On Easter Morning I completed and submitted a requested essay on 1 Corinthians 9:27. The request came because of my part in writing The Race Set Before Us. I intend to offer a few blog installments that derive from my essay. I have not yet determined how many installments there will post. Eventually, I may have opportunity to post a link to the essay. We shall see.
The passage I address in my essay is 1 Corinthians 9:23-27. I connect verse 23 with verses 24-27 in order to preserve the coherence of Paul’s concern with spiritually benefitting from the gospel he preaches.
And I do all things on account of the gospel, in order that I might be a fellow partaker of it. Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize. Run in such a manner that you might win. And everyone who competes in the arena engages in rigorous self-discipline in all things. Therefore they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we do it for an imperishable one. Therefore, I run in such a manner as not to be aimless; I box in such a manner as not to punch the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, lest after I have preached to others, I myself should be a reprobate (1 Cor 9:23-27).
Interpretations of the passage diverge in two opposite but shortsighted directions based upon a preemptive question that biases responses. Does Paul fear that he might not persevere in salvation but perish and be lost in perdition in the end? This question dominates discussions of the passage, whether the response given is affirmative or negative. Interpretations focus upon the meaning and use of adokimos (ἀδόκιμος) in 9:27. Does adokimos refer to eternal perishing? If so, how? If not, then to what does it refer? Expositors who answer with the negative tend to fasten upon another question: Is Paul simply afraid that he might lose a reward that has nothing to do with salvation itself?
A more basic and more foundational question needs to be posed and answered. This question tends to get pushed aside and ignored in favor of the simplistic and reductionistic question that dominates. The question that we should ask concerning Paul’s passage is: What is the function that Paul assigns his athletic imagery in 1 Corinthians 9:23-27? This is the question that guided the exegetical and theological work that Tom Schreiner and I did on warnings and admonitions in The Race Set Before Us. It is the question that should constrain us first before we yield to the popular and simplistic question that I mention above.
Before we pose the fundamental question concerning 1 Corinthians 9:23-27 and offer the interpretation that persuades me that best explains Paul’s passage, however, I will identify other interpretations, that are guided by the popular simplistic question, and I will critically engage them.
Subsequent entries will address the Loss of Eternal Salvation View and then variations on what I call Extra-Salvation Loss Views. Critique of the former will be briefer than that of the latter. I will address three variations on Extra-Salvation Loss Views: (1) Loss of Eternal Rewards View; (2) Loss of Testimony for the Gospel View; and (3) Loss of Divine Approval of Apostleship View.