Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? 1 Cor 10

1 Cor: 10:1-14: I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors 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 drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.

As our last little exegetical post, we’re going to look at “the rock was Christ”. Dunn states baldly that “There is no evidence that any NT writer thought of Jesus as actually present in Israel’s past”. This is incorrect with respect to the NT as a whole (e.g., John 12:41; Isa 6:10), and probably also with regard to the Pauline materials. In 1 Cor 10 Paul relates the OT story of the Israelites in the wilderness to the Corinthians’ own story. According to Dunn, in 1 Cor 10:1-4 Paul was using “a sort of allegory to warn his readers”: the ‘fathers’ experienced a type of baptism and Lord’s supper, and drank water from the spiritual rock which ‘followed them’, and to make the correspondence complete, Paul identifies this rock – ‘the rock was Christ’. Nonetheless, despite such blessings, they suffered a dreadful end and the Corinthians’ dallying with paganism was putting them in danger of befalling a similar  fate. Thus, in this type of allegorical reading there is no thought of the pre-existent Christ as actually active in Israel’s history. Paul was simply doing something similar to Philo who identified the rock allegorically as Wisdom (Leg. All. 2.86). Thus, Kuschel comments that, “just as the fathers once had a ‘spiritual rock’ which constantly went with them, so too the Christians today have such a rock in Christ.” On this basis, we should not press the metaphors and imagery for historical or doctrinal insights. In addition, Dunn notes the past tense (ἦν), and suggests that if Paul intended a “historical rather than a typological equation”, then, as in 8:6, it is Wisdom’s role which is being attributed to Christ (cf. Wis 11:4).

However, this interpretation is open to question. Firstly, my earlier critique of Dunn’s method of attributing personified Wisdom to Christ equally applies here. Moreover, rather than rock = Wisdom = Christ, it is more likely that Paul made the direct association of Christ with the ‘rock’ traditions, which are often linked to God’s redemptive actions (the ‘rock of salvation’, ‘my rock and my redeemer’; Ps 19:14 etc.). Thus, as it would have been natural to think of God’s greatest redemptive work in Christ, Paul may have shifted ‘rock’ from God to Christ, just as he had done with ‘Lord’. Further, as the ‘following rock’ emphasized God’s continuing graciousness, and Christ is the source of every spiritual gift (1:4-7), then as the instrument of creation (8:6) it would only be a short step also to see Christ as the source of the spiritual food and water that nourished Israel in the wilderness. Secondly, Paul is not allegorizing here, but employing typology (10:6; τύποι). As Thiselton explains, typology “is grounded in history and presupposes corresponding events”, whereas allegory “is grounded in a linguistic system of signs or semiotic codes and presupposes resonances or parallels between ideas or semiotic meanings.” In 10:4, Paul appears to make a historical reference, for if he were allegorizing he would say that the rock is Christ, instead he says that the rock was Christ. This must be granted its full weight, for it places Christ “back there” in Israel’s history rather than in the “here and now.” This is corroborated by 10:9, which states that the Israelites also ‘put Christ to the test’. Therefore, Paul wrote that ‘the rock was Christ’ in order to emphasize the typological character of Israel’s experience, stressing the historical continuity between Israel and the Corinthians. Thereby, he warned the Corinthians of the dangers which their flirtation with paganism entailed, for the same Christ who nourished both them and Israel, would also bring down judgment on them too if they continued to court idolatry. Although it would be wise not to press or over-literalize the reference to Christ as the rock, Fee seems correct that the argument does appear to reflect “not just analogies but, from Paul’s perspective, actualities… [For] it is precisely the presence of Christ in Israel’s story that will make all of this work as a warning to the Corinthians.” With the appropriate caution in dealing with these sorts of statements, the past tense and the reference to putting Christ to the test seem to indicate that Paul really did think of Christ as pre-existent and in some sense present in the OT events, not simply there in a purely figurative way.

Up next: Summation. Series Link.

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4 Responses to “Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? 1 Cor 10”

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  2. Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Conclusion « Introspective Cogitations Says:

    […] By Jonathan After analyzing the major texts (Phil 2; 1 Cor 8; Col 1; Gal 4/Rom 8; 1 Cor 10), it is clear that Paul manifestly did present a pre-existence Christology. Firstly, there are a […]

  3. Pre-existence of the Son of God in Paul? Series Link « Introspective Cogitations Says:

    […] Phil 2; 1 Cor 8; Col 1; Gal 4/Rom 8; 1 Cor 10; […]

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