1 Corinthians 9:24 two dilemmas


Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

This seems to mean that only one person gets to Heaven, or maybe one person in a generation, or maybe one person every four years. Sounds really discouraging and scary.

St. John Chrysostom said other people can win also…
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” Now this he saith, not as though here also one only out of many would be saved; far from it; but to set forth the exceeding diligence which it is our duty to use. For as there, though many descend into the course not many are crowned, but this befalls one only… but unless we have so run as unto the end to show ourselves unblameable, and to come near the prize, it will profit us nothing."

DILEMMA ONE: As much as I love and admire this Godly, brilliant Saint, I do disagree. First he contradicts himself by saying others can win and then says that the prize (Heaven) “befalls only one”. Then he says that if you “come near the prize” you can win – losers can win! St Paul would not have made the analogy in the first place and would not have specifically said “only one gets the prize” if he did not mean exactly that.

I can think of two explanations around this dilemma…

First, St Paul was referring to the “prize” as going directly to Heaven at death and then St. John explains that the other “losers” must stop in Purgatory first before Heaven. This seems clumsy and not in keeping with the passage because I feel sure the apostles and martyrs did not go to Purgatory.

Second, takes a little explanation. Biblical races are run in “heats”. There were many preliminary races, heats, to whittle the field down to the final race. We can win a heat (but not win the final race) and still win the prize. What are the heats? One heat is family and relatives, another is co-workers, another is friends, another is neighbors, another is a Church group and so forth, so we have a lot of chances to win heats and the prize.

DILEMMA TWO: Regardless of the above we are undoubtedly in a competition with fellow believers. It is a competitive race with one winner and lots of losers. We are racing against each other! Leave the others in the dust! Kinda an unfamiliar concept, aren’t we supposed to be humble and let the other person go first?


Paul is speaking of athletic contests in this world. The next verse makes it clear that our effort to reach heaven is different:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.
Paul says that runners train and compete for a prize that is temporary. His point, I believe, is that we should similarly train and discipline ourselves for the prize that lasts forever.

St. John Chrysostom did not contradict this. When he said “For as there, though many descend into the course not many are crowned, but this befalls one only,” he was only paraphrasing Paul’s verse 24.


The conclusion of the analogy is stated in the verse itself: “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” The conclusion is not: “so too with heaven, only one person can get in.” That may be true of human races; it is not true of this race, and St. Paul does not include such a conclusion in his analogy.


OP, you make a very good point, but w/ God,
the Last shall be First and the First, Last!!
This is what the parables of the vineyard
owner who goes and hires servants to work
in His vineyard. They ALL received wages
but those who worked in the heat of the day
got the SAME reward!!
So there is a conundrum here, will One get
the prize and All get a reward, will One be
saved or All who believed get saved?
I believe that as many as have KEPT the
Faith will be saved and Some who were
Over-comers in their Christian walk will be
rewarded see Rev. 2-3(the Letters of Christ
to the Seven Churches).


Different kinds of races require different kinds of competition and admit of different kinds of rewards.

Make the distinction and the difficulty disappears.


Paul also meant to speak of discipline of the mind and body (see verse 27). Athletes endure many hardships to strengthen themselves. They work out on a regular schedule. They eat the right foods. They do not eat or drink to excess. Some of the best athletes (even today) abstain from sex prior to a competition. Athletes do these things willingly, gladly, not grudgingly, to win a prize that does not last. Paul says that the same sort of commitment, willingness, and attention to discipline, of both mind and body, are called for in our own efforts to win the eternal prize.


Thanks for the replies but I am still confused. Yes the ultimate point of the passage is to train ourselves to get to heaven and run that way. Nonetheless he says “only one gets the prize”. He is comparing the human races to the spiritual races (thereby making it a good comparison) and in BOTH “only one gets the prize.” If lots of people go to Heaven who are race “losers” then what is the “prize”? If he is simply encouraging us to run to win then why mention the very definite and specific “only one” and “prize”? That would be misleading, which surely is not the case. The “only one” and “prize” mean something definite but I can’t figure it out.


Compare and contrast with his criticism of “the crown of flowers that withers and fades” as opposed to the “crown which lasts forever.” It is the VERY NEXT VERSE. He is saying we must run to defeat temptation and sin and everlasting death - race so as to win. If athletes will train hard and run hard to win a race, how should we treat our journey to Heaven? Like we actually want to get there, at least as if we were running some ultimately meaningless race.


It’s just an analogy regarding training, striving, disciplining. We don’t compete against each other even; only against ourselves.


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