Baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2?

Question
I'm a Baptist and I'm having a problem with 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 and the doctrine of Baptism. Can you help?
Answer

Thanks for your question. Many years ago, as an ordained Baptist minister studying the Doctrine of Baptism, I Corinthians 10:1-2 opened my eyes to many truths. I'll share a few of them in hopes they will help you work through your own question(s).

(1) Paul's main topic in 1 Corinthians 10:1-22 is "idolatry" (1 Cor 10:7). However, Paul is teaching many other truths as well. Among these is "baptism."

(2) Paul often used Old Testament (OT) truths to teach New Testament (NT) truths (e.g. "Israelites," "Abraham," "Isaac," "Sarah," "Rebecca," "Jacob," "Esau," "Moses," and "Pharaoh" in Rom 9:4, 7, 9, 10, 13, 15, 17; "Abraham," in Gal 3:6-9, 14, 16, 18, 29; "Isaac," in Gal 4:28; "Adam" and "Eve in 1 Tim 2:13, etc.).

In 1 Cor 10:1-22, with the use of such words as, "fathers," "cloud," "sea" "baptized," "Moses," "Rock," and "wilderness," etc. we observe that Paul is also using OT truths to teach NT doctrine.

(3) Israel is the OT "church" (ekklesia, Acts 7:38). See WCF 25.1 and The Old/New Testament Church. The author of Hebrews quotes Christ as saying, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation [ekklesia] I will sing your praises" (Heb. 2:12; Psa 22:22). He also writes that the church is surrounded by "a great cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1). Who are these witnesses? The OT saints referred to in Hebrews 11:1-40. The writer then goes on to say in Hebrews 12:23 that when the NT church worships, "it comes into the assembly [ekklesia] of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." The Lord has continued to add to his "one" church (Acts 2:47). Paul agrees (see Eph 4:5, 15; Gal 3:8, 15). The London Baptist Confession of Faith 26.1, Of the Church, agrees saying:

The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Heb 12:23; Col 1:18; Eph 1:10, 22, 23; 5:23, 27, 32).

(4) 1 Cor 10:2 mentions the word, "baptized." The Greek word baptizo used in this text is the same one used to teach the NT church the Doctrine of Baptism (Matt 3:11; 28:19; Acts 8:16; 19:5; Rom 6:3; I Cor 1:13, 15; 12:13; Gal 3:27, etc.). As Paul writes in 1 Cor 12:13, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." Paul is speaking of "all" believing Israelites and Gentiles - including their children (Acts 2:39; cf. 1 Cor 7:14).

(5) 1 Cor 10:2 mentions "Moses." Moses is considered an example of (or rather, "a type of") Christ (Heb 3:1-19). See Moses - a Type of Christ? by A. W. Pink. So, Paul points forward in redemptive history from Moses, the type (tupos, 1 Cor 10:6, 11) to Christ, the antitype. Moreover, Israel's manna (1 Cor 10:3) from heaven is a type of Christ, the spiritual bread from heaven (John 6:51). In addition, Israel's water (1 Cor 10:4) in the desert came from "the rock," a type of Christ, who had to be struck to give us "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Exod 17:6; John 4:14). So, as "all" Israel was "baptized" unto Moses by the cloud and by the sea, so the believer's union with Christ is signified in NT baptism by water.

(6) 1 Cor 10:1-2 states that "all passed through the sea and all were baptized unto Moses." We observe the miraculous Red Sea crossing in Exodus 14. God refers to the entire OT church - the "people of Israel" here (Exod 14:2, 3, 8, 10, 16, 22, 29). So, "all" the Israelites - every man, woman, and child without exception - were baptized unto Moses, a type of Christ. Luke writes, "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:39; cf. Matt 19:14; Acts 7:38).

No wonder the principle of "household baptism" is taught in the NT (Acts 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16). Households (oikos) in the Bible are an important covenantal theme. The covenants themselves all included families. God's church is considered his "house" (e.g. Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 3:6; cf. 1 Pet 4:17). Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry says of the OT family unit in "Infant Baptism: A Duty of God's People":

The Bible teaches that God establishes the family as a Creation ordinance of perpetual obligation (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:22-24; Matt. 19:4-6). That the family is of central importance in the Bible is evident upon the following considerations: (1) Numerous family genealogies are preserved in Scripture, thus demonstrating a concern for the preservation of family lineages (e.g., Gen. 5; 10; Num. 1). (2) Families were considered a high and holy heritage from the Lord (Psa. 127; 128; Isa. 8:18). (3) To be childless is lamentable (Gen. 25:41; 30:1; Exod. 23:26; Deut. 7:14; Psa. 113:9; Jer. 22:30). (4) Responsibilities before God center around family life (Deut. 6:4ff; Psa. 78:1-8; Prov. 13:22; 19:14). (5) Express moral obligations protecting the family are established in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:12, 14, 17).

(7) Some would argue that 1 Cor 10:1-2 includes the animals of Israel as being baptized too and therefore no comparison can be made between OT baptism and NT baptism. I would add that the animals were baptized in Noah's time too (1 Pet 3:18-21). However, this is not significant, as animals can't believe the Gospel "once delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). As the WCF 27.3 states, "The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers."

(8) Even though Moses was taught that "circumcision" was exceedingly important (Exod 4:24-26; Lev 12:3), it is significant that after being "baptized unto Moses" that "circumcision" was suspended until Israel later crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Josh 5:2-5). So, Paul points us forward in redemptive history from "circumcision" the type (tupos, 1 Cor 10:6, 11) to "baptism," the antitype (cf. Col 2:11-12; Acts 2:39).

(9) The mode of "baptism" - baptizo may mean immersion or pouring or sprinkling - taught in 1 Cor 10:1-2 is also important. The only ones "immersed" were the Egyptians (Exod 14:26, 28). "All" Israel was "sprinkled" (cf. Exod 14:22, 29; Heb 11:29). This is consistent with the use of the term baptizo elsewhere ("sprinkle" and "pour" - Heb 9:13, 19, 21; cf. Isa 44:3; Ezek 36:25, etc.).

Similarly, Peter says that Noah's flood was a tupos (type) of NT baptism, the antitupos (antitype). Noah and his family were "sprinkled" or "poured" upon, while the rest of unbelieving humanity was "immersed" (Gen 7:23). Note, that the phrase "baptism now saves you" in 1 Peter 3:21 does not mean that baptism itself is effectual to salvation (see WCF 27.3 above), but that it signifies a spiritual reality: "a good conscience" (1 Pet 3:21) washed because of forgiveness of sins through the death, burial, resurrection, and accession of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 3:18-22; 1 Cor 15:1-4; cf. Ezek 36:25; 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:5; Heb 10:22, etc.).

I hope this helps your study.

Related Answers:

The Re-Newed or New Covenant?
What are Oikos Baptisms?
Explaining Baptism in Children's Language
Mark 16:16 and baptismal regeneration?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).