Paul’s Usage of Isthmian Games as Illustration

December 11, 2019

The Apostle Paul asked and answered a rhetorical question:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27-27).

To illustrate the great effort and focus that should be expended and maintained for what Paul terms “an imperishable crown,” he points to the games (apparently the Isthmian games) as an example. The Isthmian Games were similar to the Olympic Games, and took place every two years at Isthmia near Corinth. This illustration would have struck home to Paul’s Corinthian audience.

Location of Isthmia in proximity to Corinth. Wikimedia Commons.

Our photo shows the ancient site of Isthmia. In addition to the excavation that may be seen here, at center (and slightly right, indicated by vertical metal stakes) you may see the Classical stadium starting line for the runners.

Ancient Isthmia. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Isthmian Games occurred every two years and should have occurred during Paul’s stay (Acts 18:11); they were held in the spring of 49 and 51 C.E. When combined with the imperial games every fourth year (i.e., every other celebration of the Isthmian Games), the Isthmian Games were the Great (as opposed to the Lesser) Isthmia. There were four Greek games, often mentioned together: the Olympic, the Pythian, the Nemean, and the Isthmian. The Isthmian “were the most splendid and best attended” of the pan-Hellenic festivals next to the quadrennial Olympics.

Whether or not Paul attended the Isthmian Games, which would have occurred during his stay there, he would have known about them, and it seems plausible that he would have made use of them somehow to reach people passing through, as Diogenes the Cynic reportedly did. The Isthmian Games were well known among educated urban people throughout the Roman world. Large numbers would gather from many diverse cities, discussing current events, at the Isthmian Games (Polyb. 18.46.1). (Both genders would also be present.) Many gave readings and orations besides other entertainments; a local preacher might be ignored by the Corinthians, who were accustomed to him, yet draw a crowd of visitors. It was a strategic place to make announcements that would reach all Greece. (Keener, C. S., 2014. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: 15:1–23:35 Vol. 3, pp. 2758–2760. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic).

Paul referred to the “perishable crown” that was awarded to the winner of the race. This may be visualized by our photo here:

A “perishable” crown. Wreath given to the victor, a Greek athlete. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo features a close up of the head of a running athlete and dates back to the late Hellenistic period. This statue was retrieved from the Aegean Sea off the coast of Kyme, and is displayed at the Izmir Museum (biblical Smyrna).

Salvation is by grace through faith. At the same time God rightfully expects total commitment and devotion to Him.

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Rock Badgers/Hyraxes at En-Gedi, Israel

November 27, 2019

Proverbs 30:26 states, “hyraxes are not a mighty people, yet they make their homes in the cliffs” (CSB). The NASB retains the Hebrew term, “The shephanim are not mighty people, Yet they make their houses in the rocks.” ESV renders, “the rock badgers.” KJV has “conies.”

It is not unusual to see these animals in En-Gedi.

Rock badgers at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Ferrell Jenkins and I photographed these as we were walking up the trail to see the falls at En-gedi, while doing a personal study trip in Israel in 2009.

Rock badger at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The NET Bible has this note:

This is the Syrian Hyrax, also known as the rock badger. KJV, ASV has “conies” (alternately spelled “coneys” by NIV), a term usually associated with the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) but which can also refer to the pika or the hyrax. Scholars today generally agree that the Hebrew term used here refers to a type of hyrax, a small ungulate mammal of the family Procaviidae native to Africa and the Middle East which has a thick body, short legs and ears and a rudimentary tail. The simple “badger” (so NASB, NRSV, CEV) could lead to confusion with the badger, an entirely unrelated species of burrowing mammal related to weasels.

Further, “Modern scholars identify this creature with the rock badger (the Syrian hyrax), a small mammal that lives in the crevices of the rock. Its wisdom consists in its ingenuity to find a place of security” (NET Bible note).

En-gedi is known for its beautiful falls.

Waterfalls at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

En-gedi was an area where David and his men fled from King Saul.

Waterfall at En-gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I previously posted on the rock badger on our blog here.

In our home congregation we are completing a study of the Proverbs, with ch. 30 scheduled for Sunday. I find that visuals such as these can be very helpful in our understanding of the biblical text.

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The Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt

October 24, 2019

The emphasis of the book of Exodus is that of God’s covenant faithfulness. ‘El Shaddai, God Almighty, who promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He would make of them a great nation, and give unto them the land of Canaan, now more fully reveals Himself as YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah. He would redeem His covenant people. This He did “with outstretched hand,” demonstrating to all the Egyptians, as well as to Israel that He was indeed the LORD.

Israel was a numerous people when the book of Exodus opens, and through His great power God brought them to Mt. Sinai, where they would be for about eleven months. During that time God gave the 10 Commandments as well as the accompanying laws and ordinances, the tabernacle was built, and the Aaronic priesthood was consecrated.

The events of Scripture do not happen in a vacuum; we always do well to consider the historical and geographical setting.  The setting for Exodus 1-13 is Egypt.

When you think of Egypt, you likely think of the pyramids. Sometimes people erroneously believe that the Israelites were used as forced labor to construct the pyramids. Actually the pyramids were built before Abraham! The Israelites built storage cities (Ex. 1:11, NASB).

The Step Pyramid, Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo shows the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built during the 3rd Dynasty by Pharaoh Djoser. This pyramid is actually a mastaba (Arabic for “bench”), meaning a structure in the “form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides.” The Step Pyramid consists of six distinct steps. This is the oldest of the pyramids.

The burial chambers were underground. Excavation was done by Jean-Phillipe Lauer. (Note: most of the above appeared in my post of May 13, 2011).

This photo with my daughter at the base of the pyramid helps give some perspective to the size of the pyramid. She and I spent eight days touring Egypt in 2003.

Author’s daughter, Alysha Mauldin Montgomery, at base of Step Pyramid. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I was noticing this morning some of the ancient history material some of my grandchildren are studying (homeschoolers). The information included on the Step Pyramid read, “It was copied after the Ziggurat of Sumer. The small temple rooms around it have become buried in the desert sand” (Streams of Civilization, p. 46). It occurred to me that I don’t think I knew that at their age!

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Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem

September 13, 2019

Luke 2 narrates the night of the Savior’s birth, when the good news was first announced to Bethlehem-area shepherds:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:8-18, NKJV).

Sign indicating location of Shepherd’s Field east side of Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When one visits Bethlehem there is the opportunity to see the area designated as “Shepherd’s Field,” the Franciscan site located  on the east side of Bethlehem. This helps us to visualize where the shepherds would have been that night when the angel informed them of Jesus’ birth in our text above.

Shepherds’ Fields, Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

On most other occasions when I’ve been here the fields were brown and dry. This past March 2019 they were green.

Our group gathered in a nearby cave.

Cave at Shepherds’ Field. Mauldin Group, 2019. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here we discussed the occasion of Jesus’ birth, and also took advantage of the natural acoustics to sing. Visiting Bethlehem gave us the opportunity to contemplate the wonderful plan of God, that Eternal Deity, the Eternal Word, became man! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

I’ve previously posted on Bethlehem: click here, here and here. Ferrell Jenkins provides a listing of articles he has written on Bethlehem. Click here 

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The Philopappos Monument, Athens, Greece

August 30, 2019

In Acts 17, when Paul preached at Athens, he was taken to the Areopagus where he was invited to explain what the Athenians called “this new teaching” (Acts 17:16-19). We have previously posted on Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus here and here.

In this post we want to notice one of the many sites you can see while standing atop the Areopagus. Here is the view looking to the southwest.

Hill of Philopappus, Athens Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Hill of Philopappus is also called Mouseion Hill. Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus (AD 65-116) was a prince from the Kingdom of Commagene (northern Syria), and a Roman consul and senator, as well as grandson of Antiochos IV. At his death a white Pentelic marble tomb monument was dedicated to him by his sister Julia Babilla and the citizens of Athens. Here is a closer view:

Funerary Monument of Philopappus. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This of course is just one of many major landmarks in Athens. Near the monument are the remains of a prison where it is claimed that Socrates was imprisoned and died.

Lonely Planet makes this observation regarding this hill:

Inhabited from prehistoric times to the post-Byzantine era, the area was, according to Plutarch, the area where Theseus and the Amazons did battle. In the 4th and 5th centuries BC, defensive fortifications – such as the Themistoclean wall and the Diateichisma – extended over the hill, and some of their remains are still visible. (Lonelyplanet.com).

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Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. A.D. 138-161)

August 27, 2019

In going through some of my photos of Athens, Greece, I came across a shot I had taken of a bust of Antoninus Pius.

Antoninus Pius. Reigned A.D. 138-161. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

My priority in the limited writing I’ve done on Roman Emperors has been to deal with those who reigned during A.D. 1st century, i.e., those that intersect with biblical history. For example, click here (“Roman Emperors During the Gospels and Acts) and here (“Emperor Galba: the Year of Four Emperors). But here we offer at least a brief introduction to the life and reign of this 2nd century emperor, Antoninus.

Antoninus Pius was born in A.D. 86 at Lanuvium in Latium. He spent his youth at Lorium, not far from Rome. He married Annia Galeria Faustina. When Lucius Aelius Caesar, Emperor Hadrian’s (r. A.D. 117-138) adoptive son and heir died in January 138, Hadrian then adopted Antoninus, February 25. Antoninus ascended the throne upon Hadrian’s death, July 138.

Michael Grant states that Antoninus’s “deferential attitude” to the Roman senators “prompted them to confer on him the unusual title of ‘Pius’, honouring (sic) his religious and patriotic dutifulness” (The Roman Emperors, 83).

Antoninus Pius. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the land and people of Judea, Grant writes:

There Antoninus Pius soon modified, without completely abandoning, his predecessor’s [Hadrian] veto on circumcision; that is to say he allowed Jews to circumcise their sons but forbade them to admit converts to the rite, thus weakening Jewish competition with the actively proselytizing Christians. Moreover, the ban debarring Jews from entry into Jerusalem was maintained, and indeed enforced by the construction of a ring of military posts round the city (86).

However, Grant’s last statement above is contradicted by Nigel Rodgers, who stated, “Later, Antoninus Pius (reigned AD138-161) quietly revoked his predecessor’s decree and allowed any Jews, who wished to, to return to the now utterly desolate site of Jerusalem” (Roman Empire, 219).

Interestingly, as emperor, Antoninus never left Italy (Rodger, 35); “Antoninus himself never once left Italy throughout the course of his reign” (Grant.86).

At his death, his adoptive son Marcus Aurelius said, “Remember his qualities so that when your last hour comes your conscience may be as clear as his” (Grant, 88).

Gibbons lavished much praise on the period which included the reign of Antoninus:

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honor of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom. (Gibbon, E. (2004). The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. (H. H. Milman, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

That kind of praise and honor somehow puts me in mind of Proverbs 21:2: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.”


In the Steps of Paul: Along the Appian Way

June 17, 2019

Yesterday (Sunday) between church services in Rome (AM) and Ciampino (PM), we had the opportunity to see portions of the Appian Way. This road was one of the earliest and most important Roman roads of the ancient republic, connecting Rome to Brindisi, in southeast Italy. It was constructed in the years 312–264 BC.

The Appian Way. Paul walked on this road on his way to Rome, Acts 28:14-16. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When Paul was traveled to Rome as a prisoner as recorded in Acts 28:11-16, he was met by Roman Christians who heard he was coming. They then walked with him back to Rome. This land portion of the journey was on this road, the Appian Way. In this photo you can see the original paving stone, scored by chariot wheels. Then in the upper portion of the road you can see reconstruction pavement.

Near this area of our photo there were burial sites, such as that depicted here.

A burial site along the Appian Way. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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