1 Corinthians, Lesson 14: Learning from Old-Covenant Israel

Golden Calf2 (610x351)Paul continues to deal with the issue of whether it’s okay to eat the meat that was earlier sacrificed to idols.  Paul used himself as an example to show how he understood Christian freedom: It was not to serve the self, the view that some in Corinth had taken, but to build up the body of Christ.

As Paul has done heavily throughout 1st Corinthians, this line of thinking is also within a chiasm.  Today, we see Paul compare an athletic race with the Christian life before he segues into using the Old-Covenant Israelites as an example of what not to do:

A  8:1-13  Dealing with food sacrificed to idols

.     B  9:1-10:13  Paul (9:1-27) and the Old-Covenant Israelites (10:1-13) as examples

A’ 10:14-11:1  Dealing with food sacrificed to idols


The Christian Life is like an Athletic Event

Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Corinth hosted the “Isthmian games,” a popular athletic event every two years.  They modeled these games after the Olympics and drew many of the same athletic competitors.  Footraces and boxing were a regular part of those games.   

Paul’s use of racing and boxing as metaphors to apply to the Corinthian Christians (and Greek culture of that time) as a way to understand the Christian life simply makes sense.  The Christian life is like a race, as Paul loved to insist elsewhere (Galatians 5:7, Philippians 2:16, and 2 Timothy 4:7) and a boxing match (1 Timothy 1:18, 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7).

  • What two words does Paul use to show what the Christian life requires? (vs. 25, 27)


Ektrateuomai: control oneself, exercise self-control.  This aptly fits the running metaphor.

Hupopiazo: literally, “strike under the eye.”  This especially fits the boxing metaphor.

  • What does Paul say could even happen to himself? (vs. 27)


  • What are the implications of this for the Corinthian Christians?


Lesson 14, A Trichotomous View of the Person 


Old-Covenant Israel as an Example: The Golden Calf

Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-5

In the New Covenant, we are to see what took place as “types,” a foreshadowing that finds its fulfillment, its “antitype,” in Christ and/or the New Covenant that He instituted.  This is the world view of the Apostle Paul, which he applies to the life of Christians in the New Covenant.

Foreshadowing: Old-Covenant Israel Fulfillment: New-Covenant Church
The cloud The Holy Spirit
The sea Baptism
Baptized into Moses Baptized into Christ
Spiritual food: manna Spiritual food: Christ’s body in His Supper
Spiritual drink: water Spiritual drink: Christ’s blood in His Supper
Rock: Christ Rock: Christ


  • In this passage, who are “our fathers?”


  • How does Paul connect Israel’s experiences to life under the New Covenant?


  • Despite metaphorically being “baptized” and receiving the Lord’s Supper in the Old Covenant, what happened to most of the Israelites?


  • How would this apply to Christians in the New Covenant?


Lesson 14, Israels Experience Applied in the New Covenant


The Golden-Calf Incident

Read 1 Corinthians 10:6-7

  • What event does Paul use as a warning for those in the New Covenant?


Excursus: What Were the Israelites Doing with, and through, the Golden Calf?

If you were to read about the “golden-calf incident” in Exodus 32:1-6, based on your English translation, you would either read that the people asked Aaron to make them “gods” or “a god.”  The ESV and NIV say “gods” while the NASB and HSCB say “a god.”  Why the difference in these translations?

If one were to translate Exodus 32:1-6 based only on the grammar, “gods” would be the best translation.  Elohim (the Hebrew word for gods/god/God) is a plural form with either a singular or plural meaning.  It’s like the English word, “deer.”  However, the verbs in this passage are plural, such as, “These [plural] are your elohim ….”  Thus, based only on the immediate grammar, “gods” is the strongest translation.  If only Bible translation were so easy!


It had only been a few months since God delivered His people from Egypt.  After crossing through the Red Sea, the Israelites “feared Yahweh” (Exodus 14:31).  Later, the women of Israel joined with Miriam in singing and dancing after the event (Exodus 15:20-21).  While still in their slaves’ clothing, God’s rescue of them had deeply moved them in mind, body, and emotion.

But this only highlights the problem with understanding elohim as meaning “gods” when it came to the golden calf.  Israel clearly saw the power of Yahweh!  They were so impressed that countless generations retold the events of their rescue long after they occurred.  Why, then, would the Israelites—who were present at the Exodus—worship a golden calf as their “god”?  It doesn’t make no sense.


In some cases, the Hebrew plural pronoun (elleh), translated as “these,” (these are your gods) can carry a singular meaning and modify a singular noun, or the singular meaning of elohim, and thus mean “this.”  For example, In 1 Samuel 2:23b, we see elleh mean “this”: “For I hear of your evil deeds from all this [elleh] people [a singular group, not a plural].”  Similarly, in Judges 20:35b, “The people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin, each with an [elleh] armed sword.”  The phrase “armed sword” is modified by a singular form of “these,” translated here as “an.”  We also find other plural Hebrew forms modifying Elohim with a singular meaning: Genesis 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:23; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36; Jeremiah 10:10, 23:36; and Joshua 24:19.

So, although the Hebrew word for “these” in Exodus 32:1-6 is usually plural in meaning, that is not always the case.

One Golden Calf

In response to what the people demanded, Aaron made one golden calf, not two or more (Exodus 32:4).  Then, after the people see the calf, they respond, “These are your gods” or “This is your god.”  It makes no sense for the people to mean, “These are your gods” when they are looking at one golden calf!  Thus, the people’s own response testifies to a singular meaning for elleh: “this.”

Further, Aaron then says, “Tomorrow will be a feast day to Yahweh” (Exodus 32:5).  Aaron says that the worship they will have will be for—not some false god—but for the one, true God, the LORD, Yahweh.

Other Biblical Accounts

Nehemiah 9:18, recounting this false worship, has the cry of the people clearly using singular verbs.  They say, “This is your God who brought you out of Egypt.”

So What Really Took Place with, and through, the Golden Calf?

The Israelites intended to worship the one, true God, Yahweh (Exodus 32:5) through the golden calf.  Despite their sincerity to worship God by adapting familiar Egyptian worship forms they knew and were comfortable with, God called their worship “play” (Exodus 32:6) and a “great sin” (Exodus 32:30-31).  They didn’t have true worship of God because they chose to worship God based on their preferences, making their preferences an idol.  It just happened to be that they tried such worship through a golden calf: “Tomorrow shall be a feast day to Yahweh” (Exodus 32:5).  They had made a false god of their preferences, a golden calf (the Egyptian god, Apis), placed it before God, and expected Him to honor their worship of Him.  After all, that was what they wanted to do!



  • What point does Paul then make?


Lesson 14, Proper Starting Point with God



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