Crux Interpretum: Perplexing difficulty
Warning: Never try to interpret scripture without first praying.
Did the apostle Paul actually fight with wild beasts at Ephesus? Where did you get that idea? Well, Paul said right in 1 Corinthians 15:32 “I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus”. That’s the abridged version. Let’s look at this a little closer to see what he really said, and what he really meant by it. Was it to tell that incidentally he fought wild beasts or did he have another point in mind, and if so what was it?
The actual text: “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.”
The context: Paul was writing to the Corinthians in this letter from Ephesus. All of 1 Corinthians 15 is devoted to the hope of the bodily resurrection of believers in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Well, what actually happened then? Did he fight wild beasts? And what kind of beasts were they? Real animals, a philosophy, those who opposed his beliefs? Should we interpret the statement Paul made about his experience while in Ephesus literally or figuratively?
That he actually fought wild beasts in one such 25,000 person arena in Ephesus for that purpose.
Problems with this idea:
- If he had done so because of persecution for his faith and willing to die for it it would only make sense if he believed in the bodily resurrection. Otherwise subjecting himself to any such persecution would be
- This event of actually fighting wild beasts in this fashion is highly implausible. 1) Paul most likely would not have survived it. 2) He does not recount it along with his other sufferings and hardships in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. He makes no mention of it in Acts. 3) If he had been thrown ad bestias he would have lost his Roman citizenship. We know that he still held it when he went before Ceasar. (see Acts)
Paul preached to the wild beasts, those who opposed him with whom he contended for the gospel.
- Since Plato and at least up until that time, “fighting the wild beasts” was euphemistic for struggling with human passions. This school of thought was that of the Epicureans who held the “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” school of thought, ie. “If after the manner of men”. Essentially, Paul was contrasting the Christian faith to the Epicurean philosphophy that held no resurrection hope. Many of these people where his most violent and dangerous enemies as he preached a belief system that so opposed their ideaology, one they even felt threatened their economy later stimulating a riot.
Discerning the Central Point
Now take a look at the verse again. Think of it as a sandwich with the center words in bold as the main point of the statement and the words in italics which come both before and after them as the bread, used to illustrate and contrast the point. Yum. Do you get it now?
“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,
what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?
let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.”
When we study scripture, how often we miss the point by focusing on the peripherals. For centuries people have debated this “wild beasts” issue. It is interesting enough to look into, but when we gain a better understanding of the context and use scripture to interpret scripture we become enlightened as to it’s actual purpose.
Paul was not arguing for arguments sake, it was a matter of life and death. In Paul’s rhetoric passage on the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 he is trying to emphasize the idea that all the preaching and contending for the faith would be in vain without the hope of the bodily resurrection. Without that hope there is no faith to contend for. If there was no resurrection one might as well live like the Epicureans, giving into human passions. Yet, whatever happened there was for some spiritual benefit, and not done merely on human terms.
1 Corinthians 15 is a prime example of a text that expounds on doctrine and provides many good proofs as evidence to it’s substance. It is to be taken as a literal and valid truth, yet in it’s explanation some figurative speech is used. Paul was a great orator. A man of rhetoric. He chose his words wisely according to his audience. He believed, as should we, in the inerrant, infallible, irrefutable living Word of God.
Did Paul really fight will wild beasts? It is safe to conclude that given the nature of his rhetoric in this passage, which is rich in other analogous examples (ie. Jewish feasts, baptism, prophecy, etc.) that yes, he did, figuratively.