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In 1 Cor. 9:27, Paul says:

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

What is meant by being "disqualified"?

5 Answers 5

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This is a fascinating passage. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul is using an athletic metaphor as both an example of the Christian life and a particular defense of his ministry. Within that context, we could consider this a reference either to losing (not winning) - verse 24, failing to compete effectively - verse 26, or to being rejected from competition. (Perhaps for breaking the rules?)

The Greek word translated "disqualified" is αδοκιμος (Strongs G0096), meaning "failing the test", "rejected" or "worthless". This word appears 8 times in the New Testament. In addition to "disqualified", the NET Bible also translates it "unfit", "useless" or "fail". This is also the word translated "depraved" or "debased" in Romans 1:28.

(My personal opinion is that it's one of the first two that I mentioned above, since there are already verses in the passage that refer to them. Also, the two concepts are very closely related - if you don't compete effectively, you can't win.)

See Hebrews 12:1-2 for another passage with a very similar metaphor.

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St. Paul is speaking of whether or not he will be a partaker in the gospel (salvation, life in Christ). He compares the people of God in the Old Testament not partaking of what it was they had progressed toward and been enjoying. They had even 'drank of Christ.' They were 'baptized.' Yet they fell into damnable sin and did not repent (Rom 8:13; 11:22; Rev 2:5; 2:16; 2:21 etc.).

1 Corinthians 9:23-10:121

Now everything I do, I do for the gospel, to the end that I might become a partaker in it myself. Do you not know that those who run in the stadium all run but only one recieves the prize? Race you in like manner, that you might take hold of the prize. Now everyone that contends in the race disciplines himself, that he might obtain what is but a corruptable crown: but we, an incorruptable. So then, I race, not irresolutely, nor do I box as one punching air, but instead I punish my body, and subdue it, lest it happen that after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.2

For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the one cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of the same spiritual rock with followed them: and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, the majority of them did not please God, for they died, and were left strewn across the wilderness. Now these things would utlimately typify things pertaining to us: namely, to teach us not to be ones chasing after evil as they chasted after it, and not to become idolators as some of them, as also it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink, and and rose up to play. Moreover, that we might not commit sexual sins, as some of them did and fell every one in a single day, twenty-three thousand; nor tempt the Lord as some of them tempted and perished by the serpents; nor complain as some of them complained and perished by the destroyer. Yet all these things befell them as an example: they were written for our admonition upon whom the end of ages has come. So that he who thinks himself to stand to should beware, lest he fall.

The reason St. Paul is 'preaching to others' the gospel is to save their souls (1 Cor 9:22). So when he says 'that after preaching to others' (what) 'I myself might become a partaker in,' he clearly means 'the gospel,' which he is preaching; and he expresses that he might not become a partaker in its promises (like the examples he provides of the Old Testament people of God): 'lest it happen that .. I myself should be counted unfit.' He predicates this upon discipline of the body (Rom 11:22; Col 1:24). St. Paul uses a strong word (γαρ) meaning 'because I will prove what I just said' (here and almost always translated 'for') to link disqualification in the race with the destruction of those people of God who apostatized and died in sin.

See also Revelation 2:10.


Footnotes

1 I provided a fresh translation to eliminate unnecessary inconsistencies which obscure the contextual issues. Italics are to hepl understand what is meant; bold is used for highlighting the significant portions relevant to the question, and my answer.

2 St. Paul, significantly, uses this 'disqualified' elsewhere, such as in Romans 1:28, of which the meaning is 'reprobate; debased:' "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a reprobate [αδοκιμον] mind to do the unseemly." Even though the context shows that St. Paul is using it in the sense that he is judged not to have succeded in running the race, this overtone may not be overlooked—especially, as I point out in my answer, the race is living according to Christ so that you don't forfeit salvation by unrepentant sin. cf. Phil 2:12.

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  • Good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Apr 9 at 8:17
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+50

Here is a little background that I gathered about Corinthian's at the time Paul wrote this letter along with the verse mentioned. It's helpful to see what many of the new converts were struggling with. It was one of the largest cities of the Roman empire and many religions were represented there, even a temple which offered 1000 sacred prostitutes. God had called them out and He would Confirm them to the end. So just to be clear in the beginning of Corinthians Paul confirms that it is God who is responsible and He will keep them strong to the end so that they too will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was God who had called them in to fellowship with his son Jesus Christ our Lord and He is faithful.

who also shall confirm you unto the end — unblamable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ; 9faithful [is] God, through whom ye were called to the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 8,9

Salvation is secure .

Paul is talking about the possibility of being disqualified. Disqualified from what? From winning an incorruptible wreath.

24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. 1 Cor. 9:24,25

Paul does not want to be disqualified from winning this wreath, so he says the following.

26Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. 27No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Cor. 9:26,27

When someone is disqualified, it is because they have broken a law or rule.

To stop someone from being in a competition or doing something because they are unsuitable or they have done something wrong: Two top athletes have been disqualified from the championship after positive drug tests.

The Corinthians had the Isthmian athletic games biennially and that was a big deal that they were all very familiar with. They knew all the training, discipline and denial that would go in to win a prize. Paul uses this life event to teach the Corinthians that it is possible for them to race and win an imperishable wreath as well. If they want true rewards that will last then two things are necessary, self control and obedience to the rules of the game. Both are essential to win a wreath.

He is using this as encouragement to them to leave their old life behind, in the grave through the cross and walk in newness of life and run. That city has many temptations yet in the Lord they are able to stand against them and move on. They too needed to discipline their body So they could win An incredible honor in the future. It would be well worth the discipline they put in their body now for the rewards later.

This section introduces the next portion concerning Old Testament examples of believers who were tempted with various sins (10:1-13). Paul encourages them to exercise self- discipline in their Christian life so they will not be disqualified from the race.

In these days when "success" Is measured by human standards, It is of the upmost importance to press the fact that a violation of the rules absolutely bars the contestant from all hope of a prize. Service at the expense of truth or conscience, to gain a livelihood or win popularity, no matter how strenuous, wins no prize. God looks on the motive and method, not on the apparent results. Concord Commentary

The Apostle Paul wants to win a wreath and so he too must play by the rules. Just because he preaches to others and how to "play the game" does not guarantee he would win a wreath if he doesn't practice what he preaches. That is why he runs in such a way with a goal in mind and makes his body his slave. The reward would be great.

Now also, if anyone competes, he is not crowned unless he shall have competed lawfully. 2 Tim. 2:5

Now at the end of his life, the discipline had paid off. He was a winner and the fear of being disqualified is behind him.

6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but to all who crave His appearing. 2 Tim. 4:6-8

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  • Thanks, Sherrie! I appreciated the historical context you gave, and your answer helped me understand the passage much better!!
    – Gremosa
    Apr 15 at 14:03
  • Great, It's always encouraging to hear that!
    – Sherrie
    Apr 15 at 17:02
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ἀδόκιμος (1 Corinthians 9:27) [1.]

Two primary positions.

(a.) Potential loss of heavenly reward (not including eschatological salvation).

Mark Taylor:

The meaning of “unapproved” is contextually determined and depends on what is being tested. The immediate context has to do with subordinating everything to the gospel. To infer that “disqualification” in this context means the ultimate loss of salvation is to push the analogy a bit far. [fn. 120: So also Thiselton, First Corinthians, 716–17. Paul certainly makes the point earlier in the letter that those who practice idolatry, as well as other vices, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-11). Paul also presumes that genuine faith will persevere (cf. 15:2).] An important consideration in this regard is what Paul has said already regarding the “testing” of the Day of the Lord (3:5–17), which will show the quality of one’s works. [fn. 121: In 3:13, “... the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” The verb translated “test” is δοκιμάζω. The notion of “testing” or being “approved” in 3:13 is similar to Paul’s expression of being “unapproved” in 9:27.] The end result is the loss of reward, but the individual himself is saved yet only as through fire (3:15). …Likewise, in 4:1-5 Paul reminds the Corinthians that he himself is not capable of rendering a final verdict concerning his own ministry and motives. Rather, it is the Lord who brings to light the secrets of darkness and reveals the desires of men’s hearts. God alone bestows praise on his servants. It seems reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the primary intent of the term “disqualified/unapproved” in this context has more to do with God’s final verdict on his people for which there will be both reward and loss. In terms of ultimate salvation Paul has the highest expectation for the Corinthian believers. We should recall the beginning of the letter where Paul addresses them as “those set apart in Christ Jesus” (1:2). His introductory prayer expressed confidence that God in his faithfulness would confirm them to the end blameless on the Day of the Lord (1:8–9). [fn. 122: See also Rom 8:31–39; Phil 1:3–6.] [2.]

(b.) Potential loss of heavenly reward (including eschatological salvation).

Thomas R. Schreiner:

Some interpreters argue that the disqualification (adokimos) meant that Paul would lose his reward in ministry, while his salvation would still be secure. Such a reading is understandable, but it strays from the context since Paul warns his readers about matters relating to salvation in 10:1–22. Furthermore, the Greek word here (adokimos) is regularly used by Paul to denote those who are disqualified in some way from genuine faith. Unbelievers have a ‘depraved [adokimon] mind’ (Rom. 1:28). Jesus Christ truly resides in the Corinthians, unless they ‘fail the test’ (adokimoi) – unless they are unbelievers (2 Cor. 13:5). Paul hopes the Corinthians will recognize his genuine faith (2 Cor. 13:6), ‘that we have not failed the test’ (ouk esmen adokimoi). He wants the Corinthians to progress in faith even if they think Paul has ‘failed’ (adokimoi, 2 Cor. 13:7). It would be better for the Corinthians to pass the test, even if they think Paul fails it! Jannes and Jambres are ‘worthless in regard to the faith’ (adokimoi peri tēn pistin, 2 Tim. 3:8, CSB), which clearly means they are unbelievers. The false teachers in Titus claim to know God but deny him by how they live, and are ‘unfit [adokimoi] for any good work’ (Titus 1:16, CSB). Running the race to win and competing with intensity are necessary to gain eternal life; thus Paul reminds the Corinthians that he has the same requirement as they have before he begins to warn them in chapter 10. [3.]

Gordon D. Fee:

While it is true that at the end of the next turn in the argument (10:13), after the severe warnings that have preceded (vv. 1-12), he once again puts his confidence in God to “keep them,” it would be sheer folly to suggest thereby that the warnings are not real. Paul keeps warning and assurance in tension. Simultaneously he exhorts and, by this and the following examples, warns the Corinthians of their imminent danger if they do not exercise “self-control” in the matter of idolatry; yet, as always (cf. on 5:8 and 6:11), he reminds them of their security in the prior activity of God, who has committed himself to them in Christ Jesus. In so doing – and again as always – he puts his final emphasis on God’s activity in our behalf. [4.]

Notes:

[1.] ἀδόκιμος (adokimos) is also found in Rom. 1:28; 2 Co. 13:5, 6, 7; 2 Ti. 3:8; Tit. 1:16; Heb. 6:8. Cf. LXX. (Septuagint) Pro. 25:4; Isa. 1:22.

[2.] Mark Taylor, The New American Commentary: Volume 28: 1 Corinthians, (Nashville: B&H, 2014), pp. 223-224. Cf. Anthony C. Thiselton: "Paul finally notes what an irony it would be if, after all his preaching to others, it should turn out to be the case that he himself should find, when all secrets are disclosed at the day of judgment (4:4-5), that he is not proven to stand the test (αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι). Although BAGD and most VSS understand this to mean unqualified, as well as not standing the test, this ignores the fact that the semantic content of ἀδόκιμος depends on what it is that is tested (δοκιμάζω). Here Paul indicates the test of subordinating everything to the gospel. The meaning is confirmed by Grimm-Thayer and by Schrage to mean not standing the test, in the sense of that which does not prove itself to be such as it ought (der die Bewährungsprobe nicht bestanden). As a metaphor it may be applied to sterile soil (Heb 6:8) or to base or impure metals or coins (Isa 1:22; Prov 25:6). However, Paul does not specify that he would be not approved (Grimm-Thayer’s second main possibility) as if to imply eschatological rejection or loss of salvation. The notion of that which does not prove itself to be such as it ought well captures the notion of purpose in relation to calling and verdict. The test reveals failures of an unspecified nature, not utter rejection. Fail to qualify (Collins) or disqualified (REB, NRSV, NJB) risks such an understanding, although NIV narrows the scope by continuing the metaphor, disqualified for the prize." {Anthony C. Thiselton, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), pp. 716-717.}; Mark Taylor: "This reading of 9:27 in no way mitigates the severity of Paul’s warnings regarding God’s judgment. There are ample warnings in Paul and in the rest of the New Testament to dispel any notions of false security. [fn. 123: For “proving/testing” language in Paul, see also 2 Cor 13:3-5. In terms of the language and the notion of human striving in 1 Cor 9:24–27, compare the striking parallels in Phil 3:7-21; Paul speaks of counting all things as loss and “gaining” Christ, pressing on for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ (3:14). Yet Paul clearly does not have in mind a works righteousness or human striving as a means of securing an eternal inheritance. Righteousness comes by faith (Phil 3:9). In Phil 3:17, as in 1 Cor 11:1, Paul urges others to follow his example. See also 2 Tim 2:5; 4:6-8.] It is certainly the case that there are many in the church who profess faith in Christ but who do not possess genuine faith. [fn. 124: Matt 7:21–27; Jas 2:14-26; 1 John 2:3–5.]" {Mark Taylor, The New American Commentary: Volume 28: 1 Corinthians, (Nashville: B&H, 2014), p. 224.}

[3.] Thomas R. Schreiner, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Volume 7: 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018), p. 196. Cf. Charles Kingsley Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 218; Roy E. Ciampa & Brian S. Rosner: "There is a greater likelihood that the last part of the verse might reflect a return to the athletic metaphor. Sampley argues that the word disqualified is “a technical term of athletics in which a competitor fails the test or is thrown out of the competition.” Such a technical usage, however, is not attested in any of the lexicons or dictionaries, Whether understood within the context of the previous athletic metaphor or not, the word clearly refers to God’s potential eschatological judgment on Paul (and also on the Corinthians). [fn. 51: Paul’s language reflects a concern not to be the kind of person referred to in Sir. 37:19: “One kind of person is clever at teaching others, yet is no good whatever to himself” (NJB).] It suggests being rejected as unworthy by the ultimate judge. Philo describes the history of Israel after receiving the law with its “gentle instructions and exhortations” as well as “threats and warnings” through the use of the image of the athletic contests, and allegorically describes the defeated as “whole lives that fall, which once overthrown can hardly be raised up again.” The image of “falling” (as in the previous sentence) is used both in Philo and Paul to refer to ultimate divine rejection. This is an important part of the rhetorical motivation (or parenesis/moral exhortation) essential to keeping the Corinthians from underestimating the dangerous position in which their attitudes and practices have placed them. As Garland puts it, “Paul is engaged in moral exhortation and not discoursing on the security of the believer.” He wants the Corinthians to ask, as does Chrysostom, “Now if Paul feared this, who had taught so many, and feared it after his preaching … ; what can we say?” One of the ways in which God secures the perseverance of believers is by such stern warnings." {Roy E. Ciampa & Brian S. Rosner, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The First Letter to the Corinthians, (Nottingham: Apollos, 2010), pp. 421-422.}; Cf. David E. Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), on 1 Cor. 9:27.

[4.] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians: Revised Edition, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2014), p. 486.

Καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν.

~ Soli Deo Gloria

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This is a good question, for it clearly shows that faith alone, without efforts and discipline on the part of a believer does not suffice for salvation, for "disqualified" here has a strong sense of being disqualified for winning the crown of righteousness and salvation (2 Tim 4:8) for which crown a Christian should athleticize, should run analogously to a sportsman (1 Cor 9:24), for like a sportsman if he slackens and does not run properly will lose the perishable crown, so a Christian unless he labors for fulfilling commandments of Christ will lose the imperishable crown (ibid. 9:25) and this is the meaning of "disqualified".

In fact, one can teach righteousness and use all the repertoire of a good and convincing rhetoric, outdo even the Lord Himself in beautiful tropes of speech, but not try in his inner life to imitate the Lord and be, in fact, inapt for the Kingdom, for Kingdom of Heaven is not conquered by words, but by faith combined with good fight against sins (cf. Luke 16:16), for nobody enters the Kingdom by literature and belles lettres,or even by the best knowledge of the Scripture with all its philological nuances, but by co-operation with power of Lord: "Quia non cognovi literaturam, introibo in potentias Domini" (Psal 71:15) - "For since I have not known literature and belles lettres, I will enter [the Kingdom] in/through the power of Lord".

Paul was strong, though, both in words and in deeds (2 Cor. 10:11).

All this shows a wrongness or rather a lunacy of all those hyper-Augustinian (albeit St Augustine himself is not so uni-lateral on this account, of course) and Calvinist pietist sects who relegate all things only to divine grace and downplay human initiative and efforts in co-operation, συνεργεία with divine operation of grace, for both are necessary for salvation.

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