Paul’s use of the Old Testament in 1 Cor 10:1-11 is a locus classicus for Christians seeking to understand how to understand the Old Testament text within the church. And the immediate verses that follow, 1 Cor 10:12-13, are also widely quoted by Christians but as encouragement for fighting temptation and pride. The consequence is that both sections of the chapter are frequently, although separately, reflected upon by believers. Consequently, I believe too often the first is used as a proof text for Old Testament application in the church and the second a proof text against pride and temptation, and the connection between the two ideas is missed entirely.
Verse 6 reads:
Now these things happened to them as type (τύποι), in order that our evil desires might not be, as they desired evil. (author’s translation)
The reference to “these things…as a type” (Ταῦτα δὲ τύποι…) in verse 6 likely forms an inclusio with verse 11 which uses nearly the same phrase (ταῦτα δὲ τυπικῶς…) to conclude the section addressing the sins of Israel. So, it is not completely without reason that we tend to read verses 6-11 as a unit of thought. In verses 6-11 Paul discusses (1) the golden calf incident [Ex 32:6], (2) Israel’s desire for the daughters of Moab and Baal worship [Num 25:1-9], (3) Israel’s impatience and faithlessness toward Moses’ and the Lord’s guidance in the wilderness [Num 21:6], and (4) the people’s continued grumbling against the Lord [Num 14:2ff.; 16:41ff.]. Paul states that these thing were recorded for the instruction of church by providing a “type” for us.
I think that we might miss the theological significance of this phrase by just rendering it “example.” Yes, Israel was an example, it was also more than that. Israel wasn’t just a bad example in that some people, some time ago, in a land far away from did some wrong things…Israel is the example. If anyone should have responded appropriately to the Lord it was Israel. They alone possessed the Patriarchs and Torah (Deut 4:7; Rom 9:4-5). Yet, even with the revelation of YHWH through Torah and the Prophets, Israel hardened its heart and desired evil. Israel’s typological disobedience demonstrates, not only the condition of their heart, but the disposition of all human hearts toward the Lord. If Israel–God’s chosen people and treasured possession–responded in these ways, why should Christians think that they are impervious to the same temptations to rebel?
I believe this is why Paul links the unit in verses 6-11 with verses 12-13 with “Ὥστε” (“So that” or “Therefore” [ESV]). The proper consequence of reading about Israel’s hardened response should be to remind us that we also cannot justify sinful lives. Just like Israel, the church cannot “go on sinning that grace may abound” (Rom 6:1), nor may we avoid the battle against temptation because we have special spiritual status that removes us from the battlefields of sin. Christians must also take up the fight against idolatry, sexual immorality, and anger against the Lord, trusting that–just like Israel’s battles–God is doing the fighting.
Verses 12 and 13 read:
So that let the one who thinks he stands take heed that he might not fall. Temptation has not seized you, except that which is common to mankind. But God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted more than you are able to handle, but he will make with temptation also a way of escape, that you might be able to endure. (author’s translation)
Just as Israel’s sin was a type of human disobedience, Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that their battle against sin and temptation is the necessary human condition in a post-fall world. However, Israel’s sin nor our own, is the final word: “But God is faithful.” When we read the Old Testament and encounter the “type” of Israel’s rebellion against the Lord, we should recognize that apart from God’s grace enabling us to overcome temptation, we are destined to become the “antitype.” So, let us fight pride in our lives by reading and re-reading the Old Testament that we might be reminded of the pattern of human rebellion and the God who is faithful in spite of it.
- Rusty Osborne