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I'm used to reading the Bible in Finnish, so 1 Corinthians 9:27 seems very non-literal in most English translations. The Finnish 1992 translation is usually quite dynamic, but in this case it starts "Kohdistan iskut omaan ruumiiseeni" which literally means "I focus the blows to my own body". The way for example ESV renders this almost seems like a paraphrase in comparison:

1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESV)
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

What really interests me is that someone suggested the Greek really literally means "I focus the blows under my eye". This would really make the passage way more severe. So what does the passage literally say?

For reference, an interlinear translation. I looked at it and it looks to confirm the Finnish (vs. English) translation, but also suggests to me that the "under my eye" part is inconceivable.

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  • That's an interesting question. The confusion in translation lies with the second word here. – Richard Oct 13 '11 at 17:37
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The confusion with the translation lies in this word: hypōpiazō. If we look at Strong's Concordance for this, we see the following definition:

Strongs G5299

  1. to beat black and blue, to smite so as to cause bruises and livid spots
    1. like a boxer one buffets his body, handle it roughly, discipline by hardships
  2. metaph.
    1. to give one intolerable annoyance
      a) beat one out, wear one out b) by entreaties
  3. that part of the face that is under the eyes

The first two definitions seem pretty clear that it involves beating or annoyance. The third makes me seriously question Strong's...

Etymology

The Blue Letter Bible shows that that the source of this word is the conjunction of hypo with a derivitive of optanomai. These two words combined form the basis for that third definition of hypopiazo.

The definition of these two words:

hypo - "by, under"
optanomai - "to look at, behold" or "to be seen, to appear"

So the idea of the conjunction of these two concepts could be seen as being defined as "the part of the face under the eyes".

Translation/Context

I believe that Strong's adds that third definition of the word purely based on the etymology. If we keep in mind the fact that this is a verb, we see that "the part of the face that is under the eyes" doesn't really do anything. If this third translation was related to some other part of our body that had action (mouth, legs, feet, lips, eyelids, hair, etc.) I can see that the definition could be that. However, with the etymology being an area that has no action and cannot take part in action, I feel that the third definition is probably not useful for this.

So we see the passage:

αλλ' υπωπιάζω μου το σώμα

[But] [?????] [My] [... body]

What is Paul doing to his body? Is it something to do with the part of the face under his eyes? I doubt it.

I think we can be confident in the translation of "bruise". We could even be confident of the translation "beat" or "beat black and blue" in this sense. The translation "discipline" is more of a loose translation than "bruise". In this sense "bruise" is the literal translation.

See Translation Philosophy of the English Standard Version for more information.

Summary

The literal, word-for-word translation from Greek would be:

"But [I beat-black-and-blue] my body"

Although that word has roots that mean "under the eye", it is a verb and should be understood based on the word definition, which is "to bruise" or "to beat black and blue", rather than the source of the word, which would be "under the eyes".

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Also I've often just quoted the verse 1.Cor9:26 to support the importance of being well trained in teaching the Scripture and defeating false ideas, but here the passage from vss 24-27 are a uniformity, ie. seem to now show the whole process of copying the life sacrifices and almost Spartan way of life to lead oneself in the race of life, everlasting reward promised to all victors...and the pummeling strokes are aimed at oneself,even as ones trying to become representatives in world sports....

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  • Artie - thank you for your input. Do you see this verse as a struggle with the old nature, which Paul describes in Romans 7? Paul describes people in his epistles to Timothy who have been discredited; that is, some had turned to follow Satan and/or the world. Can you develop these points while minimizing your opinion as much as possible? In other words, can you make the text tell us what it says about itself with as little of your opinion as possible? That would help us to find what the texts really say, since so many people have so many views about what the texts say.... Thanks! – Joseph Jun 4 '14 at 11:51
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When seeking to extract understanding of a word it is always important to check a relevant lexicon. Etymology is often misleading. And of course context is paramount. Here is the entry from BDAG:

ὑπωπιάζω (on the v.l. ὑποπιάζειν s. W-S. §5, 19 note, end; Mlt-H. 75) (‘strike under the eye, give a black eye to’ Aristot., Rhet. 3, 11, 15, 1413a, 20; TestSol 2:4 D [ὑποπ.]; Plut., Mor. 921f; Diog. L. 6, 89)
① to blacken an eye, give a black eye, strike in the face lit. τινά someone, of a woman who is driven to desperation and who the judge in the story thinks might in the end express herself physically ἵνα μὴ εἰς τέλος ἐρχομένη ὑπωπιάζῃ με so that she might not finally come and blacken my eye Lk 18:5. Hyperbole is stock-in-trade of popular storytelling. Some prefer to understand ὑπ. in this pass. in sense
② to bring someone to submission by constant annoyance, wear down, fig. ext. of 1 (s. L-S-J-M s.v. II, NRSV, REB, et al.). In this interp. ὑπ. in Lk 18:5 has its meaning determined by εἰς τέλος. But in such case the denouement lacks punch, for the judge has already been worn down and wants nothing added to the κόπος that he has already endured. A more appropriate rendering for a fig. sense would be browbeat.—JDerrett, NTS 18, ’71/72, 178–91 (esp. 189–91): a fig. expr. (common throughout Asia), blacken my face = slander, besmirch underlies ὑπ. here.
③ to put under strict discipline, punish, treat roughly, torment, also fig. (cp. Aristoph., Fgm. 541 πόλεις ὑπωπιασμέναι) 1 Cor 9:27 (of the apostle’s self-imposed discipline. But the expr. is obviously taken fr. the language of prize-fighting vs. 26; on the virtue of self-control cp. X., Mem. 2, 1, 1; 5).—DELG s.v. ὄπωπα E. M-M. TW.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 1043). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

You will notice that the lexicon makes no suggestion that what is intended is actual physical abuse (as some commenting have expressed concern about) but rather that his strict discipline and the abuse to which he allows himself to be subjected (such as in being persecuted by whipping and stoning) is "a beating".

Some think Paul had an eye affliction based on:

NIV Gal 4:15 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.

But there is no suggestion that he damaged his own eyes in severe self-affliction.

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What does 1 Corinthians 9:27 literally say?

Paul was an ideal example as christian,but human like all of us and so he had to struggle with sinful inclinations. To see what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9:27 we need to look in some of his other writings to understand the fight he had to wage, to control his sinful nature, Romans reads:

Paul: My flesh is slave to the law of sin?

Romans 7:21-25 (NRSV)

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.

Paul was a man of violence, a blasphemer.

1 Timothy 1:13 (NRSV)

13" even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief"

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (NIV)

26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

In reading 1Cor.9:26-27 in context with the above ,we understand that Paul recognizes the need to reprove himself, he wrote " so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize"(1 Tim.1:13). He is basically telling us the method he used to reproved himself, obviously he was not literally striking his body with physical blows but striking his imperfect human nature with spiritual blows.

He may have done this by prayer and counselling from the scriptures, he wrote:

2 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV)

"All scripture is inspired by God and is[a] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

Paul does not specify his weaknesses in the scriptures , like him we also have to look for sinful inclinations in our worship to God and take steps to correct them and reprove ourselves.

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