(1Co 10:1-4 ESV) For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Weird, huh? I mean, where on earth is Paul coming from? What in the world does being baptized in the Red Sea and following a rock around the desert have to do with the gospel
— much less the weak and the strong?! We’ll get there. But first, let’s sort out the metaphors.
our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea
Clearly, Paul sees a parallel between crossing through the Red Sea and Christian baptism. Both initiate a relationship with God. Both provide salvation (although two very different kinds of salvation). Both begin a journey in which God leads through a wilderness filled with temptations to a Promised Land.
The Jews were “baptized into Moses,” surely meaning into his leadership and guidance as well as into a covenant brought to the people by him. And in this sense, we are baptized into Jesus.
There is also a metaphysical sense in which Christians are “in Christ,” but this doesn’t seem to be Paul’s thought here because the Jews weren’t metaphysically in Moses.
Paul’s reference to the “cloud” is challenging because we don’t immediately see anything like a cloud in Christian baptism. But the cloud was the very presence of God that the Israelites followed and that protected them from their enemies. Paul is surely comparing the cloud — later called the Glory or Shekinah of God — to the Spirit.
“Under the cloud” is thus “under the Spirit” — rather like the baptism of Jesus pictures the Christian’s receipt of the Spirit.
(Exo 14:19-20 ESV) 19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
(Exo 14:24-25 ESV) 24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”
And this brings us to —
3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink.
The spiritual food is, of course, manna, which Paul is comparing to the bread of the Lord’s Supper. The “spiritual drink” is a little less obvious. This is water from the rock.
The water from the Rock is mentioned in Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:8-11 and then celebrated in a series of texts including Deuteronomy 8:15; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalms 78:20; 105:41; 114:8; and Isaiah 48:21.
Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 449.
For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
And then Paul becomes more than a little obscure to modern eyes.
Paul draws on a rich Jewish exegetical tradition when he speaks of the rock that followed Israel (v. 4): they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them.… In enquiring how the interpretive tradition of a moveable well developed, Enns notes that “the miraculous provision of water in the desert is mentioned only at the beginning of the wilderness wandering period (Exod. 17, Rephidim; also the waters of Elim in Exod. 15:22-27; see Bib. Ant. 11:15 …) and at the end (Num. 20, Kadesh; Num. 21, Beer).” He suggests the exegetical tradition provided an answer to the natural question of what the Israelites had done for water between those times.
The answer was that “the rock of Exodus 17 and the rock of Numbers 20 are one and the same. Hence, this rock must have accompanied the Israelites through their journey.”
That interpretation was facilitated by a potential ambiguity in Numbers 21:16-20. When God promised to give the Israelites water from the well, was it a one-time offer? When the text says, “this is the well of which the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather the people and I will give them water’” (v. 16) does it mean God will give them water from the well or he will give them the well itself, and thereby, water?
Jewish tradition came to understand the latter. In the following verse the Israelites sing to the well, calling on it to spring up (or go up), using a verbal form which in every other context (Num. 21:17; 1 Sam. 25:35; Isa. 21:2; 40:9; Jer. 22:20; 46:11) entails movement from one place to another, a thought that could have been encouraged by the fact that the succeeding verse (Num. 21:18) begins to recount the itinerary of Israel’s travels.
The understanding that the well/rock traveled with Israel was based on an interpretation that Paul and other Jewish interpreters evidently inherited from their fathers.
Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 450 (paragraphing added to facilitate reading).
There is actually subtle evidence in Deuteronomy that the Rock was God —
As Meeks says, Paul found “in Deuteronomy 32 phrases that were suggestive for his admonition to the Corinthian Christians.” That opens the possibility that his reference to the rock being Christ may have been influenced by the rock motif found in that chapter (32:4, 13, 15, 18, 30, 31). As Meeks points out, “Rock” is “the preferred name for God” in the Hebrew text of that chapter. Interestingly, the only other place the word is used in Deuteronomy outside chapter 32 is in 8:15 which affirms that God “brought you water out of the flinty rock.” As Garland and others have suggested, Paul “may have made the shift from God as the Rock in the Scriptures to Christ as Rock in the same way that he applied the references to God as ‘Lord’ in the Scriptures to Christ.”
Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 451.
Paul’s Greek is ambiguous. He could mean that Jesus was the source of the water, the true power behind the Rock and the provisioning of the Israelites in their wanderings. Or he could be merely stating a metaphor, that Jesus is like the Rock, in that he provides spiritual drink to Christians just as the Rock provided actual drink to the Israelites.
N. T. Wright finds insight into the meaning of baptism here —
The double use of water in this passage – the water of the Red Sea through which the Israelites passed and the water which flowed from the rock for them to drink in the desert – is easily the best explanation for the otherwise initially puzzling double reference in chapter 12 (we were all baptized … and given one spirit to drink).
The Messiah’s people, for Paul, are thus the new-exodus people, formed as was ancient Israel into ‘a people’ by the redeeming action of the one God on their behalf and by the sovereign and holy presence of the one God in their midst, leading them in the pillar of cloud and fire and sustaining them on their journey.
And baptism, it here becomes clear, is indeed (to use the old theological language) the ‘outward and visible’ sign of entry into the Messiah’s people, defining them just as surely as the crossing of the Red Sea defined the people whom Abraham’s God brought out of Egypt.
The emphasis on differentiated unity in the rest of the chapter merely underscores the basic point: that the ‘religious’ act of baptism, resonating with the ancient ‘myth’ of exodus now reworked around Jesus and the spirit, ‘binds’ the baptized to the one God and constitutes them as an actual, not merely a theoretical or ‘invisible’, community.
Paul is already aware, as later ecclesiastical theorists would be aware, of the sharp problems, both theological and pastoral, which follow from that affirmation. That is (one of the reasons) why he writes 1 Corinthians 10.
Wright, N. T. (2013-11-01). Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Two Book Set (Christian Origins and the Question of God) (Kindle Locations 37659-37670). Fortress Press.