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

6 Answers 6


The 23,000 refers to the worship of the gods of Moab and the sexual immorality between some Israelite men and the the daughters of Moab. This is known as the rebellion of Baal of Peor at which 24,000 died by the plague (Numbers 25:9). As noted here it is possible to see Paul’s 23,000 as a simple understatement and as such is not literally wrong.

Baal Peor was one of the events during the Exodus which Paul sees as an example:

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) [ESV]

When approached as an example for the church, it is possible to understand why Paul understated the total and, in doing so was being more precise.

In the event of Baal of Peor, people died in different ways:

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.” ... 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)

The “plague” was stopped after the leaders were hung and Phinehas killed the man and the Midianite woman. The total includes those who were hung, the two Phinehas killed, and those who died by some other means.

The "plague" is מַגֵּפָה which is elsewhere translated as "slaughter:"

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)

In using this event as an example the total who died was 24,000. That is "the slaughter" which is made up of three groups: those who died by hanging, two who died by the spear, and everyone else. Paul says 23,000 πίπτω, literally they "fell:"

We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell (πίπτω) in a single day. (1 Corinthians 10:8)

Normally someone who dies, falls. However, Jesus, the head of the church, died and did not fall. He was hanging at the time of His death, just as were the leaders who sinned at Baal of Peor.

The events at Baal of Peor become an example when the Church is the "everyone else" who died, then 23,000 who "fell" becomes a purposeful understatement of the total (which may actually be correct if the number of those who were hung totaled 998). Paul understands the significance of the LORD having the Israelite leaders hung in the sun before the LORD.

The "understated" total draws attention to the reality the head of the Church died while hanging on the cross. Like those leaders at Baal Peor, Jesus was hung in the sun in order to turn away the anger of the LORD from the all who were yoked to sin.


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.


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?


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.”


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.


Sexual immorality in NKJV is taken from the word Fornication in KJV. God called old Israelite's a harlot and a adulterous wife. Basically, they "cheated on God" by worshiping false idols and gods. Sometimes the new testament is referring to Actual intercourse or Sex, but often the "translation of Sexual immorality" is actually "cheating on God" in Idolatry.

Same thing with Cain. 1 version of the Bible said he committed "sexual immorality". He did not commit Sexual Immorality. No! He sold his birthright. In the old testament the blessing of God was through the bloodline of the Israelites. And blessings were passed from Father to Son. So, giving up your birthright was basically boycotting God. But the translators of the Bible get the idea of "cheating on God" (and not serving God through praises) as "Sexual immorality". Crazy! Still I do think Paul is literally talking about physical sex with other PEOPLE when he mentioned Homosexuality and fornication in 1 Corinthians 6.

So what I am saying is that the 23000 who were "sexually immoral" may have just abandoned God in their hearts and was more interested in the things of the world. After all, the overarching idea that Paul even mentioned was "idolatry" in 1 Cor 10. If you read Jeremiah, it seems that the way we "make love" to God is through our Praises. I know that sounds weird. But when we omit praises and thanksgiving, and we trust more in Money to supply our needs, we become a Harlot in God's eyes. And Jesus said you cannot serve 2 masters.

Unless Paul is indirectly talking about the City of Sodom when he mentioned the 23000, I have no idea who the 23000 people are. That sure is a large number. Especially since cities were not very large back then. Also, I just thought about the difference when God saved a city, vs when he destroyed a city. Jonah went to Nineveh to tell it to repent because God was deeply concerned with them and loved them. But it didnt happen that way with the city of Sodom. So anyway! 23000 is a lot to not be mentioned in the Bible UNLESS it was Idolatry! And Idolatry is ALL OVER the old testament.. So there you go.

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