Was Jesus Involved In The Exodus? Answering 1 Cor. 10:4 and 9; Jude 5; Heb. 11:26

Ever since the time of Justin, the 2nd century Christian philospher, many Christians have been promoting the idea that the son of God was personally involved in the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and in their journey through the wilderness. Beginning with Justin, and down to our very day, Christians have not been shy about promulgating this notion. This idea is, of course, based on the presupposition that the man Jesus of Nazareth, the long awaited Messiah , is in fact Yahweh himself, and as such, pre-existed his incarnation. In his pre-incarnate state he then physically appeared to the fathers of the Jewish people and was especially involved in the exodus account in the Pentateuch.

The problem that the promoters of this idea have to deal with is the total absence of any explicit and unequivocal statements in the NT documents in support of it. This is strange indeed, seeing the profusion of Christian literature since the middle of the 2nd century that has unreservedly propagated this idea. This has led apologists for this view to scour the NT writings for at least some hints or veiled clues that the authors of these writings were sympathetic to the view. This effort has yielded but four passages which are supposed to be proof positive that the NT authors did indeed hold this view – 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Cor. 10:9; Heb. 11:26 and Jude 5. Needless to say, if the NT authors did believe such a thing, we should be able to find much more in it’s support than a meager four verses, which, as we shall see, are anything but unequivocal.

In the remainder of this article we will examine each of these passages to see if the apologists have overstated their case. We will begin with the weakest one first.

Hebrews 11:26

“[Moses] considered the reproach of the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

In this passage Moses is said to have considered the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than what Egypt had to offer. Did Moses have personal knowledge of Christ or even a personal relationship with Christ? Had Moses come in personal contact with the Messiah, the son of God? That is what some want us to believe this passage is teaching. Some English versions even help push the reader in that direction:

NIV, EHV – “disgrace for the sake of Christ”
HCSB – “reproach because of the Messiah”
ISV – “insulted for the sake of Messiah”
NET – “abuse suffered for Christ”
CJB – “abuse suffered on behalf of Messiah”
LEB – “reproach endured for the sake of Christ”

Some overzealous apologists insist that these words imply that Christ was known to Moses, not merely as one who would come in the future, but as being known by Moses in his pre-incarnate state. Others take the more reasonable but still unsatisfactory view that Moses was willing to suffer for the Christ whom he knew would come in the future, or that the Jewish expectation of a Messiah to come brought insults upon Moses and the Israelites from the pagan Egyptians. All of this is simply conjecture and is unnecessary. Nothing in the passage in Hebrews nor in the account in Exodus suggests any of this speculation. I offer here a simpler view of the passage.

One of the problems with the above interpretations is that they incorrectly understand the genitive phrase “the reproach of the Christ”. All of the English translations above would require “Christ” to be in the dative case rather than the genitive case or the word huper to be added before the word Christos. The author of Hebrews does not mean by “the reproach of Christ” that Moses suffered reproach for or on behalf of or for the sake of Christ. The reproach of Christ refers to the reproach which Christ suffered. Reproach speaks of verbal insult to be sure, but also of the disgrace of being so shamefully mistreated. Messiah endured this reproach solely because of his commitment to do the will of God and because of the glory that would ultimately result. He could have avoided it if he simply would have abandoned this commitment and hope. Yet he was willing to endure rejection and insult and disgrace so that he might fulfill the will of God for him. All who would follow Jesus the Messiah are enjoined to willingly endure the same mistreatment at the hands of the wicked. In 13:13 the author of Hebrews calls his hearers to:

“. . . go to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.”

When believers suffer this way they are bearing the same kind of mistreatment which he suffered, so that our suffering is referred to as “the reproach of Christ.” But if Christ had not yet suffered this reproach at the time of Moses, how can it be said that Moses bore the reproach of Christ? Because the author of Hebrews is speaking anachronistically. Since Christ has come and suffered this rejection and shame for doing the will of God, he is the exemplar of such suffering. He is the prime example of the righteous one willingly suffering at the hands of the wicked rather than turning from God. Therefore, all who had come before Christ and who had suffered in the same way as he did, can anachronistically be said to have borne the reproach of Christ.

This interpretation is confirmed by the context of the passage. In v. 25 the author stated that Moses “chose to suffer ill-treatment with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” V. 26 is simply a restatement of v. 25, in which “the reproach of Christ ” corresponds to “chose to suffer ill-treatment.” No, Moses did not have any personal knowledge of the Messiah, but he was willing to suffer the reproach that came to him because of his commitment to the will of God, and in that sense it is said that he bore the reproach of Christ, i.e. the same reproach that Christ bore.

Jude 5

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

This appears to be the most explicit statement in the NT putting Jesus personally in the exodus story, but it is not without dispute. The problem is, there are a few variant readings for this verse in the manuscripts. Other readings are the Lord, Lord (without the article), God and God Christ. Now I am not going to bore you with all of the manuscript evidence in favor of and against each reading. There are plenty of online sources that can be found which cover all of the tedious details, if you are interested. I will just sum it up. The majority of scholars think that the manuscript evidence is somewhat in favor of the Jesus reading, but the Lord reading is also strong. All scholars dismiss the God Christ reading as most improbable and the God reading as not very likely. One main problem is that the two manuscripts considered to be the most weighty, disagree. Codex Sinaiticus reads Lord while Codex Vaticanus reads Jesus. Both of these manuscripts are from the 4th century and are of the Alexandrian text-type.

To add to the confusion, the earliest extant citations of Jude 5 are from Clement of Alexandria, in the late 2nd century. Clement actually quotes from the epistle of Jude in two places: In the work titled The Instructor, Book 3, ch. 8 he qoutes it as “. . . God having onced saved his people from the land of Egypt . . .” In his Comments on the Epistle of Jude he quotes it as “. . . for the Lord God, who once saved a people out of Egypt . . .” Even if Clement did not have a copy of Jude before him and was quoting it from memory, it is clear that he doesn’t have a memory of it saying “Jesus saved . . .” So we have two Alexandrian texts from the 4th century and Clement, who was from Alexandria, all differing on how the text was read. There are not many other direct citations of the passage from church fathers. Jerome (late 4th-early 5th cen.), in a letter to Marcella, cites Jude 5 with the Jesus reading, but he goes on to explain that Jude was not really referring to the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, but that he was speaking “mystically” and that Egypt means “this world.” So he thought it referred to Christians being saved out of this world by Jesus. He qoutes the passage again in book 1 of his treatise Against Jovinianus and says this:

I will pass to Joshua the son of Nun, who was previously called Ause, or better, as in the Hebrew, Osee, that is, Saviour. For he, according to the epistle of Jude, saved the people of Israel and led them forth out of Egypt, and brought them into the land of promise.

So, again, we see that the text Jerome was reading from said Jesus, but he took that to be referring to Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses’ successor. I don’t know which of these citations from Jerome came first, but he seems to have changed his view on the meaning of the Jesus reading. It is certainly interesting to note that, although he was an orthodox trintarian and believed Jesus pre-existed his incarnation, he seemed reluctant to put Jesus back into the exodus story. The only other patristic citations of Jude 5 I could find were from John Cassian (late 4th-early 5th cen.) in book 5 of Against Nestorius and from the Venerable Bede (late 7th- early 8th cen.), who both read the text as Jesus and expounded on how our Lord Jesus actually led the Israelites out of Egypt.

What all of this goes to show, if we will just be honest about it, is that we can not know definitively, based on manuscript evidence and patristic evidence, which reading was original. So scholars turn to the internal evidence for support for their particular view. The first consideration is how we can conceive of how the variants could have arose during the copying process. In this regard, some, if not most scholars, seek to account for the variants by accidental error. Could a scribe have mistaken this letter for that letter? Of course, such a thing is possible but certainly we cannot rule out a deliberate change by a scribe for theological reasons. Now, we don’t like to think that something like that could have happened, but the fact is, we know it has happened. Bart Ehrman, the renowned (or rather infamous) NT textual critic, in his book The Orthodox Corruption Of Scripture, documents the many corruptions in the manuscripts of the text of the NT. His contention is that many of these corruptions arose because of Christological controversies and that many were deliberate changes to the text in order to make the text more ‘orthodox’. He says:

Were any of these “mistakes” intentional alterations? . . . Did their polemical contexts affect the way these Christians copied the texts they construed as Scripture? I will argue that they did, that scribes of the second and third centuries in fact altered their texts of Scripture at significant points in order to make them more orthodox on the one hand and less susceptible to heretical construal on the other.

pg. 25

He also shows how many of these corruptions involve passages that bear directly on christological issues. Regarding Jude 5 he says:

A striking example occurs in the salutation of 2 Peter 1:2: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus.” P72 omits the conjunction “and” (kai), leading to the identification of Jesus as God: “in the knowledge of God, our Lord Jesus.” That this omission was not an accident is confirmed by similar modifications in the same manuscript. Thus, in Jude 5, where manuscripts vary over whether it was “the Lord” (most manuscripts), or “Jesus” (A B 33 81 1241 1739 1881), or “God” (C2 623 vgms) who saved the people from Egypt (variations that are all explicable from the Old Testament narratives themselves and from early Christian understandings of them, at least as intimated in 1 Corinthians 10), P72 stands alone in saying that the Savior of the people from Egypt was “the God Christ”.

pg. 85-86

I can certainly envision a scenario in which a scribe, who was an ardent disciple of Justin, is copying portions of the NT, and comes upon Jude 5, which may have read Lord, which would have looked like ΚΣ1. But suppose the manuscript was damaged or worn in places and the scribe couldn’t make out the K, and remembering the passage in Justin’s Dialogue With Trypho in which Justin said, “For all we out of all nations do expect not Judah, but Jesus, who led your fathers out of Egypt,” he writes ΙΣ, which is how the word Jesus appears in the Greek manuscripts. This, of course, would not have been intentional on the scribes part. But I can also imagine how a scribe might be tempted to change an ambiguous ΚΣ (Lord), which to his mind could refer to either God or Jesus2, to a ΙΣ (Jesus) because it better supported his christological view.

The next issue to deal with when considering the internal evidence is how each variant relates to the language of the book as a whole. For example, Jude mentions the name Jesus 6 times, not including the verse in dispute, and in all cases the name is accompanied by the titles Christ (6x) and our Lord (4x). If Jude originally contained the stand alone name Jesus in v. 5, it would stand out as an anomaly. This, in itself, does not prove anything, since it is possible that the author deviated from his normal practice in this one case. The word Lord (Gr. kurios) occurs 6 times, not including v. 5, twice in reference to God and 4 times in reference to Jesus Christ. In the two references to God {vv. 9 and 14}, kurios stands alone, without any other name or title, and without the definite article, which likely means that kurios is being used as a substitute for the name Yahweh. The 4 references to Jesus have the article. This could show that, if kurios was the original reading, it probably was without the article. As for the God variant, nothing in the rest of the epistle would militate against it.

As for the theological content of the book, there is no other implication that the author thinks Jesus would have been present or active in OT events or that he thinks Jesus is to be equated with Yahweh of the OT. Of course, it is possible the author believed these things but because of the brevity of the book there was no other opportunity to express them.

Another issue is how the variants relate to the clear teachings of the NT as a whole. Indeed, it is admitted by all that the Jesus reading would be unique in the NT. The only other passages usually pointed to which may be similar are 1 Cor. 10:4 and 9, which supposedly show that Christ was involved in the events of the exodus. But these are far from being unequivocal, as I will demonstrate shortly. Also, there is no indication in the OT texts themselves, which relate the story of the exodus, that anyone other than God, through his agent Moses, saved the Israelites from Egypt. Now, if orthodox trinitarians believe that Jesus just is Yahweh, then even if Jude 5 originally read Lord or God, they can still understand it to be referring to Jesus. What they want, though, is an explicit statement in the NT to this effect, which does not exist. To anachronistically read Jesus back into the exodus story is indeed the worst kind of eisegesis.

I believe that the original read ΚΣ (kurios without the article), which referred to Yahweh, and that this was altered, either accidentally or deliberately, to read ΙΣ (Ἰησοῦς = Jesus). The God variant could have arisen out of the kurios reading by a scribes attempt to make the somewhat ambiguous kurios more definite. In my opinion, this view accords with all of the data. All of this data is inconclusive and thus renders Jude 5 completely ineffective as a proof-text that Jesus was involved in the exodus account.

1 Cor. 10:4 and 9

4. “[They all] ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ

9. – “We should not test Christ, as some of [the Israelites] did, and were killed by snakes.”

We see that in these passages it appears, on the surface anyway, that Paul is implying that Christ was involved in the events of the wilderness journey of Israel after their deliverance from Egypt. But is this really what Paul intended his readers to understand from his words or is there some other explanation of them. In order to fully understand Paul’s train of thought it will be necessary to look at the context of the whole pericope, from 9:24 – 10:14.

In 9:24-27, Paul speaks of the Christian experience in metaphorical terms as an athletic race. The goal of entering such a race is to obtain the prize. This calls for carefulness and seriousness in discipline and training, and a mental fixation on the prize. Paul is writing these things to the Corinthian believers to warn and encourage them to take their newfound faith seriously and not lose sight of the goal. Paul speaks in v. 27 of the possibility of being disqualified and not obtaining the prize after having begun the race.

In order to drive home his point he then draws certain analogies between the experience of the Corinthian Christians (and really all believers) and the experience of the Israelites who were delivered out of Egypt. Between vv. 1-4 Paul uses three such analogies, but I suppose, if he had the time and the inclination, he could have expanded on this theme even more3. The three analogies he uses have to do with Christian baptism, the Lord’s supper and Christ as our God given source of everlasting life. I used to think, based on Paul’s use of the Greek word tupos in v. 6 and v. 11, that he was using the hermeneutical method known as typology in this passage. But I have changed my mind on this, now understanding tupos to simply mean an example or pattern. So I do not think that the three things that Paul mentions in vv. 1-4 are types, in the technical sense, but rather are simply analogies.

The first analogy is the experience of the Israelites coming under Moses’ leadership in the events of Ex. 14, which Paul summarizes by “in the cloud and in the sea.” This, in Paul’s analogy, corresponds to Christian baptism, when the believer comes under the headship of Messiah. Now, no one thinks that the Israelites were literally baptized into Moses, and neither does Paul. He simply means that their experience of this was their new beginning under their appointed leader, Moses, and that this is analogous to the Christian experience of baptism into Messiah. This is, as it were, the start of the race.

Next, the experience of the Israelites in partaking of the supernaturally provided4 food and water in the desert, corresponds to the Christian experience of partaking in the Lord’s supper. They were continuously given this food to eat and water to drink, as the believers are continuously partaking of the eucharistic meal.

Then we come to v. 4, where Paul states that the rock from which they received the life-giving water was Christ. In light of Paul’s method that we have so far observed, does it seem likely that Paul meant this literally i.e. that the physical rock from which the water came was literally Jesus? Or could he have meant that, just as the Israelites’ coming under Moses’ leadership in the cloud and in the sea, was, by analogy their baptism; and just like their partaking of the manna and water from the rock, was, by analogy their Lord’s supper, so likewise the rock itself was, by analogy, their God-ordained source of life. In other words, the rock was for them what Christ is for the Christians – the source of living water {see Jn. 4:10-14}. Paul then brings home his point – though the Israelites started out well, having entered into these God-ordained experiences, “nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” The point is clear, just because the Corinthians had started well and had certain experiences which confirmed them in their new relationship to God, they were to be careful lest the same fate await them that happened to the Israelites. Most of the Israelites who came out of Egypt and partook of these God-ordained experiences were later disqualified and did not obtain the prize – entrance into the promised land.

We note that Paul is not giving the Corinthians a teaching on the nature of Christ or expounding on how Christ manifested himself to the ancient Israelites, but his whole purpose in this passage is exhortative, to give a warning to the believers to not be over-confident in their experiences of baptism and communion, and in their knowledge of Christ as the source of everlasting life. It is necessary that they resist temptation daily and not fall away, if they hope to obtain the prize {v. 12}.

The idea that the rock from which flowed water {see Ex. 17:1-7 and Num. 20:1-13} for the Israelites to drink was literally Christ is a rather crass and juvenile notion, and to attribute such a notion to the apostle Paul is quite demeaning of him. This alone should cause reasonable people to look for another explanation of Paul’s words.

In vv.7-10 Paul gives specific examples of the Israelites’ failures to live up to the calling to which they were called. He briefly relates the events of Ex. 32:1-6, Num. 25:1-9, Num. 21:4-9 and Num. 16:41-50, and then says, “These things happened to them as examples, and were written down as a warning for us . . .” It is in the midst of this admonition that Paul says, in v. 9, “We should not test the Christ, as some of them did . . .” Is Paul just matter-of-factly putting Jesus in the events of Num. 21 or is something else going on here?

First off, we have the same kind of thing with this passage that we saw with Jude 5 – three different readings in the manuscripts: the Christ, the Lord and God. Everything I said about Jude 5 applies here. Different scholars present their arguments to support what they think the original reading was. Once again, the manuscript and patristic evidence is inconclusive, and again, one can imagine different scenarios for how the variant could have arisen if the original were either the Christ or the Lord. The God reading seems to be the weakest variant and is usually dismissed as not being original.

If the original reading was the Lord, this could be taken as a reference either to Jesus or to God in the sense of Adonai. If the original read the Christ, then, of course, this could only refer to Jesus. But even if it could be shown conclusively that the original reading was the Christ, would this require us to believe that Paul is saying that the people of Israel tested Jesus in the wilderness? Such a conclusion can only result from the presupposition that Jesus had some kind of pre-existence prior to his birth from Mary, because the words, in themselves, would not necessitate this conclusion. Paul would simply be saying that we Christians should not test our God appointed leader, the Messiah, even as some of the Israelites tested their God appointed leader, Moses. This explanation of the text is supported by two things. First, a literal translation of the Greek would read, “Neither should we put to the test the Christ, as some of them tested.” Second, in the event to which Paul is referring, recorded in Num. 21:4-9, it was not only God whom the Israelites tested, but also Moses:

v.5 – “. . . they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

v. 7 – “The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you.”

It is likely that Paul sees the people’s complaint as being directed toward Moses as their leader and so they were putting Moses to the test; but to speak against the one whom God appointed is, in effect, to speak against God {see Num. 12:1-9; 16:3, 11, 41-50}. Since the concept of messiah (i.e. christ) connotes one chosen by God to lead his people, we can say in a very real sense that Moses was Israel’s messiah at time, whom they tested. The Israelites’ relationship to Moses is analogous to the Christians’ relationship to Christ.


I conclude then that none of these four passages are conclusive in establishing that Jesus was involved in the exodus event. It seems rather evident to me that such a conclusion can be drawn from these passages only if one already holds the presupposition that Jesus is God or pre-existed his birth. It would be quite strange, if indeed the authors of the NT held such a belief, that it would be spoken of in only these four highly ambiguous and problematic passages. One would think that such a concept, if it were true, would be the subject of much more of the NT writings than just a mere four matter-of-fact, unelaborated statements.


1. In all of the extant manuscripts of Jude, as well as most of the NT, frequently occurring names and titles of God and Christ are usually written in what is called nomina sacra. These are abbreviated forms typically consisting of the first and last letters of the word. The word kurios (Lord) would have been written as ΚΣ, Iésous (Jesus) as ΙΣ, and christos (Christ) as ΧΣ
2. The Greek word for Lord, kurios, can be ambiguous in that it could refer to God or to Jesus. Typically, kurios without the definte article would denote the tetragrammaton i.e. Yahweh, at least to a Jewish scribe. An arthrous kurios that stands alone in the text could be referring to Jesus or to God as adonai.
3. It would not be hard to imagine Paul analogizing further in this manner: the exodus of Israel out of Egypt is analogous to the believers coming out of the world i.e. being set apart unto God in Christ; the wilderness journey is analogous to the walk of the believers in Christ until we obtain our inheritance; Israel’s entering the promised land is analogous to the believers in Christ receiving their inheritance at the return of Christ.
4. I take this to be what Paul means by “spiritual food and drink”. Certainly he doesn’t mean that the manna and the water from the rock were not material substances. It is the fact that they were obtained supernaturally rather than naturally that Paul refers to them as spiritual.


Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

2 thoughts on “Was Jesus Involved In The Exodus? Answering 1 Cor. 10:4 and 9; Jude 5; Heb. 11:26”

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