I wanted to keep a low profile during the recent STM biblical study tour to Greece. Then the spiritual directors, Rev Dr Lim Kar Yong and Rev Dr Paul Baker decided to have a Bible quiz for all the participants of the two buses. The question was “How many biblical metaphors about athletics preparing for their races can you find in the New Testament?” I opened my mouth. To my dismay, I find myself being crowned with an olive wreath for being winner of the quiz. And on the very stadium of ancient Olympia where the winners of the Olympic games were crowned! So much for keeping a low profile. It is on Youtube now.
There are quite a number of metaphors and the seven identified are:
1. Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
2. Philippians 2:16 (NIV)
16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.
3. Galatians 2:2 (NIV)
2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.
4. Galatians 5:7 (NIV)
7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?
5. 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
6. 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (NIV)
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.
7. 2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)
5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.
I am sure there are more similar biblical references. The Greeks and Romans are crazy about sports. Like we moderns with our football, basketball, baseball, boxing and other sporting events, they too have their sporting favourites. The winners, like ours, are celebrities. They were crowned with wreaths and rewarded with fame, riches and statures made in their lifelikeness. Similar to what our sport celebrities received today. The Olympic Games were held in the sanctuary of Zeus in ancient Olympia every four years, commencing around 776 B.C.E. The Games were part of a cycle known as the Panhellenic Games, which included the Pythian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games thus ensuring that there were some events taking part in different part of the country in consecutive years.
The New Testament is full of metaphors about athletics preparing themselves for their races. This is especially relevant to the Hellenistic listeners who are embedded in a culture of athletic endeavour from the four Greek. Recent excavations at Olympia which is the site of ancient Olympics brought to light the temples, training sites and the stadium itself while the annual games are being held. As with all Greek life, there is a strong religious and political connections of the games with the city-states. Whether they were the Greeks, Mycenaean, Macedonian or later the Romans, what stood up is their shared heritage of Greek culture. Being Greek is not so much as living in a certain area as sharing a common legacy of shared values and beliefs. Ancient Greeks were made up of a number of warring city-states. The Games was an event where all city-states has to lay down their arms and declare a three month truce to take part. Offender will be attacked by the combine might of all the other city-states. Not only this allowed time for farming, it enhanced the Games as the religious and socio-political event in their annual calendar. The Game is associated with peace under the watchful eyes of Zeus.