Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):

Sports, Games and Their Influence On the Christian Life

Of what if any value are sports and games to a genuine Christian? Are organized, competitive sports a proper form of entertainment, recreation, or livelihood? What about the "WINNING ATTITUDE" so much demanded by coaches? Is it really a "SINNING ATTITUDE"? Where did spectator sports and games originate? What should a Christian do about them?

by HOIM Staff

The Tyndale Bible Encyclopedia admits that in ancient Israel, the Hebrews had little time or inclination for physical sports. Sports, so highly touted in the world today, is nowhere mentioned in either the Old or New Testaments of the Bible as a truly desirable form of activity for YEHOVAH God's people -- believe it or not!

Search high and low in the Bible, and you will find very little that could be interpreted as YEHOVAH's recommendation or approval of sports and athletic contests!

There is no indication that sports were practiced by Abraham or his sons, the patriarchs. There is no indication in the Scriptures that Yeshua the Messiah, our example and Elder Brother, ever participated in organized sports and games, or such contests as boxing, ball games, track and field events, or the like.

Let us face it: Have sports been far too highly touted in modern times and credited with things they can never achieve? If sports are really so valuable in forming true Christian character, then why is the Bible silent about them? Why did Yeshua never mention them?

Have you ever wondered about that?

What does YEHOVAH God's word say about physical sports and their proper place in life?

Notice this shocking fact: "When introduced by Hellenizing Jews in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and patronized by Jason the high priest, the Greek love of sport was considered IRRELIGIOUS" (vol. 1, page 541 ).

The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during the first century after the Messiah, gives us more insight into what was occurring in Israel during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Josephus writes: "...Menelaus and the sons of Tobias were distressed, and retired to Antiochus, and informed him, that they were desirous to leave the laws of their country, and the Jewish way of living according to them, and to follow the king's laws, and the Grecian way of living: wherefore they desired his permission to build them a GYMNASIUM AT JERUSALEM. And when he had given them leave, they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks. Accordingly, they left off all the customs that belonged to their own country, and IMITATED the practices of other nations" (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book XII, chapter V, 1).

These Jewish apostates were forsaking the truth and laws of YEHOVAH God. They were embracing paganism wholeheartedly. They eagerly desired to follow the customs of the Greeks, with their emphasis on athletics, and their virtual worship of the "body beautiful"! They were apostatizing from the revealed truth of YEHOVAH God and jettisoning the laws of YEHOVAH, in order that they might be respected and accepted by their pagan, Gentile neighbors!

Accordingly, they even tried to hide the fact that they were circumcised. These Jewish renegades from the truth of YEHOVAH God endeavored to appear uncircumcised when they performed in the Greek athletic contests, by means of a surgical operation. The laws of YEHOVAH God had become an embarrassment to them!

But this was just the beginning -- the introduction, as it were. Soon the ways of the Gentiles were replacing YEHOVAH God's truth at every level of society. Antiochus Epiphanes, once he had made these inroads among the more liberal elements of the Jews, began to repeal all the Mosaic laws, and simply replaced them with Grecian laws and customs. He banned the Law of Moses, and all the holy books were burned that he could find. He abolished the Temple sacrifices, and even installed a statue in the Temple of God dedicated to Zeus-Yahveh. The Temple was profaned, swine was sacrificed on the altar, and all copies of the Jewish Scriptures were ordered to be destroyed! Circumcision was forbidden. YEHOVAH's dietary laws were abolished. And any who were found clinging to the laws of YEHOVAH God, and obeying Him, were executed. Many gave their lives in martyrdom, rather than compromise with the laws of YEHOVAH and their holy faith!

But notice! All these diabolical, Satanic schemes began ever so innocently, at least on surface appearance! At first it was merely a matter of athletics!

Of course, The New Bible Dictionary points out, "there can be little doubt that, despite the absence of specific references, running, throwing and hunting were undertaken on occasions when they were not a necessity" (p. 451).

Jacob's wrestling match with the angel shows that wrestling was done by young men as a sport and test of strength (Genesis 32:24-26). Nevertheless, there is a huge difference between local, personal sports contests, held in fun, and huge gymnasium sports held in giant arenas as a test of skill in front of thousands of spectators.

Sports, as a paid profession, was unknown among the people of YEHOVAH God. Even amateur athletics, on a grand scale, with huge arenas, were foreign to the way of life of the ancient people of YEHOVAH. Such contests were introduced into ancient Israel by the Greeks, after the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great, and subsequently by Antiochus Epiphanes, and later by the Romans.

But the real advent of public games and spectator sports, in Israel, first began during the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, approximately 169 years before the Messiah.

We read in the book of I Maccabees, "There sprang from them a sinful shoot named Antiochus Epiphanes, the son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome and he became king in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the Greek kingdom. In those days there arose out of Israel lawless men who persuaded many, saying, 'Let us go and make a treaty with the heathen around us, for ever since the time we became separated from them, many misfortunes have overtaken us.'

"The plan seemed good in their eyes, and some of the people went eagerly to the king and he authorized them to introduce the practices of the heathen. And they built a GYMNASIUM in Jerusalem, in the heathen fashion, and submitted to uncircumcision, and disowned the holy agreement; they allied themselves with the heathen and became the slaves of wrongdoing" (I Macc. 1:10-15).

Notice! Among the "practices of the heathen" were spectator sports events held in huge edifices called arenas or gymnasiums!

The word "gymnasium" itself is very interesting. The World Book Encyclopedia points out that "The word gymnasium comes from a Greek word meaning to exercise naked. In ancient Greece, the word was used to mean public places set aside for athletic sports. Greek boys and young men wore no clothes when taking part in games, in order to have freedom of bodily movement."

Isaac Asimov in his Guide to the Bible, relates that "Alexander the Great, in conquering the Persian Empire, did more than merely make himself king over vast tracts of land. He introduced Greek culture to the east. This culture has always been a very attractive one and it was widely adopted. All of Asia Minor became Greek in culture if not in race...

"The Jews were not immune to the attractiveness of Greek culture, any more than they were immune to Canaanite culture in the days of the judges and the kings, or to American culture today. In the time of the Seleucids, there were many among them who wanted to 'assimilate,' and to establish gymnasia after the Greek fashion ... " (p. 49, vol. II).

At the gymnasia, the Greeks were accustomed to exercise in the nude. "This in itself was horrifying to those Jews who clung to the old ways," writes Asimov. "Worse still, Jews who exercised in the nude could clearly be seen to be circumcised; to avoid this embarrassment, the custom arose of wearing false foreskins, thus making them 'uncircumcised.'"

Thus Antiochus Epiphanes did all in his power to "Hellenize" the Jews and to spread Greek culture in Israel. The Seleucid rulers like all the Macedonian rulers were seriously intent on spreading Greek culture everywhere they went, since they felt it was superior by far to all other cultures.

But what does YEHOVAH God say in His holy word about adopting the ways and practices and customs of the heathen?

YEHOVAH God told Israel in the days of Moses, through whom He gave His law: "When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, where thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land, take heed to thyself that thou BE NOT SNARED BY FOLLOWING THEM, after they are destroyed from before thee, and that thou inquire not: after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? Even so will I do likewise.

"THOU SHALT NOT DO SO UNTO THE LORD THY GOD, for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods" (Deut. 12:29-31).

"But surely," some will scoff, "athletics is just athletics, sports. It was not done in honor of any pagan deity or idol god. So what's wrong with it?"

What are the facts?

One of the most common sins is that people assume something to be true, when it isn't. They merely assume; then they proceed according to their own human reason, and do what is right in their own eyes!

YEHOVAH God said through Moses, "Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes" (Deut.12:8).

As true Christians, we are commanded to live by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). What, then, is the origin of spectator sports, team athletics performed in huge arenas and stadiums? Is it a godly custom which YEHOVAH God introduced to His people in Israel?

The truth may shock and surprise you! The origin of human athletic contests is not so innocent as the devil would have you believe!

The Shocking Origin of Competitive Sports

Now I have already shown that there is nothing in the Bible to condemn such personal sports as hunting, fishing, canoeing, running, wrestling, archery, or merely fun games where boys and girls, men and women choose up teams and play some game -- for the fun of it, and for the fellowship and exercise!

But notice carefully! I said, "FOR THE FUN OF IT" -- not to strive to show oneself the "best," or the "winner," or better than somebody else! That is distinctly not YEHOVAH's way!

YEHOVAH intended sports and athletics merely to serve as a means to discipline, tone up, and strengthen the body, so that it may serve us better. He never intended sports to become an end in itself, or for professional sports to become a modern day idol or form of idolatry! (How many more people cheer at some football game on Saturday or Sunday than go to Church to hear the Word of YEHOVAH God preached?!!!)

YEHOVAH never intended young people to become so serious about a mere "game" that they struggle and strive and fight in order to "BEAT" some other team or individual! What the world calls "combative" sports -- which can include any sport where you have a human opponent -- seems to very quickly get out of hand, leading to wrong attitudes, pride and feelings of animosity, hard feelings, intense dislike, because people take such games far too seriously! Riots and murder have occurred at the sites of professional sports, particularly soccer or football games in Europe or South America!

In ancient times in central America, the Mayans held ball games-- vigorous athletic contests -- where the team that lost the game were all put to death! They literally "played for their life"!

But before we discuss the origin of athletic contests and spectator sports, as such, notice a revealing account of the introduction of the pagan Greek athletic contests during the time of Antiochus Maccabbees. This account is from eye witness sources, and is known as II Maccabbees. The author relates: "But when Seleucus departed this life and Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes, succeeded to the kingdom, Onias' brother Jason obtained the high priesthood by corruption, promising the king in his petition three hundred and sixty talents of silver, and eighty talents from other revenues. Besides this he promised to pay a hundred and fifty more, if he was given authority to set up a gymnasium and a training place for youth there and to enroll the people of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch. When the king had consented, and he had taken office, he immediately brought his countrymen over to the Greek way of living. He set aside the royal ordinances especially favoring the Jews...and abrogating the lawful ways of living he introduced new customs contrary to the Law. For he willingly established a GYMNASIUM right under the citadel, and he made the finest of the young men wear the Greek hat. And to such a pitch did the cultivation of Greek fashions and the coming-in of foreign customs rise, because of the excessive wickedness of this godless Jason, who was no high priest at all, that the priests were no longer earnest about the services of the altar, but disdaining the sanctuary and neglecting the sacrifices, they hurried to take part in the unlawful exercises in the wrestling school, after the summons to the discus-throwing, regarding as worthless the things their forefathers valued, and thinking Greek standards the finest."

This eye witness account of the invasion of ancient Judah by pagan customs, including the Greek games, as they were called, is found in the book of II Maccabbees (4:17).

Notice that these "useless," foolish games and contests included such things as "discus-throwing," and wrestling bouts. Other games included chariot races, and even gladiatorial bouts. The Roman Coliseum was to become famous the world over as a site for cruel and wicked games to entertain the masses. Some of these games later included feeding Christians to wild beasts and lions!

But now -- what of their origin? Where did spectator sports contests begin?

Notice the astounding truth!

The World Book Encyclopedia says, "Early societies used sports to train people for survival and for war. Then, as people learned to live together more peacefully, sports festivals developed. The first recorded Olympic Games took place in Greece in 776 B.C." (Article "Sports").

This same authority declares, "Athletics played an important part in the religious festivals of the ancient Greeks. The people believed such competition pleased the spirits of the dead. The religious festivals honored the gods, and many Greek tribes and cities held one every four years. These festivals probably began before 1400 B.C.

"In time, four national festivals developed -- the Isthmian, Nemean, Olympic, and Pythian games. The Olympic Games, which ranked as the most important, honored Zeus, the king of the gods" ("Olympic Games," vol. 14, p. 570).

Thus the pagan nature and origin of international sports festivals, such as the Olympic Games, is plainly revealed and is thoroughly documented. Any encyclopedia will tell you the same thing. Such sports festivals are PAGAN. They were originally created to honor pagan gods, and were an important part of pagan religious exercises to honor their gods!

What does YEHOVAH God say about His people allowing themselves to become part of this world's pagan religious festivals, which have their pagan origin written right in their foreheads?

What does YEHOVAH God say about such competitive sports and athletic contests, witnessed by millions?

Oh, of course they can be exciting, thrilling, and cause one's blood to race. But are they of any value? Do they really train young men to become better men? Do they really develop righteous, godly character?

The apostle Paul knew better. He was inspired by YEHOVAH God to write very plainly, for all to see: "But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little, but GODLINESS IS PROFITABLE UNTO ALL THINGS, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (I Tim. 4:7-8).

Notice how the apostle Paul "put down" the exaggerated emphasis on sports and athletics. Under YEHOVAH's divine inspiration he wrote that bodily exercise is of LITTLE value -- of little worth! It does not build righteous or godly character. All too often, it does the exact opposite, teaching young men combative instincts, and developing a COMPETITIVE spirit -- just like the diabolical spirit and attitude of Satan the devil!

Do you see and comprehend the danger?

Little by little, Satan attempts to make inroads to subvert YEHOVAH God's people. He begins with what seems like a "little thing." Something which looks innocuous of itself, such as the concept of sports or athletics. But then it becomes overemphasized, exaggerated in importance. A competitive spirit is nurtured, and encouraged, and fed -- a spirit of fierce aggressiveness (within the laws of the game, of course) -- a spirit of reckless abandon to win, a spirit of "win at all costs."

This attitude is taught to small children playing baseball, soccer, and basketball. Cheerleaders only cheer for their own team, and in high school sports contests the attitude is all too often reflected in the cheers -- "Stomp 'Em!" "Beat 'Em!" "Thrash 'Em!" "Murder 'Em!" It is the exact same spirit as that of Satan the Devil.

The spirit of competition is wrong! It is evilish!

The Spirit of Competition

Vince Lombardi, famed coach of the Green Bay Packers, a professional football team which he coached from obscurity to several championships, had the philosophy that is emphasized today in modern sports. He is reputed to have said, "Winning Isn't Everything, Winning is the ONLY Thing!" It is so sad, so sorry, so ridiculous! People exalt sports to the level of LIFE ITSELF! But playing "games" will not build you the kind of righteous, holy CHARACTER to enter into the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God! If games were valuable to do that, Yeshua the Messiah would have said so -- and he didn't!

Rather, from YEHOVAH God's point of view the purpose of games is only to relax, have fun, and fellowship with others of like minds. It should not be to develop competitiveness, or to show "who is best," or "who is the best team"! What difference does that make, anyhow? Who remembers the scores of yesteryear's ball games? Only some foolish fanatic when it comes to sports -- and sadly, there are sports fanatics, just as there are other kinds of fanatics! There are "true believers" in SPORTS, who put their ideas of sports ahead of the plain Word of YEHOVAH God!

The plain truth is that character is not built by playing sports, or football, or basketball; simply put, character is built by overcoming obstacles, overcoming human nature, disciplining your mind and body. Of course the way one plays at sports does reflect his character to some degree; and some men have overcome great odds to even be able to play certain games; and in overcoming those personal odds and handicaps, they may well have built character. But it was not the game that did it. It was the fighting against self, against temptation to let up, to give up, to quit when things got tough!

However, the lesson YEHOVAH God wants us to learn is that greatest enemy is not some other person in a game -- it is ourself! It is our own human nature!

One can build more character by developing such skills as running, hunting, fishing, swimming, hiking, and various individual activities, than engaging in team sports, although team sports in themselves are not necessarily wrong -- as long as the right attitude of love and compassion on the weak is never for one moment forgotten or ignored or neglected!

Paul on occasion used physical sports as an analogy to teach a lesson in spiritual overcoming. But he never did so in order to encourage physical athletics themselves. He wrote to the Corinthians, in the best known passage dealing with this subject, "Know ye not that they (athletes in the world) who run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run (in the Christian race to overcome sin), that ye may obtain (eternal life).

"And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we, an incorruptible.

"I, therefore, so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Cor. 9:24-27).

Does this passage encourage participlation in team sports or athletics? Not at all. Rather, it uses an analogy of what an athlete does to train with what we as Christians should be doing to master ourselves, spiritually, so we can inherit eternal life!

But as for the pagan athletic festivals of this world, what does YEHOVAH God say?

Some people think a little compromise is all right; a little sin is okay. They seem to have the attitude of Naaman the Syrian general who was cleansed by Elishah the prophet of YEHOVAH God of his leprosy by bathing seven times in the Jordan River. Upon acknowledging the miracle performed by the God of Israel, nevertheless, Naaman said to the prophet, "For thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord. In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon; when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing" (II Kings 5:17-18).

YEHOVAH doesn't want partial love or obedience. He wants our wholehearted obedience and worship and love! He wants our worship unmixed and undiluted and unadulterated with heathen, pagan customs and practices!

YEHOVAH says, "Ye shall therefore keep all my statutes, and all mine ordinances, and do them; that the land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, spew you not out. And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nations, which I cast out before you; for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, who have SEPARATED YOU from other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean; and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.

"And ye shall be holy unto me; for I, the Lord, am holy, and have separated you from other people, that ye should be mine" (Lev.20:22-26).

YEHOVAH wants His people to be DIFFERENT! We are not to be like the world around us, in fashions, in food, in sexual practices, in following pagan customs and ceremonies, or by joining with them in worshipping the idol of modern athletics, sports contests, and spectator games. It is the way of Rome! It is the way of ancient pagan Greece! For these customs the peoples of those lands were defiled in the eyes of YEHOVAH God!

YEHOVAH says, instead, to His people, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

"And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

"Wherefore, come out from among them, and BE YE SEPARATE, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (II Cor. 6:14-17).

Sports contests today do not honor YEHOVAH God. They are a distraction of the world away from the things of YEHOVAH God. The international Olympic Games are not held in honor of YEHOVAH, but derive from ancient paganism.

YEHOVAH says, "NOW therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish anything from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you....Keep, therefore, and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (Deut. 4:l6).

YEHOVAH God does not enjoy truth mixed with paganism; His laws mixed with pagan relics and superstitions; His Word mixed up with Gentile, heathen customs and practices!

YEHOVAH calls this modern world "Babylon the Great." Its customs and festivals are all pagan in origin. It is the society and world of Satan the devil (Rev. 12:4, 9). Should Christians look upon modern athletics the way the world does? Should Christians participate, and get wrapped up in sports? Should Christian youth programs stress team sports, which emphasize by their very nature competition, the competitive spirit, and aggressiveness?

YEHOVAH God Almighty, our Heavenly Father, says, in answer to these direct questions: "COME OUT OF HER, MY PEOPLE, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4).

Have we completely come out of this world yet?

What about you?


Hope of Israel Ministries -- Courage for the Sake of Truth is Better Than Silence for the Sake of Unity!

Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.

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