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Spiritual Rock

SPIRITUAL ROCK (πνευματική πέτρα, spiritual rock). This expression occurs only in 1 Corinthians 10:4: “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (KJV). As may be ascertained from the adjective “spiritual,” as well as from the following identification, “rock” is used metaphorically, or typically (of Christ). “Spiritual,” at least in this particular usage, seems to be virtually equivalent to “invisible,” “supernatural,” “divine,” referring to the source of the water. Theirs was a supernatural sustenance. In employing this figure, Paul is also identifying the OT Rock of Israel (Yahweh) with Christ. Robertson has an excellent comment on the statement, “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them”:

Change to the imperfect epinon shows their continual access to the supernatural source of supply. The Israelites were blessed by the water from the rock that Moses smote at Rephidim (Exod 17:6) and at Kadesh (Num 20:11) and by the well of Beer (21:16). The rabbis had a legend that the water actually followed the Israelites for forty years in one form a fragment of rock fifteen feet high that followed the people and gushed out water. Baur and some other scholars think that Paul adopts this “Rabbinical legend that the water-bearing Rephidim rock journeyed onwards with the Israelites” (Findlay). That is hard to believe, though it is quite possible that Paul alludes to this fancy and gives it a spiritual turn as a type of Christ in allegorical fashion. Paul knew the views of the rabbis and made use of allegory on occasion (Gal 4:24) (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, 151, 152).

Of “that Rock was Christ” he writes:

He definitely states here in symbolic form the prëexistence of Christ. But surely “we must not disgrace Paul by making him say that the pre-incarnate Christ followed the march of Israel in the shape of a lump of rock” (Hofmann). He does mean that Christ was the source of the water which saved the Israelites from perishing (Robertson and Plummer) as he is the source of supply for us today (ibid., p. 152).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Having a spiritual significance: supernatural, manifesting the power of the Divine Spirit; allegorically applied to Christ as fulfilling the type in the smitten rock in the desert, from which water miraculously burst forth to nourish the Israelites. A tradition current among the Jews affirms that this rock followed the people in their journeyings and gave forth a living stream for their supply. Paul made this ever-flowing rock a beautiful and accurate symbol of Christ: "The rock was Christ" (1Co 10:4).

Without the characterizing word "spiritual," this figurative term, with the same significance, is common to the Scriptures; applied

(1) to Yahweh, God: "Rock of his salvation," "their rock is not as our Rock" (De 32:15,31); "Yahweh is my rock" (Ps 18:2; compare Isa 26:4; 32:2; 1Sa 2:2; 2Sa 22:2);

(2) to the foundation-stone of Christian confession and testimony (Mt 16:18; compare Eph 2:20; 1Co 3:11; 1Pe 2:6-8), and thus to Christ Himself;

(3) in Christian hymnology to Jesus crucified and spear-pierced: "Rock of ages, cleft for me."

Dwight M. Pratt