“What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts εθηριομαχησα at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:32‬ ‭

The point Paul is making is, why would he fight off the beasts in order to live if there was no resurrection? In the grand scheme of things living a few more years but without a resurrection is pointless.

However what caught my eye was that he fought with the beasts.

Does this speak at all to Paul’s physical stature? His strength, height, muscular build? He is from the tribe of Benjamin and king Saul was the tallest man in Israel at his time. It’s possible Paul had the genes.

In what sense did Paul fight with the beasts? More importantly how did he survive?

It has to be physical or resulting in potential physical death for this sentence to make sense. It can’t for example mean, Paul fought with unclean spirits or in prayer.

Also just because no gladiatorial arena has been uncovered in Ephesus doesn’t mean that beast fighting did not take place in Ephesus. Not all structures are or can be preserved.

2 Answers 2


Because Paul was a Roman citizen, it is unlikely that Paul is speaking literally. It wasn't legal to have Roman citizens fight wild beasts. Paul must have been writing about those who persecuted him. It is unlikely for a man over sixty to survive such a thing in Paul's day without supernatural intervention.

Late verb from θηριομαχος [thēriomachos], a fighter with wild beasts. Found in inscriptions and in Ignatius. Those who argue for an Ephesian imprisonment for Paul and Ephesus as the place where he wrote the imprisonment epistles (see Duncan’s book just mentioned) take the verb literally. There is in the ruins of Ephesus now a place called St. Paul’s Prison. But Paul was a Roman citizen and it was unlawful to make such a one be a θηριομαχος [thēriomachos]. If he were cast to the lions unlawfully, he could have prevented it by claiming his citizenship. Besides, shortly after this Paul wrote II Corinthians, but he does not mention so unusual a peril in the list in 2 Cor. 11:23f. The incident, whatever it was, whether literal or figurative language, took place before Paul wrote I Corinthians. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (1 Co 15:32). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

Here is where Paul has a similar expression.

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Gal. 5:15, ESV)

  • Good point - I agree. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 2:40

The ‘beasts’ Paul ‘fought’ (thēriomacheō) at Ephesus were not literal. They were spiritual. We wrestle not against flesh and blood.

Ephesus was the ‘home’ of Diana. Also referred to as Artemis. Artemis was worshiped in many locations, but the temple in Ephesus was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Ephesus was a ‘hub’ for worshipping other gods.

In Acts 19 we see a glimpse of the encounters Paul had in Ephesus. Much demonic opposition.

ACTS 19:28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

You need to understand the ‘thinking’ of the author - Paul. Jews living at this time, this time of the second temple, this inter testament period, had a much wider understanding of the supernatural than those during the Reformation when much interpretation was founded. Hence believers today don’t always consider this dimension.

Consider this Messianic psalm that describes Jesus on the cross, another glimpse of ‘spiritual beasts’, - exactly as Paul was ‘thinking’. He was a Rabi. That’s how they think. Their ‘thinking’ was shaped by the Old Testament.

PSALM 22:12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion.

  • If they were not literal could they have killed him physically? Because if they couldn’t then this verse is absurd as absurd can be Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 18:54
  • @Nihil Sine Deo No - they could not kill Paul. But could inflict. Read Acts 19 - the demons did [via those they possessed] physical attack people. ([RE:?] consider Paul’s thorn - he was stoned, shipwrecked, etc, all ‘spiritual attacks!). Now consider the ‘Beasts’ you encounter in Revelation - spiritual or literal?
    – Dave
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 19:24
  • So how do you interpret 1 Cor15:32 the general context of resurrection from the dead in light of your interpretation? Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 19:26
  • @Nihil Sine Deo The point that Paul was making is clear. He believed there is a heaven and hell that people will be resurrected to, and therefore, he endured many hardships to preach the Gospel to every creature. I concede that it is possible that the reference to ‘beasts’ could be ‘seen’ to be literal - because the exact meaning isn’t clear. But, when looked at in the context of Ephesus - a hub of worship of other gods, the incidents in Acts, second temple ‘thinking’, my ‘view’ is they are spiritual.
    – Dave
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 19:36
  • I don’t have an issue with beasts being a reference to unclean spirits because that is consistent with other passages. I have an issue that Paul is saying he would have been killed by beasts had he not fought them. In the context of proving resurrection. Why fight beasts to live if after you die there is no resurrection. You might as well just die. Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 19:41

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