In our last essay we studied 1 Cor. 9:15b-27, in which Paul continued his apostolic example and defense. He had argued passionately in the first half of the chapter that he had a right to material support from the Corinthians (vv. 3-15a). Then in this second half, he argued just as passionately that he had a right not to accept that support (vv. 15b-18). As the NIV translates 15b, Paul declared, “I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.”
In this essay we are studying 1 Cor. 10:1-22. Back in chapter eight Paul discussed the matter of the Corinthian’s commitment to knowledge rather than love in respect to eating at pagan temples. Then in chapter nine he moved to a defense of his apostolic authority. Here in chapter ten, having completed his apostolic defense, Paul returns to the subject of eating at the pagan temples. In verses 1-5, Paul uses an Old Testament example, to speak directly to those opposing him with a warning about the danger they are in.
Paul’s example is Israel during the Exodus. Paul declares that all of those who came out of Egypt were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. When Paul said that the Israelites were baptized into Moses, he was drawing an analogy with Christians being baptized into Christ. Paul reminded the Corinthians that the Israelites also all ate the same spiritual food (the manna) and drank the same spiritual drink. And Paul identifies the rock, from which the miraculous flow of water came, as Christ. Thus according to Paul, Israel during the Exodus (in a typological way) experienced the Christian sacraments.
Now this brings us to an important subject that I believe we must take some time to discuss. Typology is a significant means of indirect revelation in the Bible; but it is not the same as predictive prophecy, with which it sometimes is confused. Typology is a correspondence of pattern between a person, thing, or event in the Old Testament (called a type), and one in the New Testament (called an antitype). A correspondence of pattern” simply means that the two persons, things, or events are analogous. That is they are like one another. In this case, the Old Testament type is like the New Testament antitype.
Let’s look at one illustration. Hos. 11:1 reads, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” This obviously was a reference to the exodus from Egypt. However, if we turn to Mt. 2:13-15, we read about how Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt when Jesus was a baby in order to save him from King Herod. Then after Herod’s death, they returned. And Matthew says that the return was a fulfillment of Hos. 11:1 (v. 15).
This is typology, because Matthew sees a correspondence of pattern between two instances of God’s calling a son out of Egypt. In the first instance the son is Israel, and in the second it is Jesus. But both were sons of God, and both were called out of Egypt. That is a correspondence of pattern. The former is like the latter; the type is like the antitype.
Note that there is no predictive prophecy involved. Hosea did not predict that God’s son would be called put of Egypt. Rather he simply was saying that God called his son, Israel, out of Egypt. Centuries later Matthew saw a correspondence of pattern in the calling of God’s son, Jesus, out of Egypt.
Verse five is important. Even though the Israelites typologically had the sacraments, they still sinned. And they died in the wilderness as a result. Therefore Paul was using this as a warning for the Corinthians. They had the sacraments. But by eating meals at the pagan temples, they were turning to idolatry, and they could suffer the same result as the Israelites.
In 10:6-13 Paul continues his warning based on the Exodus. The word translated “examples” literally is “types.” So there is no doubt that Paul was using typology here. In verses 7-10 Paul lists four examples of the sins of the Israelites during the Exodus. First is idolatry, verse seven (Ex.32:4-6). Second is sexual immorality, verse eight (Num. 25:1). Third is testing God, verse nine (Num. 21:4-7). The Greek manuscripts are not all in agreement in verse nine. Some read “the Lord” (NIV), and others read “Christ” (NRSV). The fourth example of the Israelites’ sin is complaining against God, verse ten. (Num. 14:2-4). As he did in verse five Paul makes a direct application in verse 12. These typological examples serve as a warning for the Corinthians.
Finally, in verse 13 Paul, following the severe warning that he has given them, reassures them. First, the tests that they are undergoing “are common to everyone.” Second, God is faithful and will not allow them to be tested beyond their endurance. And third, he will provide a way out. But they have to do their part by avoiding the sins that Paul has pointed out.
In verses 10:14-22 Paul brings his argument about eating at the temples to a close by bringing Jewish sacred meals and Christian sacraments into it. The “cup of blessing” (that is thanksgiving) was a standard Jewish term for the cup of wine that closed most of their sacred meals. In the case of the Passover, it was the third of four cups. And it was that that cup that Jesus appropriated for the Christian sacrament. So Paul here declares that the cup of blessing represents the blood of Christ, and the bread they were eating represents the body of Christ.
There is a translation problem in verse 16 that we must look at. The word translated “sharing” by the NRSV and “participation” by the NIV literally is “fellowship” (koinonia). And the problem is who is it we are fellowshipping with when we eat the Lord’s Supper? Are we fellowshipping with one another, with Christ, or both? I believe it is both, because in verses 16-17 Paul explicitly indicates that when many partake of the one bread, they form one body, the body of Christ.
In verse 18 Paul returns to the analogy with Israel, with which he had dealt in the earlier part of the chapter. This time he suggests that the Israelites were “partners in the altar” (NRSV), or participated in the altar (NIV). Once again the tern literally is “fellowshippers (koinonia) of the altar. Paul simply meant that they shared the meal together, because in Judaism the sacrificed animal carried no symbolism of God. But in the case of Christians, their fellowship is not only with one another but also with Christ.
In order to be clear Paul points out in verses 19-21 that he agrees with their judgment that idols are not representative of real gods. But what they have failed to understand is that there are other supernatural beings involved, namely, demons. And he does not want them to fellowship (koinonous) with demons. Indeed that would violate their relationship with Christ. So he informs them in verse 21 that they cannot drink the cup of demons, or eat the meals sacrificed to demons.
In the last verse, verse 22, Paul adds a warning with two rhetorical questions. The first is, Are we “provoking the Lord to jealousy?” This question once again raises the specter of ancient Israel’s sinfulness, because they did exactly that. The second question is, “Are we stronger than he?” That question clearly and strongly indicates that by insisting that they can eat meals at pagan temples in spite of Paul’s command that they not do so is a challenge, or test, of God.