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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 1 by Jean Calvin

1 Corinthians 10:6-12

6. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.

6. Haec autem typi nobis fuerunt, ne simus concupiscentes malorum, sicut illi concupiverunt.

7. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

7. Neque idololatrae sitis, quemadmodum quidam eorum: sicut scriptum est. (Exodus 32:6.) Sedit populus ad edendum et bibendum, et surrexerunt ad ludendum.

8. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.

8. Neque scortemur, quemadmodum et quidam eorum scortati sunt, et ceciderunt uno die viginti tria millia.

9. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

9. Neque tentemus Christum, quemadmodum et quidam eorum tentarunt, et exstincti sunt a serpentibus.

10. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

10. Neque murmuretis, quemadmodum et quidam eorum murmurarant, et perditi ruerunt a vastatore.

11. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

11. Haec autem omnia typi contigerunt illis: scripta autem sunt ad nostri admonitionem, in quos fines saeculorum inciderunt.

12. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

12. Proinde qui se putat stare, videat ne cadat.

6. Now these things were types to us. He warns us in still more explicit terms, that we have to do with the punishment that was inflicted upon them, so that they are a lesson to us, that we may not provoke the anger of God as they did. |God,| says he, |in punishing them has set before us, as in a picture, his severity, that, instructed by their example, we may learn to fear.| Of the term type I shall speak presently. Only for the present I should wish my readers to know, that it is not without consideration that I have given a different rendering from that of the old translation, and of Erasmus. For they obscure Paul's meaning, or at least they do not bring out with sufficient clearness this idea -- that God has in that people presented a picture for our instruction.

That we might not lust after evil things. He now enumerates particular instances, or certain examples, that he may take occasion from this to reprove some vices, as to which it was proper that the Corinthians should be admonished. I am of opinion, that the history that is here referred to is what is recorded in Numbers 11:4, etc., though others refer it to what is recorded in Numbers 26:64. The people, after having been for some time fed with manna, at length took a dislike to it, and began to desire other kinds of food, which they had been accustomed to partake of in Egypt. Now they sinned in two ways, for they despised the peculiar gift of God, and they eagerly longed after a variety of meats and delicacies, contrary to the will of God. The Lord, provoked by this lawless appetite, inflicted upon the people a grievous blow. Hence the place was called the

graves of lust, because there they buried those whom the Lord had smitten. (Numbers 11:34.)

The Lord by this example testified how much he hates those lusts that arise from dislike of his gifts, and from our lawless appetite, for whatever goes beyond the measure that God has prescribed is justly reckoned evil and unlawful.

7. Neither be ye idolaters He touches upon the history that is recorded in Exodus 32:7, etc. For when Moses made a longer stay upon the mountain than the unseemly fickleness of the people could endure, Aaron was constrained to make a calf, and set it up as an object of worship. Not that the people wished to change their God, but rather to have some visible token of God's presence, in accordance with their carnal apprehension. God, in punishing at that time this idolatry with the greatest severity, showed by that example how much he abhors idolatry.

As it is written, The people sat down This passage is rightly interpreted by few, for they understand intemperance among the people to have been the occasion of wantonness, in accordance with the common proverb, |Dancing comes after a full diet.| But Moses speaks of a sacred feast, or in other words, what they celebrated in honor of the idol. Hence feasting and play were two appendages of idolatry. For it was customary, both among the people of Israel and among the rotaries of superstition, to have a feast in connection with a sacrifice, as a part of divine worship, at which no profane or unclean persons were allowed to be present. The Gentiles, in addition to this, appointed sacred games in honor of their idols, in conformity with which the Israelites doubtless on that occasion worshipped their calf, for such is the presumption of the human mind, that it ascribes to God whatever pleases itself. Hence the Gentiles have fallen into such a depth of infatuation as to believe, that their gods are delighted with the basest spectacles, immodest dances, impurity of speech, and every kind of obscenity. Hence in imitation of them the Israelitish people, having observed their sacred banquet, rose up to celebrate the games, that nothing might be wanting in honor of the idol. This is the true and simple meaning.

But here it is asked, why the Apostle makes mention of the feast and the games, rather than of adoration, for this is the chief thing in idolatry, while the other two things were merely appendages. The reason is, that he has selected what best suited the case of the Corinthians. For it is not likely, that they frequented the assemblies of the wicked, for the purpose of prostrating themselves before the idols, but partook of their feasts, held in honor of their deities, and did not keep at a distance from those base ceremonies, which were tokens of idolatry. It is not therefore without good reason that the Apostle declares, that their particular form of offense is expressly condemned by God. He intimates, in short, that no part of idolatry can be touched without contracting pollution, and that those will not escape punishment from the hand of God, who defile themselves with the outward tokens of idolatry.

8. Neither let us commit fornication Now he speaks of fornication, in respect of which, as appears from historical accounts, great licentiousness prevailed among the Corinthians, and we may readily infer from what goes before, that those who had professed themselves to be Christ's were not yet altogether free from this vice. The punishment of this vice, also, ought to alarm us, and lead us to bear in mind, how loathsome impure lusts are to God, for there perished in one day twenty-three thousand, or as Moses says, twenty-four. Though they differ as to number, it is easy to reconcile them, as it is no unusual thing, when it is not intended to number exactly and minutely each head, to put down a number that comes near it, as among the Romans there were those that received the name of Centumviri, (The Hundred,) while in reality there were two above the hundred. As there were, therefore, about twenty-four thousand that were overthrown by the Lord's hand -- that is, above twenty-three, Moses has set down the number above the mark, and Paul, the number below it, and in this way there is in reality no difference. This history is recorded in Numbers 25:9

There remains, however, one difficulty here -- why it is that Paul attributes this punishment to fornication, while Moses relates that the anger of God was aroused against the people on this account -- that they had initiated themselves in the sacred rites of Baalpeor. But as the defection began with fornication, and the children of Israel fell into that impiety, not so much from being influenced by religious considerations, as from being allured by the enticements of harlots, everything evil that followed from it ought to be attributed to fornication. For Balaam had given this counsel, that the Midianites should prostitute their daughters to the Israelites, with the view of estranging them from the true worship of God. Nay more, their excessive blindness, in allowing themselves to be drawn into impiety by the enticements of harlots, was the punishment of lust. Let us learn, accordingly, that fornication is no light offense, which was punished on that occasion by God so severely and indeed in a variety of ways.

9. Neither let us tempt Christ This part of the exhortation refers to the history that is recorded in Numbers 21:6. For the people, having become weary of the length of time, began to complain of their condition, and to expostulate with God -- |Why has God deceived us,| etc. This murmuring of the people Paul speaks of as a tempting; and not without good reason, for tempting is opposed to patience. What reason was there at that time why the people should rise up against God, except this -- that, under the influence of base desire, they could not wait in patience the arrival of the time appointed by the Lord? Let us, therefore, take notice, that the fountain of that evil against which Paul here warns us is impatience, when we wish to go before God, and do not give ourselves up to be ruled by Him, but rather wish to bind him to our inclination and laws. This evil God severely punished in the Israelitish people. Now he remains always like himself -- a just Judge. Let us therefore not tempt him, if we would not have experience of the same punishment.

This is a remarkable passage in proof of the eternity of Christ; for the cavil of Erasmus has no force -- |Let us not tempt Christ, as some of them tempted God;| for to supply the word God is extremely forced. Nor is it to be wondered that Christ is called the Leader of the Israelitish people. For as God was never propitious to his people except through that Mediator, so he conferred no benefit except through his hand. Farther, the angel who appeared at first to Moses, and was always present with the people during their journeying, is frequently called yhvh, Jehovah. Let us then regard it as a settled point, that that angel was the Son of God, and was even then the guide of the Church of which he was the Head. As to the term Christ, from its having a signification that corresponds with his human nature, it was not as yet applicable to the Son of God, but it is assigned to him by the communication of properties, as we read elsewhere, that

the Son of Man came down from heaven. (John 3:13.)

10. Neither murmur ye Others understand this to be the murmuring that arose, when the twelve, who had been sent to spy out the land, disheartened, on their return, the minds of the people. But as that murmuring was not punished suddenly by any special chastisement from the Lord, but was simply followed by the infliction of this punishment -- that all were excluded from the possession of the land, it is necessary to explain this passage otherwise. It was a most severe punishment, it is true, to be shut out from entering the land, but the words of Paul, when he says that they were destroyed by the destroyer, express another kind of chastisement. I refer it, accordingly, to the history, which is recorded in the sixteenth chapter of Numbers. [Nu 16:1-50]. For when God had punished the pride of Korah and Abiram, the people raised a tumult against Moses and Aaron, as if they had been to blame for the punishment which the Lord had inflicted. This madness of the people God punished by sending down fire from heaven, which swallowed up many of them -- upwards of fourteen thousand. It is, therefore, a striking and memorable token of God's wrath against rebels and seditious persons, that murmur against him.

Those persons, it is true, murmured against Moses; but as they had no ground for insulting him, and had no occasion for being incensed against him, unless it was that he had faithfully discharged the duty which had been enjoined upon him by God, God himself was assailed by that murmuring. Let us, accordingly, bear in mind that we have to do with God, and not with men, if we rise up against the faithful ministers of God, and let us know that this audacity will not go unpunished.

By the destroyer you may understand the Angel, who executed the judgment of God. Now he sometimes employs the ministry of bad angels, sometimes of good, in punishing men, as appears from various passages of Scripture. As Paul here does not make a distinction between the one and the other, you may understand it of either.

11. Now all these things happened as types. He again repeats it -- that all these things happened to the Israelites, that they might be types to us -- that is, examples, in which God places his judgments before our eyes I am well aware, that others philosophize on these words with great refinement, but I think that I have fully expressed the Apostle's meaning, when I say, that by these examples, like so many pictures, we are instructed what judgments of God are impending over idolaters, fornicators, and other contemners of God. For they are lively pictures, representing God as angry on account of such sins. This exposition, besides being simple and accurate, has this additional advantage, that it blocks up the path of certain madmen, who wrest this passage for the purpose of proving, that among that ancient people there was nothing done but what was shadowy. First of all, they assume that that people is a figure of the Church. From this they infer, that everything that God promised to them, or accomplished for them -- all benefits, all punishments, only prefigured what required to be accomplished in reality after Christ's advent. This is a most pestilential frenzy, which does great injury to the holy fathers, and much greater still to God. For that people was a figure of the Christian Church, in such a manner as to be at the same time a true Church. Their condition represented ours in such a manner that there was at the same time, even then, a proper condition of a Church. The promises given to them shadowed forth the gospel in such a way, that they had it included in them. Their sacraments served to prefigure ours in such a way, that they were nevertheless, even for that period, true sacraments, having a present efficacy. In fine, those who at that time made a right use, both of doctrine, and of signs, were endowed with the same spirit of faith as we are. These madmen, therefore, derive no support from these words of Paul, which do not mean that the things that were done in that age were types, in such a way as to have at that time no reality, but a mere empty show. Nay more, they expressly teach us, (as we have explained,) that those things which may be of use for our admonition, are there set forth before us, as in a picture.

They are written for our admonition This second clause is explanatory of the former; for it was of no importance to the Israelites, but to us exclusively, that these things should be committed to record. It does not, however, follow from this, that these inflictions were not true chastisements from God, suited for their correction at that time, but as God then inflicted his judgments, so he designed that they should be kept everlastingly in remembrance for our instruction. For of what advantage were the history of them to the dead; and as to the living, how would it be of advantage to them, unless they repented, admonished by the examples of others? Now he takes for granted the principle, as to which all pious persons ought to be agreed -- that there is nothing revealed in the Scriptures, that is not profitable to be known.

Upon whom the ends of the world are come The word tele (ends) sometimes means mysteries; and that signification would not suit in with this passage. I follow, however, the common rendering, as being more simple. He says then, that the ends of all ages are come upon us, inasmuch as the fullness of all things is suitable to this age, because it is now the last times. For the kingdom of Christ is the main object of the Law and of all the Prophets. But this statement of Paul is at variance with the common opinion -- that God, while more severe under the Old Testament, and always ready and armed for the punishment of crimes, has now begun to be exorable, and more ready to forgive. They explain, also, our being under the law of grace, in this sense -- that we have God more placable than the ancients had. But what says Paul? If God inflicted punishment upon them, he will not the more spare you. Away, then, with the error, that God is now more remiss in exacting the punishment of crimes! It must, indeed, be acknowledged, that, by the advent of Christ, God's goodness has been more openly and more abundantly poured forth towards men; but what has this to do with impunity for the abandoned, who abuse his grace?

This one thing only must be noticed, that in the present day the mode of punishment is different; for as God of old was more prepared to reward the pious with outward tokens of his blessing, that he might testify to them his fatherly love, so he showed his wrath more by corporal punishments. Now, on the other hand, in that fuller revelation which we enjoy, he does not so frequently inflict visible punishments, and does not so frequently inflict corporal punishment even upon the wicked. You will find more on this subject in my Institutes.

12. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth The Apostle concludes from what goes before, that we must not glory in our beginnings or progress, so as to resign ourselves to carelessness and inactivity. For the Corinthians gloried in their condition in such a way, that, forgetting their weakness, they fell into many crimes. This was a false confidence of such a kind as the Prophets frequently reprove in the Israelitish people. As, however, Papists wrest this passage for the purpose of maintaining their impious doctrine respecting faith, as having constantly doubt connected with it, let us observe that there are two kinds of assurance.

The one is that which rests on the promises of God, because a pious conscience feels assured that God will never be wanting to it; and, relying on this unconquerable persuasion, triumphs boldly and intrepidly over Satan and sin, and yet, nevertheless, keeping in mind its own infirmity, casts itself upon God, and with carefulness and anxiety commits itself to him. This kind of assurance is sacred, and is inseparable from faith, as appears from many passages of Scripture, and especially Romans 8:33.

The other arises from negligence, when men, puffed up with the gifts that they have, give themselves no concern, as if they were beyond the reach of danger, but rest satisfied with their condition. Hence it is that they are exposed to all the assaults of Satan. This is the kind of assurance which Paul would have the Corinthians to abandon, because he saw that they were satisfied with themselves under the influence of a silly conceit. He does not, however, exhort them to be always anxiously in doubt as to the will of God, or to tremble from uncertainty as to their salvation, as Papists dream. In short, let us bear in mind, that Paul is here addressing persons who were puffed up with a base confidence in the flesh, and represses that assurance which is grounded upon men -- not upon God. For after commending the Colossians for the solidity or steadfastness of their faith, (Colossians 2:5,) he exhorts them to be

rooted in Christ, to remain firm, and to be built up and confirmed in the faith. (Colossians 2:7.)

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