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?

  • Bodily circumcision is an insufficient forerunner to the more perfect mental "crucifixion of the snake" paradigm, and circumcision of the "heart". Jul 23, 2019 at 12:06

7 Answers 7


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.

  • 7
    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, 2012 at 4:07
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    Thank you! I remembered Phineas and the spear, but hadn't remembered the context at all. Mar 12, 2012 at 14:53

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? Jun 11, 2012 at 17:27
  • Hint: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Grotius Jun 11, 2012 at 18:17

In 1 Corinthians 10:8 says, "23000 fell dead in a single day", and in Numbers 25:9 it says, "those who died in plague were 24000". It clearly says 23k died in one day in Corinthians. And 24000 in Numbers 25. Includes total dead 23000 died of plague and the 1000 executed by Moses by hanging and other means.

Maybe a simple view can give a clear conclusion. The 1000 were executed by the Judges of Israel at the orders of Moses. Numbers 25:4-5 says (NASB):

4 "The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them [a]in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.”

5 "So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to [b]Baal of Peor.”


Paul clearly states that 23,000 died in one day. Numbers 25:9 clearly states that 24,000 died in the plague. To contend that Paul was quoting (imprecisely) from memory would lead to the conclusion that his memory was faulty--which would technically constitute an error. To say that in the plague includes those hanged or executed would be to deny the plain meaning of "in the plague." Num. 25:8 says that "the plague was stayed," so to suggest that an additional thousand died after that would contradict the definition of "stayed." Since nothing in Numbers remotely suggests a duration for the plague, I would contend that the first 1,000 died of the plague in its initial day(s) and 23,000 then died on the final, most terrible day. This answers the numerical difference without straining any definitions of terms or expressions used, and without imputing even the slightest minor error to Paul, and so in my mind is the most likely solution to the apparent dilemma.

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    I should clarify that this is not strictly my own work, but is compiled and refined from several other analyses I've read, but whose details I've forgotten. Key contributors would be Kent Hovind and Dr. Jason Lisle. Feb 4, 2019 at 16:24
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    – user22655
    Feb 12, 2019 at 4:41

In 1 Corinthians 10:8-9 says twenty three thousand died from the isralites but if you read numbers 25:9 you see that twenty four thousand died. Look at numbers 21 6-10 you'll see that the people repent they noticed they've spoken against God so God directs moses to make the serpant on a pole and those who had been bitten by the fiery serpant which God sent (in order to bring these people back to repentance) because they mocked God (sexual immorality is also mocking God) they looked at the serpant on the pole which God commanded moses to make were healed and they lived so 24 thousand were bitten they all died spiritually and physically 23 thousand died but the remaining 1000 lived because they were healed by God's serpant from moses. All this happens in order to show us if you think you stand in the faith but struggle with sufferings of hardships of any kinds weather it be short on food or physically pains there is nothing your going through that's new and God will always make a way. This the best way I know to answer this question hope it helped.

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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. Our community looks for answers to reflect a good degree of research and references. Typically, we like answers that cite scholarly references and/or explain how your interpretation arises from the text. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. Jul 29, 2016 at 4:20

Paul is talking about idolatry with the worship of Baal the canaanite God. Part of the worship was prostitution and Moses instructed the tribes to slay their leaders and 24,000 were slain. It has nothing to do with the snakes and as for why Paul said 23,000 were killed I can only guess that he was quoting from memory.

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    It is from Numbers 25:1-9 Feb 22, 2017 at 2:45

The verses in question are part Paul's brief synopsis of the problems during the exodus from Egypt which he cites are examples for the Christian Church:

6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction... (1 Corinthians 10:6-11 ESV)

Verse 8 is referring to the worship of the gods of Moab and the sexual immorality between the daughters of Moab and some of the Israelite men. This took place in Shittim (Numbers 25) and is known as the rebellion of Baal of Peor at which 24,000 died.

Verse 9 is referring to a different event when the people spoke out against God and Moses. There is no number given about the number who died by the serpents (Numbers 21).

The potential discrepancy is between the 23,000 Paul states and the 24,000 written in Numbers. As noted elsewhere, Paul’s 23,000 is sort of correct since the 24,000 who died would include 23,000; he is not wrong, just imprecise as noted in the accepted answer.

It is also possible to see that since Paul is using the events as examples, he was being very precise.

First, the description of the 24,000:

Nevertheless, those who died by the plague (מַגֵּפָה) were twenty-four thousand. (Numbers 25:9)

מַגֵּפָה can also be translated as slaughter. [H4045 - maggephah]

The messenger replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter (מַגֵּפָה) among the troops; your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” (1 Samuel 4:17 NRSV)

This event involved war with the Philistines and מַגֵּפָה is taken to mean slaughter not plague, since plague is associated with sickness or disease not armed conflict.

In the event of Baal of Peor, there is more than one means by which people died:

4 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” (Numbers 25:4-5 ESV)

7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. (Numbers 25:7-8 ESV)

The “plague” was stopped after the leaders were hung and Phinehas killed the man and the Midianite woman. Some of the 24,000 died at the hands of men as in the war with the Philistines. Some translations reflect the fact that the leaders and the two died by a different means than everyone else:

but twenty-four thousand Israelites had already died. (Numbers 25:8 CEV)

The total who were "slaughtered" was 24,000, the leaders by hanging, 2 by the spear, and the rest by another means.

In terms of Paul's letter, Jesus died while He was hanging, just as the Israelite leaders died. The example at Baal of Peor for the "church" is all of the others who died (by some other means) and not the leaders or the two.

Consider that Paul does not actually say 23,000 died. He says 23,000 fell:

We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell (πίπτω) in a single day. (10:8)

πίπτω means to fall down. [G4098 - pipto] It does not mean die, except in the sense that someone who dies normally falls down. However, Jesus died and did not fall because he was hanging at the time of death: exactly as the leaders who sinned at Baal of Peor died.

Paul draws attention to certain events because he claims they are "examples written down for our instruction." The example is not the leaders who were hung or the two who died by the spear. The example for the Church is everyone else.

Paul's statement that 23,000 fell should be taken as a deliberate understatement of the total. He understands the significance of the leaders being hung in the sun. So in the letter to the Corinthians his understated amount is the better example for the people.

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