(3.) Among the Greeks and Romans games entered largely into their social life.
(a) Reference in the New Testament is made to gladiatorial shows and fights with wild beasts (1Co 15:32). These were common among the Romans, and sometimes on a large scale.
(b) Allusion is frequently made to the Grecian gymnastic contests (Ga 2:2; 5:7; Php 2:16; 3:14; 1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 2:5; Heb 12:1,4,12). These were very numerous. The Olympic, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games were esteemed as of great national importance, and the victors at any of these games of wrestling, racing, etc., were esteemed as the noblest and the happiest of mortals.
Of children, Zec 8:5. Imitating marriages and funerals, Mt 11:16-17. The earnestness of the Hebrew character indisposed adults to games. Public games they had none, the great feasts of religion supplying them with their anniversary occasions of national gatherings. Jason's introduction of Greek games and a gymnasium was among the corrupting influences which broke down the fence of Judaism, and threw it open to the assaults of the Old Testament antichrist, Antiochus Epiphanes (1Ma 1:14; 2Ma 4:12-14). Herod erected a theater and amphitheater, with quinquennial contests in gymnastics, chariot races, music, and wild beasts, at Jerusalem and Caesarea, to the annoyance of the faithful Jews (Josephus, Ant 15:8, sec. 1; 9, sec. 6). The "chiefs of Asia" (Asiarchs) superintended the games in honor of Diana at Ephesus (Ac 19:31).
In 1Co 15:32 Paul alludes to "fights with beasts" (though his fights were with beast-like men, Demetrius and his craftsmen, not with beasts, from which his Roman citizenship exempted him), at Ephesus. The "fighters with beasts" were kept to the "last" of the "spectacle"; this he alludes to, 1Co 4:9; "God hath set forth (exhibited previous to execution) us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death, for we are made a spectacle unto the world," etc., a "gazing stock" as in an amphitheater (Heb 10:33). The Asiarchs' friendliness was probably due to their having been interested in his teaching during his long stay at Ephesus. Nero used to clothe the Christians in beast skins when he exposed them to wild beasts; compare 2Ti 4:17, "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (namely, from Satan's snare, 1Pe 5:8).
In 2Ti 4:7, "I have striven the good strife," not merely a fight, any competitive contest as the race-course, 1Ti 6:12 which was written from Corinth, where national games recurred at stated seasons, which accounts for the allusion: "strive" with such earnestness in "the good strife" as to "lay hold" on the prize, the crown or garland of the winner, "eternal life." (See TIMOTHY.) Jas 1:12; Re 2:10. Php 3:12-14; "not as though I had attained," namely, the prize, "or am already perfected" (Greek), i.e., my course completed and I crowned with the garland of perfect victory; "I follow after," i.e. I press on, "if that I may apprehend (grasp) that for which I am apprehended of (grasped by) Christ," i.e., if so be that I may lay hold on the prize for obtaining which I was laid hold on by Christ at conversion (Song 1:4; 1Co 13:12).
Forgetting those things behind (the space already past, contrast 2Ti 3:7; 2Pe 1:9) and reaching forth unto those things before, like a race runner with body bent forward, the eye reaching before and drawing on the hand, the hand reaching before and drawing on the foot. The "crown (garland) of righteousness," "of life," "of glory," is "the prize of the high calling (the calling that is above, coming from, and leading to, heaven) of God in Christ Jesus" (1Th 2:12), given by "the righteous Judge" (2Ti 4:8; 1Pe 5:4). The false teacher, as a self constituted umpire, would "defraud you of your prize" (katabrabeueto), by drawing you away from Christ to angel worship (Col 2:18). Therefore "let the peace of God as umpire rule (brabeueto) in your hearts" and restrain wrong passions, that so you may attain the prize "to the which ye are called" (Col 3:15).
In 1Co 9:24 the Isthmian games, celebrated on the isthmus of Corinth, are vividly alluded to. They were a subject of patriotic pride to the Corinthians, a passion rather than a pastime; so a suitable image of Christian earnestness. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians at Ephesus, and in addressing the Ephesian elders he uses naturally the same image, an undesigned coincidence (Ac 20:24). "So (with the determined earnestness of the ONE earthly winner) run, that ye may obtain" is such language as instructors in the gymnasts and spectators on the race-course would urge on the runners with. The competitor had to "strive lawfully" (2Ti 2:5), i.e. observing the conditions of the contest, keeping to the bounds of the course, and stripped of clothes, and previously training himself with chastity, abstemious diet, anointing, enduring cold, heat, and severe exercise.
As a soldier the believer is one of many; as an athlete he has to wage an individual struggle continually, as if (which is the case in a race) one alone could win; "they who run in the stadium (racecourse, oblong, at one end semicircular, where the tiers of spectators sat), run all, but one receiveth the prize." Paul further urges Christians, run so as not only to receive salvation but a full reward (compare 1Co 3:14-15; 2Jo 1:8). Pugilism is the allusion in "I keep under (Greek: I bruise under the eyes, so as to disable) my body (the old flesh, whereas the games competitor boxed another I box myself), and bring it into subjection as a slave, lest that by any means, when I have preached (heralded, as the heralds summoned the candidates to the race) to others, I myself should be a castaway" (Greek: rejected), namely, not as to his personal salvation of which he had no doubts (Ga 1:15; Eph 1:4,7; Php 1:6; Tit 1:2; 2Ti 1:12), but as to the special reward of those who "turn many to righteousness" (Da 12:3; 1Th 2:19).
So Paul denied himself, in not claiming sustenance, in view of "reward," namely, "to gain the more" (1Co 9:18-23). 1Co 9:25; "striveth for the mastery," namely, in wrestling, more severe than the foot-race. The "crown" (garland, not a king's diadem) is termed "corruptible," being made of the soon withering fir leaves from the groves round the Isthmian racecourse. Our crown is "incorruptible" (1Pe 1:4). "I run not as uncertainly," i.e. not without a definite goal, in "becoming all things to all men" I aim at "gaining the more." Ye gain no end, he implies to the Corinthians, in your eating idol meats. He who knows what to aim at, and how to aim, looks straight to the goal, and casts away every encumbrance (Heb 12:1). So the believer must cast aside not only sinful lusts, but even harmless and otherwise useful things which would retard him (Mr 9:42-48; 10:50; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9).
He must run with enduring perseverance the race set before him. "Not as one that beateth the air," in a skiamachia, or sparring in sham fight, striking the air as if an adversary. Satan is a real adversary, acting through the flesh. The "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1-2) that "we are compassed about with" attest by their own case God's faithfulness to His people (Heb 6:12).
A second sense is nowhere positively sustained by Scripture, namely, that, as the crowd of surrounding spectators gave fresh spirit to the combatants, so the deceased saints who once were in the same contest, and who now are witnessing our struggle of faith, ought to increase our earnestness, testifying as they do to God's faith. fullness; but see Job 14:21; Ec 9:5; Isa 63:16, which seemingly deny to disembodied spirits consciousness of earthly affairs. "Looking off unto Jesus (aforontes, with eye fixed on the distant goal) the Prince-leader and Finisher (the Starting point and the Goal, as in the diaulos race, wherein they doubled back to the starting point) of our faith" (2Ti 3:7).
I. Among the Israelites.
Among the Greeks the rage for theatrical exhibitions was such that every city of any size possessed its theatre and stadium. At Ephesus an annual contest was held in honor of Diana. It is probable that St. Paul was present when these games were proceeding. A direct reference to the exhibitions that I took place on such occasions is made in
St. Paul's epistles abound with allusions to the Greek contests, borrowed probably from the Isthmian games, at which he may well have been present during his first visit to Corinth. These contests,
were divided into two classes, the pancratium, consisting of boxing and wrestling, and the pentathlon, consisting of leaping, running, quoiting, hurling the spear and wrestling. The competitors,
required a long and severe course of previous training,
during which a particular diet was enforced.
In the Olympic contests these preparatory exercises extended over a period of ten months, during the last of which they were conducted under the supervision of appointed officers. The contests took place in the presence of a vast multitude of spectators,
the competitors being the spectacle.
The games were opened by the proclamation of a herald,
whose office it was to give out the name and country of each candidate, and especially to announce the name of the victor before the assembled multitude. The judge was selected for his spotless integrity;
his office was to decide any disputes,
and to give the prize,
consisting of a crown,
of leaves of wild olive at the Olympic games, and of pine, or at one period ivy, at the Isthmian games. St. Paul alludes to two only out of the five contests, boxing and running, more frequently to the latter. The Jews had no public games, the great feasts of religion supplying them with anniversary occasions of national gatherings.
GAMES. Games and combats were instituted by the ancients in honour of their gods; and were celebrated with that view by the most polished and enlightened nations of antiquity. The most renowned heroes, legislators, and statesmen, did not think it unbecoming their character and dignity, to mingle with the combatants, or contend in the race; they even reckoned it glorious to share in the exercises, and meritorious to carry away the prize. The victors were crowned with a wreath of laurel in presence of their country; they were celebrated in the rapturous effusions of their poets; they were admired, and almost adored, by the innumerable multitudes which flocked to the games, from every part of Greece, and many of the adjacent countries. They returned to their own homes in a triumphal chariot, and made their entrance into their native city, not through the gates which admitted the vulgar throng, but through a breach in the walls, which were broken down to give them admission; and at the same time to express the persuasion of their fellow citizens, that walls are of small use to a city defended by men of such tried courage and ability. Hence the surprising ardour which animated all the states of Greece to imitate the ancient heroes, and encircle their brows with wreaths, which rendered them still more the objects of admiration or envy to succeeding times, than the victories they had gained, or the laws they had enacted.
2. But the institutors of those games and combats had higher and nobler objects in view than veneration for the mighty dead, or the gratification of ambition or vanity; it was their design to prepare the youth for the profession of arms; to confirm their health; to improve their strength, their vigour, and activity; to inure them to fatigue; and to render them intrepid in close fight, where, in the infancy of the art of war, muscular force commonly decided the victory. This statement accounts for the striking allusions which the Apostle Paul makes in his epistles to these celebrated exercises. Such references were calculated to touch the heart of a Greek, and of every one familiarly acquainted with them, in the liveliest manner, as well as to place before the eye of his mind the most glowing and correct images of spiritual and divine things. No passages in the nervous and eloquent epistles from the pen of St. Paul, have been more admired by the critics and expositors of all times, than those into which some allusion to these agonistic exercises is introduced; and, perhaps, none are calculated to leave a deeper impression on the Christian's mind, or excite a stronger and more salutary influence on his actions. Certain persons were appointed to take care that all things were done according to custom, to decide controversies that happened among the antagonists, and to adjudge the prize to the victor. Some eminent writers are of opinion that Christ is called the "Author and Finisher of faith," in allusion to these judges. Those who were designed for the profession of athletae, or combatants, frequented from their earliest years the academies, maintained for that purpose at the public expense. In these places they were exercised under the direction of different masters, who employed the most effectual methods to inure their bodies for the fatigues of the public games, and to form them for the combats. The regimen to which they submitted was very hard and severe. At first, they had no other nourishment than dried figs, nuts, soft cheese, and a gross heavy sort of bread called ????; they were absolutely forbidden the use of wine, and enjoined continence. When they proposed to contend in the Olympian games, they were obliged to repair to the public gymnasium at Elis, ten months before the solemnity, where they prepared themselves by continual exercises. No man that had omitted to present himself at the appointed time, was allowed to be a candidate for the prizes; nor were the accustomed rewards of victory given to such persons, if by any means they insinuated themselves, and overcame their antagonists; nor would any apology, though seemingly ever so reasonable, serve to excuse their absence. No person that was himself a notorious criminal, or nearly related to one, was permitted to contend. Farther, to prevent underhand dealings, if any person was convicted of bribing his adversary, a severe fine was laid upon him; nor was this alone thought a sufficient guard against unfair contracts, and unjust practices, but the contenders were obliged to swear they had spent ten whole months in preparatory exercises; and, beside all this, they, their fathers, and their brethren, took a solemn oath, that they would not, by any sinister or unlawful means, endeavour to stop the fair and just proceedings of the games.
3. The spiritual contest, in which all true Christians aim at obtaining a heavenly crown, has its rules also, devised and enacted by infinite wisdom and goodness, which require implicit and exact submission, which yield neither to times nor circumstances, but maintain their supreme authority, from age to age, uninterrupted and unimpaired. The combatant who violates these rules forfeits the prize, and is driven from the field with indelible disgrace, and consigned to everlasting wo. Hence the great Apostle of the Gentiles exhorts his son Timothy strictly to observe the precepts of the Gospel, without which, he can no more hope to obtain the approbation of God, and the possession of the heavenly crown, than a combatant in the public games of Greece, who disregarded the established rules, could hope to receive from the hands of his judge the promised reward: "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully," 2Ti 2:5, or according to the established laws of the games. Like the Grecian combatants, the Christian must "abstain from fleshly lusts," and "walk in all the statutes and commandments of the Lord, blameless." Such was St. Paul; and in this manner he endeavoured to act: "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway," 1Co 9:27. The latter part of this verse Doddridge renders, "lest after having served as a herald I should be disapproved;" and says in a note, "I thought it of importance to retain the primitive sense of these gymnastic expressions." It is well known to those who are at all acquainted with the original, that the word used means to discharge the office of a herald, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, and display the prizes, to awaken the emulation and resolution of those who were to contend in them. But the Apostle intimates, that there was this peculiar circumstance attending the Christian contest, that the person who proclaimed its laws and rewards to others, was also to engage in it himself; and that there would be a peculiar infamy and misery in his miscarrying. '????????, which we render castaway, signifies one who is disapproved by the judge of the games, as not having fairly deserved the prize: he therefore loses it; even the prize of eternal life. The rule which the Apostle applies to himself he extends in another passage to all the members of the Christian church: "Those who strive for the mastery are temperate in all things, now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible." Tertullian uses the same thought to encourage the martyrs. He urges constancy upon them, from what the hopes of victory made the athletae endure; and repeats the severe and painful exercises they were obliged to undergo, the continual anguish and constraint in which they passed the best years of their lives, and the voluntary privation which they imposed on themselves, of all that was most grateful to their appetites and passions.
4. The athletae took care to disencumber their bodies of every article of clothing which could in any manner hinder or incommode them. In the race, they were anxious to carry as little weight as possible, and uniformly stripped themselves of all such clothes as, by their weight, length, or otherwise, might entangle or retard them in the course. The Christian