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.

Click on images for larger view.


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 

Click on images for larger view.


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.

Click on photos for larger view.


Jesus, the Good Shepherd

May 24, 2019

The Gospel of John records several of the “I Am” statements of Jesus. In John 10 we have Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Good Shepherd:

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep (John 10:11-15).

The metaphors of the shepherd and the sheep are a common biblical motif. The shepherd of Luke 15 leaves the 99 safe sheep and goes after the sheep which is lost, “and when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (vv.4-5). Our photo helps us visualize the biblical text.

“Jesus the Good Shepherd,” Alexandria, Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I took the above photo in 2003, in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum. The statue is identified as “Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Date: Graeco-Roman Period, Roman Period (31 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance: Lower Egypt, Mersa Matruh
Material(s): Rock, marble
Height: 125 cm
Hall: Byzantine Antiquities

Sheep need a shepherd! “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Truly Jesus is the Shepherd who cares for the sheep, who laid down His life for the sheep, that we might have life. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).


The Hearing Ear

May 16, 2019

Solomon said, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made them both” (Pro. 20:12). The NLT reads, “Ears to hear and eyes to see–both are gifts from the LORD.” Much is said in the Bible about using one’s ears to hear, to truly listen, and in particular to hear God’s word; to hear words of wisdom.

Here are some selected texts, for example, from the Proverbs:

2:1 My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you,

3:3 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands;

4:1 Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, And give attention to know understanding;

7:24 Now therefore, listen to me, my children; Pay attention to the words of my mouth:

8:6 Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, And from the opening of my lips will come right things;

8:32 ” Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways.

13:1 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

18:1 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.

19:20 Listen to counsel and receive instruction, That you may be wise in your latter days.

23:22 Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old.

At Corinth, Greece, there is a museum on site with artifacts from the area. Included are some “offerings” to the healing god Asclepius (spelling varies) which were left at the god’s temple there at Corinth. The idea was that if one had been healed of his/her affliction they would then bring an offering in the form of that body part which had been restored.

Votive offering, an ear. On site museum at Corinth Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Sign explaining the display. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

A fragment on display contains the name of the god. Greek letters transliterate, ASKL.

Sherd with Greek spelling of Asclepius. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

But it wasn’t Asclepius who made the ear, neither could he heal it. I’m put in mind of Paul’s referencing the former lives of the Galatians in their idolatry before they came to know the true God: “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods” (Gal. 4:8).

Click on image for larger view.


He Is Risen

April 20, 2019

As one descends Mt. Carmel going toward Megiddo, there is a rolling stone tomb whose usage dates back to the first century.

Rolling Stone Tomb Near Carmel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This tomb was discovered during road construction.  It so well illustrates the biblical texts that narrate the burial of Jesus.  Joseph of Arimathea had a new tomb (one which had not been previously used, John 19:38-42).  Assisted by Nicodemus, Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean linen cloth, “and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed” (Mt. 27:59-60). The tomb in our photo was hewn out of the rock, and you can see the large stone positioned to the left of the opening.

On Sunday, the 1st day of the week when Jesus was raised from the dead, the text says this about Peter and “the other disciple:”

So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. (John 20:4-8).

Note the record says the disciple stooped down to look in.  The tomb in our photo shows how this would of necessity be true.

Rolling Stone Tomb. Stooping to Look Inside. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Note that we are not suggesting that this is the tomb in which Jesus was buried; it does however illustrate the type of tomb that would have been used.

For New Testament Christians, each first day of the week is significant.  Christians assemble in the name of Jesus Christ to partake of His memorial feast, the Lord’s Supper.  That Supper points back to His death, His body and His blood.  But we serve a risen Savior!  We proclaim His death till He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).

(Note: this is a re-post from April 4, 2010).


Her House Leads Down to Death

January 22, 2019

The book of Proverbs is especially written for young people, to impart wisdom as decisions are being made that will impact the rest of their lives, as well as for eternity. The structure of Proverbs 2 is that of the godly father addressing his son (2:1). After his urgent exhortation to the son to aggressively seek for wisdom, and to treasure it, the father speaks of the benefits of wisdom. Some benefits are positive (vv. 6-9). Others are negative, keeping the son from the paths of evil, and specifically including the immoral woman:

To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress who flatters with her words; That leaves the companion of her youth And forgets the covenant of her God; For her house sinks down to death [מָוֶת] And her tracks lead to the dead [רְפָאִים]; None who go to her return again, Nor do they reach the paths of life (Proverbs 2:16-19).

While preparing for a recent opportunity to teach this text (in our local congregation) I was put in mind of some of the burial sites which may be seen by the visitor to Bible lands. Such examples as this here below help us to visualize the word picture employed to warn of the destiny of the path of the immoral woman.

Approach to Herod’s family tomb in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

King Herod the Great was buried at the Herodium, but according to Josephus some of his family members were buried in Jerusalem. This tomb has been identified as Herod’s family tomb. BTW, note the rolling stone at center.

Herod’s family tomb in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Biblical Archaeological Society notes:

Since its discovery in 1892, a tomb near the King David Hotel, west of Jaffa Gate, has been listed in many guidebooks and shown to multitudes of pilgrim tourists as “Herod’s Family Tomb.” The architectural style of the tomb certainly dates it to the right period. This exterior view, for instance, shows the typical arrangement of the time for a tomb entrance: steps cut into bedrock lead down to a vertical doorway guarded by a huge, cylindrical rolling stone. The suggestion that this was actually the royal family tomb came from what was found beyond this entranceway. The tomb was large; five rooms arranged in the shape of a cross had been hewn out of the bedrock. More significantly, portions of the walls were faced with finely carved ashlar (an ashlar is a rectangular building stone with surfaces trimmed at right angles) stone blocks in the style typical of Herod’s monumental building projects, such as the Temple Mount additions (emphasis mine, LM) (see SNT34: Southern Extension of Temple Mount, Reconstruction Peter; SNT35: Monumental Walls at Tomb of Abraham). This was structurally unnecessary and was a most unusual feature; in other tombs of this period, room walls consisted simply of bedrock, chisel dressed to achieve a flat surface. (The Biblical World in Pictures; BAS Biblical World in Pictures. (2003). Washington D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society).

(It should be noted that some archaeologists/scholars such as the late Ehud Netzer, believed Herod’s family tomb to be near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem).

Using the wording of the Proverbs text, in an article entitled, “None Return Again,” Frank Himmel observed:

No man who becomes involved in adultery will ever be the same again. He cannot return to where he was. He can be forgiven by God. He can be forgiven by his mate. He can be forgiven by the spouse of his partner in adultery. But things can never be quite the way they were.

The implicit trust his mate placed in him has been broken. The special intimate relationship between husband and wife has been violated. The painful memory of the act remains in the consciences of all involved, try as they may to remove it. The feelings of guilt are still there. To the extent the sin is known to others the reputation is damaged. If those involved are Christians the Lord’s holy name is reproached. If they have children who know of the affair the confidence of those little ones is shaken. Time will aid in healing these wounds, but it cannot completely erase the them. (Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 13, pp. 385, 407, July 2, 1992).

Click images for larger view.