Numbers 25:9 (NKJV)

9 And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.

1 Corinthians 10:8 (NKJV)

8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;

Assuming Paul was referencing to the incident of Baal of peor where Israel committed sexual immorality,how can we reconcile the difference in terms of numbers that fell in one day


The verse in Corinthians is part Paul's brief synopsis of the problems during the exodus from Egypt which he states are examples for the 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.

The discrepancy is between the 23,000 Paul states and the 24,000 written in Numbers. As noted elsewhere Per 1 Cor 10:8, when did God kill 23,000 for sexual immorality?, Paul’s 23,000 is sort of correct since the 24,000 who died would include 23,000; he is imprecise not wrong.

It is also possible to see that since Paul is using the events as examples, he was being 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] as seen here:

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)

Since this event involved war מַגֵּפָה is taken to mean slaughter since "plague" would be 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 these facts:

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 the context of Paul writing to the church, the leader is Jesus, who like the Israelite leaders died while hanging. The example at Baal of Peor for the "church" is all of the others who died by some other means.

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 for the Church is the "everyone else" at Baal of Peor.

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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They probably cannot easily be reconciled, but one must ask whether the point of Paul's teaching is to firmly establish exactly how many perished in the plague of old, or is rather that Christians should avoid sexual immorality.

According to the apparatus of the Nestle-Aland Greek English New Testament (11th ed.), certain Latin and Syriac manuscripts do, in fact, indicate 24,000 instead of 23,000, as does one Greek Miniscule dating from the 11th century (81), but the majority of manuscripts do indicate 24 and not 23 thousand.

John Chrysostom (4th c.), who normally does not shy away from addressing inconsistencies in Scripture when they occur, does not even mention the discrepancy in his homily on this passage. One might surmise that the Septuagint (which was favored by the eastern Fathers) perhaps indicates 23 instead of 24 thousand, but this seems not to be the case. Chrysostom is more concerned with the moral of the story rather than the precise details:

“Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed.” Wherefore doth he here make mention of fornication again, having so largely discoursed concerning it before? It is ever Paul’s custom when he brings a charge of many sins, both to set them forth in order and separately to proceed with his proposed topics, and again in his discourses concerning other things to make mention also of the former: which thing God also used to do in the Old Testament, in reference to each several transgression, reminding the Jews of the calf and bringing that sin before them. This then Paul also does here, at the same time both reminding them of that sin, and teaching that the parent of this evil also was luxury and gluttony. Wherefore also he adds, “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.”

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Harmonizers assumes that it could be that Paul could be mistaken in his memory by citing a thousand less in number. But I strongly doubt such assumption for those Jewish experts in the culture to make any such mistake as they were masters in memorizing scripture. The reason must have been that Paul emphasized the death toll in a single day; and the other thousand died gradually as the plague subsided; this could be an information from tradition.

JFB commentary mentions a reference from Kitto Biblical cyclopedia which is relevant here:

The solution is: Moses in Numbers includes all who died "in the plague"; Paul, all who died "in one day"; one thousand more may have fallen the next day [KITTO, Biblical Cyclopædia]. Or, the real number may have been between twenty-three thousand and twenty-four thousand, say twenty-three thousand five hundred, or twenty-three thousand six hundred; when writing generally where the exact figures were not needed, one writer might quite veraciously give one of the two round numbers near the exact one, and the other writer the other [BENGEL]. Whichever be the true way of reconciling the seeming discrepant statements, at least the ways given above prove they are not really irreconcilable.

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If 23,000 died in one day, but 24,000 died in the plague can't we infer that the plague lasted more than 1 day?

On what basis is reconciliation necessary?
Why infer the plague only lasted a day?

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Numbers 25:8-9 (GNV) records:

8 And followed the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust them both through: to wit, the man of Israel, and the woman, [h]through her belly: so the plague ceased from the children of Israel. 9 And there died in that plague four and twenty thousand.

1 Corinthians 10:8 (GNV) records:

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

Numbers says 24,000, but Paul said it was 23,000 died in one day. In my understanding this constitutes a contradiction.

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  • Hi, a warm welcome to the site. When you have a minute, please take the site tour and then return and elaborate a bit your answer. Thank you. – Constantin Jinga Dec 19 '18 at 17:57

There is a difference between a contradiction and an understatement (or over statement) as well as an estimation and an approximation. The numbers do not oppose each other. I think these are approximations where paul was being conservative while moses was rounding up. The round-ness of the figures to the thousand digit already attest to that.

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