Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul brings up Biblical mechanisms of punishment when he compares the sins committed by the Jews in the desert with those of the Corinthians. “God was not pleased with most of them in the wilderness, and so they were struck down,” he says. “We must not put Christ to the test (peirasmos), as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain, as some of them complained, and were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor. 10.5-10). Paul may think of the role of the Destroyer—translated as Exterminator in the Latin Vulgate–as being within Satan’s current range of activities.
When Paul takes up the question in 1 Corinthians of whether celibacy should be preferred over marriage, he urges most Christians to get married, because a single life leaves one open to the dangers of immorality. Once married, spouses are obliged to fulfill their marital duty to each other. It is acceptable to abstain for a while by mutual consent, in order to be freer for prayer. But then they should come together again, “lest Satan test you because of your lack of control” (1 Cor. 7.5). Now we are back to the realm of testing, outside of any official punitive capacity. We notice that overzealousness may lead us into a dangerous situation, exposing us to the risk of undergoing a trial that we may well fail.