Is Paul saying that the rock trailed behind the wandering Jews? And was the rock literally Christ in a different form? Or is he calling attention to its value as a metaphor for Christ?

KJV 1Co_10:4  And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

  • It seems to be a reference to the Eucharist (drink appears thrice), in light of the water and blood that sprung from Christ's wounded side on Golgotha. That the rock in question followed the Israelites through their pilgrimage in the desert is, to my knowledge, a pious Rabbinic tradition. Hope this helps. – Lucian Jul 20 '18 at 17:31
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    If he taught in Hebrew he might have said 'yalak' ילך for 'followed', where a child (using Notarikon) might have heard 'smitten' יך with teaching ל in the center. He then may have 'heard' that Paul said , "They drank from that Spiritual rock which was smitten to teach them, and that Rock was Christ." – Bob Jones Jul 11 at 18:08

The Greek construction contains some well worn literary forms and allusions. Here are a few. First, Jehovah is often referred to as the Rock of Israel and so was a common metaphor (Isa 44:8, 26:4, Ps 118:22, Isa 28:16, Dan 2:34, 35, 45, Matt 21:42-44, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, 1 Peter 2:4-8, Acts 4:11, Rom 9:33, Ps 28:1, 33;1-3, 42:9, 61:2, 62:7, 71:3, 78:35, 92:15, 144:1, Deut 32:4, 15, 31, 37, 1 Sam 2:2, 2 Sam 22:32, 23:3, Isa 30:29, Hab 1:12). In this metaphor, God is referred to as both deliverer and saviour.

The context of 1 Cor 10:4 is highly figurative - "our ancestors were under the cloud and passed through the sea" (v1). Paul then expresses this in more figurative/metaphorical or "spiritual" (v3) language or being "baptised into Moses" and then ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. That is, they drank from water that was from a spiritual source (water from the rock twice) and ate food from a spiritual source (manna).

The Rock is called spiritual and involves an interesting Greek construction. A rock could be either a "petros" (masculine: a smallish rock or sometimes pebble) or a "petra" (feminine: a large rock or rock mass). Paul makes the statement, that rock (petra feminine) was Christ (Christos, masculine), an obviously figurative statement (that may also allude to Matt 16:16-19, but this is not clear).

The Figurative nature of this passage and its obvious Hebrew idiom are reinforced by the allusion to the Israelites being "baptised" into Moses, a clearly impossible act if it is understood literally.

  • Was there a physical rock from which water flowed? That Moses hit with a stick? And if so, did it roll behind them? – Ruminator May 7 '19 at 20:07
  • I am not sure what point you are trying to make. Of course there was a physical rock from which water flowed (Ex 17:6, Num 20:11) - but that is the point. Paul uses this physical rock to make a point about the spiritual rock, Christ. – user25930 May 7 '19 at 22:24
  • So did the rock roll behind them? I'm trying to picture the scene. – Ruminator May 7 '19 at 22:29
  • The "Rock" is a metaphor and so needs no physical meaning. The physical manifestation of God during the desert wanderings was "pillar of cloud" by day (Ex 13:22, Num 14:14, Deut 1:33, Isa 4:4, Neh 9:12, Ps 78:14, etc) and a pillar of fire by night. – user25930 May 7 '19 at 22:44
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    That was a literal rock not a spiritual rock. – user25930 May 8 '19 at 21:10

„Is Paul saying that the rock trailed behind the wandering Jews?” Well, yes. In what sense?

First of all, we have to take into account that God is often referred to as a Rock, in the OT. For instance:

Deuteronomy 32:4

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (NIV)

Isaiah 30:29

And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice as when people playing pipes go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. (NIV)

There are many more examples, a concordance would bring them out easily.

On the other hand, some commentators (see E. E. Ellis, “A Note on First Corinthians 10:4”, in Journal of Biblical Literature, 76/1957, pp. 53–56) noticed that Paul is taking here a targumic style and is alluding a Jewish legend according to which that rock followed the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert:

T. Sukka 3.11

So the well, which was with Israel in the wilderness [...] travelling with them up the mountains and going down with them in the valleys

(From Sukkah, Mishna and Tosefta, tr. A. W. Greenup, Translations of Early Documents, Series III: Rabbinic Texts, SPCK, London, 1925, p. 76)

What is important to see, I think, is that Paul is using here a Jewish legend as a framework for transfering to Christ the title, ‘the Rock’, used in the Jewish tradition for Yahweh. Through this he is inferring that Christ is God.

From a different outlook, there are other commentators (I take as an example J. F. Walvoord, R. B. Zuck, The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:526), Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1983-1985) who noticed that in the OT the drinking of water from the rock is mentioned twice:

Exodus 17:6

I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink." So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. (NIV)

Numbers 20:11

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (NIV)

Now it is truth that these two verses can talk about one single event, yet according to Walvoord & Zuck (see above), Exodus 17:6 is marking the beginning of Israel’s wilderness wanderings in the desert, whereas the event from Numbers 20:11 is happening near the ending of wanderings. Now if Paul is referring to both of these events, this would be the reason why he is saying that Christ, in whom he is seeing the source of supernatural water, accompanied/followed/trailed them: it was with them from the beginning until the end of the wanderings. Therefore God was with them everywhere. Therefore God is omnipresent. So, as we discover in Walvoord & Zuck, another possible answer would be that in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul is talking about the omnipresence of God. Later on, in Jewish and Christian theological contexts, omnipresence was discussed as an attribute of God. I am well aware this can take a bit to far. It would be intersting to see if Paul is using anywhere else a notion related to "omnipresence". However I think it is interesting to see it unfolding in the following centuries (found it in Walvoord&Zuck and in various other commentaries).

Is Paul talking here about Christ as „Rock” (metaphor for God in the OT)? Is Paul talking about Christ as “omnipresent” (attribute of God)? Or is he just willing to express that Christ is God?

Now let's return to the original question:

"... was the rock literally Christ in a different form?"

Most likely not. In fact the text is not very complex here:

1 Corinthians 10:4

... they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock [the spiritual one] was Christ. (NIV)

The auhtor is saying that the rock was "spiritual". If you bear with me a little word play, we could say perhaps that from a spiritual point of view, the spiritual rock was literally Christ.

"Or is he calling attention to its value as a metaphor for Christ?"

If the above is correct, then the answer to this goes to: "Most likely yes." And if this is true, then really we have to think that in the ANE a metaphor is not just a figure of speach or a clever way to express things. When Paul is writing, Saussure is still to come. In the ANE, when a metaphor is used in a religious text, the meaning is most likely a theological one.

To conclude: my opinion, based on 1 Corinthians 10:4 and on later commentaries, would be that the rock was not literally Christ, but the rock was spiritually Christ. And that Paul, using a figure of speach, is calling attention to Christ as God, using a syllogism in a Jewish context:

- the Jewish context is:

Isaiah 30:29 (and other OT verses alike) + Exodus 17:6 + Numbers 20:11 + the legend from T. Sukka 3.11

- the syllogism is:

A. God/he is the rock (of Israel) >

B. God is faithful (as a rock) and accompanies Israel all the way through the desert >

C. that rock was Christ >

D. therefore Christ is God. ///

  • @Ruminator - I think you are being bit tough with our friend Canstantin Jinga, so let me have a go. – user25930 Jul 20 '18 at 21:28
  • Was there a physical rock from which water flowed? That Moses hit with a stick? And if so, did it roll behind them? Or did Moses hit Christ/the Angel of YHVH to produce water? – Ruminator May 7 '19 at 20:09
  • So to be clear... there were regular rocks on their journey from which the Jews drank by a miraculous outflow. Can you think of any reason why it "followed" rather than "led"?: [Exo 23:20, 23, 27-28 ESV] (20) "Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. ... – Ruminator May 8 '19 at 21:18
  • (23) "When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, ... (27) I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. (28) And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. – Ruminator May 8 '19 at 21:18
  • Now that really is a question. There are a couple of things to say, not sure if ok for a comment. But briefly, in a couple of comments: there is a Jewish legend saying that the rock was literally with them. Then another one saying that that by the rock following them is meant that the water out of the rock followed them. – Constantin Jinga May 9 '19 at 8:49

Apparently the rock is "the Rock of Miriam". The video shows the prominence of Miriam, Moses' wife in the story of the striking of the rock and she is always associated with water.


In 1 Corinthians 10:4, in what sense was Christ the rock that followed the Jews and how did he/it follow?

1 Corinthians 10:4 (NASB)

"And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."

The Israelites were expecting the promised seed, Shiloh,to Abraham God promised:

Genesis 22:18 , 49:10 (NASB)

22:18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”49:10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Paul wrote that the sacrifices for sin pointed to the Messiah and that the Law was a tutor leading to Christ, the "rock mass" (Matthew 16:18)

Hebrews 10:1 (NASB)

One Sacrifice of Christ Is Sufficient

10 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very [a]form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.

Galatians 3:24 (NASB)

24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.


Thus ,God not only provided the Israelites with literal food and water for their daily needs ,He also provided them with spiritual food associated with the Messiah, giving them faith and hope that followed them in the wilderness.

Paul wrote that the Israelites: "And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."(1 Corinthians 10:4) Miraculously the Israelites received provision of water from a rock mass (Exodus 17:5-7 and Numbers 20:1-11). Hence ,the rock-mass as a source of water, in effect, followed them. The rock-mass itself was evidently a pictorial, or symbolic, type of Christ Jesus, who said to the Jews: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.”​—John 7:37

  • @ Ruminator: Appreciate you queries, have added more to the conclusion, hope it helps, – Ozzie Ozzie May 8 '19 at 20:51
  • @Ruminator :Naturally, the physical rock-mass did not literally move,the spiritual rock mass which followed them was Christ. If about 600.000 men and women beside children (Exodus 12:37) drank from ,it must of been natural mineral water . Personally I believe that since a huge quantity of water was required to quench the thirst of such a large crowd , perhaps the water flowed and followed them. The difference of about 1500 years between Moses and Jesus make that highly impossible, what do you think?? – Ozzie Ozzie May 9 '19 at 19:42
  • Paul wrote that all scriptures is inspired by God, are you then saying that God is careless because we earthly minuscule minds are trying to understand his message to us?, I am sure you are not saying this.(2 Tim 3:16) Paul prayed for more accurate knowledge, the Bible is like a puzzle :Philippians 1:9-10 (NASB) 9" And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ." Compare, Proverbs 1:9-10, Psalm 43:3, John 16:12-13 – Ozzie Ozzie May 9 '19 at 20:59

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