Wild Beasts at Ephesus

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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?

Literal interpretation:

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)

Figurative Intepretation:

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.

1 Corinthians 15 ~ for further study

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13 thoughts on “Wild Beasts at Ephesus

  1. Thanks. What’s great about scripture is that some of the parts that don’t really matter are the parts that can be ambiguous. No doubt that Jesus came, lived and died, rose from the dead the we may be made new in the spirit 2 Cor 5:17.

  2. I don’t think your interpretation is true For the following reasons:
    1. Context: The context of the chapter was DEATH and resurrection (1 Cor 15:1-7, 12-18) and what its benefit was . Paul then goes on to link Jesus Death and resurrection to our death and resurrection. (v 18, v. 20-21, 16). As v21, says we will resurrect because Jesus resurrected. Then he talks about the glory of death and resurrection(vs 24 – 28). Then he goes talk about our death by saying why do we endanger ourselves. Verse 31 is explicit “I die everyday” and then “wild beasts in Ephesus”. Not just wild beasts but in ephesus (specificity!! Paul did face wild beasts)
    2. Extensity (Extremity): Paul picked his worst case to prove his point of “i die daily” – To further emphasize death before resurrection. How do we know it was his worst? Easy! The way the sentence was framed. In a question and in form of comparison! (i.e. comparing HUMAN reasons NOT resurrection to fighting wild beasts). It is just like saying if I broke into the pentagon for $1 million it would be a waste. Thus you would know that the “pentagon” would be the extreme of which $1 million cannot be compared.
    3. Possibility: Yes it is possible for Paul to have faced such and survived. Look at 1 Cor 4:9 Why do you think Paul said God condemned Apostles to die in the ARENA (chk NIV). But could he have survived if he was in an arena (Yes if God says so!, just as John survived the boiling oil we cannot explain away MIRACLES) How do we know? Paul faced death in many circumstances yet survived a. He was stoned to death but got up (acts 14:19) b. Venomous snake bite Acts 28:4-5 c.The many attacks in 2Cor 11:16-33)

    1. You make some good points here. The context determines that “I die daily” is not dying to self but rather literal, physical death that he faced and a great example given (facing the beasts) in Ephesus, which BTW, archeologists found a gladiator gravesite in Ephesus (I believe in 2007).

  3. AKJV. 1 COR 15:32. ” IF AFTER THE MANNER OF MEN I HAVE….” NIV. 1 COR 15:32. ” IF I FOUGHT WILD BEASTS….”

    The inference seems to be IF as in a figurative interpretation to allude to wild beast being men ” bent on resisting his ministry and doctrine” (Mark Ciraulo)

    Good article.

  4. Wild Beasts:
    Seems to me that the truth of the word of God is not been understood by the hearers? All scripture is God breathed.

    When you read the scriptures the result is a double edged sword?
    Through out the scriptures the Lord has hidden things or treasures in His word.
    It is the Glory of God to conceal a matter and it is the honor of kings to search it out.
    The situation of Paul fighting with “wild beasts” is a matter of believing the scriptures or not. And the trouble with a lot of people is that they don’t believe the scriptures.
    For the work of God is this, to believe in the one he sent. (Jesus)
    Are you wearing the Armour of God and standing firm in the belt of Truth?

    Ecc 3:18 I said in my heart, It is because of the sons of men, that God may prove them, and that they may see that they themselves are but as beasts.

    As you can see by scripture that Paul was fighting with men.
    He refers to them as “wild beasts”
    Do a word search on wild beasts and see what you come up with?

    A lot of people don,t read Ecc because their shepherds have lead them astray.

  5. I reckon Paul did actually fight wild beasts, both the 4 legged and the bipeds…he was a very stout man and hardened to violence before he was converted (stoning of Stephen- the coats at his feet) so why not post conversion?..only now fighting on and for, the right side. It wouldn’t be Paul to go into detail in a bragging sense either.
    Also, the poster mentions that anyone thrown to the lions or gladiators immediately loses Roman citizenship. I wouldn’t know about that because everyone knows that’s how many slaves and criminal types-of all backgrounds won their freedom or died….in the arena…don’t know if lack of Roman citizenship would have meant not being allowed to preach The Gospel in Roman territory, but that would have been the only reason Paul would likely have shied away from fighting, if that were the case.
    I listen to a very few pastors and teachers that say Paul was telling the more or less pacified Corinthians that there is at least one thing worth fighting for and that would be the Resurrection. I’m only saying that it is not just an idea that has no grounds in Paul’s past-certainly if He was thrown to the lions, he wouldn’t have had anything else he could have done. The Pharisees were probably still angry enough at Paul for ‘turning on them’- is how they would’ve seen it. The same Pharisees would have had the political power to get the Romans to do the physical work of getting him in the arena……

  6. Who cares what you reckon? The issue is they don’t believe the Scriptures.
    Simple as A B C.. even a child knows their a b c

    Since you don’t know how Jesus the Master Teacher taught?

    How are you going to understand what He taught?

    John 9: 39-41 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

    40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

    41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

    I have notice you don’t reply with Scripture; which tells me that you don’t believe the written scriptures of God, you think they are but a quaint little story. From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

    Read Proverbs 2 and ask the Lord to help you with these hidden treasures of His.

  7. This is one of those statements or questions Apostle Paul warms in 2 Timothy 2:23 Timothy to stay away from. Did Paul fight first of all a living creature? We have no other scriptures that can vaidate this point in any other epistles. Ecc 3; is solely supportive of the interpretation 1 Cor 15:32. It’s not a matter whether you believe God’s word as it is 2Timothy 2:15 rightly dividing the word of truth, as some would suppose. If Paul would have been threw into a lions den for the word of God sake it would have been listed in 2 Cor 11:23-33 because it would glorify God in death and Life. Listen God had a plan not only for Apostle Paul end or death that he would be sentenced to die by being behead by the hands of Nero. So any other interpretation of what God said through the servant of God is through your imagination not through God revelation by the Holy Ghost. You believe in Him right? Seek and you will find. My brethren be steadfast in the word of our Lord Jesus Christ. He die and rose from the dead.
    So be careful you don’t cause some young saint to stubble. 2 Corinthians 3:6 The Letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life

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