Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


1 Corinthians 15:32

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

If, after the manner of men, etc. - Much learned criticism has been employed on this verse, to ascertain whether it is to be understood literally or metaphorically. Does the apostle mean to say that he had literally fought with wild beasts at Ephesus? or, that he had met with brutish, savage men, from whom he was in danger of his life? That St. Paul did not fight with wild beasts at Ephesus, may be argued,

  1. From his own silence on this subject, when enumerating his various sufferings, 2 Corinthians 11:23, etc.
  • From the silence of his historian, Luke, who, in the acts of this apostle, gives no intimation of this kind; and it certainly was too remarkable a circumstance to be passed over, either by Paul in the catalogue of his own sufferings, or by Luke in his history.
  • From similar modes of speech, which are employed metaphorically, and are so understood.
  • From the improbability that a Roman citizen, as Paul was, should be condemned to such a punishment, when in other cases, by pleading his privilege, he was exempted from being scourged, etc. And,
  • From the positive testimony of Tertullian and Chrysostom, who deny the literal interpretation.
  • On the other hand, it is strongly argued that the apostle is to be literally understood; and that he did, at some particular time, contend with wild beasts at Ephesus, from which he was miraculously delivered.

    1. That the phrase κατα ανθρωπον signifies as men used to do, and never means according to the manner of men, as implying their purpose, or, to use their forms of speech, etc.
  • From the circumstances of the case in Ephesus usually referred to, viz. the insurrection by Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen; where, though Paul would have been in danger had he gone into the theater, he was in little or none, as he did not adventure himself.
  • From his having endured much greater conflicts at Lystra and at Philippi than at Ephesus, at the former of which he was stoned to death, and again miraculously raised to life: see the notes on Acts 14:19, etc. And yet he calls not those greater dangers by this name.
  • That it cannot refer to the insurrection of Demetrius and his fellows, for St. Paul had no contention with them, and was scarcely in any danger, though Gaius and Aristarchus were: see the whole of Acts 19. And,
  • As we do not read of any other imminent danger to which he was exposed at Ephesus, and that already mentioned is not sufficient to justify the expression, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, therefore we must conclude that he was at some time, not directly mentioned by his historian or himself, actually exposed to wild beasts at Ephesus.
  • That this is the case he refers to, 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; : For we would not, brethren, have you if ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, καθ 'ὑπερβολην εβαρηθημεν ὑπερ δυναμιν, insomuch that we despaired even of life. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead; who delivered us from so great a death: for these expressions refer to some excessive and unprecedented danger, from which nothing less than a miraculous interference could have saved him; and that it might have been an actual exposure to wild beasts, or any other danger equally great, or even greater.
  • What advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? -

    I believe the common method of pointing this verse is erroneous; I propose to read it thus: If, after the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what doth it advantage me? If the dead rise not, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.

    What the apostle says here is a regular and legitimate conclusion from the doctrine, that there is no resurrection: For if there be no resurrection, then there can be no judgment - no future state of rewards and punishments; why, therefore, should we bear crosses, and keep ourselves under continual discipline? Let us eat and drink, take all the pleasure we can, for tomorrow we die; and there is an end of us for ever. The words, Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die, are taken from Isaiah 22:13, as they stand now in the Septuagint; and are a pretty smooth proverbial saying, which might be paralleled from the writings of several epicurean heathens, φαγωμεν και πιωμεν· αυριον γαρ αποθνησκομεν . The words of Isaiah are נמות מחר כי ושתו אכול akol reshatho, ki machar namuth : "In eating and drinking, for to-morrow we die;" i.e. Let us spend our time in eating and drinking, etc. See a similar speech by Trimalchio in Petronius Arbiter, Satiric. cap. xxxvii: -

    Heu, heu nos miseros! quam totus homuncio nil est!

    Sic erimus cuncti, postquam nos auferet orcus.

    Ergo vivamus, dum licet esse bene.

    Alas! alas! what wretches we are! all mankind are a worthless pack: thus shall we all be, after death hath taken us away. Therefore, while we may, let us enjoy life.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    If after the manner of men - Margin, “To speak after the manner of men” ( κατὰ ἄνθρωπον kata anthrōpon). There has been a great difference of opinion in regard to the meaning of these words. The following are some of the interpretations proposed:

    (1) If I have fought after the manner of people, who act only with reference to this life, and on the ordinary principles of human conduct, as people fought with wild beasts in the amphitheater.

    (2) or if, humanly speaking, or speaking after the manner of people, I have fought, referring to the fact that he had contended with mcn who should be regarded as wild beasts.

    (3) or, that I may speak of myself as people speak, that I may freely record the events of my life, and speak of what has occurred.

    (4) or, I have fought with wild beasts as far as it was possible for man to do it while life survived.

    (5) or, as much as was in the power of man, who had destined me to this; if, so far as depended on man‘s will, I fought, supposing that the infuriated multitude demanded that I should be thus punished. So Chrysostom understands it.

    (6) or, that Paul actually fought with wild beasts at Ephesus.

    (7) others regard this as a supposable case; on the supposition that I had fought with wild beasts at Ephesus. Amidst this variety of interpretation, it is not easy to determine the true sense of this difficult passage.

    The following thoughts, however, may perhaps make it clear:

    (1) Paul refers to some real occurrence at Ephesus. This is manifest from the whole passage. It is not a supposable case.

    (2) it was some one case when his life was endangered, and when it was regarded as remarkable that he escaped and survived; compare 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.

    (3) it was common among the Romans, and the ancients generally, to expose criminals to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheater for the amusement of the populace.

    In such cases it was but another form of dooming them to certain death, since there was no human possibility of escape; see Adam‘s Rom. Ant., p. 344. That this custom prevailed at the East, is apparent from the following extract front Rosenmuller; and there is no improbability in the supposition that Paul was exposed to this - “The barbarous custom of making men combat with wild beasts has prevailed in the East down to the most modern times. Jurgen Andersen, who visited the states of the Great Mogul in 1646, gives an account in his Travels of such a combat with animals, which he witnessed at Agra, the residence of the Great Mogul. His description affords a lively image of those bloody spectacles in which ancient Rome took so much pleasure, and to which the above words of the apostle refer. Alumardan-chan, the governor of Cashmire, who sat among the chans, stood up, and exclaimed, ‹It is the will and desire of the great mogul, Schah Choram, that if there are any valiant heroes who will show their bravery by combating with wild beasts, armed with shield and sword, let them come forward; if they conquer, the mogul will load them with great favor, and clothe their countenance with gladness.‘ Upon this three persons advanced, and offered to undertake the combat.

    Alamardan-charn again cried aloud, ‹None should have any other weapon than a shield and a sword; and whosoever has any breastplate under his clothes should lay it aside, and fight honorably.‘ Hereupon a powerful lion was let into the garden, and one of the three men above mentioned advanced against him; the lion, upon seeing his enemy, ran violently up to him; the man, however, defended himself bravely, and kept off the lion for a good while, until his arms grew tired; the lion then seized the shield with one paw, and with the other his antagonist‘s right arm, so that he was not able to use his weapon; the latter, seeing his life in danger, took with his left hand his Indian dagger, which he had sticking in his girdle, and thrust it as far as possible into the lion‘s mouth; the lion then let him go; the man, however, was not idle, but cut the lion almost through with one stroke, and after that entirely to pieces.

    Upon this victory the common people began to shout, and call out, ‹Thank God. he has conquered.‘ But the mogul said, smiling, to this conqueror, ‹Thou art a brave warrior, and hast fought admirably! But did I not command to fight honorably only with shield and sword? But, like a thief, thou hast stolen the life of the lion with thy dagger.‘ And immediately he ordered two men to rip up his belly, and to place him upon an elephant, and, as an example to others, to lead him about, which was done on the spot. Soon after, a tiger was set loose; against which a tall, powerful man advanced with an air of defiance, as if he would cut the tiger up. The tiger, however, was far too sagacious and active, for, in the first attack, he seized the combatant by the neck, tore his throat, and then his whole body in pieces. This enraged another good fellow, but little, and of ordinary appearance, from whom one would not have expected it: he rushed forward like one mad, and the tiger on his part undauntedly flew at his enemy; but the man at the first attack cut off his two fore paws; so that he fell, and the man cut his body to pieces.

    Upon this the king cried, ‹What is your name?‘ He answered, ‹My name is Geyby.‘ Soon after one of the king‘s servants came and brought him a piece of gold brocade, and said, ‹Geyby, receive the robe of honor with which the mogul presents you.‘ He took the garment with great reverence, kissed it three times, pressing it each time to his eyes and breast, then held it up, and in silence put up a prayer for the health of the mogul; and when he concluded it, he cried, ‹May God let him become as great as Tamerlane, from whom he is descended. May he live 700 years, and his house continue to eternity!‘ Upon this he was summoned by a chamberlain to go from the garden up to the king; and when he came to the entrance, he was received by two chans, who conducted him between them to kiss the mogul‘s feet. And when he was going to retire, the king said to him, ‹Praised be thou, Geyby-chan, for thy valiant deeds, and this name shalt thou keep to eternity. I am your gracious master, and thou art my slave‘“ - Bush‘s Illustrations.

    (4) it is the most natural interpretation to suppose that Paul, on some occasion, had such a contest with a wild beast at Ephesus. It is that which would occur to the great mass of the readers of the New Testament as the obvious meaning of the passage.

    (5) the state of things in Ephesus when Paul was there 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, that there must have been many dangers which Paul encountered which are not referred to by Luke. It must have happened, also, that many important events must have taken place during Paul‘s abode at Ephesus which are not recorded by Luke; 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, mention particularly this contest with a wild beast at Ephesus. His statement there is general. He does not descend into particulars. Yet, in 2 Corinthians 11:23, he says that he was “in deaths oft,” - a statement which is in accordance with the supposition that in Ephesushe may have been exposed to death in some cruel manner.

    (7) the phrase κατὰ ἄνθρωπον kata anthrōponas a “man,” may mean, that, “to human appearance,” or so far as man was concerned, bad it not been for some divine interposition, he would have been a prey to the wild beasts. Had not God interposed and kept him from harm, as in the case of the viper at Melita Acts 28:5, he would have been put to death. He was sentenced to this; was thrown to the wild beast; had every human prospect of dying; it was done on account of his religion; and but for the interposition of God, he would have died. This I take to be the fair and obvious meaning of this passage, demanded alike by the language which is used and by the tenor of the argument in which it is found.

    What advantageth it me? - What benefit shall I have? Why should I risk my life in this manner? see the note on 1 Corinthians 15:19.

    Let us eat and drink - These words are taken from Isaiah 22:13. In their original application they refer to the Jews when besieged by Sennacherib and the army of the Assyrians. The prophet says, that instead of weeping, and fasting, and humiliation, as became them in such circumstances, they had given themselves up to feasting and revelry, and that their language was, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die that is, there is no use in offering resistance, or in calling upon God. We must die; and we may as well enjoy life as long as it lasts, and give ourselves up to unrestrained indulgence. Paul does not quote these words as having any original reference to the subject of the resurrection, but as language appropriately expressing the idea, that if there is no future state; if no resurrection of the dead; if no happy result of toils and sufferings in the future world, it is vain and foolish to subject ourselves to trials and privations here. We should rather make the most of this life; enjoy all the comfort we can; and make pleasure our chief good, rather than look for happiness in a future state. This seems to be the language of the great mass of the world. They look to no future state. They have no prospect, no desire of heaven; and they, therefore, seek for happiness here, and give themselves up to unrestrained enjoyment in this life.

    Tomorrow - Very soon. We have no security of life; and death is so near that it may be said we must die tomorrow.

    We die - We must die. The idea here is, “We must die, without the prospect of living again, unless the doctrine of the resurrection be true.”

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    All that are by faith united to Christ, are by his resurrection assured of their own. As through the sin of the first Adam, all men became mortal, because all had from him the same sinful nature, so, through the resurrection of Christ, shall all who are made to partake of the Spirit, and the spiritual nature, revive, and live for ever. There will be an order in the resurrection. Christ himself has been the first-fruits; at his coming, his redeemed people will be raised before others; at the last the wicked will rise also. Then will be the end of this present state of things. Would we triumph in that solemn and important season, we must now submit to his rule, accept his salvation, and live to his glory. Then shall we rejoice in the completion of his undertaking, that God may receive the whole glory of our salvation, that we may for ever serve him, and enjoy his favour. What shall those do, who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Perhaps baptism is used here in a figure, for afflictions, sufferings, and martyrdom, as Mt 20:22,23. What is, or will become of those who have suffered many and great injuries, and have even lost their lives, for this doctrine of the resurrection, if the dead rise not at all? Whatever the meaning may be, doubtless the apostle's argument was understood by the Corinthians. And it is as plain to us that Christianity would be a foolish profession, if it proposed advantage to themselves by their faithfulness to God; and to have our fruit to holiness, that our end may be everlasting life. But we must not live like beasts, as we do not die like them. It must be ignorance of God that leads any to disbelieve the resurrection and future life. Those who own a God and a providence, and observe how unequal things are in the present life, how frequently the best men fare worst, cannot doubt as to an after-state, where every thing will be set to rights. Let us not be joined with ungodly men; but warn all around us, especially children and young persons, to shun them as a pestilence. Let us awake to righteousness, and not sin.
    Ellen G. White
    Patriarchs and Prophets, 181-2

    Trembling with astonishment and distress, the blind old father learned the deception that had been practiced upon him. His long and fondly cherished hopes had been thwarted, and he keenly felt the disappointment that must come upon his elder son. Yet the conviction flashed upon him that it was God's providence which had defeated his purpose and brought about the very thing he had determined to prevent. He remembered the words of the angel to Rebekah, and notwithstanding the sin of which Jacob was now guilty, he saw in him the one best fitted to accomplish the purposes of God. While the words of blessing were upon his lips, he had felt the Spirit of inspiration upon him; and now, knowing all the circumstances, he ratified the benediction unwittingly pronounced upon Jacob: “I have blessed him; yea, and he shall be blessed.” PP 181.1

    Esau had lightly valued the blessing while it seemed within his reach, but he desired to possess it now that it was gone from him forever. All the strength of his impulsive, passionate nature was aroused, and his grief and rage were terrible. He cried with an exceeding bitter cry, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” “Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?” But the promise given was not to be recalled. The birthright which he had so carelessly bartered he could not now regain. “For one morsel of meat,” for a momentary gratification of appetite that had never been restrained, Esau sold his inheritance; but when he saw his folly, it was too late to recover the blessing. “He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Hebrews 12:16, 17. Esau was not shut out from the privilege of seeking God's favor by repentance, but he could find no means of recovering the birthright. His grief did not spring from conviction of sin; he did not desire to be reconciled to God. He sorrowed because of the results of his sin, but not for the sin itself. PP 181.2

    Because of his indifference to the divine blessings and requirements, Esau is called in Scripture “a profane person.” Verse 16. He represents those who lightly value the redemption purchased for them by Christ, and are ready to sacrifice their heirship to heaven for the perishable things of earth. Multitudes live for the present, with no thought or care for the future. Like Esau they cry, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” 1 Corinthians 15:32. They are controlled by inclination; and rather than practice self-denial, they will forgo the most valuable considerations. If one must be relinquished, the gratification of a depraved appetite or the heavenly blessings promised only to the self-denying and God-fearing, the claims of appetite prevail, and God and heaven are virtually despised. How many, even of professed Christians, cling to indulgences that are injurious to health and that benumb the sensibilities of the soul. When the duty is presented of cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, they are offended. They see that they cannot retain these hurtful gratifications and yet secure heaven, and they conclude that since the way to eternal life is so strait, they will no longer walk therein. PP 181.3

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