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1 Corinthians 10:1–3

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food.”

Paul’s warning about the need for self-discipline and self-control in the Christian life if we are to persevere to the end in faith (1 Cor. 9:24–27) enables him to turn now to an illustration from biblical history regarding those who did not persevere. He uses this illustration to give another reason why the Corinthians’ eating at pagan temples was wrong. In chapters 8–9, the Apostle showed the error of this practice largely from the perspective of “weaker” Christians who were harmed by it. In chapter 10, he demonstrates the wrongness of eating at pagan temples from the perspective of how it involves even the “stronger” Corinthian Christians in idolatry.

The historical example Paul chooses to make his point is the wilderness generation of the Israelites. He begins using this example in today’s passage, which is loaded with theological significance. First, Paul refers to that wilderness generation of Israelites as “our fathers” (10:1). This is quite remarkable since the Corinthian church was made up mostly of gentile believers who had no connection by blood to the ancient Israelites. Nevertheless, Paul can call the wilderness generation the fathers of believers because through faith in Jesus, gentiles become part of Abraham’s family (Gal. 3:29). The story of biblical Israel is the story of Abraham’s descendants, and we become part of that story through faith in Jesus because by faith in Him alone we become Abraham’s offspring (Rom. 4:13–25). Among other things, the Bible is our family history if we are Christians.

The Apostle goes on to say that all our wilderness “fathers”—here including the women and children as well—were “baptized into Moses” and consumed the same spiritual food and drink (1 Cor. 10:1–3). Paul here refers to the Israelites’ passing through the Red Sea and the manna and the water from the rock given to Israel (Ex. 14; 16; 17:1–7). The manna and water were spiritual food and drink because they were given by the One who is spirit, God Himself. Everyone in that generation who passed through the Red Sea was identified with Moses and “baptized,” even the infants who could not profess faith, and everyone in that community received benefits from being a part of that visible covenant community. But as Paul will soon note, not everyone came to faith (1 Cor. 10:5). Baptism in itself does not save anyone; personal faith is required. Nevertheless, baptism signifies admission to the visible church, wherein we receive many benefits, including Christian fellowship and the teaching of God’s Word.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Today’s passage helps us understand that being a part of the visible church brings with it many real benefits. In fact, while there are exceptions, ordinarily no one comes to saving faith apart from the ministry of the visible church. Thus, we should consider it a privilege to be a part of the local church as well as a responsibility. Part of that responsibility is trusting in Christ personally.

For Further Study
  • Exodus 29:45
  • Romans 3:1–2

    Paul’s Self-Discipline

    Praying as a Servant

    Keep Reading Luther on Trial: The Diet of Worms

    From the April 2021 Issue
    Apr 2021 Issue