1 Corinthians 10:4, 9

1 Corinthians 10:4, 9

Here I am going to respond to selections of Kel’s article.  The selections I have chosen are the ones I regard as embodying Kel’s main arguments; I have left out what I regard as repetitious or off the point.  If I have missed or misunderstood Kel’s arguments, anyone who reads this – including Kel – is welcome to bring that to my attention.

. . .

“They drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.”

Let me say at the outset that although I think that “that rock was Christ” is probably literal, I will admit that it might be typology.  I am, however, convinced that 1 Corinthians 10:9, in which many ancient manuscripts speak of the Israelites tempting Christ in the wilderness, means exactly that and cannot typology.


“Trinitarian Claim

Trinitarians have claimed this verse indicates Christ pre-existed and was with the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness.

The Claim vs. The Facts

Paul tells us explicitly in this selfsame context that he is speaking typologically.

The Problems with the Claim

  1. Inconsistent Interpretation

Paul says that the Israelites ate spiritual food and spiritual drink. We know the spiritual food the Israelites ate was the manna out of heaven. If the rock from which they drank was Christ himself, are we to suppose the manna they ate was Christ himself?”


Kel’s criticism of “Inconsistent Interpretation” makes no sense.  First, Jesus himself later showed that the manna was not Christ (John 6:49-51).  Second, the spiritual drink was from the rock, so the analog to that would be, not the manna, but the source of the manna in heaven, which indeed could have been Christ.

It is true that Paul says he is speaking typologically but Paul specifically says that the types are types of us so that we won’t make the same mistakes the Hebrews in the wilderness made: “These things happened to them as types and were written down as warnings for us.”  Paul indicates clearly that the “types” are the things that happened to the Israelites in the cloud, the sea, and with the rock; he does not say that the identification of the cloud, the sea, or the rock are also types.


“2. Incoherent Interpretation

Paul said they drank from the rock that followed them. Are we really to suppose that God the Son was following the Israelites wandering around the wilderness? Shouldn’t it be the other way around and Israel was following God the Son?”


Obviously we are not to suppose that Christ followed the Israelites like (sense 1) a duckling follows it’s mother but like (sense 2) a parent might hover over a child on his first hike in the forest.  Besides, even if the rock is only a type of Christ, it would be just as inappropriate for the type of Christ to follow the Israelites in sense 1 as it would be for Christ to do it himself.  Further, the word translated follow can also mean accompany so this is really a non-issue to start with.

Along with this point I would like to add that there were apparently two rocks out of which God supplied the water.  The first rock was at Horeb, and mentioned in Exodus 17:6:

“I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.”

The second rock was at Kadesh, and is mentioned in Numbers 20:11:

“Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.”

The rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness is singular – one rock only.  The rocks out of which the water came were plural and stayed in their places.  These stationary rocks may have been types of Christ, but the one rock that accompanied the Israelites was Christ – so says Paul. *

Because of this, I think it is more likely that the rock that followed them was not a type of Christ but Christ himself.  However, as I said earlier, I don’t rule out Kel’s typology argument completely.  I just think his argument has its weak points.

1 Corinthians 10:9, however, is another matter, as we shall see.


“3. Appeal to Questionable Manuscripts

Trinitarians often try to support this claim with an appeal to a highly questionable version of verse 9: ‘We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by serpents. 10:9.’

However, the best manuscript evidence does not read “Christ” in this verse. Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus read “Lord” rather than “Christ.” Codex Alexandrinus reads “God” rather than “Christ.” Trinitarians simply ignore the important manuscript evidence and cherry pick what suits their apologetic needs.”


Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Vaticanus all date from the 4th century.  While they are among the earliest complete collections of the books of the Bible, they are by far not the earliest copies of individual New Testament books or fragments thereof, nor are their words always the most likely to be the originals.  Further, it appears that Kel only calls these codices “the important manuscript evidence” when they agree with his doctrine and implies that these same documents are corrupted when they don’t (see my article on John 1:18).  And yet he accuses Trinitarians of cherry picking.

Also consider these words of biblical scholar Philip Comfort:

“It is far more likely that “Christ” was changed to “Lord” (or, “God”) than vice versa.  Given the context of 1 Cor. 10, it would not be inappropriate for Paul to talk about Christ being tempted by the Israelites, for he had just previously mentioned that Christ was the spiritual rock that accompanied the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings (10:4).  Thus, Paul twice spoke of Christ with respect to his preincarnate presence with the Israelites.  But some scribes from the fourth century onward must have had a theological problem with the reading “Christ,” and thus tried to neutralize it by changing it to “Lord” or “God.”  I say fourth century scribes because not one witness prior to the fourth century attests to the reading “Lord” or “God.”  The earliest MS, P46, and several early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement, Origen – as well as Marcion) attest to the reading “Christ.”  Later MSS and later church fathers attest mainly to the reading “Lord.”  However, a majority of the MSS persisted in keeping the reading “Christ.” (Note, the KJV reads “Christ” because the KJV followed the majority text.)  Textual critics and translators alike have been reluctant to include the reading “Christ” in their texts.  Prior to NA26 and UBS3, the Nestle text was Κύριον (“Lord”).  Now that has been changed to Χριστόν (Christ”).  We await this change in more modern English translations and revisions.  For the present, most translators place the reading “Christ” in a marginal note because they could not ignore the testimony of the earliest MS, P46.  The NRSV is the first modern translation to contain the reading “Christ.”

(For a full discussion of this textual problem, see “The Text of 1 Corinthians 10:9” by Carroll D. Osburn in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis.”  – Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament by Philip W. Comfort  Tyndale House Publishers 1990, pp. 142-3

There is therefore good evidence that the reading “Christ” is earlier than the reading “Lord.”  And remember, only a person can be tempted.  It seems to me that 1 Corinthians 10:9 is strong evidence that Christ already existed as a person during the time of the Israelites 40 years in the wilderness.

But no matter which one was first, when the second variant appeared, it was used side by side with the first in the Church. The fact that both these texts were used by the Church during the same time period, and yet no one argued over which one was right, strongly suggests that they are equivalent one to the other, both being regarded as true.

* There are some Jewish traditions to the effect that there was indeed a rolling rock that literally followed the Israelites in the wilderness.  These traditions, however, do not seem to me to be justified by the text of Scripture.

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