A student in my class on Paul’s letters had a very thought-provoking reaction to the summary of Israel’s experiences wandering in the wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:6-12. There a series of actions in violation of the Law are listed, and the punishments that resulted. For this student, the text was a description of how each time the Israelites did something displeasing to God, God got violent with them. Israel in these stories, the student suggested, seems like “God’s battered wife”, being smacked around whenever he found her displeasing.
What do you make of this reaction? Our views about the appropriateness of violence and corporal punishment have certainly changed since the ancient world. What does it mean to take this changed context seriously when reading accounts such as this one? Is this just another instance, like the passages that claim God ordered genocide (and assisted with its carrying out), that the simplest solution is to repudiate what the Biblical author has written? What are the different possible ways of addressing the concerns raised by this student’s reaction?We also reached that neglected verse from this letter, 1 Corinthians 8:2: “If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know as he ought”.