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Paul did not want his readers to overlook a very important possibility as they thought about eating special meals in idol temples. He reminded them that their fathers in the faith, believers in Israel, were also all under the protective influence of God. The Corinthians knew these facts from the Old Testament, but they did not appreciate their significance sufficiently. First, the cloud that led them in their wilderness wanderings symbolized God’s loving care and evidenced His prolonged supernatural guidance. Likewise, second, they all experienced a supernatural deliverance when they crossed the Red Sea. Moreover, third, all of them associated with Moses who was their leader and God’s instrument in their redemption. Moses provided supernatural leadership for them under God.
Baptism is the outward expression of the believer’s identification with the object of his or her faith (cf. Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). Consequently Paul could say the Israelites were baptized into Moses even though they did not undergo literal water baptism in the name of Moses. By following him and submitting to his authority they expressed their identification with him. The parallel with water baptism was most vivid when they went under the cloud and crossed the Red Sea. These experiences constituted a dry baptism for the Israelites.
The tragic example of Israel 10:1-5
The point of this example is that God’s people can practice idolatry, and persisting in idolatry has dire consequences. Paul stressed the similarity of experience that the church, the Corinthian church particularly, and Israel shared by pointing out that each group had its own "baptism" and "Lord’s Supper." Israel had five advantages, according to the following verses.
3. The sinfulness of idolatry 10:1-22
Paul continued dealing with the subject of going to idol temples to participate in pagan feasts in this section. In it he gave a warning to the believer who considered himself strong, the one who knew there were really no gods but the true God. Such a person felt free to accept the invitation of a pagan neighbor to dine in a pagan temple (1 Corinthians 8:10). The apostle cautioned this element in the Corinthian church because, even though there are no other gods, the possibility of participating in idolatry is very real. He drew his lesson from the experience of Israel during the wilderness wanderings (cf. Exodus 13-17; Numbers 10-15).
Furthermore, fourth and fifth, all the Israelites, not just some of them, ate the manna and drank water from the rock. They ate supernatural food and received supernatural sustenance. They ate manna throughout their wilderness sojourn (Deuteronomy 8:2-4), and they drank from the rock at the beginning (Exodus 17:1-7) and at the end of it (Numbers 20:2-13), namely, throughout their wilderness experience. Paul called the manna and water spiritual food and drink because God provided them supernaturally and because they have spiritual significance. Both of them came ultimately from Christ and point to Christ, the real sustainer of His people (cf. John 6:35; John 6:48-51; John 7:37-38). The Israelites thought of God as a rock (Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:30-31; et al.). He as a rock, not some physical rock, accompanied them in the wilderness. Their eating and drinking of God is similar to and anticipated the Christian Lord’s Supper.
Paul’s point in these first four verses was that the Israelites were the chosen people of God just as Christians are now the chosen people of God. God accompanied and provided for them faithfully in the past just as He does for all Christians now.
In spite of these blessings, similar to those that Christians enjoy, God was not happy with His people Israel. He permitted none of the adult generation of military age, 20 years old and older, to enter the Promised Land, except Caleb and Joshua, not even Moses (Numbers 20:12). All but those two individuals from that generation died in the wilderness. How the majority displeased God and lost their privileges follows.
The experiences of the Israelites provide lessons for us. Their baptism and partaking of spiritual food and drink did not protect them from God’s discipline when they craved evil things. Participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper will not protect Christians either. We should never regard participation in these ordinances as immunizing us against God’s discipline if we sin against Him. The Israelites had sometimes felt immunized against God’s judgment because they were His chosen people.
The Greek word translated "examples" is typos from which we get the English word "type." The experiences of the Israelites in the wilderness are types. They were early examples of situations that would recur later in history that God designed to teach His people lessons. [Note: For further information on types, see Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp. 196-219; Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, pp. 334-46; Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture; and Elliott E. Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction, pp. 126, 208-9.]
The application of Israel’s example 10:6-13
Though idolatry was the cause of Israel’s failure and the focus of Paul’s warning to this church, four other evil characteristics of Israel also seem to have marked the Corinthians. These characteristics also resulted in the Israelites dying in the wilderness.
In 1 Corinthians 10:7-10 Paul cited four practices that got the Israelites into trouble with God. All of them were possibilities for the Corinthians as they fraternized with pagans by participating in their feasts. They are all possibilities for us too.
First, the Israelites participated in idolatry when they ate and played in the presence of the golden calf (Exodus 32:6). [Note: See Jerry Hwang, "Turning the Tables on Idol Feasts: Paul’s Use of Exodus 32:6 in 1 Corinthians 10:7," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54:3 (September 2011):573-87.] It is possible that their "play" involved sexual immorality (cf. Genesis 26:8; Numbers 25:1-3). The scene on that occasion must have been similar to what happened at the feasts some of the Corinthians attended. There is a danger that we may compromise our commitment to God, as the Israelites did, when we participate in sinful pagan celebrations.
Second, the Israelites practiced immorality (lit. fornication) when they participated in one of the Moabites’ religious feasts (Numbers 25:1-9). Paul said 23,000 Israelites died in one day. Moses in Numbers 25:9 said 24,000 died as a result of the plague God sent to judge the people. There is, therefore, no conflict between the numbers since they describe somewhat different groups of people. Another explanation that has been suggested is that the larger number included Israel’s leaders, and the smaller one did not. If immorality is only implicit in the record of the Golden Calf incident, it is explicit in the account of the Baal Peor incident. Clearly this was taking place in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Some modern Christians have participated in fornication that unbelievers have lured them into.
Third, the Israelites tested Christ by taxing His patience. The best manuscript evidence suggests that "Christ" rather than "Lord" is the correct word here. If so, Paul again stressed that it was Christ that both the Israelites and the Corinthians were testing (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4). He made the apostasy in both cases Christological. They dared Him to live up to His promise to discipline them if they doubted His word. They continued to complain even though He faithfully provided for them (Numbers 21:4-9). His provision of manna and water was not adequate from their point of view, and they despised it (Numbers 21:5). The Corinthians had given evidence of being dissatisfied with God’s prohibition of participation in pagan feasts by opposing Paul’s teaching on this point.
Likewise contemporary Christians are in danger of failing to appreciate God’s provisions for them in Christ and despising Him. We can feel dissatisfied rather than thankful and content. Evidence that this attitude existed in the Corinthian church surfaces in 1 Corinthians 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Perhaps the fact that some of the believers were participating in pagan feasts also indicated dissatisfaction with the Christians’ special feast, the Lord’s Supper.
Fourth, the Israelites grumbled frequently against the Lord during the wilderness wanderings. Moses recorded 10 separate instances in Exodus and Numbers. However the occasion Paul had in mind was when God sent fire that consumed some of the people on the edge of the camp (Numbers 11:1-3). Here Paul added that God executed His wrath by using an angel, a fact that Moses did not mention in Numbers. The Septuagint translators used the same term, "the destroyer" (Gr. olothreutes), to describe the angel who executed the Egyptians’ first-born on the night of the Exodus (Exodus 12:23; cf. Hebrews 11:28).
Many instances of the Corinthian Christians’ dissatisfactions with God’s provisions for them come out in this epistle. Not the least of these was their rejection of some of the Lord’s servants who had come to minister to them because they preferred some others (1 Corinthians 1:10 to 1 Corinthians 4:21). They did not appreciate Paul’s earlier instruction to break off company with idolaters and the sexually immoral (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Another example is the impatience of the "strong" in the church with the "weak" (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). Grumbling is a telltale sign of selfishness and discontent with what God has given us.
Having cited four specific examples of Israelite failure (1 Corinthians 10:7-10), Paul restated the general principle (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:6).
The last phrase in this verse refers to the present age as the time of fulfillment about which the Old Testament prophet had spoken. We should be careful that we do not overlook the lessons of history since we live in these times.
Paul concluded with a word of warning to those who felt too confident that they were all right with God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6). The "strong" who felt free to participate in pagan feasts seem to be those he had in mind. Self-confidence could lead to a spiritual fall, as it had so often in Israel’s history.
The apostle did not want his readers to overreact and become paranoid as they considered Israel’s record either. Failure was not inevitable. The temptations the Corinthians faced were not unique, and the Lord would give them grace to handle any temptation they might face. [Note: For other verses dealing with God’s part in temptation, see Exodus 16:4; Deuteronomy 8:2; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:12; 2:6; Matthew 6:13; and James 1:13.]
God has promised to enable us to do His will in any and every situation, and He will stand true to His promise (cf. Matthew 28:20; et al.). He provides a way of escape with every temptation He allows to touch us, namely, power to overcome every temptation. The use of the definite article "the" with both "temptation" and "way of escape" points to a particular way of escape that is available in each temptation. Paul did not mean there is one way of escape that is available regardless of the temptation. If we deliberately put ourselves in the way of temptation and so put God to the test (1 Corinthians 10:9), we are not taking advantage of the way of escape. We may fall. Therefore we should flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14; cf. 1 John 5:21).
The Corinthians were putting themselves in danger by continuing to attend cultic meals, which they needed to stop doing. Nevertheless God had made a way of escape open to them, as He had with Israel. The Lord’s Supper and the Christian fellowship connected with it was His divine replacement of this idolatrous activity (1 Corinthians 10:16).
This whole section (1 Corinthians 10:1-13) deals with the dangers involved in participating in pagan activities. Some of these activities are wrong in themselves because they involve idolatry, and Christians should not participate in them. If we should participate, we need to be aware that in doing so we are walking on the edge of a precipice over which many other believers have fallen, including the Israelites in the wilderness. We dare not underestimate the danger of the situation or overestimate our own ability to handle it. We need to walk closely with God every day.
Formerly Paul urged the Corinthians to flee fornication (1 Corinthians 6:18; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:8). Now he concluded all he said in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 with the charge to flee idolatry, the worship of idols (cf. 1 John 5:21). He commanded his readers to use the way of escape, God’s enabling grace, immediately. He softened his strong command with an affectionate address ("my beloved"). Amoral activities are all right for the Christian, but if they involve or lead to idolatry we should avoid them.
The incompatibility of Christianity and idolatry 10:14-22
The apostle proceeded to warn his readers of the danger of idolatry further (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:7). This paragraph concludes the long argument that Paul began in 1 Corinthians 8:1 concerning going to temple feasts.
This statement prepares for what follows. The apostle was confident that the Corinthians had the wisdom to understand the correctness of what he was about to tell them. He believed they could make correct judgments about what they should do. Still, to follow his logic they would need to use their minds. As we have seen, the Corinthians considered themselves very wise. They should judge for themselves that Paul was right.
The apostle employed rhetorical questions again to make his point. He was setting the Corinthians up for what he would say in 1 Corinthians 10:19-21.
Most New Testament references to the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Supper occur in that order. Here Paul reversed the normal order. He probably turned them around because he wanted to give more attention to the bread in the verses that follow. The cup may focus on the vertical dimension of fellowship between the believer and the Lord whereas the bread focuses on the horizontal dimension (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:17). [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 467.] The pagan feasts also emphasized both dimensions of fellowship, with the god and with the fellow-worshippers.
The "cup of blessing" was a technical term for the third of four cups of wine that the Jews drank in the Passover celebration. At the Last Supper the drinking of this cup preceded the giving of thanks for the bread (cf. Luke 22:17-20). However the Lord’s Supper only involved eating bread and drinking one cup (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
Paul described the cup as a cup of blessing, a common Jewish expression for the last cup of wine drunk at many meals. The Jews used it as a kind of toast to God for His goodness. [Note: Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 94.] However, Paul turned this around by saying we bless the cup. That is, we give thanks to God for the cup because of what it symbolizes, namely, our sharing in the benefits of Christ’s shed blood (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:25).
Likewise the bread used at the Christian feast, the Lord’s Supper, is a symbol of our participation in the effects of Christ’s slain body (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24). The Greek word here translated "sharing" (NASB) or "participation" (NIV; koinonia) in other places reads "fellowship" or "communion." This is why another name for the Lord’s Supper is the communion service.
When Christians take communion we all eat from one bread symbolic of the physical body of Christ. In the early church believers seem to have used one loaf, the literal meaning of the word translated "bread" in this verse (artos). Paul stressed that many people eating from one loaf symbolized the solidarity of our relationship as a redeemed community in Christ. (He developed the idea of the unity of the body more fully in 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 in his explanation of the diversity that exists within the unity of the spiritual body of Christ, the church.) The emphasis here is on the solidarity of believers that forbids all other unions.
We can see the partnership of those who partake of sacrifices with everything the altar stands for in Judaism (cf. Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Paul referred to Israel literally as "Israel according to the flesh." He contrasted all the physical Israelites with those who are Jewish Christians (cf. Philippians 3:3). This description lends no support to the idea that the church replaces Israel in the program of God. "Israel" always refers to Jewish people in the New Testament.
Paul’s line of reasoning was proceeding as follows. Christians who eat the bread at the Lord’s Supper thereby express their solidarity with one another and with Christ. Likewise Jews who ate the meat of animals offered in the sacrifices of Judaism expressed their solidarity with one another and with God. Therefore Christians who eat the meat offered to pagan gods as part of pagan worship express their solidarity with pagans and with the pagan deities.
"As in the Holy Communion, therefore, so also in the Temple services, participating in sacrificial feasts is sacrificial fellowship with an unseen power, a power that is Divine. There is something analogous to this in the sacrificial feasts of the heathen; but in that case the unseen power is not Divine." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 215.]
The "wise" man in Corinth (1 Corinthians 10:15) could have replied to Paul’s conclusion as follows. Yes, but you agreed before that idols have no real existence and there is only one true God.
Paul proceeded to clarify what he meant. He was not saying that sacrifices to idols or idols themselves were anything. That is, sacrifices to idols were not in themselves sinful nor were idols genuine entities. On this point he and the Corinthians agreed. Idols were only pieces of wood or stone, not gods with supernatural powers. Nevertheless these idols represented supernatural powers (1 Corinthians 10:20), and so eating cultic meals had genuine significance.
The power behind pagan religion is demonic (cf. Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalms 106:37). Consequently people who sacrifice to idols express solidarity with demonic powers. Eating the food sacrificed to idols means that the people who participated shared in what had been sacrificed to demons just as the Israelites shared in what had been sacrificed to God. The cultic feasts were really sacrifices to demons, so they involved the worship of demons.
It is inconsistent for a Christian to partake in the Lord’s Supper and to take part in pagan religious feasts. In the former he eats and drinks in union with Christ, and in the latter he is in union with demons who direct the devotees to worship idols. What the Lord promotes and what the demons promote are opposite. This inconsistency must be obvious to "wise men" (1 Corinthians 10:15). Christians have a unique relationship with the Lord and with fellow believers, which the Lord’s Supper symbolizes. It is, therefore, inappropriate for us to have a similar association with demons and unbelievers (1 Corinthians 10:20-21), which participation in pagan cultic events involves.
The Israelites provoked the Lord to jealousy by doing just such a thing when they joined in Moabite worship (Numbers 25; cf. Deuteronomy 32:17; Deuteronomy 32:21-22). We are to learn from their experiences. It would be folly to provoke the Lord unless we are stronger than He. If we provoke Him and are not, we can count on His chastening since He is a jealous God.
The Corinthians were arguing for the right to attend pagan religious meals. They even viewed attendance as a way of building their "weaker" brethren. Paul responded that attendance was wrong on two counts: it was unloving, and it was incompatible with life in Christ, which their participation in the Lord’s Table symbolized. He forbade any relationship with the demonic. The demonic is not as remote as some modern Western Christians would like to believe.
4. The issue of marketplace food 10:23-11:1
As with the issue of marriage, however, Paul granted that there are some matters connected with idolatry that are not wrong. He next gave his readers some help in making the tough choices needed in view of the amoral nature of some practices connected with pagan worship and the immoral nature of others. He suggested applying the test of what is edifying to these decisions. He proceeded to explain that food formerly offered to idols but sold in the marketplace was all right for Christians to eat at home. He himself had eaten such food (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), and the Corinthians had challenged him for doing so (1 Corinthians 10:29).
"But the real issues seem to lie deeper than the mere question of eating food. Both the nature of their argument for eating at the temples (1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 8:8) and their criticism of Paul (1 Corinthians 9:1-3; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23) have revealed a basic confusion between absolutes and adiaphora (nonessentials). They had tried to make temple attendance an adiaphoron; for Paul it was an absolute because it was idolatry. At the same time they had confused the true basis for Christian behavior. For them it was a question of knowledge and rights (gnosis and exousia). For Paul it is a question of love and freedom (agape and eleutheria). [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 477.]
This section’s chiastic structure reflects Paul’s alternating concern for personal freedom and love for others.
A The criterion stated: the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
B Personal freedom explained (1 Corinthians 10:25-27)
C The criterion illustrated: love governing liberty (1 Corinthians 10:28-29 a)
B’ Personal freedom defended (1 Corinthians 10:29 b-30)
A’ The criterion generalized: that all may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:33 to 1 Corinthians 11:1)
Earlier Paul had addressed the issue of Christian liberty and had said that all things were lawful for him, but all things were not beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12). Now he went further and clarified that beneficial means beneficial for others, not just self. Thus he sought to bring the rights-conscious Corinthians to their knees.
The well-being of one’s neighbor is of primary importance. The exercise of all one’s liberties is of secondary importance (cf. Romans 15:2; Philippians 2:4). The Corinthians viewed their freedom as an opportunity to pursue their own interests. Paul viewed it as an opportunity to benefit and build up another person.
It was not wrong to eat meat that pagans had offered in sacrifice to an idol. Any food for which one thanks God thereby becomes acceptable for human consumption, assuming it is wholesome (1 Corinthians 10:30; cf. 1 Timothy 4:3-5). This was a very un-Jewish viewpoint coming from a Jew. As earlier in this epistle and elsewhere in his writings, Paul appealed to Scripture for a supporting summary statement (Psalms 24:1; Psalms 50:12).
Remember Paul was talking about distinctions based on spiritual issues. In Christianity there is no distinction between kosher (fit) and non-kosher (unfit) food (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15). Paul was not talking about distinctions in food based on physical factors such as fat content, calories, and nutritional value. The issue was whether certain foods commend us to or condemn us before God. They do not.
The invitation in view must be to the home of an unbeliever for a meal rather than to a pagan temple for participation in a religious feast. This seems clear from the next verse. This freedom may have been hard for many Jewish Christians to accept (cf. Acts 10:28; Acts 11:2-3). Nevertheless it belonged to them. It was wise not to ask if someone had offered the meat to an idol. A Christian might pose this question in the home of a pagan host or in the marketplace (1 Corinthians 10:25). Not inquiring would obviate the possibility of unnecessary guilt arising in the mind of a scrupulous believer.
A pagan host might warn his Christian guest that the food before him had been offered in an idol temple. The context (1 Corinthians 10:27) and the terminology (Gr. hierothyton, "sacrificial meat," rather than eidolothyton, "idol meat," the standard Jewish and Christian designation) present a situation in which a Christian is eating privately with a pagan, not in a temple, as in 1 Corinthians 8:10. Only in 1 Corinthians 10:32 does the broader principle of not giving offense to fellow believers arise. The pagan’s conscience is not a reference to his convictions about what is right and wrong for himself but his moral consciousness. [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 485.] He does not want his Christian guest to be unaware that he is being served food that the Christian might object to and might want to abstain from eating. Another view is that the pagan host is trying to test his commitment to Christ, but this seems less probable. Pagans often associated Christians with Jews at this stage of church history, and many pagans would have assumed that Christians observed the same dietary restrictions as the Jews.
We might think that in such a situation Paul would have advocated exercising Christian liberty to eat the meat, but he did not. He advocated abstaining, not because such meat was out of bounds for believers. It was not out of bounds; Christians could eat such meat. He advocated abstaining for the sake of the pagan’s moral consciousness. Specifically, if the Christian ate the meat, the pagan might conclude that his guest was doing something Christians should not do. He would be wrong, of course. Yet Paul advocated not violating the pagan’s understanding of what Christians should or should not do rather than instructing him about Christian freedom at the table.
"A present-day analogy may be imagined if someone with strong principles on total abstention from alcohol were the guest of friends who did not share these principles. He would be well advised not to enquire too carefully about the ingredients of some specially palatable sauce or trifle, but if someone said to him pointedly, ’There is alcohol in this, you know’, he might feel that he was being put on the spot and could reasonably ask to be excused from having any of it." [Note: Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 100.]
This question resumes the thought of 1 Corinthians 10:26-27. 1 Corinthians 10:28-29 a are somewhat parenthetical being an illustration. We could restate Paul’s thought this way. Why should another person’s scruples determine my liberty? The answer is, They should because his spiritual welfare is more important than my Christian freedom.
Paul brought his own conduct in similar situations into the picture. He had eaten non-kosher food with Gentiles, but in the argument preceding this verse he advocated abstaining from such food when eating with pagans. The key, of course, is that sacrificial meat was only off limits for Paul when it offended the moral consciousness of the pagans he was with, not all the time.
"The blessing offered at one’s meal, predicated on God’s prior ownership of all things, means that no fellow Christian may condemn another on this question." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 488.]
The Christian can give thanks to God for whatever he or she eats, but we should limit our own liberty out of consideration for what other people think is proper. We do not need to alter our convictions for the sake of others even though they speak evil of us, as the Corinthians did of Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Nevertheless we should be willing to change our behavior for the sake of unbelievers.
What glorifies God? Consideration for the consciences of other people and promotion of their wellbeing does. This contrasts with the observance of distinctions between foods, the satisfaction of one’s personal preferences, and insistence on one’s own rights. What glorifies God is what puts His preferences, plans, and program first (cf. Colossians 3:17).
". . . God’s own glory is the ultimate foundation of Pauline ethics (1 Corinthians 10:31)." [Note: Idem, "Toward a . . .," p. 40.]
Giving no offense means putting no obstacle in the path of a person be he Jew (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:20) or Gentile (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21) so that he might come to faith in Christ. If he is already a believer, it means putting nothing in his way that would hinder his growth in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22). It is not a matter of simply "hurting someone’s feelings."
Paul regarded these three groups as equal in this verse. Therefore he was probably thinking of three religious groups rather than two racial groups and one religious group. If so, he distinguished between Israel and the church in this verse. This distinction is basic to Dispensationalism.
If we took the first part of this verse out of context, we might conclude that Paul was a "man pleaser" (cf. Galatians 1:10). Obviously he meant he did not allow any of his own attitudes or activities in amoral areas to create barriers between himself and those he sought to help spiritually.
He tried to practice what he preached about putting the welfare of others first (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:24). "Saved" in this context probably includes Christians and means saved in the wide sense of delivered from anything that keeps someone from advancing spiritually (cf. Romans 15:1-3).
"Christian freedom is not given to us for our own sake but for the sake of others." [Note: Barclay, The Letters . . ., p. 105.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 10". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29