1 Corinthians 10:4, The Rock That Followed

And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

//This is Paul talking, comparing Jesus to a rock. Remember this story? Israel, traveling through the desert, grew thirsty and God told Moses to strike a rock to produce water. Moses whacks it with a staff, and it bleeds water (Exodus 17:6).

Sometime later, the Israelites thirst again, and again God tells Moses to bring forth water from the Rock. Tradition says this is the same Rock as the first time, which had been following the Israelites around providing water, but now it had apparently quit producing.

This time, however, God commands Moses to merely speak to the Rock. It doesn’t need further physical inducement. But Moses doubts, and whacks the poor Rock. It doesn’t respond, so he whacks it again. This time, the Rock gives up its water (Numbers 20:11). God is displeased over Moses’ inhumane treatment of the Rock, and decides Moses will be denied entrance to the Promised Land.

This is the traveling Rock that Paul writes about in today’s verse. John’s Gospel further explains the analogy, describing the death of Christ: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. This act of piercing Jesus’ side, like that of Moses striking the rock, produced water but was unnecessary. Accordingly, as Moses was denied entrance into the Promised Land, so will these men be punished, while those redeemed by the blood/water of Christ are welcomed into the new age:

Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. (Revelation 1:7)


  1. I was thinking about this verse not long ago, as I was reading James Dunn’s book, Christology in the Making. Dunn does not believe that Paul thought that Christ pre-existed, and so he tries to address the verses that appear to say otherwise. One of those verses is I Corinthians 10:4. According to Dunn, the passage is not saying that Christ was with the Israelites in the wilderness, but rather is treating the rock as a type of the Christ who is to come. I can somewhat see what he’s saying, but I have problems with that position, for I Corinthians 10:4 appears to suggest that the Israelites in the wilderness were nourished by the spiritual rock, Christ. I wonder how that could be, if Christ were not with them in the wilderness.

  2. :) I’ve always had a hard time with this verse, always tending to just dismiss it out of hand. “spiritual” drink” and “spiritual” rock? They drank real water from a real rock, best I can tell. Sounds like a spiritualized story.

    But then … type or not, Paul does seem to place Christ in the wilderness with them.

    How does Dunn argue?

  3. What I remember is that Dunn says Paul appeals to the wilderness as an example for the church of his day, and so that’s what Paul is doing in I Corinthians 10:4—-not saying Christ was around in the wilderness days, but that events in the wilderness days can instruct the church.

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