to play’ in both places.

‘Revel’, OTOH, crosses–at least, it can cross–into the realm of ‘debauchery’. The cite from Exodus is the point where Moses is on the mountain and the Isrealites are about to make a Golden Calf. I seriously doubt that the author of Exodus was suggesting that the Isrealites got up to have a go at football, or even throw dice (a very common Latin usage: ludere alea, “to play dice”), so the choice of the Greek word to cover whatever it is that the Hebrew says is a bit of a problem. I mean, the idea of sexual ‘play’ is not out of the scope of the word, but it’s  a concept that’s only on the fringe of the word ‘to play’. Perhaps in Hebrew, the association is closer? If you think about it, ‘besport’ is an archaic word in English which definitely has sexual connotations, or at least implications. Perhaps the Hebrew word is similar?

So here again, I think, is an instance where the literal meaning, or the most ‘accurate’ translation of the Greek may not be the most appropriate. I would like to think that, perhaps, the NIV and the REB went back to the Hebrew of the original passage, rather than translating directly from the Greek quote.

7 Neque idolorum cultores efficiamini, sicut quidam ex ipsis; quemadmodum scriptum est: “ Sedit populus manducare et bibere, et surrexerunt ludere ”.

8 μηδὲ πορνεύωμεν, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν ἐπόρνευσαν, καὶ ἔπεσαν μιᾷ ἡμέρᾳ εἴκοσι τρεῖς χιλιάδες.

No do we fornicate, in the way that some of them fornicated, and on a single day twenty-three thousand fell (as in, died in battle).

This is a reference to Numbers 25:1-6, in which the Israelites besported with Moabite women, and prostrated themselves before the Moabite gods, so Moses ordered Joshua and the judges to slay the offenders, and the REB says that 24,000 were slain before Moses could stop the carnage. 

Now, here we get the explicit condemnation of fornicating; in the previous verse, when we encountered ‘revel’, I certainly took this to imply sexual activity. But, maybe not. Or, here is a really interesting thought: perhaps Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, was more familiar with the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT than he was with said scriptures in Hebrew. This was certainly true with Matthew and his rendering of the Hebrew ‘young girl’ as the Greek ‘parthena’, which is the English ‘virgin’. So, since the condemnation of ‘play’ wasn’t strong enough, or explicit enough, Paul felt it necessary to throw in this cite to allow the more explicit condemnation of fornication.

8 Neque fornicemur, sicut quidam ex ipsis fornicati sunt, et ceciderunt una die viginti tria milia.

9 μηδὲ ἐκπειράζωμεν τὸν Χριστόν, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν ἐπείρασαν, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ὄφεων ἀπώλλυντο.

Nor did we tempt the Anointed One, in the way that some of them tempted (him), and they perished under the serpent.

This is Numbers 21:5-6. Israelites complaining about the food were bitten by poisonous snakes.

9 Neque tentemus Christum, sicut quidam eorum tentaverunt et a serpentibus perierunt.

10 μηδὲ γογγύζετε, καθάπερ τινὲς αὐτῶν ἐγόγγυσαν, καὶ ἀπώλοντοὑπὸ τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ.

Neither be grumblers, as some of them grumbled, and they were destroyed by the destroyer.

Numbers 14:35-36. The ‘destroyer’ was a plague.

10 Neque murmuraveritis, sicut quidam eorum murmuraverunt et perierunt ab exterminatore.

11 ταῦτα δὲ τυπικῶς συνέβαινεν ἐκείνοις, ἐγράφη δὲ πρὸς νουθεσίαν ἡμῶν, εἰς οὓς τὰ τέλη τῶν αἰώνων κατήντηκεν.

These things came to pass as examples to them, and it was written as (lit=’towards’) admonitions of us, towards whom the end of the age approaches.

OK, let’s take a look at the whole section, starting with V-4. Paul is doing something very deft and very clever here.  He is simultaneously identifying the members of the Community with the ancient Israelites, and separating the members of the Community from the ancient Israelites. Some of them were evil, or fornicators, or grumblers, but not all of them. And of course, we are like the non-fornicators and non-grumblers. In this way, Paul can connect the Community to the ancient traditions of the Hebrew tribes, but only with the best of them.

And being connected to these ancient ways was important to members of the Community. For the Jewish members, it connected them with their heritage; for the pagans, having this pedigree was very important. For pagans, the old ways were the best ways. It was very important that Paul could tie into a tradition that could rival Homer in its antiquity. Something new was something not proven by the test of time.

At the same time, however, Paul wants to dissociate and disengage from the Jewish tradition. Recall how in Galatians he referred to the traditions of the Law as the traditions of slavery. That the adherents of the Law were the descendants of Abraham through Hagar, the bondwoman, while those with faith in Jesus were the descendants of Abraham through Sarah, the free-born wife. IOW, Paul is trying to have it both ways. But then, in the last chapter he was trying to be all things to all people; why not have one’s cake, and eat it, too?

As a final note, this whole notion of ‘some of them’, as in ‘some of the Israelites’, will come to full fruition in Romans. There, he talks about a ‘remnant’ of Israel. When this concept comes to full fruition, not all of the descendants of Abraham will be the Chosen People; only this remnant will be. That is when we get into the whole notion of Predestination.

11 Haec autem in figura contingebant illis; scripta sunt autem ad correptionem nostram, in quos fines saeculorum devenerunt.

12 ὥστε ὁ δοκῶν ἑστάναι βλεπέτω μὴ πέσῃ.

This, let the one appearing to stand watch out lest he fall.

This, I think, is a flat-out warning to Jewish members of the Community who may think that their status as Jews gives them a leg up, or a free pass, or a get-out-of-jail-free card, or something. Now, at various points in past comments, I have discussed whether the Community of Corinth was Jewish or pagan. I think we have to conclude it was a mixed community, with members of both backgrounds. On this line, it seems like the idea of the dietary laws has become a settled issue; the problem with the pagan feasts wasn’t the meat itself; it was the associations. But then, the standard sacrifices for pagans were oxen and sheep, rather than pigs.

12 Itaque, qui se existimat stare, videat, ne cadat.

13 πειρασμὸς ὑμᾶς οὐκ εἴληφεν εἰ μὴ ἀνθρώπινος: πιστὸς δὲ ὁ θεός, ὃς οὐκ ἐάσει ὑμᾶς πειρασθῆναι ὑπὲρ ὃ δύνασθε, ἀλλὰ ποιήσει σὺν τῷ πειρασμῷ καὶ τὴν ἔκβασιν τοῦ δύνασθαι ὑπενεγκεῖν.

Temptation has not received you except in a human way; for God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above your power (as in ‘strength’), but he will also make with the temptation the power to bear (to) the end. (..but with the temptation he will give the strength to bear it [the temptation] to the end.

13 Tentatio vos non apprehendit nisi humana; fidelis autem Deus, qui non patietur vos tentari super id quod potestis, sed faciet cum tentatione etiam proventum, ut possitis sustinere.

I’m really a bit unsure of the Greek, especially in that clause. That is, I think I get what it’s saying, but it’s really hard to get it to work in English that in any way resembles the sense of the original. Still, I don’t think this is quite an example of a consensus translation.

As for the content of the verse, here we have, I believe, the original expression of the idea that God will not tempt us beyond our power to withstand. This is an important axiom of Christian thought. Note that it originates with Paul, and not in the gospels.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on April 13, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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