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I was going through 1 Corinthians 10, doing my best to not fixate on verse 13 until i knew the context :) when I read this:

8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ,[b] as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.

I get the reference in 10:9 - that's the whole Suffering Symbol thing. But 10:8 appears to be a separate story. I also remember Korah being about 23000, but they were killed for rebelling against God and Moses - not sexual immortality.

It also doesn't seem like it should be Sodom and Gomorrah, because that's a different time period.

So, what's the reference?

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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It is apparently a reference to Numbers 25:1-9.

The difficulty with this answer, however, is that the number referred to in that passage is actually 24 ,000 (even in the Septuagint: "τεσσαρες και εικοσι χιλιαδες"). I don't have an explanation for this apparent discrepancy. Of course, what Paul says is, in fact, "true" (if 24K died, it is also true that 23K died; so it is not, technically, an "error"). It's just not "precise". Perhaps someone else could shed light on this.

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Recall, that for Paul, as for all other Bible students of that era, one could not easily look up a passage in a scroll like we can in a book with pages, so he was, no doubt, quoting from memory. –  kmote Mar 12 '12 at 4:07
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Thank you! I remembered Phineas and the spear, but hadn't remembered the context at all. –  Affable Geek Mar 12 '12 at 14:53
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The apparent discrepancy will yield to a careful reading of both verses. "Those who died by the plague were 24,000.", "... and in one day 23,000 of them died." It follows, therefore, that, consequent to being struck by God, 23,000 people died in one day, and 1,000 people died in days following. This is an example of the New Testament providing an amplification of events recorded in the Old Testament, yet not a revision.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics--Stack Exchange! While I can see that this reading is possible, it seems like one would need to distort the plain meaning of one text or another. Do you have any references to other commentators reading the texts this way? –  Jon Ericson Jun 11 '12 at 17:27
    
Hint: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Grotius –  Eli Rosencruft Jun 11 '12 at 18:17
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