Athletic games were an important part of Greek cultural life; they included races on foot and in chariots, and were staged in honour of the gods. As pagan customs they were abhorrent to orthodox Jews when they were promoted by Hellenists in Jerusalem (2 Macc. 4: 7–12).

However, the metaphor of racing is used by Paul without any pejorative sense (1 Cor. 9: 25; Phil. 1: 30) and no doubt he had often been a spectator. It was a form of intense striving and a good model for Christian self-discipline and effort. A picture of cheering witnesses in the stadium watching the races is offered by the epistle to the Hebrews (12: 1–2) by way of encouraging fellow Christians on the course of life.