1 Corinthians 10:7–13
7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Having set up his concern about craving meat offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:6) — or craving the business and social contacts at banquets held in idol temples — Paul finally gives a direct command: “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor. 10:7a). Indeed, in light of the specific Greek forms used, Paul may be saying, “Stop being idolaters, as some of them [i.e. the Exodus generation] were.” That statement would seriously escalate the warning to the Corinthians in light of what Paul says in verse 8 about the fatal consequences inflicted on the Israelites.
First Example — In the second half of verse 7, Paul quotes from Exod. 32:6, the occasion when the people joined in wild revelry to celebrate the golden calf they had made. Thiselton says the seriousness of this revelry “can be appreciated only when we fully grasp the intimate connection for [the Jews and ] Paul between worshipping [idols] and sexual immorality and abandonment of the ‘censor’ [our self-control] to sheer unbridled indulgence.”
So, the issue has two sharp edges: (1) the combination of sexual immorality with idol worship and (2) the complete abandonment of self-control. In Roman Corinth, Thiselton tells us: “’[Aphrodite] was a god of sailors and sacred prostitution and the protectress of the city.’ Hence business interests and trade were bound up with the welfare of the cult. . . . Coins excavated at Corinth bear the images of Aphrodite and Poseidon more than those of any other pagan gods.” Religious prostitution abounded.
As a result of the idolatry associated with the golden calf (Exod. 32:6), the Levites immediately killed 3,000 at Yahweh’s command (Exod. 32:27–28). In this context, Exodus 32:35 says, “And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” Note that we are not told how many died in this plague. The position taken here is that Paul’s statement “in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (1 Cor. 10:8) is the answer. Most authorities believe Paul is speaking of Numbers 25:1–9, another time when judgment fell on idolatrous Israel, but the death toll given there is 24,000 (Num. 25:9), and no one has been able to convincingly reconcile that number with 1 Cor. 10:8, which says 23,000. Our view is that the numbers do not match because they are different occasions. Alternatively, Paul spoke from memory; the exact number does not affect his point in the least. Certainly, rounding was a common practice in the Bible.
Example 1 is about the combination of idolatry and sexual immorality.
Example 2 — In 1 Cor. 10:9, Paul once again produces a surprising connection between Corinth and the Exodus generation. This time he uses the events recorded in Numbers 21:4–9. The Israelites were strongly rebelling against Moses and were scorning the food God had graciously provided for them (Num. 21:4–5). They were testing God! But the Apostle Paul interprets this text by naming Christ as the one they were testing ( 1 Cor. 10:9). Many died from serpents God sent among them until the rest pleaded for deliverance, and God provided it by his grace.
Note that the people were testing God by complaining about food. It is no accident that Paul is telling stories about complaints over food that led to judgment, and he implicitly warns the Corinthians to be content without the food offered to idols that they crave. Example 2 is about presuming to test Christ, with the implication that the Corinthians are doing the same thing.
Example 3 — In 1 Cor. 10:10, Paul recalls the incessant grumbling and complaining against Moses and God that so frequently punctuates the wilderness accounts (e.g. Exod. 15:24; 16:2; Num. 14:2, 27, 29). The constant complaining, largely about food and drink, transformed a joyous group of redeemed people into a self-pitying group perceiving themselves victims of God’s neglect. The destroying angel left many of them dead in the wilderness.
Garland says that Paul may single out ‘grumbling’ because the Corinthians were complaining against his opposition to their participation in idol feasts. We might call example 3 the sin of self-importance; for anyone to think they can speak to God or his appointed messengers as they would to a subordinate or even an equal is a level of foolishness that can lead to sudden death. We do not call Jesus “Lord” for nothing!
Clearly, Paul understands these examples as cautionary tales that every Christian should take to heart (1 Cor. 10:11). Fee explains the last half of verse 11: “Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ marks the turning of the ages; the old is on its way out, the new has begun (2 Cor. 5:17).” This is no time to ignore warnings! In that light, verse 12 is plainly a serious caution directly to the Corinthians, and especially to the puffed-up “strong.”
God’s grace in temptation (craving)
Many Christians have taken solace from 1 Cor. 10:13, but we should take care to read and apply the whole verse. The desires that push us toward sin and away from God are nothing new; they are the common experience of all humanity.
In Roman Corinth “the strong” paradoxically caved in to the temptation to continue their socially and financially lucrative connections with idol worship, and they tried to justify it theologically with their contrived slogans (“I have the right to do anything,” 1 Cor. 6:12; “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body,” 1 Cor. 6:18, NET). Those having more fragile faith felt the temptation to follow “the strong” in violation of their own consciences. So, many Corinthian believers had their own reasons for yielding to temptation.
Thiselton forcefully states, “Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice.” Paul’s answer to their behavior is that (1) these temptations are neither unusual nor compelling, and (2) “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 10:13)! Garland explains: “As surely as God tests, God provides a way out (see Gen. 22:1–19). That exit is not an escape hatch that allows them to evade all difficulties.”
Just as the Jews had a covenant with God — the law of Moses — Christians are under the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28), in which Jesus died for our sins. Like the old covenant with Israel, the New Covenant with Christ obligates both Christ and believers to be loyal to the covenant. Thiselton says, “Christian believers can never claim that they could not help themselves in the face of pressure to abandon covenant faithfulness, for God will ensure, as part of his own covenant faithfulness, that he will not simply leave them to face impossible odds.” But Garland cautions, “God is just as faithful to destroy the wicked as God is faithful to save the righteous.”
Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996) 724; Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 454, footnote 17.
 Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 735.
 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 738.
 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 742.
 David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 464.
 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 459.
 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748.
 Garland, 1 Corinthians, 468.
 Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748–49.
 Garland, 1 Corinthians, 469.