1 Corinthians Chapter 10, Part 1
by Karl Kemp
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This two-part article was taken from the internet version of my paper titled, "A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians Chapters 10-14; Philippians Chapter 3; and James 3:1-4:10, which was published in March, 2000. In the original paper and in the internet version of this paper that in on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching) I was able to use bold, italics, underlining, and footnotes. I always use the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Sometimes I use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) in this article to make them more obvious.
1 Corinthians chapter 10 contains important teaching regarding the need (and the ability) for Christians to live in righteousness and holiness. In this chapter the apostle Paul powerfully warned the Christians at Corinth that they must flee from sin. In the middle of this exhortation to the Corinthians, Paul wrote these significant words, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it [without sinning]" (1 Cor. 10:13). This verse is one of the most important statements in the New Testament that demonstrate that Christians are enabled to always walk in righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin, not that the victory is automatic, or is always easy.
"For [[This word ties 1 Cor. 10:1 back to 1 Cor. 9:24-27, where the apostle Paul told how he was making every effort to be faithful to Christ to the end of his race/contest (to the end of his life, or the return of Christ), fully doing the will of God (including his assigned ministry) unto the end, lest he be disqualified, which in the worst case scenario would mean being denied a place in God's eternal kingdom. As 1 Cor. 9:24, 25 demonstrate, at least part of Paul's reason for speaking of himself as he did in 1 Cor. 9:25-27 was to illustrate what is required of all Christians. He knew that some of the Christians at Corinth needed to be exhorted to repent and make many changes in their Christian walks. He continues to teach and exhort them here in chapter 10 and in the following chapters, and he has already exhorted them quite a bit in the preceding chapters of this epistle.]] I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea [The apostle is speaking of the people of Israel on their way to the promised land, after being liberated from slavery in the exodus from Egypt (cf. Ex. 13:21, 22; 14:15-31; and Psalm 105:39).]; (2) and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea [[In the first four verses of this chapter, Paul emphasizes the similarity of the state of the people of the old covenant on their way to the promised land with the present state of the people of the new covenant on their way to heaven. The main point Paul makes in 1 Cor. 10:1-22 is that just as many of the Israelites fell in the wilderness and did not make it to the promised land because of their sins, even though they had a covenant with God, many of the Corinthian Christians, even though they have a covenant with God, are in very real danger of falling away and being removed by judgment because of similar sins. The new covenant does not allow Christians to continue in rebellion against God and His covenant any more than the old covenant allowed the Israelites to continue in rebellion against God and His covenant. We have no right to boast of our covenant with God while violating the terms of the covenant through rebellion. It is not enough to have a good beginning (as Israel did at the time of the exodus); we must stay faithful to the end and have a good ending, arriving at the promised destiny (heaven). The writer of Hebrews makes the same point in Heb. 3:5-4:16.
When Paul says "all were BAPTIZED INTO MOSES in the cloud and in the sea," he is building on the fact that his readers have been BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST, referring to water baptism (cf. Rom. 6:3, 4; Gal. 3:27). The people coming out of Egypt were (in a sense) baptized into the old covenant under the leadership of Moses. Paul is showing that water baptism and a good beginning are not sufficient: They must live in faithfulness to their covenant to the end (to the return of Christ, or the end of their lives). The ancient Israelites had their counterpart to new covenant water baptism, but most of them failed to enter the promised land.]]; (3) and all ate the same spiritual food [[Paul is alluding to the manna from heaven (cf. Ex. 16:4-36), which, in some ways, corresponds with our daily provision from heaven, referring especially to that which we receive from/through the Holy Spirit. Ancient Israel knew something of the presence of God (see under verse 4) and of the work of the Spirit, providing everything they needed (included with food and drink were things like guidance, protection, and clothing), even though the new covenant work of the Spirit (including the all-important new birth and the new covenant dimension of the sanctifying work of the Spirit) was not available under the old covenant. God requires a higher level of righteousness and holiness from new-covenant believers.
When Paul says "all [the ancient Israelites] ate the same spiritual food" and "all drank the same spiritual drink" (1 Cor. 10:4), he is making the point that even though God was in their midst, making available to all of them everything they needed under the old covenant, most of them were unfaithful. And as 1 Cor. 10:5 says, "Nevertheless [that is, even though they had a covenant with God, and He was in their midst providing everything they needed], with most of them God was not well pleased [because of their sins, some of which are spelled out in 1 Cor. 10:6-10]; for they were laid low in the wilderness [and did not make it into the promised land]." Then, starting in 1 Cor. 10:11, the apostle warns his readers that they are in very real danger of being rejected by God for committing similar sins if they don't quickly repent. See my paper titled, "Once Saved, Always Saved?"]] (4) and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. [[There is an apparent allusion here to the literal water (that flowed from a rock) which God miraculously provided for ancient Israel on more than one occasion (cf. Ex. 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-13; and Psalm 78:15, 16). Paul wants his readers to understand that God's presence was clearly with the ancient Israelites and He was providing everything they needed. Specifically, Paul says that Christ (God the Son) was with them. He was with them in His preincarnate state; in the Old Testament He was often called the Angel (or Messenger) of the LORD (Yahweh in the Hebrew), not that they had enough information (revelation) back in the old-covenant days to fully understand that Person.
On the Angel of Yahweh, see, for example, Gen. 18:1 19:1; 22:9-19; 31:11-13; Ex. 3:1-12; 14:19 (with 13:21, 22); Josh. 5:13-6:2; Jud. 2:1-5; and 6:11-24. It is significant that some of these references show that the One called the Angel of Yahweh is also called Yahweh, in that He is deity, being God the Son. This is the same Person as the Logos/Word of John 1:1-5, 14. For more on the Angel of the Yahweh, see pages 165-177 (including the Notes) of my book, "The Mid Week Rapture" and my paper titled "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son." On God as a/the Rock, see Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 3, 32; Psalms 18:2, 31; 19:14; 61:2; and 62:2.
Paul's unusual choice of words about Christ's being a spiritual rock that followed them apparently alluded to a popular Jewish legend (that came in several forms) which spoke of a literal rock that followed Israel throughout the wilderness wanderings and provided water for them to drink. I'll quote part of what John MacArthur said under these verses ("1 Corinthians" [Moody Press, 1984], pages 220, 221). "The Jews had a popular legend, still known and believed by many in Paul's day, that the actual rock that Moses struck followed Israel throughout her wilderness travels, providing water wherever they went. I believe the apostle may have been alluding to this legend, saying, 'Yes, a rock did follow Israel in the wilderness. But it was not a physical rock that provided merely physical water. It was a spiritual rock, the Messiah (the Hebrew term for Christ)...who was with our fathers even then.' ... That supernatural rock protected and sustained His people and would not allow them to perish. Old Testament believers did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but even during the Exodus they had the sustaining presence of the preexistent Christ, caring for and fulfilling the needs of His people."]] (5) Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well pleased; for they were laid low [or, struck down, killed; the NIV has, "their bodies were scattered over the desert."] in the wilderness. [Compare Num. 14:1-38; 26:64, 65; and Jude 1:5. See above under 1 Cor. 10:2, 3.] (6) Now these things happened as examples for us [[See 1 Cor. 10:11. The rebellious sins of ancient Israel with their consequent intense judgments serve as "examples" and intense warnings for Christians that they must make it a top priority to stay away from rebellion/sin against God. Paul was aware that some of the Corinthian Christians were guilty of similar sins when he wrote these verses; he was doing every thing he could do to wake up the Christians at Corinth who needed to repent.]], that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. [Compare Num. 11:4-34; Psalm 106:13 15.] (7) And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, 'THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.' [See Ex. 32:1 35.] (8) Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty three thousand fell in one day. [There is widespread agreement that Paul was referring to Num. 25:1-18. Numbers 25:9 mentions that 24,000 died by the plague. It is not clear where Paul got the number 23,000.] (9) Nor let us try [or, test] the Lord, as some of then did, and were destroyed by the serpents. [See Num. 21:4-9.] (10) Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. [Grumbling was a common occurrence with ancient Israel, as were God's judgments against the grumblers, but Paul apparently was referring to the incident recorded in Num. 16:1-50.] (11) Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. [See 1 Cor. 10:6.] (12) Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. [[The apostle does not say here that Christians cannot or should not have a solid assurance of salvation. We can and we should have the assurance that we have been born again and have eternal life (in a preliminary sense), and that if we were to die, or if Christ were to return, we would immediately enter the heavenly dimension to be with the Lord. (See, for example, John 5:24; 2 Cor. 5:8, 9; Phil. 1:21, 23; 3:20, 21; 1 Thess. 4:14; 1 John 2:28 3:3; and 5:13.) My last three sentences assume that we know the truth of the gospel, that we have submitted to this truth from our hearts, and that we are making it a top priority to live in line with the Word of God in righteousness and holiness by grace through faith. We must submit to the new covenant on the basis of the terms spelled out in the new covenant.
Furthermore, Paul certainly does not say here that Christians are to doubt whether God calls and enables them to walk in righteousness and holiness on a continuous basis. That would contradict what the apostle consistently teaches in his epistles, including what he says in this epistle, very much including what he says in the next verse. If we should slip into sin, we must be quick to repent and ask for forgiveness; and we must make sure that we are making God and His righteousness top priority. God knows if we are sincere in repentance and if we are making Him, His Word, and His righteousness top priority (which is required of all Christians).
Here in 1 Cor. 10:12 (in context with all of 10:1 22), the apostle was dealing with the fact that some of the Christians at Corinth, who were misinformed, fleshly, and proud, and who were convinced that they were quite secure in Christ and would certainly continue to stand, were, in fact, in serious danger of a great fall. (In the worst case scenario, their fall would mean the loss of their salvation.) As the following verses show, a primary sin that Paul had in mind when he wrote this verse was the serious sin of idolatry, but we should not limit Paul's concern to that particular sin. Verses 6-11 are not limited to the sin of idolatry, and verse 13 speaks of God's provision for victory over all sin. Those being tempted with idolatry (some at Corinth were apparently already involved in that sin) must seriously consider the fate of the idolaters spoken of in 1 Cor. 10:7.
The idolatry that the Christians at Corinth were being tempted with did not involve a direct, full scale rebellion against God (at least not for most of those involved). Their problem was mostly in the category of being fleshly, misinformed, stupidity; however, if they did not follow Paul's command to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14), their sin would become all the more serious. It is not clear how much Paul had dealt with this topic in the past; the more he had dealt with it, the more rebellious and serious would be their present sin.
Christians who think they are automatically secure in God and do not fear sinning against Him and are not making it a top priority to live in righteousness and holiness and and think that they can just continue to live in sin had better "take heed that [they do] not fall." There is no room under the new covenant for flagrant sin/rebellion against God/Christ - there should not be any sin. Those being bombarded with temptation (and all Christians are at times) must make it top priority to take God's "way of escape" (1 Cor. 10:13); those being tempted with idolatry, and much more so for any who have already become involved with this sin, must "flee from idolatry" (1 Cor. 10:14). One major problem in the body of Christ is that many Christians are not making it a top priority to find and to take God's "way of escape" from all sin. Most Christians do not think it is possible to avoid sinning, and, significantly, they think the New Testament confirms this viewpoint.
I'll quote part of what Charles Hodge (a Calvinist) said under this verse ("1 & 2 Corinthians" [Banner of Truth, 1983 reprint of the 1857 edition], page 181). "False security of salvation commonly rests on the ground of our belonging to a privileged body (the church), or to a privileged class (the elect). ... Neither the members of the church nor the elect can be saved unless they persevere in holiness; and they cannot persevere in holiness without continual watchfulness and effort."
I'll also quote part of what Simon J. Kistemaker (another Calvinist) said under this verse ("1 Corinthians" [Baker, 1993], pages 334, 335). "He directs his application to all the readers but especially to those people who proudly think they have the freedom in Christ to do anything or go anywhere. He implicitly refers to the Corinthians who visit pagan temples (8:10)."]] (13) [[This is one of the more important of the large number of verses in the New Testament that clearly teach that Christians are called, and enabled, to walk in victory over all sin - there always is a way to avoid sin. God hates sin! And He paid an infinite price to save us from spiritual death and bondage to sin! But this verse, in agreement with the consistent teaching of the New Testament, also makes it clear that victory over sin is far from being automatic. Christians must understand and do (by faith) the things required of them by their covenant with God (the new covenant) in order to cooperate with, and to walk in, the sanctifying grace of God in Christ (which always is sufficient).
This verse (in context with 1 Cor. 10:1-22) showed the Corinthian Christians that there was no excuse for any of them to be overcome by any temptation. (This is good news!) God had provided "the way of escape" for them. The truth of God that Paul communicated to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 10:1-22 should have been more than sufficient to convince any Christians who were open to God (and if we are not open to God, we should not consider ourselves to be Christians/His people) that they must take God's "way of escape" before they are subdued by temptation/sin and taken captive and (in the worst-case scenario) forfeit their salvation. God did not have his apostle write these things to condemn His people, but that His people might be warned and might repent and fully submit to His sanctifying power provided in Christ Jesus. God's will for us is transformation, not condemnation!]] No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man [The Christians at Corinth did not have to face temptations of a sort unknown to God's people throughout the ages, including the temptations to idolatry; the temptations they faced were common to man.]; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able [[These significant words make it clear that God will never allow Christians to face temptations that they cannot successfully resist (one way, or another) by the sufficient grace of God in Christ. In other words, Christians can, and should, always live in righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin. The apostle is assuming that Christians know the truth of the gospel, that they truly have been born-again and are indwelled by the mighty, holy Spirit of God, and that they, in obedience to the truth, are walking by/in/after the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis by faith. Paul, who had founded the church at Corinth, knew that his readers (at least most of them) had been correctly taught the all-important foundational truths of Christianity, and he knew that they (at least most of them) had received the Holy Spirit and knew something about walking in/by/after the Spirit through faith. He also knew that there was much fleshiness among the Christians at Corinth (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:1-4). There was no excuse for them to remain fleshly.
To the extent that Christians do not know the truth, or are not walking in the truth by faith (but are walking in the flesh instead of the Spirit), they will frequently face temptations that they cannot handle. It is totally mandatory that Christians know and understand (and that they be totally committed in their hearts to) the basic truths of Christianity. For Christians to become grounded in, and committed to, the basic truths of Christianity will solve most of the problems we have in the Christian church of our day, and there is no viable alternative. We must know the truth (the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches) and walk in the truth through faith (faith in God and in His Word), being enabled by His grace/Spirit, and for His glory.
Fleshy Christians (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:1-4) - they often think that they are quite spiritual - frequently cooperate with the devil by going places and doing things that are sure to bring temptations they cannot handle. Paul was not saying that God will always enable Christians to overcome temptations that they should not have faced in the first place, and that they would not have faced if they were living for God in accordance with His Word and being led by the Holy Spirit. Very often the way to avoid sin is to avoid places of temptation - to flee places of temptation. On those occasions when we must, in the will of God, be in places of temptation (and sometimes we must be in these places for lengthy periods of time), His grace will be sufficient to keep us from being overpowered by the temptation.]], but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also [The NIV has, "he will also provide a way out."], that you may be able to endure it. [[This significant verse shows that God will always provide a way for His people to escape falling into sin as we appropriate His sufficient grace. (That's far better than falling into sin and then looking for the way of escape.) There never is, therefore, a legitimate excuse for sin. Again, this is good news! However, in the case of the church at Corinth, some had already fallen into serious sin. See 1 Cor. 5:1-6:20; 11:17-34; and 15:12. Also, some of the Christians at Corinth had apparently already become involved in the sin of idolatry (even though they did not consider what they were doing to be idolatry). Those in sin must repent. Those being tempted must do what is necessary to avoid falling into idolatry (or any other sin). In the following verses (10:14-22) the apostle demonstrates that for a Christian to participate in feasts/meals where sacrifices were being offered to pagan gods involved idolatry. In the next verse (10:14), the apostle exhorts them to "flee from idolatry." (They must flee from all sin. In 1 Cor. 6:18, Paul exhorted them to "flee immorality." Also see 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22.)
I'll quote what Leon Morris said regarding the "way of escape [way out]" ("1 Corinthians" [Inter-Varsity Press, 1985], page 142). "Believers can always count on [God's] help. He will always make a way out. This [Greek] word ("ekbasis") may denote a mountain defile [a narrow passage through which troops must march in single file]. The imagery is that of an army trapped in rugged country, which manages to escape from an impossible situation through a mountain pass." Whether Paul was thinking in such terms, or not, this illustration seems helpful to me. Instead of being surrounded, overpowered, and defeated by temptation and sin, we can be confident that God always provides a way of escape/a way out for us.
Quite a few commentators make the point that the Greek favors the idea that God has a corresponding "way of escape" for each temptation (not that He is limited to one specific "way of escape" for each temptation).
I'll quote part of what Craig Blomberg said regarding 1 Cor. 10:1-13 ("1 Corinthians" [Zondervan, 1995]). "Verse 12 summarizes the significance of these warnings [of 10:1-11] for the Corinthians.... After all, the pagan temple feasts in Corinth involved similar idolatry, sexual sin, and trying God's patience. ... Nevertheless, verses 1-12 are all balanced by the marvelous promise of verse 13. The circumstances that tempt us to sin are never qualitatively different from those which God's people of every era have experienced, and we never have to give in to them. There is always an escape-hatch, which is defined as a way to persevere without sinning in whatever difficult situation we find ourselves" (page 193).
"Tolerance to temptation varies widely from one person to the next. Clearly we can also choose to reject the 'way out' and yield to temptation, but it is precisely that freedom which makes us accountable before God when we do sin. And it is important to stress that the way out is not necessarily the removal of the difficult circumstances but the ability to 'stand up under' them" (page 196).
"We never have to give in to temptation; no one makes us sin. Certain factors may generate greater temptations for some individuals than for others, as with the exponential increase in dysfunctional families in our day, but ultimately we are accountable for our own free choices. And for believers, one of those choices remains to accept God's escape-hatch from sin. Our culture would rewrite the end of verse 13 so that it said, 'But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you don't have to stand up under it any longer,' but that of course is the opposite of what God actually inspired Paul to write" (page 199). In that Paul followed the words "way of escape" with words about enduring, it is clear that sometimes (frequently) God's way of escape involves resisting temptation over long periods (cf. James 1:12) and pressing on in faith.
I'll quote part of what W. Harold Mare said regarding this verse ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 10 [Zondervan, 1976], page 250). I had quite a few classes with Dr. Mare, who was a professor at Covenant Seminary when I was there). "Verse 13 is one of the most helpful verses in the NT and presents the great antidote to falling into sin through temptation. ... The temptations that come to the Christian are those all human beings face - they are unavoidable. But, says Paul, God is right there with us to keep us from being overwhelmed by the temptation. ... He will provide a way out, not to avoid the temptation, but to meet it successfully and to stand firm under it."
I'll quote what David K. Lowery said under 1 Cor. 10:13 ("Bible Knowledge Commentary," New Testament edition [Victor Books, 1983], page 527). "After kicking out the props of false security [in verse 12], Paul pointed toward the One on whom the Corinthians could rely. The temptations that seized [the NIV has, "No temptation has seized you"] the Corinthians were like those people had always faced. They could be met and endured by depending on God, who is faithful. Part of the Corinthians problem, of course, was that some in the face of temptation were not looking for a way out by endurance, but for a way in for indulgence."
I'll quote part of what A. T. Robertson (a Southern Baptist Greek scholar) said under this verse ("Word Pictures in the New Testament," Vol. 4 [Broadman Press, 1931], page 154). " 'The way out' is always there right along with (Greek "sun") the temptation. ... It is cowardly to yield to temptation and distrustful of God."
I'll quote part of what Raymond D. Brown said under this verse ("Broadman Bible Commentary," Vol. 10 [Broadman Press, 1970], page 347). "God Himself does not lead men into temptation (cf. James 1:13); while he permits it, he provides the spiritual maturity to overcome it. The believer is not preserved from temptation, but he is preserved in it and through it. It is God who gives him the power to endure. Our faith depends on his faithfulness. The word translated 'way of escape' is ekbasis. ... It suggests an army that is surrounded and needs a route to safety. God provides a way to victory, rather than defeat."
I'll also quote part of what Donald S. Metz said under this verse ("Beacon Bible Commentary," Vol. 8 [Beacon Hill Press, 1968], page 408). "...if they fail they have no excuse. Paul also declares that God acts consistently and always provides strength for those who trust and follow Him. As Alford writes: 'He has entered into a covenant with you by calling you: if He suffered [allowed] temptation beyond your power to overcome...He would be violating that covenant.' God is fully aware of the circumstances surrounding every temptation and will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."]]
We'll start with verse 14 and finish this verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians chapter 10 in Part 2.
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