Christ as the Rock of Exod 17 (1 Cor 10:1-4)?

In 1 Cor 10:1-4, Paul makes the shocking claim that the rock from which the Israelites drank in desert (Exod 17) was Christ:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, 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; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
(1 Cor 10:1-4; NAS1995)

On what basis does Paul make such an identification? Is this merely fanciful exegesis? Is there any theological basis for such an identification?

4 thoughts on “Christ as the Rock of Exod 17 (1 Cor 10:1-4)?”

  1. Matt,

    I’ve just sped through all of your entries to date and am pleased that you are seeking to share your learning and questions on BT, a subject in which I find great interest, since I agree with you that it is the spring from which all other theology rightly flows. Further, it is an area of study in which I need sharpening.

    As for your question here on 1 Cor 10, I’m not sure I’ve got the answer, I just wanted to comment and express support for your blog. But I do find a couple things interesting as I chew on this passage…

    I’ve never noticed before that “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them.” Certainly Paul isn’t saying that an actual rock rolled around behind them as they migrated through the wilderness (although they did get a cloud and a pillar of fire, a little rock would be no big deal). I’m guessing that Paul is saying something like, everywhere they went, they were spiritually (miraculously) provided for, and their Provider was Christ. On occasion, they received water from an actual rock, giving Paul the idea to apply this imagery to the person of Christ: He was their Rock, just as He is our Rock, that is, our source of spiritual food and drink.

    I’m not sure this relates to your questions. Maybe I need you to rephrase the question. Like I said, I need sharpening here. But I’m loving the blog!

  2. I must say, I’ve thought about this throughout today and can’t come up with a satisfactory answer.

    Paul calls the provisions from the OT “spiritual” – even the rock is spiritual. So, perhaps it boils down to understanding what Paul means by spiritual food, drink, and a rock.

    Maybe the rock is in some way a type of Christ. Or perhaps more generally, God’s provisions which involved the rock. Jesus would then be spiritual food as well (cf. John 6:30ff).

    I guess I still can’t get passed “that rock was Christ.”

    Nevertheless, thanks for this post and for the challenges and insights you bring. I absolutely love it!

  3. Matt,
    Good postings; a lot to think thru.
    In I Cor 10.1-4 I think Paul can justify his move to equate the experience of the first generation of Christians with the experience of the first generation of Israelites around the idea of ‘qualification’ or, put in the negative, ‘disqualification’ (see I Cor 9.27). By their behavior, at least some of the Corinthian believers were in danger of incurring God’s judgment (some of them had already…), instead of carrying God’s blessing and glory. Hence Paul’s language – ‘these things happened to them as examples for us’; ‘consider the people of Israel’, etc.
    As for the reference to Christ as the ‘rock that followed them’, it seems that one helpful key is Paul uses the term ‘spiritual’ rock, I believe so as to link the literal drinking from the rock, with the sustaining presence of the Angel of the Lord, who was present with them in the wilderness according to God’s promise. In this passage it doesn’t seem that Paul is exegeting scripture, so much as he is connecting (exegeting?) experiences, that of the first generation of Christians with that of the first generation of Israelites.

  4. This may be one of the more difficult uses of the OT in Paul because he seems to be so far removed from the OT text, and may be dependent on Jewish exegetical traditions. I wish I had a good concise answer for this one, but I don’t yet. But I do have a friend here in the Wheaton Ph.D program who is writing his dissertation on this, so perhaps the definitive answer is on the way in the next two years 🙂

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