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Alois Koch

THE APOSTLE PAUL AND THE SPORTS

    (published in: W. Schwank (and others edit.): Begegnung. Schriftenreihe zur Geschichte der Beziehung zwischen Christentum und Sport, Volume 1. Aachen 1999, p. 42 - 73 u. 123 - 126.
    webmaster's own, not authorized translation

German Version

I.

If one talks in the area of the Christian churches about the modern sport, about its fascination and problems, then the references to the pictures and comparisons from the antique sport, used by the Apostle PAUL in his letters, are rarely missing. Often from the use of these comparisons is even concluded that the Apostle Paul knew the antique sports from his own experience, and had had a positive attitude towards sport. These views are found not only in countless lectures and speeches of bishops and popes, but also in exegetical, moral and pastoral theological writings.

For many authors St Paul "deliberately refers to the world of sport" by these comparisons (G. SÖLL 1972, p. 114); yes, they prove its ethical value: "St Paul, who grew up in the Hellenic culture area, used the sporting life repeatedly as example and comparison for the religious life, and gave so also an excellent example of the 'value world' of sports" (WEILER 1996, P. 23) "With St Paul we meet also that biblical authority that in numerous ... places furnishes evidence for an exact knowledge of the happening in the stadium and in the palaestra. ... From the synopsis of St Paul's texts, in particular of the First Letter to the Corinthians, can be won a comprehensive picture of the sport from the view of the New Testament" (SCHWANK 1997, P. 85).

Particularly in lectures and speeches of the last popes the references to St Paul's comparisons are much liked. To the so-called "Sport Epistle" from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:24-27) PIUS XII says, "These words throw rays of mystical light upon the sport" (M. SÖLL 1964, P. 22). The sport and the body culture would get "a supernatural value" (M. SÖLL 1964, P. 23). And JOHN PAUL II says in a speech for sportswomen: "The peoples' Apostle does not hesitate to number the sport among the human values which served him as clue and reference point for the dialogue with people of his time. Hence he acknowledged the fundamental validity of sport.

 


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It offered him not only the possibility of comparison, in order to describe a higher ethical and ascetical ideal, but he saw it also in its internal reality as educational factor for man, and as component of culture and society "(JOHN PAUL II, 1984).

That St Paul was familiar with the antique agonistic, and used for this reason corresponding pictures and comparisons, is surprisingly also the view of many exegetes. Time and again they refer to Corinth as the place of the Isthmic Games: "The picture of the contests in the stadium ... must greatly impress the Greeks who liked the sports and the contests, particularly in Corinth, in the neighbourhood of which every two years the Isthmic Games took place" (KUSS 1940, P. 156). "The readers knew such contests from the Pan-Hellenic Isthmic Games held in their city" (KREMER 1997, SS. 196 f).

But these apparently matter-of-course assumptions might hardly apply to St Paul. A large unawareness of the "sporting" disciplines actually exercised at that time becomes particularly apparent in the unscrupulous adoption of conceptions of the antique agonistic. Time and again these terms are used in the commentaries, but they have hardly somewhat in common with the reality and are rather taken from today's sporting forms. That does not only apply to the general comparisons from the world of the "Agon" with the Christian life, but in particular to the comparisons from the antique races and the antique fist-fight.

Hence the procedure in this essay results from the mentioned things. First it will be asked after the literary (style) form of St Paul's pictures and comparisons from the antique agonistic. Then two particularly striking comparisons are to be examined exegetically. From there conclusions will result then in regard to the view that St Paul had - in knowledge of the antique forms of sport - evaluated such activities positively.

 


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II.

The pictures and comparisons from the world of the antique sport, time and again used by St Paul in his letters, are not an invention of the Apostle. They call rather our attention to a contemporary literary style that was particularly used first by the Greek Sophists, later by the philosophers of Cynicism and Stoicism. With this literary style is concerned the so-called "diatribe" (see in addition SCHMELLER 1987). It means "a philosophical instruction of popular character with predominantly ethical contents" (MARROU, RAC III, P. 998).

In a dialogue with an imagined listener moral-philosophical topics are treated. In order to bind the attention of the listeners, pictures and comparisons from nature and the human life are used: Poverty, age and death, the nature and the dangers of the sensual pleasure for human beings, the moral effort as means to achieve self-control; not least however, particularly in the Stoical "diatribe", the self-sufficiency of the sage and the "apatheia", i.e. the freedom of affects and passions.

Since the "diatribe" was very popular in the Hellenic-Roman world, the oldest Christian literature - as we find it in the writings of the New Testament and the early Christian literary testimonies - took over quite automatically the styles of the "diatribe". MARROU calls it a matter of "cultural osmosis" (MARROU, RAC III, P. 999), i.e. the natural and unreflecting imitation of the surrounding culture. That means also that one followed in many details the model of the pagan philosophers. But the contemporary Jewish writers too used the methods of the "diatribe", as the writings of PHILON of Alexandria show.

Hence it is not surprising that in the writings of the New Testament many elements of the "diatribe" appear. These elements are particularly frequent and remarkable in St Paul's letters. They are mainly found in those parts according to which we have to imagine St Paul's verbal instructions.

 


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"To some extent St Paul's lecture used similar styles as the lecture of the Cynical-Stoical popular philosophers" (BULTMANN 1910, P. 107). But despite many similarities in the mode of expression St Paul retained his independence. "Everywhere the Greek expressions are used in St Paul's peculiar way, and are ... often interwoven with expressions which have their origin somewhere else" (BULTMANN 1910, P. 108). Therefore BULTMANN can rightfully state: "The coat of the Greek speaker hangs around St Paul's shoulders, but the Apostle has no taste for the skilful drapery, and the lines of the foreign shape shine everywhere through" (BULTMANN 1910, Ss. 108). The styles of the "diatribe" are for St Paul only the means to represent and unfold his message of Christ in an up-to-date way.

Hence it is not coincidental that St Paul very often uses comparisons from the antique agonistic and athletics, particularly since the "diatribe" draws gladly a parallel between the exercises of virtue and those of athletics. In the Hellenic time the exercise of virtue and the moral struggle of life are time and again compared with the efforts and privations of the 'agon', as the writings e.g. of PHILON of Alexandria, of EPIKTET and SENECA can show us. In the use of these comparisons St Paul depends certainly on the "diatribe". Hence, when the repetition of many pictures and comparisons in the history of the "diatribe" is attributed to a tradition, then it would surely be strange to attribute "the so frequent occurrence of the same comparisons in the Christian literature ... to a casual coincidence" (WENDLAND, P. 1910, P. 357).

 


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III.

Particularly two texts of St Paul are mentioned as "classical" evidences for St Paul's familiarity with the world of the 'agon'. It is first the "Sport Epistle" from chapter nine of the First Letter to the Corinthians; then a text from the Letter to the Philippians. These two texts are to be examined now exegetically.

 

A.

"Do you not know that in the stadium all the runners run but that only one wins the victory wreath? Run in such a way that you win it! Each fighter lives however completely abstinent; they do it to win a passing, we however to win an imperishable prize. Therefore I do not run like someone who is running without aim, and do not fight with my fists like someone who punches into air; rather I chastise and subject my body, in order that I do not preach to other people and am rejected myself." (1 Cor 9:24-27)

 

1

The most detailed comparison of St Paul's Letters is found in the third part of the First Letter to the Corinthians. This section treats questions of the Christian life. First it is about marriage and single state (celibacy) (7:1-40). Afterwards the question is treated whether one may eat sacrificial meat. St Paul says that the one who is enlightened is to dispense with sacrificial meat for the sake of the weaker brother (8:1-13). He motivates this rule with the fact that he too does disclaim his rights and freedom for the best of others (9:1-23). He takes upon himself privations for the sake of the gospel - like the runner and the pugilist for the athletic contests. At the same time he admonishes the addressees to care seriously for their own salvation, and accordingly to exert themselves.

 


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2

The mission activity of St Paul in Corinth is generally dated to the years 51/52 A.D. (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 26 f). During that time also the Isthmic Games, one of the four large Panhellenic festivals, took place periodically. Hence it is not surprising that nearly all exegetes refer to the Isthmic Games when they discourse on the comparisons from the antique sports in our passage of the text. "The picture of the contests in the stadium ... is to impress greatly the sport-minded and contest loving Greeks, particularly in Corinth, in the proximity of which every two years the Isthmic Games took place" (KUSS 1940, P. 156; likewise KREMER 1997, P. 196 f).

But there are to be raised some reasonable doubts against the view that St Paul's comparisons originated in his exact knowledge of the Olympic Games. Since the pictures of the sporting contest are far common in the popular-philosophical literature of his time, and sport belonged in each Greek city to the everyday and natural things, "there is no need to think particularly of the Isthmic Games near Corinth with the spruce wreath as prize" (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 191). With considerable certainty it can even be excluded that St Paul saw the games as a spectator. In his youth he had got a strict Jewish education, which, as everybody knows, thinks little of the Greek athletics, yes, which was ill-disposed toward it because of its proximity to the pagan idolatry (see 1 Mac 1:13 f and 2 Mac 4:7 ff).

But the weightiest reason against the view, St Paul's comparisons are owed to his exact knowledge of the antique sport, lies in the lacking exactness of many comparisons, and this in contrast to the comparisons in the contemporary "diatribe". St Paul usually uses only the general terms of the contests. This applies particularly to the use of "agon=fight" (Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Thess 2:2; 1 Tim 6:12), of "agonizesthai=fight" (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Tim 6:12) and "athlein=fight" (2 Tim 2:5).

 


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As a rule these terms became equivalent to "trouble" and "exert oneself". But this applies even to a term like "trechein=run" (Rom 9:16; Gal 2:2; Phil 2:16).

 

3

In our text first the picture of the "runner" is used. But about which "race" is here talked? Is it only about the "runners in the stadium (in the race-course)", as most of the translations and commentaries assume, or is meant perhaps a completely determined race discipline? Probably it is about a certain "race discipline" here: the "stadium race", by the Greeks called "stadium" simply. "The characteristic performance, which of the different kinds of races was not only at most in favour, but which is, so to speak, also the most important sporting performance (so e.g. the winner gives his name to the Olympiad), is the stadium race - stadion. The same word designates both the race and the race-course which it uses as the distance which it covers: six hundreds foot, which corresponds to a changing distance of about 200 meters "(MARROU 1957, P. 157 f).

About the participants in the stadium race is said that all run, but "only one receives the victory wreath". First is to refer to a parallel found in LUCIAN'S "Anacharsis". In a dialogue between the Athenian legislator SOLON and the Skyth ANACHARSIS it is about the value of the physical exercises. ANACHARSIS asks also after the sense of the prize: "Tell me, does everybody who takes part in the contest get this reward? - By no means, only the one who overcame all the other runners gets it" (LUKIAN, Anacharsis 13). But the assumption St Paul had - on grounds of this parallel with LUCIAN - used a proverbial figure of speech, by which he was inspired, is rather unlikely (CONZELMANN 1969, Ss. 192).

 

4

"Prize" is the translation of the Greek word "brabeion". This word belongs (together with the verb "brabeuo") to the "technical terms of the sports field, which St Paul introduced into the theological language of the primitive Christianity" (STAUFFER, "brabeuo", P. 636).

 


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Thereby it is remarkable that the word "brabeion=prize" is rare in the profane Greek. In the Septuaginta too one will look in vain for it. It uses in a similar sense the picture of the "athlon", the prize. The Greek Baruch Apocalypse speaks about the just who have got the "prizes" (RIESSLER 1928, P. 52).

Alternating with "athlon" appears "brabeion" with PHILON. In his writing "On Rewards and Punishments" he realized the "picture of the agon of life - from which the pious will emerge victorious - most consistently" (STAUFFER, "brabeion", P. 637). In the New Testament "brabeion=prize" is only used by St Paul: here in the First Letter to the Corinthians and in the First Letter to the Philippians. In each case "that prize is meant, which a human being can win only with the engagement of its whole life, and the summoning of its last strength" (STAUFFER, "brabeuo", P. 637).

 

5

First the point for comparison, which St Paul has in mind, seems to lie in the circumstance that with the contests only one person can become the winner and get the prize: "Run now in such a way that you achieve this price!" But St Paul felt obviously that the point of comparison with the life of his Christians could by no means lie here, but in something else. Therefore he corrects in the sense that only those receive the prize or the victory wreath, who before exerted themselves in an appropriate training. In addition he does not abide by the picture of the "race". St Paul speaks generally of those who "take part in a contest". What matters for him in his admonition is the circumstance that, similar as for each athletic contest a special preparation, a quite specific way of life is required, also in the life of the Christian quite special behaviours are necessary.

The verb "agonizesthai = fight" which is used here, and the primary word "agon = fight" belonging to it, are a "word family that has its home in the Greek stadium - in the Septuaginta and the New Testament they are seldom,

 


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and are almost exclusively used in those writings that were in contact with Hellenism" (STAUFFER, "agon", P. 134). The word meant as much as "fight in a contest" or "take part in a contest". In some places it is used literally, i.e. in the original sense (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7), often however in a figurative sense; then it means only "fight" or "strive" (Col 1:29 and 4:12; Rom 15:30; 1 Tim 4:10) and is "obviously hardly felt in a pictorial way yet" (STRAUB 1937, P. 28).

 

6

St Paul says now that everyone who takes part in a contest will accordingly prepare him/herself by a serious training, and submit thereby to a quite special way of life that is rich in privations. The passage in the text is interpreted by almost all translations and commentaries with "complete abstinence". SICKENBERGER writes: "Like an athlete the Christian ... has to steel his/her strengths by any kind of abstinence" (SICKENBERGER 1932, P. 44 f). WENDLAND makes the remark: "If one wants to win the contest, then complete abstinence belongs to it" (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). The difference between the abstinence of the athletes and the fight of the Christian he sees only "in the aim: here an eternal, there a passing one" (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). SCHIWY says that everyone who fights will abstain from all things "impairing his/her shape and with this his/her victory chances" (SCHIWY 1968, P. 164). SCHLATTER points out that the preparation of the fighters consists "in a strictly accomplished abstinence" (SCHLATTER 1934, P. 284). He also stresses that the difference between the athlete and the Christian consists not in the way of abnegation, but only in the different objective. "In the abnegation the Christian bears a resemblance to the sportsman, but not in the thing that is won by them" (SCHLATTER 1934, P. 284). Similarly STRAUB says: "By abstinence is won the - passing - prize by the fighters ... We too need abstinence in order to ... win an imperishable wreath" (STRAUB 1937, P. 90). KUERZINGER notices: "St Paul wants above all to stress the abstinence practiced by the athletes, in order to give motives to his readers to dispense with entitled rights" (KUERZINGER 1951, P. 25).

 


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It is to be asked now what is meant with "enkrateia =abstinence" and with "enkrateuesthai =abstain". The word family expresses the "power or rule which someone has over him/herself or also over something" (GRUNDMANN, "enkrateia", P. 338).

In the philosophical ethics of the classical Hellenism this term plays an important role. Thus according to ARISTOTELES man's perfection consists in the "enkrateia"; it is necessary to "raise man above the animal" (CHADWICK, "enkrateia", P. 344). For the Stoical philosopher "enkrateia" designates "that resistance against the stimulus of the senses which is characteristic for the true high-mindedness of the soul. To be a true human being one has to practice moderation in the satisfaction of the strongest natural instincts, particularly against the sexual instinct and the delight in eating and drinking" (CHADWICK," enkrateia ", S. 344).

With PHILON of Alexandria "enkrateia" means the "superiority" in view of any longing (GRUNDMANN, "enkrateia", P. 339). It consists in the control of the body and its senses. It refers thereby not only to the sexual, but also to eating and drinking as well as to the dangers of the tongue. "The ascetic attitude of PHILON has its origin in a cosmological dualism, in which the matter is devalued" (GRUNDMANN, "enkrateia", Ss. 339).

In view of this high estimation of "enkrateia" in the Greek philosophy and in the Hellenized Judaism it is surprising, which small role the attitude "enkrateia" plays in the New Testament. In the gospel the word family is missing completely. It is found almost exclusively in St Paul's letters, particularly in the First Letter to the Corinthians. But of what is St Paul thinking when he says of the participants in the athletic contests that they "practice complete abstinence"?

In the commentaries it is generally accepted that this remark applies to the "ten months of training for the fight" (GUTJAHR 1907, P. 247). In this connection CONZELMANN refers to the Olympic oath, by which those who took part in the Olympic festival had bound themselves to train for ten months (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192).

 


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Probably the athletes trained already since the sixth pre-Christian century for thirty days before the beginning of the festival in Elis (ZIEHEN, P. 6-8). During this time, probably toward the end of the training or briefly before the beginning of the festival, the fighters went to Olympia to take the solemn oath. If at all, then only in later time the ten months training could - according to the testimony of PAUSANIAS - have been introduced. Whether this custom applies also to the Isthmic Games is however questionable.

About "training" is to be observed that gymnastic and athletic in the Hellenic epoch spread in such a manner and had attained such a popularity that an own profession developed. The coaches refined the technical skill; they developed a system of preparatory exercises. In a four-day rhythm hard and easy training work alternated (POPPLOW 1962, P. 160). Also everything else was adjusted to the training. The coaches told their favourites exactly, what they should eat and how much, and when they would have to sleep. To refer is here to the remark of EPIKTETS, who describes this comprehensive preparation for the contest so:

"Do you want to triumph in Olympia? Look, what you have to do before! Only then you are to realize your project. You will have to lead a disciplined life, and only special food is allowed to you. You must do without sweet food. You must come at the determined time for training, with heat and with cold weather. You may not drink anything cold, also no wine. With one word: You have to obey your coach like the patient the physician in every matter." EPIKTET, Enchiridion 35).

After HORAZ also the abstinence of wine and sexual intercourse belong to the "asceticism" of the athletes (HORAZ, De arte poetica 412-414). In the commentaries one refers particularly to these forms of abstinence: "The sportswoman practices abstinence (enkrateia) of wine, onerous food and sexual intercourse" (KREMER 1997, P. 197). "The abstinent life of the athletes means abstinence from wine, meat and consorting with women" (KLAUCK 1984, P. 69).

 


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The way of life of the athletes was however in no way so exemplary and so generally acknowledged as it might seem from the "diatribe", and also from St Paul's remark. Even in the old time, which has been illumined by PAUSANIAS and DIOGENES LAERTIOS with their statements on the simple way of life of the athletes, they were by no means reputed to be "abstinent" people. "The conception of a mighty champion was inseparable united with that of a great eater" (JÜTHNER, "Gymnastik", P. 2047). Hence the reports about some athletes who lived simply and abstinent are by no means to be generalized; so when IKKOS of Tarent is characterized, he had led with his coach a moderate way of life, had held the food intake within certain limits, and had touched neither a woman nor a boy (PLATON, Nomoi VIII. 7). The diet which was prescribed into details by the coaches, had, at least with the heavy athletes (i.e. with the wrestlers, pugilists and pancratists), the purpose to produce the most possible corpulence. This was reached by the so-called "anankophagia" or "forcible diet", which consisted in a "systematic overfeeding particularly with meat" (JÜTHNER, "Gymnastik", P. 2050).

Hence it is not surprising that the athletes were considered as "great eaters" (XENOPHON, Memorabilia I 2:4). "To eat like a wrestler" was a proverbial phrase (ARISTOPHANES, Der Friede 33-34). In excessive food intake, connected with adequate long punch- and other special exercises consisted the preparation of the athletes for the contests. Aimed was at the so-called "athletic well-being ..., which consisted in the as strong as possible development of muscles and flesh, together with a general health" (JÜTHNER, "Gymnastik", P. 2050).

Of course, these methods of the coaches and athletes were criticized sharply. As example of such criticism and complete refusal of the way of life of the athletes of his time be quoted a section from PHILOSTRAT'S paper on gymnastic. The new methods, in particular however the diet, render the athletes effeminate, "as the diet teaches them inactivity, and to sit there during the time before the exercises, crammed like Libyan and Egyptian flour bags; by introducing furthermore fancy bakers and luxury cooks, whereby only gluttons and people who have a sweet tooth are bred, and by offering poppy-covered wheat bread made from fine flour, fattening them with fish food which is completely against the rules and determines the nature of the fish according to the habitats in the sea ..., furthermore giving the porc with peculiar instructions" (PHILOSTRATOS, Gymnastik 44).

 


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Still more drastically, yes even cynical SENECA writes in a letter to LUCILIUS: "Likewise I eliminate from the range of the 'free arts and sciences': wrestler and the whole crowd of the 'artists' who have to do it only with oil and dirt ... I ask you, what have all these things to do with 'free arts', all these poor 'puke fellows', whose physical function consists in the fattening of their bodies, but whose spirit continues to suffer from emaciation and somnolence" (SENECA, letters at Lucilius 88.18-19)?

Had St Paul these customs of the professional athletes - as they were only too well known to his contemporaries - in mind when he described the "enkrateia" of the athletes to his Christians as model for their moral efforts? To ask the question so pointedly, means to answer to it in the negative. It is impossible that St Paul meant these well-known customs, which were rejected everywhere as degrading.

Then however the question is to be asked whether he knew them at all. Probably they were, at least from the practice, unknown to him. But then the use of the comparison is not explained by St Paul's - time and again maintained - knowledge of the athletic training, but the comparison might have been adopted by him from the "diatribe literature". Which of this picture from the antique sport however seemed particularly suitable to him is undoubtedly the consistent orientation of the entire way of life at the victory in the contest. This way of life which is determined by the desired victory - so St Paul - would have to shape actually also the life of the Christian.

One should therefore be cautious with the interpretation of the passage in the text, and insert nothing which is not actually in it contained. The "enkrateia" of the antique athletes differed substantially from the "enkrateia" e.g. of the Stoic philosopher, and all the more from that of the Christian. The difference comes not only from the aim aspired to, as WENDLAND means (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76), but there are fundamental differences. The "abstinence" of the athletes was in no way exemplary but, a way of life which is determined by the desired victory. It included also some sacrifice but was not limited to it, as the aforementioned examples of the preparation of the athletes show. What is more, the "enkrateia" was in no case the most remarkable characteristic of the athletes; that it was only in the "diatribe".

 


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It is still to refer to the fact that the "enkrateia" was never an end in itself for St Paul and for the Christians. It gets its authorization and its value only from the aim aspired to. "He does the 'enkrateuesthai' not for his own sake or for the sake of some salvation necessity, but for the brothers sake: this is the fundamental difference to all Hellenic conceptions" (GRUNDMANN," enkrateia ", P. 340).

 

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The effort of the athlete as of the Christian aims at achieving the "victory wreath": "Those (submit to a completely determined way of life), in order to receive a passing prize, but we to get an imperishable (victory wreath)". Here some references are necessary concerning the term "stephanos =victory wreath" (see BAUS 1940).

With the Greeks the use of the wreath belongs into the "sphere of the cult" (GRUNDMANN, "stephanos", P. 617). This relation to the cult applies also to the victory wreaths which were given at the athletic contests, e.g. in Olympia, in Delphi or at the Isthmus of Corinth. The contests take place at the festivities of the gods, and in honour of the gods. With the award of the victory wreath to a victorious athlete also the God is honoured at the same time, and it is not surprising that the victory wreath in the contest is generally regarded as the highest earthly success (GRUNDMANN, "stephanos", P. 620). Therefore the picture of the victory wreath is much liked in the diatribe". SENECA writes in a letter to his friend Lucilius:

"For us is in store no victory wreath, no palm twig, also not the announcement of our name in the silence ordered by the herald's call - no, we fight and gain the victory for the sake of manliness, strength and the peace of the soul: if we have won the victory once in the fight with fate, then the peace of the heart will remains ours for ever" (SENECA, Briefe an Lucilius 78, 16).

 


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In the Jewish literature too the picture of the victory wreath is much liked. Above all the Fourth Book of the Maccabees uses the entire terminology of the stadium and gymnasion, in order to describe the victorious fight of the martyrs: "But the fear of God remained victor; it put the wreath on the heads of its fighters" (4 Macc 17:15: RIESSLER 1928, P. 727). PHILON of Alexandria compares the athlete with the man striving for knowledge, who runs through his life course without falling, and gets at the aim the well-deserved wreaths and prizes. He encourages: "Fight this most beautiful battle and endeavour to attain in the fight against the sensual pleasure, which controls all other desires, the most beautiful and glorious victory wreath, which no festive meeting of people can give to you" (PHILON, Legum Allegoriae II, 108). The victory wreath however which has to be achieved is the "vision of God".

Similarly the "imperishable wreath" is for St Paul a "likeness of the eternal life" (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). If the athletes endeavour so intensively to achieve a passing wreath only, how much more must the members of the Christian community strive to get the imperishable wreath: "the communion with the risen Christ" (SCHIWY 1968, P. 165).

 

8

In the following verse St Paul turns again to the picture of the race: "Hence I do not run without a fixed aim in my mind." First the change to the statement in the first person is surprising. Besides it is now no longer about the effort of all energies during the race, in which there can be only one winner; also no longer about the preparation by an appropriate way of life; but it is about not losing sight of the aim of the race: "I am a runner who is sure of the aim, and therefore the model for you" (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76). Hence it is about a "new nuance" in the picture of the contest (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192). To the runner does not only belong the knowledge of the aim; also not only the circumstance that he hastens to meet the aim without detour; but that he has in mind actually the aim, and arrives at it. Similarly it is in the life of the Christian. The knowledge alone is not sufficient, but crucial is the doing in the light of the aim.

 


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9

In the following the picture changes from the race to the fist-fight: "I lead the fist-fight so as someone who strikes not blows into the air." With this comparison it is - in parallel to the runner who may not lose sight of the aim - again about the necessity to realize the earnest of moral striving on the part of the Christians, and to direct all reflecting and striving toward the crucial victory over the opponent.

"Always the exegetes do not agree with each other which means 'pykteuein' (=fist-fighting) as 'eis aera derein' (=strike blows into the air) in the view of a present or missing opponent" (SCHMIDT, "pgyme", P. 916). Hence it is not surprising that in the commentaries are mentioned above all two possibilities of understanding the picture. Some point out that the pugilist whose blows go into emptiness, and of whom St Paul wants to differ, is a clumsy or untrained fighter. Others assume that it is not at all about a real fight here and therefore also not about a "missing" of the opponent (BACHMAN 1936, P. 327), but about an "illusory fight", a so-called "skiamachia", i.e. a fight against an only imagined opponent (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192).

To clarify whether it is in our passage in the text about an actual fight or only about a "skiamachia", i.e. a "illusory fight", it is necessary to deal somewhat nearer with the Greek fist-fight, which differs in many details from the modern boxing (see JÜTHNER / MEHL, "pygme", S.1306-1353).

First a limited box ring was missing. There was also no temporal limitation of the fight. It ended only if one of the two opponents was exhausted, or raised his arm as sign for giving up or defeat. The blows were almost exclusively aimed at the head. This was the most vulnerable, the "weakest" spot of the pugilist. Because of the danger of such head blows the combat tactics consisted in evading the impacts of the opponent, in letting him make "blows into the air", respectively to land effective blows at the opponent. PAUSANIAS reported on the pugilist HIPPOMACHOS, he had defeated three opponents without even getting only one blow (PAUSANIAS, Beschreibung Griechenlands VI. 12, 6).

 


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And DION CHRYSOSTOMOS mentions from the time of the Emperor TITUS a pugilist who succeeded in defending himself so skilfully two days long that his opponent could finally bring home not any blow at him, and had to give up exhausted (DION CHRYSOSTOMOS, Reden 27, 11). Finally still another section from a homily of St John CHRYSOSTOMOS be mentioned, in which the tactics of the pugilist is vividly described: "Also the pugilist becomes only then winner, if he bends himself not to the ground and gets the blows, but if he straightens himself and lets his opponent strike blows into the air. In this way he does not get the blow, and makes the whole punch of the opponent ineffective" (JOHN CHRYSOSTOMOS, Homilien zum Römerbrief 23, 3).

The tactics of dodging respectively waiting for one's own chance to land a crucial blow at the opponent becomes still more understandable, if one considers that the fists of the fighters were wrapped up in hard leather bandages. With the rise of the professional athletes the fist-fight belts were fit out with ever more dangerous things; however the deadly metal 'caests' (compare: caesura, cut) were probably used in the fights of the gladiators only.

If one has in mind the technology and tactics of the antique fist-fight, then the assumption that St Paul meant a so-called "skiamachia", i.e. a "illusory fight" is improbably. The Apostle means a real "fist-fight" with an actual present opponent, who has to be taken seriously. Hence the "blows into the air" are not a hint at an untrained or awkward fighter; they belong for the picture of the fist-fight.

 

10

St Paul uses now this picture of the fist-fight for his moral effort. First the verb "hypopiazein" in the verse 27, which is translated with "chastise" in the ecumenical translation, has to be defined more detailed. The word is used in the New Testament only here, and meant as much as to "strike someone so in the face (below the eye) that he gets blue marks ('a blue eye') and is thereby defaced" (WEISS, "hypopiazein", S. 588).

 


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With the antique fist-fight, where the blows were aimed in the main at the head or face of the opponent, blue marks and dents were never missing. The blows however which leave marks and dents, are aimed - so St Paul - "at my body". But which is meant with this statement that "my body" is the aim of the punches?

If one consults the various commentaries then a conflicting picture results. One group understands the statement in the literal sense. Thus SICKENBERGER writes: "St Paul's opponent is thereby his own body, which is subjected to all privations and castigations" (SICKENBERGER 1932, P. 45). KUSS means: "The opponent in his fist-fight is his own body, which is made submissive by use of force" (KUSS 1940, P. 156). WENDLAND speaks of "self-castigation", by which the Apostle punishes and subjugates his own body (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76), and SCHWEIZER says even: "Hence the Apostle strikes and subjugates his body, in order to put it into service for Christ" (SCHWEIZER, "soma", P. 1061). KLAUCK interprets the passage in the text to the effect that St Paul makes "also the repugnant body docile" (KLAUCK 1984, P. 198).

Another group of exegetes turns against this all too "realistic" view of the "body" and tries to interpret the expression in the context of St Paul's anthropology. CONZELMANN remarks to the place: "He struggles with himself ... Not the body as such is the opponent" (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192). SCHIWY interprets the sentence in the following way: "I am my own opponent in this religious fist-fight, if the resistance against God is still effective within me, the egotism, inconsiderateness, unkindness" (SCHIWY 1968, P. 165). BACHMANN too stresses, that it is out of the question "that the body is presented as opponent which has to be fought" (BACHMANN 1936, P. 328). KREMER holds the same view: "With 'body' is meant here not the body only but the whole man. In plastic mode of expression the Apostle says thus that he tries to put his 'I' completely into service of his mission." But in the following KREMER seems then to qualify his opinion, when he says that St Paul would here not describe "self-castigation for its own sake" (KREMER 1997, P. 198).

 


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In a "realistic" interpretation of our text "body" is understood 'dualistic', and so misunderstood as the principle which is striving against the spirit, which is to be subjected to the rule of the spirit and be made the instrument of the spirit. But this 'dualistic' thinking is completely far from St Paul. He means here in no way a "asceticism" of Stoical or Cynical coinage, as it was common in his time. Indeed, the representatives of the "realistic" interpretation point also out to us that it is here "not about the rule of the reason over the senses as in the antique and late antique ethics" (WENDLAND, H. D 1969, P. 76); but "the warning of the care for the body" (SCHLATTER 1934, P. 285) is not to be over-heard, and is revoked; it marks such a view as not corresponding with St Paul's view.

The Greek word for "body" (=soma) is "because of its close relationship to 'sarx' the most difficult term of St Paul's anthropology" (SCHMID, "Leib", P. 900). "Soma =body" depends in its meaning on the 'monistic' view on the human nature in the Bible. The Old Testament does not know a strict distinction between "body" and "soul"; it has also no own word for "body", but designates with "flesh" both, the body and the whole man; human beings "do not have" a body, but they "are" body. The terms "body", "flesh", and "spirit" designate therefore not components of man, but only different criteria under which the one and whole human being is seen.

In the New Testament, particularly in St Paul's letters, the 'monistic' view of man is kept up. With St Paul "soma=body" can quite generally designate the body, the "human being in its earthly condition" (KARRER 1958, P. 215), the unity of the whole human being. But for St Paul "soma=body" can also designate the only earthly-minded man; it is then to a large extent synonymous with "sarx=flesh", which can often have a neutral meaning in the sense of 'human being' in general, but usually it means as much as the "egocentric, selfish people who close their mind to God's saving call" (KARRER 1958, P. 215). "Sarx=flesh" becomes then the "place" of sin within man: "the power of sin has its seat in it" (SCHMID, "Leib", P. 900): "Those who live after the flesh are plotting the things which the flesh wants;

 


61

those who live after the spirit, meditate on the things which the spirit wants. The planning of the flesh leads to death, but the meditating of the spirit to life and peace" (Rom 8:5-6).

St Paul uses however often "soma" for "sarx", also in places where he is actually talking about "sarx" in its relation to sin and death. Thereby he attributes to "soma" the specific characteristics and functions of the "sarx". Thus "soma" can also stand under the power of sin and death (Rom 6:6), and St Paul can speak from the longings and the sinful acts of the "soma" (Rom 6:12 and 8:13).
If we ask now on the background of St Paul's anthropology how "soma" is to be understood at our passage in the text, then is to say: Here it is about a text in which "soma" is understood in the sense of "sarx". It is about the whole human being in its bodily making, as far as it is not adjusted to the service of God, but has only earthly, egoistic aims in mind.

But then is from the likeness of the fist-fight understandable that just this wrong "direction" is the "weak point", at which the "blows" are to be aimed. Hence St Paul clarifies in the picture that point on which everything depends actually. For those who came to the faith in Jesus Christ it is crucial to give to their lives a different orientation; to let themselves no longer be led by the aims of the "sarx" i.e. of the 'Ego', but to put themselves with their whole existence into the service of God. St Paul means thus in our place the same thing which he formulated elsewhere so: "If you live after the flesh, you will die. But if you kill the acts of the body by the spirit, you will live "(Rom 8:13).

That this "conversion", this "reorientation" is not possible without using force, not without marks and dents, shall just be clarified by the picture of the pugilist. Where the fist meets, there are blue marks, even bloody wounds. Similarly it happens in the religious fight, which St Paul leads against himself and his selfish nature. One must not have wrong considerations thereby; one may also not make "blows into the air", but they must be aimed actually at the "weak point" in one's own life. St Paul wants to gain the victory in this fight with himself.

 


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11

The last verse of our text contains still a second statement; the literal translation reads: "I enslave my body." "Soma" in its meaning as "only earthly-minded man" is in our sentence object both, to "hypopiazein = to hit below the eyes" as well as to "doulagogein = to enslave". Which concerns the meaning of the verb "doulagogein", the commentaries go not into closer details there. One assumes obviously that the picture of the contest, in particular that of the fist-fight, is abandoned. BACHMANN means that St Paul imposed upon "the body, like upon a slave who is treated hard, all the privations and efforts which are necessary for his effort to become everything for everyone" (BACHMANN 1936, P. 328).

The question is whether it is here about a technical term of the fist-fight or of wrestling and pancration, or even about a term from the world of the gladiators, in the sense that the winner led the defeated opponent under the applause of the spectators in the arena like a subjected slave. But such a "custom" is not proved in the literature. For this reason the assumption is justified that the picture of the agon is abandoned. That applies probably also to the continuation of the text, although CONZELMANN expresses the assumption that "keryssein = proclaim" and also "adokimos = not proven" could in this sentence "actually still be influenced by the conception of the contest in the stadium" (CONZELMANN 1969, P. 192 f).

 

12

To a set of comparisons from the contemporary diatribe literature may still be referred. They set St Paul's text clearly into contrast to the Stoical world of ideas. Just which concerns the valuation of the body St Paul's conception differs fundamentally from the conceptions of the contemporary philosophy.

 


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Therefore also St Paul's "asceticism" does not aim at the elimination and a suppression of the body, of its tendencies and abilities. "Asceticism" is always rather subordinated to his office as Apostle. It wants the "reorientation" of the man in its wholeness in the direction of the service of God. We have to consider this fundamental difference, when we read the comparisons from the "diatribe". Thus e.g. EPIKTET writes:

"One may not lose heart where it is about the largest fight, but must also accept blows; because the fight is not for the victory in wrestling or pankration, where one in the case of victory can become very famous or in the case of defeat fameless ... But at stake are happiness and God blessedness." (Epiktet, Diatriben III, 25)

Above all SENECA loves such comparisons in his letters to LUCILIUS. "Those who become slaves of their bodies, who care overanxiously for it, and show in everything consideration for it, become slaves of many things. We must not behave so as if we had to live for our body, but as if we could not do it without it" (14, 12). Another letter reads:

"The fate wages war with me: I am not ready to execute its orders. I do not take the yoke upon me; On the contrary, I shake it off - and this requires greater bravery. My will power may not become weak: if I give way to the longings, then I must do it also to pain, toil, and poverty; ambition and anger usurp the same right to me: all these passions pull me back and forth, they even tear me up. Liberty is the aim for which I fight; all my striving is about this prize. Wherein does liberty consist? You will ask. To be subjected to nothing slavishly, to no obligation, no coincidence - and to let fate not grow over your head" (SENECA, Briefe an LUCILIUS 51, 8-9).

The following comparison is also very descriptive:

"An athlete will not enter the lists with particular fighting spirit, if he had not been beaten brown and blue already. Reversely a man will go into the fight with quite hopeful chances, who has seen his blood flowing,

 


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against whose teeth the fist of the opponent cracked, who was overthrown by being tripped up and has felt the full weight of the opponent on himself - he lost the ground under his feet but never his courage; from each fall he rose with wilder defiance. This comparison means for you: Often already fate had you in its clutches; you did never surrender, time and again you came round and defended your place harder than before. For bravery that is provoked up to the blood will only grow" (SENECA, Briefe an LUCILIUS 13, 2-3).

 

B.

St Paul's second comparison from the antique agonistic, which is to be examined in the following exegetically, is found in his Letter to the Philippians:

"Not that I had already reached it or that I were already perfect. But I strive to seize it because also I have been seized by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not fancy that I had already seized it. But I do one thing: I forget which lies behind me and stretch myself out for which is in front of me. The aim before my eyes I am hunting for the prize: the heavenly vocation which is given to us by God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:12-14)

 

1

In the fourth part of the Letter to the Philippians, which is seen by some exegetes as an own, so-called "combat letter" (GNILKA 1968, P. 184), St Paul points to the danger of heresies. He considers it as necessary to speak more clearly about the things which are factually needed in view of this emergency. First he refers to the divine guidance in his own life: "St Paul offers himself to the Philippians as 'exemplum imitandum'", as "the example which can be copied" (GNILKA 1968, S.184). He warns of each wrong pride, which was the characteristic of those Christians within the community of Philippi who tended to Judaism. Therefore he makes plain to his addressees the difference between one's own justice and justice by faith, between wrong and true piety.

For St Paul the new people of God is not constituted by "circumcision", hence not by getting the "sign of being chosen", i.e. the circumcision, and thus by the assumption of the "Jewish Law", but by faith;

 


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The aim of "perfection" cannot be attained by such rituals. Therefore St Paul (although he knows that he as "full Israelite" is of equal birth with the heretics) admits that he is still on the way, and has not nearly reached the last aim, the perfection, but is striving for it. The knowledge of Christ is the centre of his effort; it is highlighted as the alone worthwhile good. The striving for it is expressed by him in the likeness of the race.

 

2

The aim of life is for St Paul the perfection in Christ. He knows that he is seized by him; his life got a new basis "by Christ" (FRIEDRICH 1965, P. 120). Due to this being seized it is possible for him, to "hunt for the prize". But he knows that he has not reached the aim yet; only the completion with the Lord will end all "chasing".

The exegetes agree that is a picture from the antique sport. St Paul "compares here as usual his life as a Christian with the race in the stadium" (FRIEDRICH 1965, P. 120). In verse 12 first the two verbs "diokein" and "katalambanein" are to be considered. The first verb meant as much as "to set in fast motion"; with omitted object, as seemingly intransitive verb, it can have the meaning of "riding, marching, rowing, generally hurrying" (OEPKE," dioko ", P. 232). In our place it could be translated with "hurrying toward the aim" (OEPKE, "dioko", P. 233). The verb "katalambanein" is an "intensification of the simplex" (DELLING, "lambano", P. 10) and meant "seizing", "tackling", "overtaking", "securing". "In the New Testament becomes particularly apparent that 'kata' gives to the simplex the character either of intensity (to seize by force ...) or of suddenness (surprise ...)" (DELLING, "lambanein", P. 10). The meaning is then: "to get something finally"; that meaning points to the "picture of overtaking" in the race (DELLING, "lambanein", P. 10).

The aim of striving is the perfect communion of fate with Christ. But this sentence may not be misunderstood in the sense, that St Paul was able to reach this aim by his own strength.

 


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"The chasing after the seizing (of the prize) is based on the 'being seized'" (LOHMEYER 1964, P. 145). The Christian knows him/herself in his whole being under the word: "Which have you that you did not receive" (1 Cor 4:7)? Man's acting and striving is founded in Christ's salvation, which has already happened. This striving will only come to its end when the aim of the race is reached, "the resurrection" and the "eschatological glory" (FRIEDRICH 1965, P. 120).

In verse 13 it is again stressed that the aim was not achieved yet. St Paul knows that he has obtained already some progress, and can boast some successes, "that he has overcome already a considerable distance of the race-course and come nearer to the aim" (GNILKA 1968, P. 199). But this is not crucial for him. One may namely not be content with the attained but has to direct one's attention to the distance which has still to be covered.

 

3

Now the picture of the race becomes undoubtedly clearer. In verse 14 is talked about the "aim" of the race, about the section which has still to be run, and about the "prize". To this LOHMEYER means: "The one part of the race-course lies behind the runner. He arrived at the point where the curve of the course bends again into the straight and the aim becomes visible. The run seems to go downward, and a last effort is still to be made to achieve the aim (LOHMEYER 1964, P. 146). Similarly also GNILKA says: "The still determining picture presupposes that the runner brought the last curve behind himself and entered into the home stretch" (GNILKA 1968, P. 200).

This view of LOHMEYER and GNILKA is well-meant but does not correspond to the reality of the antique race. "The Greeks know only the run on a level and straight race-course" (MARROU 1957, P. 175). Hence there was no "round course" in today's sense for the different antique race competitions. If the run went over two or more stages, then the runner as soon as he had reached the end of the course turned on the spot; thereby he turned probably round a column which stood at the starting respectively at the finishing line (MARROU 1957, P. 175 f). This is the reason why one cannot tell about "turning into the home stretch".

 


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The picture used by St Paul here means certainly however the crucial phase of the race. And there it is of no use to look back upon the already performed, i.e. to mind the covered distance. There is no longer time for it. On the contrary, in the crucial phase one has to stretch one's strengths to the limit to get through with the last stage. Thereby the thought of the victory and the prize is, as it were, "to accelerate" the race. The verb "epekeinesthai = to stretch oneself out" is to insinuate the arm movements which are typical for the run. Hence it is no way about a runner "who is running with outstretched empty hands" (STRAUB 1937, P. 91). The rhythm of running would be disturbed by such a style; the runner would forfeit his/her victory chance.

JOHN CRRYSOSTOMOS represented the situation in a homily on this passage of the Letter to the Philippians vividly:

"We must forget our past achievements and let them behind us. For also the runner does not count how often he run already through the course, but how often he has to cover it ... According to the Apostle's expression we have to exert ourselves. Already before we reached the aim, we must always seek to attain it. For those who exert themselves ('outstretch') strive, as it were, with their whole body to run in front of their feet, as fast as these are ever running; they bend themselves forward and outstretch their hands, in order to accelerate the run, if possible. The eagerness of their striving, the heat of their eagerness is driving them. So the runner must run, with such perseverance, with such joyfulness, without losing the joy" (JOH. CHRYSOSTOMOS, Homilien zum Philipperbrief 12, 1).

 

4

Since Christ called the Apostle on the race-course and points out the prize to him, he runs with full engagement; he does not run "into uncertainty" but has the aim and the prize in his mind. The word "skopos", which is translated with "aim", means on the one hand the one who is looking watchfully at something, for instance a guardian.

 


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But then it means also the aim, e.g. the aim of an archer, which can be hit or missed. Also in the figurative sense the word is frequently used. As PLATON in his dialogue "Gorgias" explains, each human being has its aim that controls its whole life (PLATON, Gorgias 507 D).

In the New Testament the word occurs only here. "As in 1 Cor 9:24 St Paul has in mind the likeness of the race in the stadium, which is common to the diatribe" (FUCHS," skopos ", P. 416). In view of the close aim all forces are to be strained again. For St Paul the reaching of the aim is equivalent to the acquisition of the "brabeion", the prize. The "'brabeion' is the point in the infinity, in which the two parallels intersect, the aim beyond this world time and its possibilities, where divine and human doing become united" (STAUFFER, "brabeuo", P. 637).

The word "brabeion" is a derivative of the verb "brabeuo", which originally means the activity of the arbitrator with the contests. In the noun "brabeion" thus also still the activity of the arbitrator might be reminiscent, who awards the price to the winner. There is also to be pointed out that in the beginnings of the athletic contests the arbitrator was mostly identical with the organizer, i.e. with the one who "called up" the plays; he too was it who fixed the prizes.

St Paul had probably a similar conception. Jesus Christ is for him obvious the one who has called him to this race, who promises the prize, and is at the same time the arbitrator in this contest. The prize for which the Apostle takes great pines is the completion of man in the resurrection to the eternal life. In this fight the runner has "to put an end to everything that lies behind him" (STAUFFER, "brabeuo", P. 637); he may not look at his performances, but may direct all his doing and thinking to the aim assigned to him by God. "It is God who sets the aim for human beings. It gives from now on the meaning to their work and to their lives the direction" (STAUFFER, "brabeuo", P. 637). "The prize consists in the call to a life which is fulfilled ... in the world of God ... God is the one who is calling, in Christ Jesus the calling has become possible" (GNILKA 1968, P. 200).

 


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5

It is still to refer to the fact that the pictures used by St Paul are familiar to the "diatribe". But also the difference to St Paul's way of thinking becomes clear. Thus is said by EPIKTET, one should "keep one's soul directed towards the aim, pursue not the outside things which do not belong to us, but aim so as the one who has the power has ordered it at the aims in the range of our will during our entire life, but use the other things in such a way as they are granted to us" (EPIKTET, Diatriben IVTH 12). Similar is said in another place:

"The substantial thing is nevertheless ... that one understands the most important matter in the world, and pursues it in everything which one does with the greatest eagerness, but treats thereby everything else in comparison with it as minor affair" (EPIKTET, Diatriben II, 23).

 


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IV.

The exegetical analysis of the two probably most striking comparisons from the antique agonistic, but also the knowledge of the pictures and comparisons which are otherwise used by St Paul leads to these conclusions:

1

First the view that the use of the comparisons and pictures from the antique sport presupposed the familiarity with this cultural area can hardly be proved. St Paul uses usually only the general terms of the contest. That applies particularly to the use of the terms "agon = fight", "agonizesthai = to take part in a contest", and "athlein = to fight". Nearly in all places these terms let see the "sporting" meaning only vaguely yet. They are mostly equivalent to "fight" and "effort", or to "exert oneself" and to "strive hard".

From such vague and indistinct comparisons cannot be won a comprehensive picture of the antique sport. The comparisons and pictures remind only weakly of the sporting contest. They refer rather with high probability to the literary form of the "diatribe", as it was usual in the Cynical and Stoical popular philosophy, and which its embodiment in the late Jewish martyr literature. Also the early Christian martyr literature will adopt these comparisons and pictures.

 

2

St Paul uses only a few times special athletic exercises in his comparisons. This applies particularly to the exercise of running. But even here in most cases a semantic change took place. Often "Running" means only "exert oneself", i.e. "effort" in general. Besides, one has to point out here that a different origin of the picture of "running" is possible. This is suggested by the circumstance that the idiom "eis kenon trechein = run into emptiness" (Phil 2:16) is not provable in the Greek outside of the Bible (BAUERNFEIND, "trecho", P. 226).

 


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With this idiom it is probably about the idea, which is provable also for the Qumran literature, that running is the "life-task of that person who gives the direction to the faith of his/her followers" (BAUERNFEIND, "trecho", P. 230). Only at two places the picture of "running" in the sense of an athletic exercise can be recognized more exactly. But in 1 Cor 9:24.26 the use and the evaluation of the comparison is not homogeneous with St Paul. The initial point of comparison is not accomplished. In Phil 3:12-14 is found that comparison which corresponds most to the antique athletic exercise of running. The often strange interpretations reveal the lacking knowledge of the exegetes of the conditions of the antique race.

 

3

In 1 Cor 9:25 St Paul refers apparently to the training of the athletes. This did not consist however in a complete abstinence, as the most exegetes state, but in a way of life that was up to the smallest details regulated, and aimed at the sporting performance. St Paul did obviously not know that "enkrateia = abstinence" of the athletes. For had been impossible for him to recommend the concrete forms of that athletic "abstinence" to his Christians for imitation. Recommendable was only the athletes' way of life, which was appropriate and subordinated to their aim (prize).

 

4

The picture of the fist-fight in 1 Cor 9:26 is given more in detail by St Paul. But with this fight it is not about a "skiamachia = shadow fight", but about a real and "bloody" one, which is to be taken seriously. The opponent in this fight is however not, as the exegetes state time and again, the human "body" as such, but the wrong aim in the life of people for whom God and divine service not exist. If the human "body" were particularly "dangerous" for Christians, then the "blows" would have to be applied to it. This was indeed the consequence, which has been drawn precisely from this passage in the text - caused above all by the body-devaluating influences of the Platonic philosophy on prominent Christian personalities.

 


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Expression of this view is the German word "kasteien". The Greek special expression "hypopiazein = to hit below the eye; to meet the most sensitive place" is translated in the Vulgata with "castigare = chastise", and found as loanword entrance into the German language. But the fatal role of 1 Cor 9:27 - as evidence for an asceticism which aimed almost exclusively at the body, respectively at the practice of "self-castigation" - is not recognized, or is concealed.

 

5

Hence the pictures and comparisons from the antique agonistic show in no way a detailed knowledge of these exercises; they do not convey a "comprehensive picture from the view of the New Testament" (SCHWANK 1997, P. 85). St Paul knows these athletic exercises hardly from his own experience; otherwise these comparisons would not be so in general, so vague, and so indistinct. Finally the mere use of a comparison from an area of human life, e.g. from the military range, agricultural work, or a handicraft means not so easily a familiarity with these activities.

A crucial reason why St Paul had hardly any direct contact to the antique athletics, lies in the circumstance that he experienced in his youth a strictly pharisaic education, which had hardly cared for the antique athletics, yes, even rejected it because of its proximity to the pagan cult. The First and Second Book Maccabees testify clearly this incompatibility of the Jewish religion with the participation in the athletic exercises; also the participation as spectator is rejected.

But when the use of the agon comparisons cannot be attributed to St Paul's familiarity with the antique sport, as justifiable and reasonable explanation remains probably only that St Paul knew these pictures and comparisons from the Cynical-Stoical "diatribe", and from the writings of PHILON of Alexandria. Hence it would be the assumption of a contemporary literary style. How much these comparisons were popular is shown by their use also in other writing of the New Testament, particularly in the Letter to the Hebrews and the Pastoral Letters, which probably are not from St Paul.

 


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6

Thus it results however with logical consistency that from the comparisons and pictures from the antique agonistic no evaluation or even approval of the contemporary athletics can be gathered. It is not possible to see in these comparisons "a beautiful example of the value world of sports" (WEILER 1996, P. 23); and also the opinion that St Paul numbered "the sport among the human values" and regarded it "in its internal reality as human education factor and as component of culture and society" (JOHN PAUL II, 1984), can by no means be proved from St Paul's use of these comparisons.

Less than ever a fundamental valuation of the sport from today can be won from the use of these comparisons. Expressions like, "St Paul's comparisons shed a mystical light on the sport" (SÖLL, M. 1964, P. 22 f), one can take only as well meant, but untenable pious exaggerations. KUCHLER noticed therefore rightfully that "a fundamental valuation of the sport of that time, still less of the sport from today cannot be won" by the agon likenesses of the New Testament (KUCHLER 1969, P. 211). St Paul is by no means the "principal witness" for a positive evaluation of the antique agonistic. All the more he is not suited as an authority for an approval or even a justification of the modern sport. From such an "abuse" St Paul has to be protected.

 

7

With his pictures and comparisons from the world of sports St Paul wants to clarify the trouble and the effort, which the service to the gospel requires of the Apostle, but also of each Christian. These comparisons illustrate the moral effort to which the Christians committed themselves in baptism. The life as a Christian is not possible without this striving, just as of the athlete a quite determined way of life is demanded, if he/she wants to achieve the sporting victory. Certainly the Christians should keep in mind that it depends in the long run not on their own "willing" and "running", but on God's mercy (Rom 9:16).

 


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Bibliography

NB

The writings of the Bible are not specified in the bibliography. The text passages are quoted in the text with the usual abbreviations. The writings of the antique writers are also not specified in the bibliography. They are quoted in the text with the appropriate titles.

Abbreviations

Pauly-Wissowa: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Neue Bearbeitung von G. WISSOWA und W. KROLL. Stuttgart 1893 ff.

RAC: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum. Herausgegeben von Th. KLAUSER (u. a.). Stuttgart 1941/1950 ff.

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