When Paul says "I face death everyday" in 1 Corinthians 15:31, what does he mean by this? What will be the best way to interpret that scripture?
Quoting a little more of the passage for context:
And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 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.
-- 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 (KJV)
Expressions such as "Why stand we in jeopardy every hour?" and "I have fought with beasts at Ephesus"(1) indicate that Paul is referring to physical threats upon his life, which the record of Acts confirms to be true:
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
-- Acts 9:23-24 (KJV)
But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.
-- Acts 13:50 (KJV)
And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.
-- Acts 14:19 (KJV)
And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, … And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.
-- Acts 16:19,22 (KJV)
And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
-- Acts 17:4-5 (KJV)
But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
-- Acts 17:13 (KJV)
And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,
-- Acts 18:12 (KJV)
Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: … And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
-- Acts 19:26,28 (KJV)
And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.
-- Acts 21:30-31 (KJV)
And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
-- Acts 23:12 (KJV)
This occurred around 59 AD(2) , which meant that from that time forward Paul's life was under constant threat of death wherever he went. However, his trust in Jesus to complete the task he set before him was such that he gave little heed to it.
And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul's cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix: About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him. To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.
-- Acts 25:14-16 (KJV)
And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
-- Acts 27:18-20 (KJV)
At Melita (Malta)
And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. … And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.
Acts 28:3,5-6 (KJV)
Paul appealed to the Roman church for prayer:
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
-- Romans 15:30-31 (KJV)
Paul spoke of the need for "boldness" in proclaiming the Gospel:
And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
-- Philippians 1:14 (KJV)
But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.
-- 1 Thessalonians 2:2 (KJV)
Paul was literally on the bleeding edge of the Gospel, and in his experience and expectation, the threat of physical death was a daily consideration.
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway(3) delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.
-- 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 (KJV)
The Greek word here is θηριομαχέω (Strong's G2341 - thēriomacheō), which is a compound of θηρίον (Strong's G2342 - thērion) and μάχομαι (Strong's G3164 - machomai). Paul's only other use of θηρίον is in his letter to Titus where he quotes an anonymous Creatian prophet who refers to Cretians as "alway liars, evil beasts" (Titus 1:12). It is highly likely then that the beasts Paul was referring to were the men he encountered at Ephesus, those native to the area who handled him roughly, and the Jews who moved them to do so.
Thayer: perpetually, incessantly, invariably; Strong: always, ever, regularly (Studylight Lexicon)
I want to applaud you, OP, for including two different translations of the verse in question. "I die daily" seems to be a more literal translation of the Greek, but "I face death everyday" seems to convey the sense better.
Note that, in the context of Corinthians 15, Paul is speaking about the resurrection of the dead. He is essentially asking, "If there's no afterlife, why are we wasting our time suffering here on Earth as Christians? Why don't we just live it up?"
(Corinthians 15:29-34, DRB) Otherwise what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? why are they then baptized for them? Why also are we in danger every hour? I die daily, I protest by your glory, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord. If (according to man) I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what doth it profit me, if the dead rise not again? Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we shall die. Be not seduced: Evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake, ye just, and sin not. For some have not the knowledge of God, I speak it to your shame.
If we look at the context of the verse in question, especially the bolded part, it appears that Paul is alluding to his persecution as a Christian when he says "I die daily." (Christians were in danger of being martyred like Stephen)
It seems then, that Paul meant:
- I'm in danger of death daily because of my faith
- I'm suffering every day because of my faith
In his Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Thomas Aquinas seems to think that Paul means "I'm in danger of death daily" when he says "I die daily." I suspect, however, that Paul might have also been referring to his suffering persecution in general. (The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.)
It reminds me of how St. Thecla is venerated as the first female "martyr." According to her hagiography, she was almost martyred multiple times, but her life was miraculously preserved. The point is that, while not physically being martyred, she is venerated as a "martyr" because she faced imminent death and was willing to die rather than deny Christ.
The image depicts St. Thecla receiving the crown of martyrdom from heaven despite surviving the lions.
PART TWO: THE SCRUPULOUSLY HYPERLITERAL INTERPRETATION
But, hold the phone! Paul said he "dies daily" even though he doesn't! The Bible must be a book of lies because not every word is literally true! Right?
Ummm, actually there is a sense in which the verse is literally true.
Since the present tense in Koine Greek can either have a simple or a progressive aspect, depending on the context, Paul could be saying "I am dying daily." And this would be literally true! I mean, Paul is shortening his lifespan by being a Christian. (Extra-biblical writings suggest he was eventually beheaded.) In fact, everyone is "dying" at least due to age.
No contradiction :)
In context, Paul is addressing those who question the resurrection of the dead. His argument is initially circular: if there was no resurrection of the dead, then there would be no point in proclaiming that Christ is risen, because he cannot have been raised if it were not true. He also questions: what would be the point in baptising in the name of some man who is not living?
Continuing in this vein, Paul then asks why he faces death (ie. risks his life confidently and without fear) if there is no hope in the dead being raised:
And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 1 Corinthians 15: 30-32
Was Paul facing death everyday?
Paul backs up his argument with his own actions: disregarding the demands of the flesh and the fear and avoidance of death, and instead risking or facing death by continuing to preach in the name of Jesus, even though people were plotting to have him killed. This is not simply having threats on his life, but behaving in a way that treats those threats as inconsequential. The details of Paul's death-defying behaviour are described in Acts:
Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. Acts 14: 19-20
Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21: 13
But he appears to more specifically refer to the riot at Ephesus:
Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. Acts 19: 29-31
Life and death in the flesh vs resurrection and eternal life in the spirit
Paul's writings refer to a dichotomy between life in the spirit which is eternal (as confirmed by the resurrection), and life in the flesh, in which we are ruled by sin and death, and which ends in death.
In 1 Corinthians, he argues that if there is no resurrection, then we continue to fear death as if in death we will cease to exist, and nothing has changed - there is no good news to preach. We continue to be ruled by our avoidance of death, our instincts to survive, benefit materially and regenerate ourselves ('no more than human hopes'), obeying the demands of the flesh despite the law, which cannot free us from sin but instead binds us to sin and to this flesh (which will inevitably perish).
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8: 6-8
But by faith in Jesus' death in the flesh and his subsequent 'resurrection' in the spirit, Paul believes that Jesus demonstrated a different way to live: a life in the spirit, where death is no longer to be feared as an end, but simply the point at which one is fully released from the demands of the flesh.
But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. Romans 8:10
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Romans 6: 5-7
In following this example, a believer's life is not in the flesh or in what can be observed, held or possessed, but in their spiritual connection with each other and with God's unconditional love for all creation - and it is in this life that Jesus continues to live and interact with believers.
God's love and life in the spirit
In Romans, Paul quotes a similar phrase from Psalm 44 in expressing this confidence that this love of God is not hindered by death:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 35-39
So Paul was prepared to face his own death every day, because he believed that it was his life in the spirit, in connecting others to Jesus' resurrection and to God's love, that would also be 'resurrected' and ultimately endure beyond his death.
I believe that what Paul was saying is found in Gal 2.20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh Sin is anything that goes against God’s will and His laws. To commit sin is to transgress or disobey these laws. The lust to sin dwells in human nature. In other words, it is contaminated and motivated by the sinful ... I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. In text emphasis not mine, but i agree with the writer, Paul yes faced death multiple times and even said to Agabus that he was not only ready to be bound but to also die, but i think to die daily Paul was talking more about dealing with his fleshly desires on a daily basis. He was talking more about his daily experiences as a believer understanding that it is one thing to proffess christ its another thing to live for him