Extra-Biblical Oral Tradition Arguments Refuted:

Click to View

"The rock of the wilderness that followed them was recorded only in Jewish tradition, not scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:4."

False arguments that Catholics and Orthodox use to prove oral extra-scriptural church tradition are refuted.

Click to View

 Sola Scriptura home page

Click to ViewMore Pro-Oral Church tradition arguments refuted!

Click to View"The rock of the wilderness that followed them was recorded only in Jewish tradition, not scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:4."

"For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

Click to View

Refutation of the false Catholic & Orthodox tradition argument:
"The rock of the wilderness that followed them was recorded only in Jewish tradition, not scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:4."


  1. We reject that there was a literal rock that followed the Jews in the wilderness. This is not what 1 Cor 10:4 is teaching. We reject the idea that Paul was quoting Jewish tradition, but making an inspired application of God's providence in the wilderness as being representative of Christ.
  2. We take the view that the tradition itself of a rock that followed them, grew out of their interpretation of scripture, not the other way around. We believe the scripture produced the tradition. The idea that God is the "Rock of salvation" is a major theme in the Old Testament specifically revealed. (Deut 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31, 37). They merely expanded the theme to connect by inference, without specific revelation, that God was following them through the Rock and other providential acts, not that the Rock literally followed them. This is our view and is supported by the context and the universal witness of the Apostolic Fathers.
  3. Some of the Jewish traditions themselves take a symbolic view of the rock that followed them, not literal.
  4. Notice the variation in the verbal traditions of the Jews. Some traditions state that "the rock" was the literal rock, while others said it was "the water", not the rock that followed. Others still believe it is a reference to a stationary well, "Miriam's Well".
  5. If we are to accept that a literal rock followed them, the wide range of contradictory details in the legends means that only by direct inspiration, did Paul isolate which part of the tradition was in fact correct. This certainly is possible, but gives no help to Roman Catholic and Orthodox defenders of oral tradition because the oral tradition itself in this case was filled with fable and contradictions.

A. Biblical references:

  1. Twice God made water come from the Rock: Ex 17:1-7; Num 20:2-13
  2. This Rock was specifically referred to in the Old Testament: "And they remembered that God was their rock, And the Most High God their Redeemer." Psalm 78:35

B. Apostolic Fathers reject literal rock followed them and are utterly silent regarding the meaning is founded in Jewish tradition:

  1. Justin, in conversing with a Jew, mentions both the cloud and the rock, but says only the cloud followed them: "Again, when you desired flesh, so vast a quantity of quails was given you, that they could not be told; for whom also water gushed from the rock; and a cloud followed you for a shade from heat" (Justin Martyr, dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 81)
  2. Chrysostom actually states that the expression of the Rock that "followed them" was not literal, but symbolized the many different types of miracles that followed the Jews. Chrysostom rejected the idea of a literal Rock following them: "they drank the same spiritual drink," he added, "for they drank of a spiritual Rock that followed them," and he subjoined, "and the Rock was Christ." For it was not the nature of the rock which sent forth the water, (such is his meaning,) else would it as well have gushed out before this time: but another sort of Rock, a spiritual One, performed the whole, even Christ who was every where with them and wrought all the wonders. For on this account he said, "that followed them" (John Chrysostom, Homily 23, Homily on 1 Corinthians 10:4)
  3. Augustine also rejects the rock literally followed them by interpreting the meaning of the following to include the rock, manna, living bread, cloud and pillar of fire: "For they drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ." The explanation of one thing is a key to the rest. For if the rock is Christ from its stability, is not the manna Christ, the living bread which came down from heaven, which gives spiritual life to those who truly feed on it? The Israelites died because they received the figure only in its carnal sense. The apostle, by calling it spiritual food, shows its reference to Christ, as the spiritual drink is explained by the words, "That rock was Christ," which explain the whole. Then is not the cloud and the pillar Christ, who by His uprightness and strength supports our feebleness; who shines by night and not by day, that they who see not may see, and that they who see may be made blind? In the clouds and the Red Sea there is the baptism consecrated by the blood of Christ. The enemies following behind perish, as past sins are put away." (Augustine-Anti-Manichaean Writings, Book 12, 29)

C. Commentators and sources:

  1. The old Jewish legend relates that after the first water-miracle recorded in the rock which Moses struck rolled along on the journey of the Israelites until at the time of the death of Moses it disappeared in the Sea of Gennesaret. The second miracle, recorded in , is connected with this same rolling rock. This rock had been lost on the journey when Miriam died, to whose merit the first miracle was ascribed. This rock did not return until the second miracle was to be wrought. Hence it was also called "Miriam's Well." Then also the well mentioned in Num. 21:16-18 is identified with the rock which gushed forth water as recorded in Num. 20:12, so that the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan says on Num. 20:19: "The well that had been given as a present to them climbed up with them on the high mountains and from the high mountains came down with them into the valleys, surrounded the entire camp of Israel, and refreshed them, each at the door of his tent." Yes, Paul says, a modicum [small part] of the legend is true a rock did accompany Israel throughout the desert wandering, a rock out of which they kept drinking all of the time. But this was not the rolling boulder of the legend although on two notable occasions a natural rocky cliff was used by Moses at God's command. (Lenski, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 10:4, p 392)
  2. Practically every commentator believes that Paul's language, if not his thought, in this verse is influenced by rabbinic legend. F. W. Farrar observes: "There can, however, be little or no doubt that St. Paul refers to the common Jewish Hagadah, that the actual material rock did follow the Israelites in their wanderings. The rabbis said that it was round, and rolled itself up like a swarm of bees, and that, when the tabernacle was pitched, this rock came and settled in its vestibule and began to flow when the princes came to it and sang, `Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it.' It does not, of course, follow from this allusion that St. Paul or even the rabbis, believed their Hagadah in other than a metaphorical sense" (Pulpit Commentary19:322). E. Earle Ellis is more cautious: "As (S.R.) Driver has rightly noted, the adoption of such a puerile fable would be totally out of harmony with the character of Paul's mind; but his suggestion of a merely verbal relationship is a possible explanation: "St. Paul views the water which the Israelites drank in the wilderness as provided for them by Christ in his pre-existent Divine nature, who attended and watched over his people, whom he represents under the figure of a rock, accompanying them through their journeyings. The particular expression chosen by the apostle may have been suggested to him by his acquaintance with the legend current among the Jews; but it is evident that he gives it an entirely different application, and that he uses it not in a literal sense, but figuratively" ("A Note on First Corinthians 10:4," JBL 76 [1957] 55). (Mike Willis, A Commentary On First Corinthians, 10:4, p 260)
  3. "It was likewise with the well that was with the children of Israel in the wilderness, it [the well] was like a rock that was full of holes like a sieve from which water trickled and arose as from the opening of a flask. It [the rock-well] ascended with them to the top of the hills and descended with them into the valleys; wherever Israel tarried there it tarried over against the entrance to the tabernacle" (Tosephta, Sukkah 3. 11 ff., cited in Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, vol. 3, p. 406, Jewish tradition)

Conclusion: 1 Corinthians 10:4 gives no support for oral church traditions for the following reasons:

  1. Great variation in the different traditions are noted.
  2. The traditions interpreted the rock as both literal and two symbols: the water and a stationary well.
  3. The Apostolic Fathers never refer to Jewish tradition in explaining the verse. Instead, they take the meaning of the "Rock that followed" to be non-literal. They viewed its meaning to represent all the miracles God performed for Israel in the wilderness including: the rock, manna, living bread, cloud and pillar of fire.
  4. Justin, in conversing with a Jew, mentions both the cloud and the rock, but says only the cloud followed them. This in our opinion is some of the strongest evidence that Paul was not quoting Jewish tradition about a literal Rock that followed Israel. Justin is by far the earliest writer (150 AD) and was discussing 1 Cor 10:4 to a Jew. If ever there was a time such an application would have been made it was here. The fact Justin made no such application proves no such idea was in the mind of Paul.
  5. Even if the rock did in fact follow the Jews (something we reject) and Paul was making reference to this fact, it still proves oral tradition dangerous and unreliable, because without scripture, we would never know which portions of the many contradictory legends were valid and fable. In other words, without scripture telling us, it would be utterly impossible for us today to know if the Jewish tradition was valid or fable.
  6. For Roman Catholic and Orthodox defenders to use 1 Cor 10:4 as an example of oral tradition is as blind-sighted as it is illogical. For if Paul had not written it in scripture, these modern tradition defenders would never have attempted to validate these obscure Jewish Rabbinical traditions. Without scripture, neither the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches would ever have taught about a literal rock that followed Christ. That is because they would not know how to separate truth from fable in the traditions.


Click to ViewMore Pro-Oral Church tradition arguments refuted!

Click to ViewMore Anti-Sola Scriptura arguments refuted!


by Steve Rudd


Click to View