The apostle had warned the Corinthians against carelessness and self-indulgence, instancing himself as one who must be a reprobate if he preached without keeping the body under. He now makes a pointed application of Israelitish history in scripture to clench the exhortation.
"For* I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were† baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they were drinking of a spiritual attendant rook (and the rock was Christ); but in the most of them God had no pleasure, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. But these things happened [as] types of us, that we should not be lusters after evil things, even as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, even as some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, even as some of them committed, and there fell in‡ one day twenty-three thousand. Neither let us tempt the Lord,** even as some of them tempted, and were perishing†† by the serpents. Neither murmur ye,†‡ according as§ some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer. Now all|| these things happened to them typically,¶ and were written for our admonition, unto whom the ends of the ages have reached." (Vers. 1-11.)
* γάρ p.m. A B C D E F G P, ten cursives, the Latin and Egyptian versions, many fathers Greek and Latin; δέ is read by corr. K L, most cursives, etc.
† ἐβαπτίσαντο (= got baptized) B K L P and the cursives generally, and many Greek fathers; ἐβαπτίσθησαν A C D E F G with some cursives and Greek fathers.
‡ ἐν added by most, is not in p.m. B Dp.m. F G, etc.
** κύριον B C P, eight cursives, some ancient versions and fathers; Χριστόν D E F G K L, most cursives, versions, etc.; Θεόν Α etc.
†† ἀπώλλυντο A B, the rest ἀπώλοντο
‡‡ γογγύζωμεν 'let us murmur,' D E F G, etc., contrary to the general testimony.
§ καθάπερ B P, καθώς the rest, as in Text. Rec. || πάντα is omitted by A B, etc.
¶ τυπικῶς A B C K P, and many other witnesses; τύποι as in Text. Rec., D E F G L and most cursives, etc. For the Text Reel sunevbainon, supported by A D E F G L and most; -νεν B C K (not L, as Tisch. gives by oversight on both sides) many cursives, etc. The force is greatest, when we see the facts in detail happening, (pl.) to Israel, but recorded (sing.) as a whole in scripture for us.
Israel are adduced as a warning to those who professed Christ. Did the Corinthians boast of their privileges and endowments? They are here shown how little security such institutions as baptism and the Lord's supper confer on those who rest in them. "For [this is the true reading, γάρ not δέ now, or moreover] I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." It was not only that preachers were in danger, but professors - not some, but all. Witness the ancient people of God, who similarly trusted not in God but in His acts and ordinances, their own special favours; and this from the beginning, not in days of cold and dead formality. So ready is the heart of unbelief to depart from the living God. To presume on institutions of the Lord, initiatory or even continuous, is fatal. A recent commentator regarded this passage as an inspired protest against those who, whether as individuals or sects, would lower the dignity of sacraments, or deny their necessity. To my mind the aim seems wholly different - to guard those who were baptized, and joined in the Lord's supper, from the illusion that all was therefore right and safe, that such might not grievously sin and miserably perish. The apostle solemnly disproves the superstitious and Antinomian error that men must have life because they partake of these rites. Not so; they were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, they might all therefore be said to be there and then baptized to Moses; but what was the end? It is impossible however to suppose here an outward professing mass, who had the initiatory privilege, and no more; for he takes particular pains to show that they "did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink [ἔπιον the same spiritual drink; for they were drinking [ἔπινον of a spiritual attendant rock (and the rock was Christ)."
Here we have figuratively the highest outward sign, that which answers to the Lord's supper, and not to baptism only. But the express point is to deny that there was necessarily life in the participants, still less efficacy in the signs. It is really the importance of the holy walk of faith in those who partook that the apostle is pressing, not at all to cry up the sacraments, still less to affirm the necessity of what nobody thought of denying.
But we must also beware of a mistaken notion which has misled most Protestants, some more partially, others completely, but all with inconsistency enough. They assume that by the expression, "all our fathers," the christian church is regarded as a continuation of the Jewish, and the believer as the true descendant of Abraham. Whatever is taught elsewhere under certain limits, it is plain that here the apostle teaches nothing of the sort. "For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers," etc., maintains the distinction which is sought to be got rid of. There is no fusion of the Jews of the past with the Gentiles who now believed. The same distinction is maintained in Ephesians and in Galatians. Within the church and in Christ the difference vanishes. There is oneness in Him, and such is the effect of the Spirit's baptism, who forms the one body. But it is not true retrospectively, as is commonly supposed, and drawn unintelligently from such words as these.
Again, even so sensible a writer fell into the kindred but yet grosser view, that the apostle, by the words "the same," identifies the sacraments of the old and of the new economies. "It is a well-known dogma of the schoolmen, that the sacraments of the ancient law were emblems of grace, but ours confer it. This passage is admirably suited to refute that error, for it shows that the reality of the sacrament was presented to the ancient people of God no less than to us. It is therefore a base fancy of the Sorbonists, that the holy fathers under the law had the signs without the reality. I grant, indeed, that the efficacy of the signs is furnished to us at once more clearly and more abundantly from the time of Christ's manifestation in the flesh than it was possessed by the fathers. Some explain it to mean that the Israelites ate the same meat together among themselves, and do not wish us to understand that there is a comparison between us and them; but these do not consider Paul's object. For what does he mean to say here, but that the ancient people of God were honoured with the same benefits with us, and were partakers of the same sacraments, that we might not, from confiding in any peculiar privilege, imagine that we would be exempted from the punishment which they endured?" *
*Calvin, Transl. Soc. in loc. Edinb. 1848.
That the apostle is drawing an analogy between Israel and Christians is plain; but the very language employed, that their things were "types" or figures of us, should have prevented the identification either of them and us, or of the facts that resemble baptism and the Lord's supper more or less. Doubtless the doctors of the Sorbonne were wrong in virtually denying quickening faith to the fathers under the law; but Calvin is ever, more culpably wrong, if deluded by their error of saving sacraments now, he conceives that the signs under the law were thus efficacious also. Christ alone, received by faith, has quickening power, through the Holy Spirit, either of old or now; but now there is accomplishment, as then there was only promise. Saints of old had pretermission of sins; now remission, and life more abundantly, and the gift of the Spirit. This is a vast deal more than a difference in degree only, as so many Protestants dream, not to speak of Popish darkness; but their legalism, where they are not the victims of rationalism, deprives them of perception as well as power. The veil is on their eyes, though not on their hearts.
As a question of interpretation, it is evident that by all eating the same spiritual meat the apostle is speaking of the fathers, not of the Corinthians or other Christians, the point of warning and instruction being, that in the most of them God took no pleasure, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. He is speaking therefore in these verses solely of Israel, and in no way predicating the sameness of their manna and water with our signs of Christ's death, or what men call the sacraments. The sense then is, not that they were in the very same condition with us, or had the same sacraments with us, but that, though they all partook of the same spiritual meat and drink, in the most of them God had no pleasure. Title as God's people, and participation in sacred privileges, which are expressly made like to the two institutions so familiar to us in Christendom, did not save the mass from being overthrown, by divine judgments, in the wilderness.
Next the apostle shows us how the things that happened in their case are "types of us (ver. 6), that we should not be lusters after evil things, even as they also lusted." This is general; but those things are successively specified which were perilous to the Corinthians. "Neither be idolaters, even as some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." There was, in the first place, a yielding to fleshly gratification, then pleasurable excitement followed, which told the result one sees in the scripture cited - the judgment. Were not the Corinthians in danger? "Neither let us commit fornication, even as some of them committed fornication, and fell in one day twenty-three thousand." In the history (Num. 26), where twenty-four thousand are said to have died in the plague, it is not said "in one day," as here, where we hear of a thousand less. To me such a difference implies the greatest accuracy, nor have I named all the points of distinction which deserve the thoughtful reader's consideration, small as the matter may seem, and to some grave men only a question of general numbers on either side of the precise amount. "Neither let us tempt the Lord, even as some of them tempted, and were perishing by the serpents." To tempt was to doubt His presence and action on their behalf, as Israel, not only "ten times" (Num. 14), but also just before Jehovah sent fiery serpents to cut them off. "Neither murmur, even as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer." This, if it be not more general, seems to allude to the gainsaying of Korah and his company, which so excited the evil tongue in Israel.
"Now these things happened to them typically, and were written for our admonition, unto whom the ends of the ages have reached." There cannot be a more important canon for our intelligent and profitable reading of these Old Testament oracles. The facts happened to them, but they were divinely cast in systematical figures, or forms of truth, for admonishing us who find ourselves at so critical a juncture of the world's history. They contain therefore far more than moral lessons, however weighty. They do disclose man's heart, and let out God's mind and affections but they have the larger and deeper instruction of events which illustrate immense principles, such as sovereign grace, on. the one hand, and pure law on the other, with a mingled system of government on legal ground, while mercy and goodness availed through a mediator, which came in when the people worshipped a calf at Horeb. There is thus an orderly, as well as prophetic, character in the mode these incidents are presented, which, when lit up with the light of Christ and His redemption and the truth now revealed, prove their inspiration in a self-evident way to him who has the teaching of the Holy Ghost. Israel only witnessed the facts, and the writer was enabled, by the Spirit of God, to record them in an order which was far beyond his own thoughts, or the intelligence of any before redemption; but now that this mighty work of God is accomplished, their figurative meaning stands out in the fulness of a wide system, and with a depth which reveals God, not man, as the true Author. Be it our happiness not only to know but to do the truth!
The scriptural history of Israel is thus exceedingly solemn as well as instructive. It was so recounted by the Spirit as to be typical of us. "So then let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. No temptation hath taken you save a human one: but God [is] faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what ye are able, but will make with the temptation also the issue that ye* may be able to bear [it]." (Vers. 12, 13.)
* ὑμᾶς ("ye") is expressed in Tex. Rec. with large cursive support, but contrary to the great uncials, save in a correction of two.
On the one hand the self-confidence of the Corinthians, as of every one else, is precisely the source of danger. In the world as it is, and in man as he is, there must be constant exposure; for evil exists, and an enemy is not wanting to avail himself of it; and the people of God are the especial aim of his malicious activity to dishonour the Lord by their means. If others slumber in unremoved death, those that are alive to God in Christ need to watch and pray. On the other hand they had been tried by no temptation beyond the lot of man: Christ was tried beyond it in the days of His flesh, not only at the end of His service but at the beginning; not only in all things in like manner, apart from sin, but beyond what belongs to man, tempted as He was for forty days in the wilderness. But we can only overcome in our little trials as He in His great ones by dependence on God and obedience of His word which the Spirit clothes with might against Satan. We may and ought to confide in God. If He is faithful who called us to the fellowship of His Son, equally so is He in not permitting us to be tempted beyond measure. It is His power by which the saints are kept through faith, not by their perseverance. Hence with the trial He makes also the issue or escape, and this not by removing the trial but by enabling His own to endure.
Now comes the special warning. "wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to prudent [men]: judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it* not fellowship with the blood of the Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not fellowship with the body of the Christ? Because we, the many, are one loaf, one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (Vers. 14-17.) To count idolatry impossible for a Christian is to trifle. This the Corinthians were doing. They knew, said they, that the idol was a nullity, and therefore it was nothing to them to eat meet which had been offered to heathen idols; nay, they could go a step farther and sit and eat in the heathen temples. The apostle on the contrary maintains the principle of partaking in an evil which you may not yourself do, and especially in things sacred. The true wisdom in such Gases is to keep wholly aloof. It is a misuse of knowledge to participate, or even give the appearance of participating, in what is religiously false. It is in vain to plead that the heart is not in what one allows outwardly, not only on moral grounds but because it slights Christ and ignores Satan's wiles. Is not the Christian redeemed from bondage to the enemy? Is he not bought with a price to glorify God? At once the apostle makes themselves judges by putting them in presence of the central and standing institution of church fellowship. Where was their practical understanding now? "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not fellowship with the blood of the Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not fellowship with the body of the Christ?"
* ἐστίν stands before τοῦ αἵμ in A B P, etc., and before τοῦ σ Α etc., contrary to all the rest.
Clearly the apostle reasons from the public symbol of christian communion; he is not laying it down to correct any wrong observance: else he would not hays put the cup before the loaf here. He begins his appeal with that which had the deepest meaning as to Christ; he leaves for the next place what most impressively conveys the fellowship of the saints with Christ as one body. It is so viewed as to compare it best with the peace-offerings of Israel and the sacrifices of the heathen. Fellowship there is in each. The worshippers share in common what distinguishes them from all others. In the church's case it is the blood and body of Christ. The blood of Christ awakens the gravest thoughts in the Christian; the body of Christ, the most intimate unity possible, "because we, the many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of the one loaf." There is neither transubstantiation nor consubstantiation. It is the loaf that we break, it is the one loaf of which we all partake. Representatively it is the one body of Christ; and if the loaf be that body, just so we, the many, are that one loaf also. This scripture, like the rest which speak of it, is wholly irreconcileable with Romanism or Lutheranism, which here present mere superstitions, not the truth of God. The words on which they essay to base their errors do really refute them.
There is not a thought of sacerdotal consecration of the elements. "The cup of blessing which we bless," "the loaf which we break," prove that it is no act of one endued with extraordinary power and transmitted authority. It is "we" and "we, the many," in the very context which speaks of "I" and "ye." But all such individuality vanishes from this feast, as being radically opposed to its nature. None that truly entered into its spirit could have so marred the fellowship as to make the minister first receive in both kinds himself, and then proceed to deliver the same to the clergy if present, and after that to the people also in order. Who that is faithful to its scriptural meaning could say, The body . . . . which was given for thee, the blood . . . . which was shed for thee? Still less could there have been such a contrast with the Lord's words in letter and spirit, such an oblivion even of the form as a wafer expressly unbroken placed by the priest on the tongue and no cup whatever for the communicant. These are the palpable and fatal signs of a Christendom at war with the Lord, of His word set at nought, and the Holy Spirit quenched. One of course may give thanks at the breaking of the bread; but in truth, if duly done according to Christ, it is all the saints that bless, all that break the loaf. Such is the essence of its meaning; and he who departs from it must account for it to the Lord who commanded all that are His to do thus.
It may be added that in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark we read of the Lord, after taking the loaf, blessing, and then giving thanks after taking the cup. In Luke He is said to give thanks after taking a loaf. The decisive disproof however of what gross ignorance mistakenly infers from it is that, on the occasion of feeding the multitude with bread, the very same language is used; that is, when a sacrament confessedly was out of the question, He took the five loaves and two fishes, and, looking up to heaven, blessed them. (Luke 9) It is not that εὐλογέω is exactly equivalent to εὐχαριστέω but clearly they can be used to a certain extent interchangeably; they express with a shade of difference the self-same act, neither prayer for a miracle nor the form of effecting one, but very simply a benediction or thanksgiving. If our ordinary food be sanctified by the word of God and prayer, who could think of the supper of the Lord without blessing and thanksgiving?
Again that not faith only is possessed but the Spirit of God is supposed to have sealed the communicants is plain from all that is said. Nobody doubts that a hypocrite or self-deceived soul might partake; but the Lord's intention is as clear as that the character of the feast excludes such. They may drink the wine or break the bread; but they are as distant as ever from the grace and truth therein celebrated, and only add presumptuous sin to the self-will and unbelief of their habitual life. Individually the believer has already eaten the flesh of the Son of man and drunk His blood; he eats it, knowing that he has eternal life in Him, and otherwise no life in himself. Together we bless the cup, together we break the bread in thanksgiving before Him who has blessed us beyond all thought; and herein is communion. To suppose that unbelievers share it is profanity, and deliberate profanity if we systematically open the door for them and invite them in.
But the point before the apostle was rather that the Christian cannot go out to another fellowship if he enjoy this. Communion is the joint participation of the blessing for all whom it concerns; but it excludes as rigorously those who have no part or lot in it. Further it forbids from any other fellowship those who share this. Even the Israelite after the flesh who ate the sacrifices was a partaker with the altar of Jehovah, severed thus in principle and fact from the vanities of the heathen. "See Israel according to flesh: are not they that eat the sacrifices in fellowship with the altar?" How much more did it become the Christian to judge and walk according to God! If they lived in the Spirit, let them walk in the Spirit.
"What say I then? that an idol-sacrifice* is anything, or that an idol* is anything? but that what they† sacrifice‡ they sacrificed to demons and not to God; and I wish you not to be in fellowship with demons. Ye cannot drink [the] Lord's cup and a cup of demons; ye cannot partake of [the] Lord's table and of a table of demons. What! do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?" (Vers. 19-22.)
* corr. B Ccorr. D E P, some cursives, many versions, etc., have the order different from K L and most with Text. Rec., p.m. A Cp.m. omitting the second clause altogether.
† τὰ ἔθνη A C L most cursives, the ancient versions, etc., as in Text. Rec., but not in B D E Fgr Ggr. etc.
‡ θύουσιν A B a D E F G I' etc. θύει K L. most cursives. etc.
To eat of sacrificial offerings was evidently then no light matter. As the Jew who ate was in communion with the altar, so he who partook of what was offered to an idol had fellowship with the idol. Such is its real meaning. Does this contradict the previous reasoning of the apostle as of the prophets of old, that the idol was a mere nonentity? Not at all. But if such products of man's device have no existence and their images see not nor hear, demons are very real and avail themselves of man's imagination or his fears and arrogate to themselves the idol-sacrifices. The emptiness of idols is therefore no ground for partaking of meats sacrificed to them; for "what they sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God." (See Deu_32:17; Psa_95:6.) The idols and their sacrifices may be utterly powerless; but demons hiding behind can and do thereby shut out from souls the true God and usurp the homage due to Him alone. This is the effect of heathen worship, not the intention of the worshippers or of those who partake in their sacrifices. They no more purposed to revere demons (or fallen and evil spirits) than the unconverted now mean to serve Satan. But they did and do so none the less. The truth puts things in their real light which the reasoning, the imagination, or the indifference of man leaves in the shade.
The Corinthians loved ease and sought to escape the cross. Why trouble, they might argue, about trifles? The idol is nothing, nor its sacrifices, nor its temple. How unwise then to offend for nothing! Communion with demons, answers the apostle, is the result. He that eats and drinks where the Lord's blessing is not partakes in the demon's curse. We shall see in the next chapter what it is to eat and drink unworthily at the Lord's supper. Here it is the real character of the evil where one partook of things sacrificed to idols, which the vain Corinthians prided themselves on doing freely because of their superior knowledge. But no one can have fellowship with the Lord and with demons: if he tampers with demons, has he not virtually abandoned the Lord? They may delight to have and harm the christian professor; the Lord refuses His fellowship to the idolater. If fellowship is inclusive, it is exclusive. "He that is not with me is against me," said He Himself; "and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." (Matt. 12) "What! do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?" Love cannot but be jealous of wandering affections; it were not love if it did not resent unfaithfulness. And is He so powerless that we can despise Him with impunity? Are we stronger than He? Do we court destruction?
Thus had the apostle shown the danger of idolatry, from the inveterate tendency, not of the Gentiles merely in their habitual worship of idols, but of the very people separated to Jehovah as His witnesses against it. He had also proved that to partake of sacrificial feasts in a heathen temple is none the less idolatrous, because, if the idol is nothing, the demons are very serious indeed, as the enemies of God and man. The meat in itself may be harmless, but to eat it thus is to have communion with the demons behind the idol, and so to renounce the fellowship of Christ. For one cannot have both: Christianity, Judaism, heathenism, are exclusive of each other. The Lord must feel and judge such unfaithfulness on the part of His own; His love. and honour could not pass by a virtual renunciation of Himself.
But if a Christian should abstain from idol-sacrifice out of love to a weak brother, and yet more for fear of provoking the Lord's jealousy, is it wrong in itself to eat such meat? Certainly not. As he began, so he closes. "All things are lawful,* but do not profit; all things are lawful,* but do not edify. Let no one seek his own [advantage], but his neighbour's [literally, that of the other]." (Vers. 23, 24.) The principle laid down in chapter 6 is enlarged. It is not merely lawful "to me," nor is it a question here of being brought under the power of any. There indifference as to meats exposed some to impurity, here to idolatry. The apostle urges not merely exemption from evil, but positive edification. This love alone secures; because it looks not at its own things and seeks the good of others. It would please one's neighbour, with a view to good to edification. Even Christ, in whom was no evil, did not please Himself, but rather took on Himself the reproaches of those that reproached Jehovah. Thus it is not enough to avoid being brought under the power of anything, but one should seek the profit, not of self, but of others, and the building up of all.
* μοι is added by the correctors of and C, by H K L, most cursives, etc., contrary to the best authorities of every kind.
Hence we have the principle applied in general, and tested particularly, in verses 25-30. "Everything that is offered for sale in the shambles eat, examining nothing for conscience sake: for the earth [is] the Lord's, and its fulness. And if any of the unbelieving inviteth you, and ye desire to go, all that is set before you eat, examining nothing for conscience sake. But if any say to you, This is sacrificed,* eat not for his sake that pointed [it] out and conscience,† but conscience I say, not one's own but the other's; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If‡ I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?" Thus the principle of God's creation holds good for all that is on sale in the market, as well as for what might be on an unbeliever's table, if one should go there, and one may eat in either case without special inquiry. It is otherwise, not merely in an idol temple but even in private, where one should say, This is offered to holy purposes, because he evidently has a conscience about it, though one otherwise might have perfect liberty. It is good in such a case to deny oneself, and not expose one's liberty to be judged by another, or incur evil speaking for the thing for which I give thanks. One must in love respect the scruple of the weakest saint, while holding fast by the intelligence and liberty of Christ.
* ἱερόθυτον as a heathen would say, A B H S Sah. yr. (Pesch.); but all others, εἰδωλόθυτον sacrificed to idols, as a Christian might say.
† The last clause of T. Rec. is omitted by the ancient authorities.
‡ δέ ("For") is added in T. Rec. by few and slight witnesses.
The apostle then lays down the still larger and golden rule of christian conduct: "Whether then ye eat or drink, or do anything, do all things unto God's glory. Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews or Greeks, or to the church of God; even as I too please all in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but that of the many, that they be saved. Be imitators of me, even as I too am of Christ." (Ver. 31; 1Co_11:1.) Thus, if one does all to God's glory, self is not sought to be gratified, but given up; and in this way is no stumbling-block presented to man, on the one hand, whether Jews or Gentiles, or to God's assembly, on the other. Love alone so walks, seeking God's glory and man's good. Against the fruit of the Spirit there is no law, even among those who vaunt law most, and least love grace. So it was with the apostle habitually; the most uncompromising of all the apostles, none equalled him in gracious concession, where it could be consistently with Christ.