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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Games (2)

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GAMES.—In the Gospels there are none of the analogies from athletic contests which are frequently drawn in the Acts and the Epistles. This variety in the range of illustration is traced without difficulty to the different interests of the readers or hearers. The Hebrews, unlike the Greeks and Romans, gave little attention to games. The climate of their land may help to account for this, but the chief reason must be found in their view of life, which made it impossible for them to look upon games with the eye of the Greek. Where the Greek had his Isthmian games, the Hebrew had his Passover, or other solemn festival. The introduction of a gymnasium by Jason (2 Maccabees 4:7-19) was accounted an act of disloyalty to the faith of his fathers, and a surrender to Hellenic influences. He was accused of neglecting the altar for the palaestra. Herod is said by Josephus (Ant. xv. viii. 1) to have instituted solemn games in honour of Caesar; but such practices never won the approval of the Rabbis, or of the nation as a whole. Jesus preached to a people who knew little of the games of the Greeks, and who had been taught to hate what they knew. But in Galilee the children played their immemorial games:

‘A wedding or a festival,

A mourning or a funeral,

As if his whole vocation

Were endless imitation.’

(Wordsworth, Ode on Immortalily).

From such play Jesus drew a description of the generation which had listened to John the Baptist and Himself (Matthew 11:17, Luke 7:32). Two groups are playing in the market-place; the musicians are divided from the others. They pipe, but the children will not play: they suggest ‘funerals,’ but their comrades sulkily refuse to join. The parable is a vivid picture of the fickleness, sulkiness, and self-will of the contemporaries of Jesus. It is not necessary to read into the parable a condemnation of those who should have outgrown childish things but are still playing at life. The ‘musicians’ have been likened by some to Jesus and John the Baptist, by others to the people (see a discussion by Stalker in Expositor, 4th series, vol. vii. p. 29).

The soldiers probably played with dice when they cast lots for the garments of Jesus (Matthew 27:35); and they may have been playing a game when they said to Jesus, ‘Prophesy unto us, thou Christ; who is he that struck thee?’ (Matthew 26:68).

Jesus did not deal with the problems which arise in modern society from the growing importance of games in the scheme of life. As far as we know, He did not discuss the Rabbinical attitude to the Hellenic games; nor do the Apostolic writers hint of dangers to Christian converts from the contests. The ethical questions must be decided by an appeal to the interpretation of life in the Gospels, and especially to the estimate given by Jesus of the true relations between body and spirit. It is clear that to Him the body was not an end in itself (Matthew 10:28), but must become the docile servant of the soul (Matthew 18:8), even at the cost of severe discipline. Games will be approved where they give bodily effectiveness, that it may be the ‘earthly support’ of the endurance of the spirit. They Will be condemned if they lead to a neglect of the serious interests of life (Matthew 6:33), or of the duty owed to others. The Christian ideal of a life temperate and just does not include a life whose first interest is amusement, or one in which ‘distraction’ is necessary to prevent ennui (see Dorner, Christian Ethics, English translation p. 458).

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Games’; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] , Index, s. Games’; Expositor, i. v. [1877] 257.

Edward Shillito.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Games (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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