GAMES Summary and Overview
GAMES in Easton's Bible Dictionary
(1.) Of children (Zech. 8:5; Matt. 11:16). The Jewish youth were also apparently instructed in the use of the bow and the sling (Judg. 20:16; 1 Chr. 12:2). (2.) Public games, such as were common among the Greeks and Romans, were foreign to the Jewish institutions and customs. Reference, however, is made to such games in two passages (Ps. 19:5; Eccl. 9:11). (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 (1 Cor. 15:32). These were common among the Romans, and sometimes on a large scale. (b) Allusion is frequently made to the Grecian gymnastic contests (Gal. 2:2; 5:7; Phil. 2:16; 3:14; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 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.
GAMES in Smith's Bible Dictionary
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 #1Co 15:32| 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, #1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 4:7| 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, #1Co 9:25; 2Ti 2:5| required a long and severe course of previous training, #1Ti 4:8| during which a particular diet was enforced. #1Co 9:25,27| 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, #Heb 12:1| the competitors being the spectacle. #1Co 4:9; Heb 10:33| The games were opened by the proclamation of a herald, #1Co 9:27| 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; #2Ti 4:8| his office was to decide any disputes, #Col 3:15| and to give the prize, #1Co 9:24; Phm 3:14| consisting of a crown, #2Ti 2:6; 4:8| 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 in Schaff's Bible Dictionary
GAMES . Doubtless the Hebrew children had playthings and sports, like all other children, but there is no more than a passing allusion to such things in the Bible, nor would more be expected. Acts Zechariah, 8:5, declares that part of the outward evidence of the restoration of Jerusalem will be the public playing of the children. The same prophet, 1 Chr 12:3, illustrates the divine care of Jerusalem by comparing the city to a stone of burden -- i.e. heavy and difficult, if not dangerous, to lift; for the Lord would guard her against all attacks, so that man could not prevail against her. In this comparison commentators see an allusion to a practice, which Jerome reports to have prevailed in Judasa, of lifting heavy stones as a trial of strength. Our Lord likens his generation of the Jews to children playing in the market-place a game which consisted in imitating a funeral or a marriage. Matt 11:16. But the Hebrews had no public games such as the Greeks and Romans had. They did not fit in with the Hebrew character, particularly with their intense religious feeling. Besides, the three great annual religious festivals -- the Passover, the feast of weeks, and that of tabernacles -- drew the nation sufficiently together to prevent stagnation. It was quite characteristic that these festivals furnished the Jews with their needed diversion. So far from having public games, the Jews considered them disreputable, and even blasphemous. For the attempt of Jason to introduce the gymnasium he is called an "ungodly wretch," 2 Mace. 4:13, and those who practised in it were said to have sold themselves to do mischief. 1 Mace. 1:15. The building by Herod the Great of a theatre and amphitheatre in Jerusalem, as well as at Caesarea, excited the aversion of pious Jews, and any one who took part in the games was regarded as a renegade. And yet, doubtless, the Jews paid some attention to the development of their muscles. The fact that swiftness of foot was so much esteemed and that runners were employed to carry the news of battle would render it probable that there were competitive races. So the Psalmist, Ps 19:5, speaks of the sun rejoicing "as a strong man to run a race," and in Eccl 9:11 the Preacher uses the words, "The race is not to the swift." Then, too, the skill acquired in the use of the bow and the sling, 1 Sam 20:20; Jud 20:16; 1 Chr 12:2, implies private if not public competition. The proposition of Abner, "Let the young men now arise, and play before us," 2 Sam 2:14, its immediate acceptance, and its bloody end, indicate the training and skill of the young men, and suggest that the friendly contests of peace had been turned, on this occasion, into a deadly struggle. But such an interpretation may be too far-fetched. The games of private life such as are known to us were many of them familiar to the Egyptians, and are pictured on the monuments. Presuming that the Hebrews would learn these from their neighbors, if they did not invent them for themselves, we may fancy an ancient Hebrew amusing himself with "odd and even," "checkers," "graces," catching balls, etc. But although the ancient Hebrews, as a nation, were opposed to public games, individuals among them entered into them with zest, and the Jews residing in foreign cities came into frequent contact with them. We find the Greek games frequently referred to by Paul, whose heroic nature seems to have been fired by the splendid triumphs of the arena. His metaphors are so frequently taken directly from these games that his mind seems to run on them, as, in a modern parallel, F.W. Robertson used metaphors taken from soldier-life. Some of Paul's allusions are unhappily concealed from view in the A.V. Nothing more than a brief handling of this interesting subject will be expected here. We follow, in the main, Dean Howson's Metaphors of St. Paul. The most noted of the Greek games were the Olympic, the Pythian, the Isthmian, and the Nemean. They bore the appellation of "sacred." They consisted of leaping, running, quoiting, wrestling, hurling the spear, and boxing; besides these, there were chariot-races. The Olympic games were held in the highest honor. The victors there were regarded as the happiest of mortals. They were crowned and led along the stadium, preceded by a herald, who proclaimed their names, parentage, and country. They were afterward solemnly received into their native cities. Poets sang their praise; statues were sometimes erected in their honor. These games were celebrated every five years at Olympia, in Elis, on the west side of the Peloponnesus; hence the epochs called "Olympiads." The other games were similar in toil and honor. The training preparatory to the contest in either was long and severe. Every care was taken to prevent foul play. The judges were strictly impartial. The prizes were of no intrinsic worth. At the Olympics the victors received each a wreath of wild-olive and a palm-branch; at the Pythian the crown or chaplet was made of laurel; at the Isthmian, of twigs of the pine tree; at the Nemean, of parsley or ivy. Only one out of all the combatants in each contest received a prize. The apostle Paul was doubtless brought frequently in contact with these games, which, although Greek in their origin, were yet fostered by Rome. He may have formed part of the throng which witnessed the Isthmian games, since these were celebrated near Corinth and Paul spent 18 months in that city. At all events, he had heard the scenes described, and had had pointed out to him the victors. The gymnasium, or place of training, and the stadium, or ground for running, were among the most conspicuous and the most frequented spots in the architecture and embellishment of the cities. That feature of these games which was the most exciting is the more frequently referred to-viz. the foot-race. Thus, Paul says: "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, that I might finish my course [end my race] with joy." Acts 20:24. Again:I have fought the good fight [an athletic, not a warlike, contest]; I have ended my race; I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day. See 2 Tim 4:7-8. "The race is nearly run, the struggle is all but over; he is weary, as it were, and panting with the effort; but he is successful. The crown is in sight, and the Judge who cannot make a mistake is there, ready to place that bright wreath upon his head." To the Galatians he says: Foot-race. (Adapted from a View of the Circus Flora at Rome. Montfaucon.) "Ye did run well; who did hinder you. that ye should not obey the truth?" Gal 5:7. The magnificent outburst in the Epistle to the Philippians, Phil 3:13-14, -"I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," -rings vividly before us a racer. The oft-quoted passage, 1 Cor 9:24-27, receives a flood of light when we bear in mind the familiarity of the Corinthians with the Isthmian games. Paul alludes to the foot-race, out of which only one runner came as a victor, to the strict regimen requisite to success, to the vast superiority of the Christian's prize, and the shame it were if, while so much energy were put forth to gain a little reputation, the Christian should not strive to gain an unfading crown: "I so run, not as uncertainly." A man who does not know his own mind is seldom successful. But the runner keeps his eye fixed upon the goal, and bends all his energies to win it. And the apostle, almost in the same breath, alludes to the pugilist: "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air." v. 1 Cor 9:26. He would not beat the air, but make every blow tell, as the heavy blow from the hand covered with the nail-studded leather (cestus) inflicted a bruise every time it struck. I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have been a herald [the officer who summoned the competitors to the struggle] unto others, I myself should be a castaway -reference to the training of the pugilist. See v. 1 Cor 9:27. These are only a few of the passages in Paul's writings to be illustrated by the Grecian games. The mention of the Chief of Asia (which see), or asiarchs, Acts 19:31, at Ephesus as the friends of Paul, in connection with Paul's declaration, taken literally, that he had "fought with beasts at Ephesus," 1 Cor 15:32, have led some to suppose the apostle was actually thrown into the arena, but delivered by a miracle, and that therefore the asiarchs treated him with consideration. But it is every way more likely that Paul uses a metaphor borrowed from the Roman games, in which fighting with wild beasts was introduced. He alludes again to these brutal fights between men and beasts, or to the gladiatorial shows, when, in 1 Cor 4:9, he says: "God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death." The words "refer to the band of gladiators brought out last for death, the vast range of an amphitheatre under the open sky well representing the magnificent vision of all created beings, from men up to angels, gazing on the dreadful death-struggle, and then the contrast of the selfish Corinthians sitting by unconcerned and unmoved at the awful spectacle." -- Stanley: Com. on Corinth, The early Christians, like the Jews, but for different reasons, regarded these games and the theatrical exhibitions of the Greeks and Romans with horror. They were closely connected with heathenism; attendance upon them exposed the Christians to the cry, "To the lions!" for in this way many had been killed; hence, regard for the memory of their departed brethren should forbid Christians' attendance on them. But apart from these considerations, they were regarded as too worldly, as tending to withdraw the mind from the things of God and unduly to elevate the body. Surely, as conducted in later times, the games were brutalizing, and hence the humane spirit of Christ forbade the sight of so much bloodshed and suffering.
GAMES in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Of children, Zechariah 8:5. Imitating marriages and funerals, Matthew 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 (1 Maccabees 1:14; 2 Maccabees 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 (Acts 19:31). In 1 Corinthians 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, 1 Corinthians 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 (Hebrews 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 2 Timothy 4:17, "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" (namely, from Satan's snare, 1 Peter 5:8). In 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have striven the good strife," not merely a fight, any competitive contest as the race-course, 1 Timothy 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.) James 1:12; Revelation 2:10. Philemon 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 of Solomon 1:4; 1 Corinthians 13:12). "Forgetting those things behind (the space already past, contrast 2 Timothy 3:7; 2 Peter 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" (1 Thessalonians 2:12), given by "the righteous Judge" (2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 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 (Colossians 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" (Colossians 3:15). In 1 Corinthians 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 (Acts 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" (2 Timothy 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 1 Corinthians 3:14-15; 2 John 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 (Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 1:7; Philemon 1:6; Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:12), but as to the special reward of those who "turn many to righteousness" (Daniel 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:19). So Paul denied himself, in not claiming sustenance, in view of "reward," namely, "to gain the more" (1 Corinthians 9:18-23). 1 Corinthians 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" (1 Peter 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 (Hebrews 12:1). So the believer must cast aside not only sinful lusts, but even harmless and otherwise useful things which would retard him (Mark 9:42-48; Mark 10:50; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 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" (Hebrews 12:1-2) that "we are compassed about with" attest by their own case God's faithfulness to His people (Hebrews 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; Ecclesiastes 9:5; Isaiah 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" (2 Timothy 3:7).