Study Guide

The Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus) Sports

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Put us in, coach! We're ready to…read the Bible?

That's right. You might be a little surprised to know that biblical authors could be huge jocks. These guys were products of their culture and, just like today, sports were a pretty big deal.

Let's Play Ball

Even 2,000 years ago, sports were everywhere. Back in the late first century, Roman officials would sometimes throw multi-day festivals to entertain the citizens of the Empire. People would take a few days off work, then guys would race chariots, gladiators would fight to the death, wild beasts would rip each other apart, and all kinds of other feats of athleticism would go down. Sometimes, if you had a few convicted criminals on their hands, a fun public execution would be thrown in. Hey, they had different standards of what was cruel and unusual back then (source).

Because Roman sporting events sometimes had a religious component to them, some Christians didn't take part. Since the Christians believed that there was only one true God, they couldn't risk accidentally endorsing Roman gods by hanging out at their festivals—no matter how fun it was to watch chariot racing. Besides, Christians probably didn't want to be standing in the middle of a blood-thirsty crowd when everyone started paying homage to Zeus.

Things could get awkward really quickly.

Put Me in, Coach!

The Pastor, on the other hand, doesn't seem to mind taking part in a little sport now and then. Remember, he's pretty big on fitting in with Roman culture, so maybe he didn't think watching a little gladiatorial face-off was such a big deal.

That might also be why he regularly uses sports metaphors to get his point across:

  • "Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way." (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
  • "Fight the good fight of the faith." (1 Timothy 6:12)
  • "Some have missed the mark as regards the faith." (1 Timothy 6:21) 
  • "In the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules." (2 Timothy 2:5) 
  • "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race." (2 Timothy 4:7)

In other words, the Pastor is going the distance.

What the point of using all this sports-related language? Well, the Pastor is comparing being a faithful Christian to being an athlete. You don't just get good at shooting free throws over night. You've got to work hard, train, keep in good shape in order to win the big game. The same is true for Christians, says the author. If they keep up the good and holy work, they're gonna come out champs in the end. And everyone else will be down for the count.

In Popular Culture

Sports and religion mix a little more than you might think. Here are just a few examples:

  • God apparently plays favorites when it comes to sports. Just check out Angels in the Outfield, Field of Dreams, and Damn Yankees for divine (and sometime Devilish) interference in athletics.
  • A Hail Mary is another name for a really long and desperate pass thrown in football. The name comes from the Catholic prayer, "Hail Mary, full of grace…," which is apparently what you're supposed to say once you let that pigskin fly.
  • Rudy is all about working hard to get ahead in sports. In this case, it's getting to play for one down of Notre Dame football.
  • In Hoosiers, the tiny school beats the big one at basketball in a real David-and-Goliath-inspired matchup.

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