They drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.
Trinitarians have claimed this verse indicates Christ pre-existed and was with the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness.
The Claim vs. The Facts
Paul tells us explicitly in this selfsame context that he is speaking typologically.
The Problems with the Claim
1. Inconsistent Interpretation
Paul says that the Israelites ate spiritual food and spiritual drink. We know the spiritual food the Israelites ate was the manna out of heaven. If the rock from which they drank was Christ himself, are we to suppose the manna they ate was Christ himself?
2. Incoherent Interpretation
Paul said they drank from the rock that followed them. Are we really to suppose that God the Son was following the Israelites wandering around the wilderness? Shouldn't it be the other way around and Israel was following God the Son?
3. Appeal to Questionable Manuscripts
Trinitarians often try to support this claim with an appeal to a highly questionable version of verse 9:
We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by serpents. 10:9.
However, the best manuscript evidence does not read "Christ" in this verse. Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus read "Lord" rather than "Christ." Codex Alexandrinus reads "God" rather than "Christ." Trinitarians simply ignore the important manuscript evidence and cherry pick what suits their apologetic needs.
Analysis of the Facts
1. The Context
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank out of the spiritual rock that followed them, but that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them for they were strewn about in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as types of us so that we would not lust after evil things as they lusted. Do not be idolaters like some of them were, as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to play." Neither let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand of them fell. Neither let us test the Lord as some of them did, and perished by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them grumbled, and perished by the destroyer. These things happened to them as types and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the ends of the ages has arrived.... Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a communion in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one bread.
2. The Language of Typology
Paul twice emphasizes that what happened to Israel was a "type" (Greek typos), or typology, of similar things in Christianity. This is why he refers to baptism into Moses, a typology of Christian baptism. This is why he refers to spiritual food and spiritual drink, a typology of the Lord's Supper. He is about to discuss food sacrificed to idols within the context of the spiritual food and spiritual drink of the Lord's Supper. Paul emphasizes that the spiritual food and spiritual drink which the Israelites consumed was a typology of the food and drink which Christians share. The Israelites had spiritual food and spiritual drink yet they committed idolatry and were judged for their transgression. Paul is explaining that they were a pattern or "type" of what will happen to us if we do the same and that typology of Israel serves as a warning to us.
When Paul says "the rock was Christ" he is referring to the rock as a typology of Christ in the same way he refers to the Exodus through the Red Sea as a "baptism" into Moses, a typology of Christians baptism. The Israelites were not literally "baptized" into Moses nor did they drink from Christ. As he explains, the Lord's Supper is a communion in the body and blood of Christ. But Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that they are still subject to judgment. Just because they are blessed with this spiritual food and drink does not mean all is well if they commit idolatry as the Israelites did.
He says they were baptized into Moses which is a portrayal of Christians being baptized into Christ. The Israelites were not really "baptized into Moses." Paul is using the language of typology. He is showing the Corinthians how Christianity is typologically similar to the story of the Israelites, their deliverance from Egypt, and the subsequent things which happened. So when he says they were "baptized into Moses," the Corinthian readers were expected to understand that Paul is portraying the Exodus as a typological pattern or picture of Christian baptism. Likewise, when he says "that rock was Christ" he is using the language of typology. That rock from which they drank was a typological picture of the spiritual drink of Christianity in the Lord's Supper which Paul is about to discuss. When he says they were "baptized into Moses" Paul is showing how the Israelites in the past are typologically like us today when we are baptized into Christ. But when he says "that rock was Christ," Paul is showing how we today in the spiritual drink of the Lord's Supper are like the Israelites of the past when they drank from the rock.
It is quite clear that Paul is emphasizing typologies in this passage and so he uses the language of typology. Israelites were not baptized into the man Moses. However, using such language helps people understand how the pattern with ancient Israel and Christianity is the same. Although the Israelites were not really baptized into Moses, Paul uses that terminology so that people make the typological connection between Israel of old and present Christianity. When he says "baptized into Moses" people are expected to think "baptized into Christ." And he is doing the same thing when he says "that rock was Christ." People are expected to think their spiritual drink is a pattern of Christianity's spiritual drink when they share in the blood of Christ. Also see 1 Corinthians 12:13. Paul is showing the Corinthians that baptism into Moses, and the spiritual food and spiritual drink they enjoyed, did not prevent judgment upon the Israelites by God. And he does this to show them that the same judgment can befall them if they are disobedient.
Understanding Paul here is a matter of basic reading comprehension. He is clearly drawing an analogy between ancient Israel and Christianity to show the Corinthian Christians they are still subject to judgment for misconduct. He analogizes in this matter to warn Christians about the consequences of idolatry by illustrating the consequences of idolatry for ancient Israel who were typologically in the same situation. Paul immediately signals to them that he is speaking typologically when he says Israel was "baptized into Moses." So, we are not to suppose that rock was literally Christ following Israel around anymore than we are to suppose the ancient Israelites were literally baptized into Moses. He is using the language of typology and analogy. Israel was analogically baptized into Moses as Christians were baptized into Christ. In the same way, Christ was analogically that rock from which they received spiritual drink just as we receive the spiritual drink from Christ in the Lord's Supper.
Now these things happened as typologies for us, so that we would not desire evil things as they did.
Created: September 25, 2014
Last Revision/Update: April 12, 2016