1 Corinthians 10:8—Does Paul make a mistake in quoting how many people died?
Problem: Paul says in this verse that 23,000 people died. In Exodus 32:28, the number of people listed as having died is 3,000. This would seem to be an error.
Solution: First, the people killed in Exodus 32:28 were killed by the sword, and those Paul mentions are those killed by the sword and a plague. Exodus 32:35 says, “So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made.” Paul gives a complete total from the plague as well as the sword. But Exodus 32:28 gives only the number of those killed by the sword.
Second, some feel that the number of people killed that Paul gives relates to an account of judgment in Numbers 25:9 which says that 24,000 were killed. This may be answered in two ways. First of all, the passage in Numbers does not give a specific time period in which how many people died. Yet, the Apostle Paul says that 23,000 died in one day. Here Paul is giving an account of those killed in one day as opposed to the passage in Numbers which does not specify how many were killed in one day, but gives the total. Further, some say that Paul does not refer to this passage in Numbers because 1 Corinthians 10:7 quotes from Exodus 32:6 which would fit the context of 1 Corinthians and Exodus 32:28.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.