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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

1 Corinthians 10

Verse 1

[In chapter 8 Paul had answered the question of the Corinthians concerning idolatrous meat. In chapter 9 he answered their inquiries concerning his apostleship, and closed with a description of the self-denial which he exercised in order to secure his crown, and a statement that despite all his efforts there was a possibility of his becoming a castaway. Now, the necessity for self-control and the danger of apostasy were the two principal ideas involved in the discussion of eating idolatrous meat, and so the apostle’s mind swings back to that subject, and he again treats of it, illustrating it by analogies drawn from the history of Israel.] For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant [see comment on 1 Thessalonians 4:13], that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; an everlasting possession.

Verse 2

and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea [Paul speaks of the fathers of the Jewish race as "our fathers," though addressing Gentiles. The patriarchs of Israel were the spiritual fathers of Gentile Christians (Galatians 3:7-8; Galatians 3:29). Moreover, the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations were preparatory to Christianity, and so, in a certain sense, fathered it. The passage through the Red Sea by the Israelites was in many ways analogous to Christian baptism. 1. It stood at the beginning of a journey undertaken by a divine call, and which led from a life and kingdom of bondage to a land of promise, which should be a land of liberty and an everlasting possession. 2. Baptism is a burial (Romans 6:4). With a wall of water on each side and a cloud over them, the Israelites were buried from the sight of the Egyptians, or any others who stood upon the shores of the sea. Relying on the statement at Exodus 14:19-21 that the cloud was between the Egyptians and the Israelites, and hence behind the Israelites part of the night, zealous paidobaptists have argued that at no part of the night were the Israelites under the cloud, their purpose being to avoid the idea of a burial. But in their zeal they have contradicted Paul, who says "under the cloud," "in the cloud," and who elsewhere speaks of baptism as a burial. Paul’s language here implies that the children of Israel were between the walls of water while the cloud was still in front of them, and so they were under it and in it as it passed to their rear. and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea [Paul speaks of the fathers of the Jewish race as "our fathers," though addressing Gentiles. The patriarchs of Israel were the spiritual fathers of Gentile Christians (Gal. 3:7, 8, 29). Moreover, the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations were preparatory to Christianity, and so, in a certain sense, fathered it. The passage through the Red Sea by the Israelites was in many ways analogous to Christian baptism. 1. It stood at the beginning of a journey undertaken by a divine call, and which led from a life and kingdom of bondage to a land of promise, which should be a land of liberty and an everlasting possession. 2. Baptism is a burial (Rom. 6:4). With a wall of water on each side and a cloud over them, the Israelites were buried from the sight of the Egyptians, or any others who stood upon the shores of the sea. Relying on the statement at Ex. 14:19-21 that the cloud was between the Egyptians and [97] the Israelites, and hence behind the Israelites part of the night, zealous paidobaptists have argued that at no part of the night were the Israelites under the cloud, their purpose being to avoid the idea of a burial. But in their zeal they have contradicted Paul, who says "under the cloud," "in the cloud," and who elsewhere speaks of baptism as a burial. Paul’s language here implies that the children of Israel were between the walls of water while the cloud was still in front of them, and so they were under it and in it as it passed to their rear. 3. Baptism is a resurrection (Romans 6:5). "The two phrases, ’were under the cloud,’ and ’passed through the sea,’ seem to prefigure the double process of submersion and emersion in baptism" (Canon Cook). The baptism of the Red Sea was to Israel a death to Egypt, and a birth to a new covenant. 4. Baptism is the final seal of discipleship (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 1:13). The passage of the Red Sea led Israel to fully accept Moses as their master and leader under God-- Genesis 14:31];

Verse 3

and did all eat the same spiritual food;

Verse 4

and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ. [As Israel had an experience answering to baptism, so it also enjoyed privileges similar to the two parts of the Lord’s Supper; viz.: the manna (Exodus 16:13-22), which lasted throughout the wilderness journey (Joshua 5:12), and which answered to the loaf; and water from the rock, which was given at least twice (Exodus 17:5-7; Numbers 20:7-13), and which answered to the wine. Some think that the manna and the water are called spiritual because they had a spiritual origin, being produced of God directly, and not by the ordinary means of nature; and others think that they are thus described because they were typical of Christ. But neither of these views is suited to the context, for Paul is here speaking of benefits enjoyed by the children of Israel which ministered to their spiritual strength, and which should have kept them from falling. But miraculous food is, of itself, no more strengthening to the spirit than ordinary food (John 6:26-27; John 6:49); and a type confers no benefit upon those who do not understand it and are not conscious of it. The true idea is that the manna and the water were so miraculously and providentially supplied that the people could scarcely fail to see the presence and the goodness of God in them, and hence they were spiritual food and drink to the people because they would waken such thoughts, thanksgivings and aspirations as would give spiritual strength. Paul does not assert that the literal rock or the literal water followed the children of Israel on their journey, and hence there is no occasion for saying, as do Alford and others, that Paul even referred to, much less accepted, Jewish fables and traditions to that effect. The fact that water was twice supplied by Christ at different periods would be sufficient to suggest his continual presence (Exodus 33:14), and thus continually revive their thirsty souls. The Catholics assert that there are seven sacraments, but Paul knew only two ordinances. "The whole passage," says Alford, "is a standing testimony, incidentally, but most providentially, given by the great apostle to the importance of the Christian sacraments, as necessary to membership of Christ, and not mere signs or remembrances: and an inspired protest against those who, whether as individuals or sects, would lower their dignity, or deny their necessity." But Paul also guards against that other extreme which trusts to mere ordinances for salvation.]

Verse 5

Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown [literally, strewn in heaps] in the wilderness. [In 1 Corinthians 10:24 of the preceding chapter Paul enforces the lesson of self-control by showing that though all run, yet but one receives the prize. This law, which the Greeks applied to a mere handful of racers, was applied of God with like rigor and stringency to the millions of Israel, a fact which Paul emphasizes by the repeated use of the word "all." Though all were under the cloud and all passed through the sea and all were baptized and all ate and drank of spiritual provision, yet only two, Caleb and Joshua, entered the promised land (Deuteronomy 1:34-38; Numbers 26:64-65). What was true of racers and true of Israel may also be true of Christians if they fail to exercise self-control.]

Verse 6

Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. [Having shown that the Israelites lost their inheritance despite the fact that they were prepared, sustained and strengthened by the same Christ and practically the same ordinances enjoyed by the Christian, Paul proceeds to show their perfectness as examples to the Corinthians in that they fell by the five sins, viz.: lust, idolatry, fornication, tempting Christ, murmuring, which were the besetting sins of the Corinthians--and of all succeeding generations. In the case of Israel the punishment was directly and visibly connected with the sin, that their history might be used to instruct future generations; for in this life punishment is not, as a rule, summarily and immediately meted out to sinners. In fact, if we judge by appearances only, we might sometimes even think that God rewarded crime and set a premium on sin. The Scripture records show that such appearances are deceptive, and that God’s punishments are sure, though they may be long delayed. Israel lusted for what God withheld and murmured at what he provided (Numbers 11:4, 33-34). As Israel looked back with regret on the flesh and the fish, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic which they had left behind in Egypt, so the Corinthians were disposed to go back into the old life and heap up to themselves philosophical teachers, attend idolatrous feasts, etc.]

Verse 7

Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. [Israel worshipped the golden calf, Moloch, Remphan, Baal-peor, etc. The "playing" which Paul refers to (Exodus 32:3-6; Exodus 32:19; Exodus 32:25) was familiar to the Corinthians, who had indulged in such licentious sportfulness in the worship of Bacchus and Venus. Dancing was the common accompaniment of idolatry (Horace 2:12-19). Eating at the feast of idols was the very privilege for which the Corinthians were contending.]

Verse 8

Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. [Numbers 25:1-9 . While Paul gives the number as twenty-three thousand, Moses gives it as twenty-four. Alford and Kling think the discrepancy is due to a failure in Paul’s memory, but why should the Spirit of God let him thus forget? Grotius says that a thousand were slain by Phinehas and his followers, and the rest were destroyed by the plague. Kitto varies this a little by saying that Paul gives the number that fell on one day, as his words show, while Moses gives the full number that perished on both days. But Bengel’s solution is a sufficient one. The Hebrews habitually dealt in round numbers, so that a number between twenty-three and twenty-four thousand could be correctly stated by either figure. Moses gave the maximum and Paul the minimum. The sin mentioned was not only an ordinary accompaniment of idolatry, but often a consecrated part of it, as in the rites of Baal-peor among the Moabites and those of Venus among the Corinthians. Sins are gregarious.]

Verse 9

Neither let us make trial of the Lord, as some of them made trial, and perished by the serpents. [Numbers 21:4-6 . Compare John 3:14-15 . To "tempt" here means to try beyond all patience or endurance. Israel tempted God in the case referred to, by its spirit of unbelieving discontent. Compare also Exodus 17:2-7; Numbers 14:22 . As Israel became discontented under the hardships of the wilderness, so the Corinthians were liable to a like discontent because of the severe persecutions brought upon them by ungodly men. Chrysostom, Theodoret and Oecuminius think that Paul warns the Corinthians against tempting God by asking for signs. But this was not the besetting sin of the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:22), nor is there any evidence that the Christians at Corinth were at all addicted to this sin. Besides, it is at variance with the analogy which Paul has cited. As a matter of fact, men tempt God by putting his fidelity, patience or power to unnecessary tests-- Matthew 4:7; Acts 5:9; Hebrews 3:9]

Verse 10

Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer. [Numbers 14:2; Numbers 14:29; Numbers 16:41-49 . The Israelites murmured against God by rebelling against and rejecting his servants; and the Corinthians were at this time murmuring against Paul, the servant of Christ. They were also liable to complain of their separation from the pagan world, just as many to-day speak resentfully when the pulpit proclaims those Christian principles which are restrictive of worldly excesses. The angel of death is called the destroyer (Exodus 12:23; 2 Samuel 24:16). The Jews commonly called this angel Sammael. The "all" of grace and privilege, found in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; stands in sad contrast to the "some of them" of deflection and apostasy found in 1 Corinthians 10:7-10 . God showed mercy to all, but some disobeyed in one way and some in another until almost all had proved unworthy of his mercy.]

Verse 11

Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. [The facts of the past become examples for the present, because God rules by unchanging principles (Romans 15:4). The Christian dispensation is called "the ends of the ages" because it is the last and final dispensation (1 John 2:18; Hebrews 9:26; Matthew 13:38-39; 1 Peter 4:7). The Christian is the heir of all the past, but none shall inherit after him.]

Verse 12

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. [The weaknesses of saints in former days, notwithstanding their privileges, should warn us of our own frailty lest we presume to dally with temptation, and so fall. This verse is a stumbling-block to those who hold the doctrine "once in grace, always in grace." Whedon aptly says of the Israelites: "If they never truly stood, they never fell; and if they fell, they once stood. If their fault and ruin was in actually falling, then their salvation would have been in actually standing--standing just as they were." Their history does not show the mere possibility of apostasy, but demonstrates its actual reality, and the sad prevalence of it. But the apostle, well aware that so weighty and forceful an argument would breed a spirit of hopelessness and despair in the breasts of the Corinthians, now sets himself to show that the temptations so fatal to Israel need not prove similarly disastrous to them if they were not presumptuous, but looked to God to aid them in escaping such temptations.]

Verse 13

There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it. [The temptations which befell the Corinthians were such as men had resisted and could resist. The temptations which had overcome some of the Israelites had been resisted by others of their number. The faithfulness of God who called them would give them strength for the journey which he required of them (2 Peter 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). God shows his faithfulness by providing an opportunity of escape, and we must show our faithfulness by seizing the opportunity when it presents itself. As temptations vary, so the means of escape also vary. God permits temptation for our strengthening, not for our destruction.]

Verse 14

Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Verse 15

I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. [As idolatry had proved the mother of sins in Israel, so had it also in Corinth. Paul, therefore, in exhorting his readers to flee from it, appeals to their own past experience. They were wise men in this respect, and could, out of an abundant personal knowledge, judge as to the wisdom of his counsel when he thus told them to shun all that pertained to it. Idolatry was so interwoven with lust, drunkenness, reveling, etc., that it practically included them, and it was not to be dallied with. If we go to the verge of what is allowable, we make it easy for Satan to draw us over the line into what is sinful.]

Verse 16

The cup of blessing which we bless [Not the cup which brings blessing (though it does that), but the cup over which blessing is spoken, the cup consecrated by benediction. Wine becomes a symbol of the blood of Christ by such a consecration, and even ordinary food is sanctified by prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5 . Compare Matthew 26:26; Luke 9:16). But the plural "we" used in this paragraph shows that the blessing and breaking were not the acts of the minister exercising priestly functions, but were the acts of the whole congregation through the minister as their representative. Sacerdotal consecration of the elements is not found here nor anywhere else in the New Testament], is it not a communion of [a participation in or common ownership of] the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? [See John 6:41-59]

Verse 17

seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one bread. [Paul here points out the nature of the Lord’s Supper, showing how it unites us with each other and with the Lord. We all partake of the loaf and thereby become qualitatively, as it were, a part of it, as it of us; and even thus we all become members of Christ’s one body which it represents and Christ becomes part of us. Such is the unity of the church: Paul had no conception of a divided church. Though there may be more than one loaf at the communion, yet the bread is one in substance, and is one emblem.]

Verse 18

Behold Israel after the flesh: have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar? [In Paul’s eyes the church was the true Israel, and the Jews were Israel after the flesh. Part of the Jewish sacrifice was eaten by the worshiper as an act of worship (Deuteronomy 12:18), and part was consumed upon the altar as a sacrifice to God; that is, as God’s part. Thus the worshiper had communion with the altar, or, more accurately speaking, with God, who owned the altar; a portion of the meat of sacrifice entering his body and becoming part of him, and a portion of it typically entering and becoming part of the Lord. Having thus given two instances showing that sacrificial feasts establish a relationship between the worshiper and the object worshipped, Paul proceeds to make his application of them to idol feasts, and begins by anticipating an objection which the quick-witted Corinthians, seeing the drift of his argument, would begin at once to urge.]

Verse 19

What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? ["But, Paul," say the Corinthians, "your reasoning can not apply to feasts or sacrificial meat offered to idols; for you have already admitted (1 Corinthians 8:4) that an idol is a nonentity. By sacrifice a man may establish a communal relationship with God, for God is; but he can establish no such relationship with an idol, for an idol is not-it has no existence." The understanding of the Corinthians with regard to idols was true, but it was not the whole truth, for there was some reality back of the idol.]

Verse 20

But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons. [It was true that the idol was nothing, but it represented a reality, and it was well established both among Jews and Greeks that that reality was a demon. Among Jews and Christians this word represented an evil spirit (Deuteronomy 32:17; Leviticus 17:7; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalms 96:5; Psalms 106:37; Matthew 25:41; Revelation 9:20; Ephesians 6:12). Among the Greeks the word had a broader significance. With them it meant a demi-god or minor deity--a being between God and men. One part of them were spirits of dead men, mainly dead kings or heroes who had been deified and honored with idols and worship. Another part were regarded as having a supernatural origin, and were like angels. These might be good or evil. Thus Socrates regarded himself as under the care and influence of a good demon. Thus at the core idolatry was demon-worship, and if the Christian who ate the Lord’s Supper communed with the Lord, and the Jew who ate the sacrifice of the altar communed with the God of the altar; so the man, be he pagan or Christian, who partook of the idol sacrifice, communed with the demon who appropriated the worship offered to the idol.]

Verse 21

Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons. [At the sacrificial feasts of the pagans the provisions and wine were both blessed in the name of the idol, and thereby consecrated to him. Part of the festal cup was poured out as a libation to the idol, after which the guests drank of the cup and thus had fellowship with the idol. See &Aelig;neid 8:273. Outwardly, Christians might partake of both feasts, but it was a moral impossibility for them to do so inwardly and spiritually. We can not be wicked and holy any more than we can be black and white at the same time. We may also note that there were tables in the temples of the idols on which feasts were prepared.]

Verse 22

Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? [God does not permit a division of his worship (Matthew 6:24). Any attempt to do this is said to arouse his jealousy, that passion which arises from wounded love (Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:23-32; Exodus 20:5). Paul doubtless has in mind the passage at Deuteronomy 32:17-26; which shows the necessity of obedience on the part of those not able to resist.]

Verse 23

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. [See comment on1 Corinthians 6:12]

Verse 24

Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good. [As to eating idolatrous meat and all similar questions of liberty, be more careful to think of the interests of others than to assert your own rights.]

Verse 25

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake;

Verse 26

for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. [Psalms 24:1; Psalms 50:12 . Meat sold in the public market might be bought and used by the Christian without stopping to make investigation or to consult his conscience, for when thus sold it was wholly disassociated from the rites of idolatrous sacrifice, and one so using it could not be suspected of doing so as an act of worship. Moreover, all meat was pure, since it had come from the Lord. Being part of the furniture of the earth, it was to be eaten without scruple-- Romans 14:14; Romans 14:20; 1 Timothy 4:4-5; Acts 10:15]

Verse 27

If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake.

Verse 28

But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience’ sake:

Verse 29

conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? [Christianity did not forbid a man to retain his friendships among pagans, nor did it prohibit fellowship with them. If such a friend should ask a Christian to a meal in a private house and not to a sacrificial feast in an idol temple, the Christian need not trouble himself to ask whether the meat that was served was part of all idol sacrifice, for such a dining was in no sense an act of worship. If, however, some scrupulous Christian or half-converted person should point out that the meat was idolatrous, then it was not to be eaten, for the sake of the man who regarded it as idolatrous. But so far as the real question of liberty was concerned, each man’s liberty is finally judged by his own conscience and not by that of another. Liberty may be waived for the sake of another’s conscience, but it is never thus surrendered. Paul’s teaching, therefore, is that food is not tainted, and so it is always right to eat it as food, but all the rites of idolatry are tainted, and the Christian must do nothing which gives countenance to those rites, and for the sake of others he must abstain from seeming to countenance them even when his own conscience acquits him of so doing.]

Verse 30

If I partake with thankfulness, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? [The conscience of another man does not make it wrong for me to do that which I am not only permitted to do by my own conscience, but which I even do in a spirit of prayerful thankfulness. Nor does my doing such a thing give him, or any other, a right to speak evil of me, for I do not have to change my conscience to suit the judgment of others. In theory Paul sided with the strong, but in sympathy he was one with the weak; yet he did not permit them to exercise a vexatious tyranny over him because of their scruples.]

Verse 31

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to, the glory of God. [All eating should be with thanksgiving to God and should not dishonor God by injuring the consciences of weak men--comp. Colossians 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11]

Verse 32

Give no occasion of stumbling [Mark 9:42], either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God:

Verse 33

even as I also please all men in all things [indifferent or permissible], not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 10". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/1-corinthians-10.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.