When studying the Bible, I regularly consult commentators for their opinions. From individuals like Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, and Charles Elliot to collaborations like the Cambridge Bible and the Pulpit Commentary, there are approximately 12 commentators I consult. While there’s nothing wrong with reviewing commentaries, we must remember that commentators are human too. Which means they aren’t fallible and can make mistakes. Which is why commentaries are opinions. 

While reading 1 Corinthians 10 today, Paul warned the Corinthians to be careful how they lived and not repeat mistakes the Israelites had made in their past. In 1 Corinthians 10:9, Paul told the Corinthians this:

We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.

1 Corinthians 10:9 (NIV)

If you consult commentators about this verse, you will be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t say that Paul refers to the incident at Peor where God struck down 24,000 people with a plague.

But those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

Numbers 25:9 (NIV)

I’m not a math guy, but 24,000 doesn’t equal 23,000. Instead of considering other possibilities, most commentators will tell you that Paul made a mistake. Perhaps he forgot that there were 24,000 who died in the incident at Peor? Others will also point out that there’s no issue with being wrong or that 23,000 is part of 24,000, so there’s no issue. You could accept those commentators and move on, which is accepting quite a lot. Or you could dig deeper since you know that the Holy Spirit doesn’t make mistakes. 

Within the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 10:8 is 1 Corinthians 10:7, which gives us this insight.

Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”

1 Corinthians 10:7 (NIV) 

Paul’s referring to the incident of the golden calf in Exodus 32:6. 

So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Exodus 32:6 (NIV)

As we read through the incident of the golden calf in Exodus 32, we should note Exodus 32:25.

And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)

Exodus 32:25 (KJV)

The “revelry” the people engaged in involved idolatry and sexual immorality. Therefore, we can surmise that 1 Corinthians 10:8 continues where 1 Corinthians 10:7 left off and doesn’t suddenly jump to the incident at Peor. Just because we have numbers for the Peor incident doesn’t mean that’s what Paul was talking about. After all, remember that 23,000 and 24,000 aren’t equal. 

As we continue reviewing the golden calf incident, we are told that the Levities killed 3,000 people.

The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.

Exodus 32:28 (NIV)

Then, in verse 35, we read the Lord struck the Israelites with a plague.

And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

Exodus 32:35 (NIV)

We never get the total number of people who died because of the golden calf incident until Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:8! 

In 1 Corinthians 10:8, we get the total number of people who died because of the golden calf. While some were killed by the sword, “about three thousand,” the plague the Lord sent killed the rest. Although Exodus 32:35 is separate from Exodus 32:28 and might appear as if it takes place on another day, there’s no reason to assume that it didn’t occur on the same day as those killed by the sword when we’re given clarification by 1 Corinthians 10:8. 

Some might ask, “How did Paul know how many people died in the golden calf incident? It’s not written down in the Bible.” That would be a great question if we only considered a human-written history of the events. However, we’re talking about the Bible, God’s inspired word. Therefore, the answer is obvious. The Holy Spirit revealed it to him. 

As I’ve said, consulting commentators or other “Biblically knowledgeable” people with questions isn’t a bad idea. However, when the answers contradict the character of God, we must stop and pause and not accept those answers because God doesn’t make mistakes. 

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, freed from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe you died on the cross and were buried, and God the Father raised you from the dead on the third day. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart and receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.