Why do 1 Corinthians 10:8 and Numbers 25:9 disagree?


by Shawn Brasseaux

First Corinthians 10:8 says, “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” Yet, Numbers 25:9 claims, “And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.” Why does the Bible say 23,000 in one place but 24,000 in another? (Or, perhaps, does our thinking need to be reformed here?)

Scripture makes reference to Israel committing fornication in Revelation 2:14: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” This quotes the historical event recorded in Numbers chapter 25, when Moses was leading Israel in the wilderness. Let us look at that passage now.

Numbers chapter 25: [1] And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. [2] And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. [3] And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor [pagan deity/idol]: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. [4] And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel. [5] And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor. [6] And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. [7] And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; [8] And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. [9] And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.”

Balaam (cf. Numbers chapters 22-24) was a semi-false, semi-genuine prophet who enticed Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. The Bible says male Jews had sexual relations with the heathen daughters of Moab (verse 1). Israel also sacrificed to and worshipped those pagan idols (verse 2). Verse 3 says Israel joined himself to Baalpeor (a deity of the Moabites). The LORD’S anger is kindled against Israel, so He tells Moses to start taking the lives of all the Jewish idolaters. Also, verse 9 says those who died in the plague were 24,000. Yet, 1 Corinthians 10:8 reports the figure 23,000. The Bible critics consider this a contradiction, a mistake. Is it? No. It is commonly assumed that 1 Corinthians 10:8 quotes Numbers chapter 25. However, the Bible is not in error. Our explanation is faulty. When trying to establish the cross-reference to 1 Corinthians 10:8, perhaps we should look at verse 7 and its cross-reference.

First Corinthians 10:7 says: “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” This is a quotation of Exodus 32:6: “And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” Notice, there is both pagan idolatry and lewd partying (actually, as we will see shortly, there was illicit sexual activity). This is very similar to the events recorded in Numbers chapter 25 (see above), but the number of deaths is strikingly different and therefore distinguishes the two narratives. Since 1 Corinthians 10:7 quotes Exodus 32:6, 1 Corinthians 10:8 must be quoting Exodus chapter 32 as well.

Many years previous to Numbers chapter 25, Exodus chapter 32 relates the following: “[19] And it came to pass, as soon as he [Moses] came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf [pagan idol], and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. [20] And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it. [21] And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? [22] And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. [23] For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. [24] And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.

“[25] And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies: ) [26] Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. [27] And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. [28] And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. [29] For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.

“[30] And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. [31] And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. [32] Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. [33] And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. [34] Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. [35] And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.”

Immediately after Moses found the Jews worshipping the golden calf, Moses commanded in the LORD’s name that all the sons of Levi were to kill their idolatrous brethren. The Bible says they killed about 3,000 men (verse 28). Verse 35 says the LORD plagued the people. Exodus does not record this number but 1 Corinthians 10:8 reports—“Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.” Notice this a total number, not restricted to a plague, but to some other cause of death as well. Deducting the 3,000 men who were killed by their brethren, that leaves some 20,000 Jews who were killed in that plague of Exodus 32:35. One Corinthians 10:8 and Numbers chapter 25 are not describing the same event. Considering that 1 Corinthians 10:7 quotes Exodus 32:6, Exodus 32:25-35 is most likely the proper Old Testament event mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10:8. There is no contradiction.

Also see:
» Do Matthew 10:10, Mark 6:8, and Luke 9:3 contradict?
» Did Paul quote verses out of context in 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1?
» Do Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2, and Luke 9:28 contradict?