Wednesday, June 1, 2011

James Dunn on 1 Corinthians 10:4

"It is hardly likely that Paul intended to identify Christ as the wilderness rock in any literal sense.So "the rock was Christ" must denote some sort of allegorical identification:The rock *represents* Christ in some way;as water from the rock,so spiritual drink from Christ.But is it an allegory of the realities *then* operative,or something more in the line of a *typological* allegory of the spiritual realities now experienced by the Corinthians?The latter seems the more probable,not least because Paul HIMSELF describes the whole affair as *types* and as happening to the Israelites *typologically* in verses 6 and 11.In verses 1-2 it is fairly obvious that the phrase "baptized into Moses" has been modelled on the more familiar Pauline formulation,"baptized into Christ"(Rom. 6:3,1 Cor. 12:13,Gal. 3:27):the passage "through the sea" and "under the cloud" simply provided a typological parallel to the event of becoming a member of Christ--hence "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" modelled on "baptized into Christ in the Spirit"(1 Cor. 12:13).The Israelites can be said to have been "baptized" only as a reflection backwards into the Exodus narrative of what the Corinthians had experienced;and can be said to have been "baptized into Moses" only because Moses served as the typological counterpart of Christ.Similarly with the latter half of the parallel(verses 3-4):the manna from heaven and the water from the rock were simply types of the spiritual sustenance received by Christians from Christ.In the first half of the midrash it was unnecessary to identify Moses as the type of Christ--that would have been obvious anyway,and the "baptized into Moses" rendered a specific identification superfluous.In the latter half however,the type of Christ is less obvious.So to clarify his exegesis Paul simply adds the interpretive note, "the rock was Christ"--that is,to understand the full message of those wilderness narratives in their application to the situation of the Corinthians.(verses 6,11)Paul's readers should see the rock then as equivalent to Christ now.In other words,Paul says to his readers:if you compare yourselves to the Israelites you will see what peril you are in.They experienced the equivalent of what we have experienced:they went through what we call a baptism;they enjoyed what we call "spiritual food"--you only need to equate Moses with Christ(so "baptized into Moses")and the rock with Christ to see how close the parallel is to your situation--and yet look what happened to them(verses 5,9)"These things have become types of,or for you"(verse 6);they "happened to the Israelites typologically,but were written down for our instruction"(verse 11)--so be warned!

Paul then may indeed have been aware of Philo's identification of the rock with wisdom,or at least of Alexandrian Judaism's readiness to interpret the events of the exodus and wilderness wanderings allegorically.But where Philo used the historical narrative as a picture of the more timeless(Platonic) encounter between God and man,Paul used it as a picture of the eschatological realities that now pertain since the coming of Christ.In this typological interpretation it is not actually implied nor does it follow that Paul intended to identify Christ with Wisdom(since the rock=Wisdom,therefore Christ=rock=Wisdom).Nor does it follow that Christ was thought of as having existed at the time of the wilderness wanderings.All we can safely say is that the allegorical interpretation of Philo(or of Alexandrian Judaism) may well have prompted the more typological interpretation of Paul:as rock=Wisdom in Alexandrian allegory,so rock=Christ in Christian typology.In short,it is not sufficiently probable that 1 Cor. 10:4 refers to Christ as preexistent for us to make anything of it in our inquiry."

from "Christology in the Making" by James D.G Dunn pp. 183-184.

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