(1 Cor. 10:1-5) Did Paul allegorize the OT?

CLAIM: Paul seems to allegorize the OT in this passage. However, when we allegorize the OT, this misrepresents the message of the original author. Was Paul reading themes into the OT that were not in the mind of the original author?

RESPONSE: There are two ways of interpreting this passage:

VIEW #1: Paul had supernatural revelation from God.

Paul was an inspired author, and he was permitted to see new information in these OT narratives. Since Paul was inspired, he was allowed to do this. However, we are not licensed to come up with information like this, because we are not inspired authors—like Paul.

VIEW #2: Paul pulled his themes from the OT itself.

Consider this passage verse by verse. As you read this, ask yourself: “Is Paul allegorizing? That is, if I were a Jewish interpreter in the first century, would I agree with Paul’s interpretation of the text?—or would I think that he was reading into it?”

(1 Cor. 10:1-2) For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2and all were baptized into Moses.

When Paul says that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses,” he might be drawing this concept from Exodus 32:30-35.

(Ex. 32:30-35) On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 “But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!33The LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. 34 But go now, lead the people where I told you Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.” 35 Then the LORD smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.

Here, we can see Moses as a type of Christ, because he mediated between God and the people. This illustrates what Christ would do between God and his people. Paul quotes from Exodus 32:6 in verse 7, which may show that he has this chapter in mind.

in the cloud

Paul could have drawn this imagery from Exodus 13:21, where it states that “the LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day.” In other words, the cloud is filled by the Holy Spirit, who lead the people (c.f. Ex. 14:19). Since God speaks from the cloud, it represents God’s presence.

and in the sea;

The Jews went through the sea, and Paul is saying that their “baptism” in the Red Sea was a freedom from judgment. The Hebrews were baptized in the Red Sea in the sense that they walked through it.

(1 Cor. 10:3) and all ate the same spiritual food;

Moses states that the manna was symbolic for resting in God’s word and provision—not just for physical provision. In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses writes, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” In Psalm 78:24, we read, “He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them food from heaven.” In other words, the psalmist believed that this manna was spiritual food as well. Moreover, Jesus interpreted the story of the manna in this way (Jn. 6:31-35).

(1 Cor. 10:4) and all drank the same spiritual drink,

Paul interpreted the water as a spiritual drink. However, so did Nehemiah, when he writes, “You [God] gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, and You gave them water for their thirst.” Moreover, Jesus believed that this water was spiritually fulfilled in his life (Jn. 4:10-14; 7:38-39).

for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them…

When it says that the rock followed them, it doesn’t mean that the rock moved. Instead, it means that God’s provision followed them. Obviously, the rock was no ordinary rock: Moses could strike the rock and bring forth water for innumerable people.

…the rock was Christ…

How does Paul understand that the rock was Christ? In Exodus 17:6, God says, “I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock.” Since God was standing on the rock, striking the rock was striking Him. The provision and the Provider were one in the same. Moses repeatedly compares God to “the Rock” of Israel (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31), as does the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 26:4; 30:29; 44:8). In Psalm 78:35, we read, “They remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer.” Here, the psalmist (like Paul) equates God with their Rock. Therefore, Paul is picking up on their interpretation.

Likewise, this entire story is part of the Exodus motif, which the NT authors use as typological of Christ’s finished work (Lk. 9:31). Here in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul simply unpacks one portion of the Exodus symbolism, ascribing God’s work to Christ.

(1 Cor. 10:5) Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

Even though the Jewish people experienced the great gifts of God, they pursued idolatry in Exodus 32. In the same way, the Corinthians had experienced the good gifts of God (through Christ), and they were pursuing idols.