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"Insights" From the New Testament Greek
By Bob Jones, Northside Bible Church, Jacksonville Florida
Paul's Olympic Games Terminology in the New Testament
Aug. 2nd, 2012 - the Olympic Year
History tells us that the Olympic Games began in the 7th century Before Christ (BC) in Olympia Greece, and that they were held every fourth year, almost continually, for 1,200 years. During that time period, the Greeks even marked their calendars in four-year periods called Olympiads.
In 393 AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius declared the Games corrupt and ended them. Olympia and the Temple of Zeus were eventually buried by centuries of earthquakes and floods, and remained buried until 1870 when German excavations unearthed the site of the ancient Greek Games.
In the third century BC, the Grecian Emperor, Alexander the Great, began to conquer the known world, and as he conquered a region , he required every person to speak his Greek language, in addition to their own. This universal Greek language came to be known as "Koine" (coin-a), meaning "common" Greek, and was one of the most explicit and unambiguous languages the world has ever known.
During the 1st century BC, after the death of Alexander the Great, the Romans took over the Land of Israel, but the Koine Greek language continued to be spoken, in the land of Israel, and all over the known world.
So, during the lifetime of Christ, in the 1st century AD, Christ and the Apostles spoke Koine Greek as a secondary language, the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, and the ancient Games in Olympia Greece were in full swing.
The New Testament Koine Greek contains many words and phrases concerning the Olympic games of Biblical times, because they were familiar household terms that powerfully communicated God's truths by comparing the known and familiar terms of the Olympic Games to the spiritual truths of God's Word.
In this Olympic year of 2012, it is most appropriate to at least sample the Olympic Games terminology found in the New Testament.
1 Cor. 9:24-27 Has more Olympic terminology than any other one passage:
"24 Know ye not that they which run in a "race" run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that "striveth for the mastery" is "temperate" in all things. Now they [do it] to obtain a corruptible "crown"; but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so "fight" I, not as "one that beateth the air": 27 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"."
"STADIA" ( KJV "race") - In verse 24, Running the "track", or "race course" event. The KJV word "race" in 1 Cor. 9:24 is the Greek word "stadia". "Stadia" was used for the "stadium", in which the foot race events were held, and also as a unit of measure, for about 220 yards, the length of the track in the "stadium". Every time you see the word "furlong" in the KJV, underneath is the Greek word "stadia", meaning 220 yards. There is even a modern line of athletic clothing named "Stadia".
"AGONIZOMOS" (KJV "striveth for the mastery") - In verse 25, "agonizomos" means "training for the Olympic games". In 1 Tim 6:12 we find "agonizomos" again. "Fighting the good fight" here literally means "to be a success" at the Olympic games. We get our English verb "to agonize" from this word."EGKRATEIA" (KJV "temperate") - In verse 25, means the "self control" required for an athlete to become "world class". In Gal. 5:23 the KJV word "temperance" is "egkrateia" also, speaking of the "self control" that is available to God's children to become "world class" Christians. "STEPHANOS" (KJV "crown") - In verse 25, the KJV word "crown" is the Greek word "stephanos", which meant the awards, medals, and wreaths that the athletes won in the Olympic Games. Our "crowns", throughout the New Testament, are always the Greek word "stephanos". The Greek word "diadem" is the word for a "kings crown", and only Jesus wears a "diadem". Our "crowns", or rewards for Christian service are stated 9 times, and are always "stephanos", relating directly to the athletic awards of the Olympic Games.
"PUKTEUO" (KJV "fight") - In verse 26, Paul "fights", "pukteuo", the Greek word for "boxing", from which we get our English word "pugnacious". Paul is saying that our "fight" or "boxing match" is not as one who "shadow boxes", but our "boxing match" is real. Again, a Greek Olympic training phrase, used to state that our enemy is spiritual and very real!
"ADOKIMOS"-- In verse 27, the KJV word "castaway" is the Greek word "adokimos", which in this context means "disqualified" from receiving rewards (stephanos) for not following the rules. God's Word contains the "rules" for our "race".
Other Olympic terms and phrases in the New Testament:
"BEMA" (KJV "judgement seat"):
The Christian's final judgement is described in 2 Cor 5:10 and in Rom 14:10, and the "judgement seat" of Christ is a "bema". The "bema" in New Testament times was a raised platform at the Olympic Games, where the chief of the games stood and placed awards (stephanos) around the neck of all the winners! The "Great White throne" in Rev 20:11, where God sits to judge all the unbelievers is a "THRONAS", or King's throne, but the Christian's judgement at the Judgement Seat of Christ is a "BEMA", where all the Olympic "winners" filed by to receive their awards, or "stephanos". What a wonderful picture of Christ, who died for our sins, placing our "awards" on our heads and around our necks at our judgement!
"APOTHEMENOI" Heb 12:1:
The Greek here describes "Stripping down to competition weight" and "running an Olympic foot race with endurance". Notice here that the event we are to compete in IS PLACED IN FRONT OF US. We do not choose our "event" or "race" in this life, but God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses our "event" for each of us, and He knows the beginning to the end and has a PURPOSE in all things.
Paul uses the athletic phrase "struggling toward the goal" here, another Olympic Games phrase, to describe the Christian life.
"ATHLEO" (KJV "strive for masteries"):
In 2 Tim 2:5, "Striving for the mastery", is the Greek word "athleo", from which we get the English word "athlete". Freely translated, this verse states that "if anyone competes in the games, he cannot receive medals or awards (stephanos) unless he obeys the rules."
"GUMNASIA" (KJV "exercise"):
In 1 Tim 4:7&8 Paul uses the Greek word "gumnasia", our English word for "gymnasium". "Gumnasia" means "strenuous exercise", the kind an athlete uses to strive to be world class. Paul uses this phrase to communicate to his Greek speaking listeners how we should use the same diligence to train ourselves to please God. In verse 8, Paul uses the Greek "present tense" and "indicative mood" verb, to compare a well known physical reality to the truth he is trying to communicate. Freely translated, Paul is stating: "You all know the benefit of rigorous bodily exercise, well, pleasing God is even more profitable, and benefits us in every way, in this life and in the life that is to come."
"NIKE" (KJV "conquerors"):
Rom 8:37 states that every Christian is more than a "conqueror", or "winner" through Him who loved us. The Greek word translated "conquerers" in Rom 8:37 is "NIKE", the Greek word that one of our most popular modern athletic shoe companies borrowed for a corporate name! Amazing.
As you read these passages in the Bible, and as we watch the Olympic Games this year in London, remember that these Olympic terms in the New Testament urge us to use the same diligence as an Olympic athlete to be what God would have us to be, as we run our "Christian race".