This question is aimed at those Christians who believe that someone saved can't become "unsaved" later.

At least in 1 Corinthians 9:27 apostle Paul says he is not sure whether he will be saved or not (AFAIK there are other verses like this, and of course other places where Paul expresses his hope he will be saved). Here it is:

27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV–1984)

Question is simple: how do those Christians interpret this?


  • If I may suggest an edit to the question: 'for the prize' isn't anywhere in Greek. It's a heavy interpretative addition. "ἀλλὰ ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ, μή πως ἄλλοις κηρύξας αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι." means "But I punish my body, and bring it into subjection, lest having preached the gospel to others, I myself might become disqualified/reprobate." St. Paul uses the Greek work adokimos to mean reprobate. Romans 1:28 etc. Most neutrally it means not-judged-proper or not-judged-to-be-fit. Also, "that they may receive a corruptible crown" Jesus calls "the crown of life.salvation. Jul 5, 2017 at 12:56

6 Answers 6


It's clear from your question that you are assuming "the prize" to be salvation, and that you believe that this verse speaks of our works earning our salvation, or at least our bad works possibly leading to the loss of our salvation.

However, to most reformed theologians, this is not the case. A deeper study of the original Greek, as well as application of sound principles of interpretation clears this up.

First, the principles of Biblical interpretation include the fact that Scripture cannot contradict itself. Paul is on record all throughout the New Testament as stating that salvation is by faith through grace, apart from any works or worthiness of man. It would make no sense for him to be saying so here, so we need to dig deeper.

Taking a look at the various commentaries on this verse, most are in agreement that the prize is not salvation. For example:

From Scofield Reference Notes

1 castaway

Gr. adokimos, "disapproved." Dokimos, without the private a, is translated "approved" in Rom 14:18 16:10 1Cor 11:19 2Cor 10:18 2Tim 2:15 Jas 1:12, by the word "tried." The prefix simply changes the word to a negative, i.e. not approved, or, disapproved. The apostle is writing of service, not of salvation. He is not expressing fear that he may fail of salvation but of his crown. See "Rewards" Dan 12:3 1Cor 3:14.

Another view from Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible hints that the prize is simply faithfulness and remaining a faithful servant so that he can achieve the ultimate prize of expanding Christ's kingdom - avoiding becoming a "useless preacher".

I myself should be a castaway, or rejected, or disapproved of; that is, by men: the apostle's concern is, lest he should do anything that might bring a reproach on the Gospel; lest some corruption of his nature or other should break out, and thereby his ministry be justly blamed, and be brought under contempt; and so he be rejected and disapproved of by men, and become useless as a preacher: not that he feared he should become a reprobate, as the word is opposed to an elect person; or that he should be a castaway eternally, or be everlastingly damned; for he knew in whom he had believed, and was persuaded of his interest in the love of God, and that he was a chosen vessel of salvation, that could not be eternally lost: though supposing that this is his sense, and these his fears and concern, it follows not as neither that he was, so neither that he could be a lost and damned person: the fears of the saints, their godly jealousies of themselves, and pious care that they be not lost, are not at all inconsistent with the firmness of their election, their security in Christ, and the impossibility of their final and total falling away; but on the contrary are overruled, and made use of by the Spirit of God, for their final perseverance in grace and holiness.

Calvin put the same thought this way:

Accordingly, I strive to conduct myself in such a manner, that my character and conduct may not be inconsistent with my doctrine, and that thus I may not, with great disgrace to myself, and a grievous occasion of offense to my brethren, neglect those things which I require from others.

Finally, if you're interested, there's no shortage of commentaries from the great thinkers here: http://www.preceptaustin.org/1_corinthians_927_commentary.htm

  • salvation is by faith through grace: did you mean “by grace through faith” by any chance? I think that usually when that combination of prepositions and nouns is used (especially in a Pauline context, especially from a reformed perspective), it’s echoing Ephesians 2:8.
    – Susan
    Mar 21, 2015 at 20:38
  • This is certainly one approach, but from what I can tell not the most common one among Reformed theologians. Scofield is not one I'd typically associate with Reformed theology, and I don't think that Calvin, read in context, lends much support to this approach. Jul 27, 2016 at 16:13
  • 1
    Whoah it is a first time Scofield is identified with reformed :)
    – pehkay
    Feb 11, 2019 at 23:56

Reformed theologians approach this verse in two ways:

  • Paul is striving for a prize other than salvation
  • Paul is proving, through his actions, that he is truly saved

Striving for a prize

John Gill and Charles Spurgeon are among those who argue that Paul here does not have his own salvation in mind. Instead, they see him to be striving for a prize above and beyond salvation. Spurgeon writes:

Paul was not afraid of being cast away by God at the last. What he aimed at was this, — as he had entered the lists, as a Christian minister, to fight for Christ, to wrestle against principalities and powers, to seek to win souls for Christ, he must keep his bodily powers and passions so in subjection that, at the last, when the prizes were distributed, he would be found to have won his. This is quite another matter from being “a castaway” from salvation and eternal life. (source; cf. John Gill)

Proving his salvation

Many Reformed commentators, however, take a different approach. They see Paul as engaged in an effort to prove that he is truly saved – he does not want, in the final analysis, to be found to be the seed that fell amidst the thorns and told "Depart from me" at the last day.1 John Piper explains the difference between "salvation by works" and Paul's striving here:

The race of life has eternal consequences not because grace is nullified by the way we run, but because grace is verified by the way we run. [...] Eternal life hangs on the way we run and the way we fight not because salvation is based on the merit of works, but because faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Life is a proving ground for whether faith is alive or dead—a proving ground for whom we trust. (source)

Wouldn't this imply, then that the apostle Paul doubted his eternal destiny? Reformed theologians typically hold that assurance of salvation is possible on earth, and surely if anyone had confidence in his own salvation, it was Paul. The Reformed Study Bible explains:

Paul was confident that absolutely nothing would be able to separate him from God's love (Rom. 8:38–39), but he never presumed that he was saved regardless of what he did. No Christian can afford to take lightly the warnings of Scripture.

Charles Hodge argues that only those "engaged in a life-struggle" against sin can have assurance:

The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other. It is only those who are conscious of this constant and deadly struggle with sin, to whom this assurance is given. In the very same breath Paul says, "O wretched man that I am;" and, "Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory." (source)

Along with other Reformed commentators, Hodge sees Paul's main concern here to be the Christian walks of the "reckless and listless Corinthians" who "thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin." Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown summarize:

Paul implies, if such earnest, self-denying watchfulness over himself be needed still, with all his labors for others, to make his own calling sure, much more is the same needed by the Corinthians, instead of their going, as they do, to the extreme limit of Christian liberty. (source)

1 In addition to the theologians quoted above, the following Reformed theologians take this approach:

  • If Paul is doing 'someting' lest 'something else'. If he doesn't do 'something', he will 'something else'. Unless St. Paul was compelled helplessly to 'chastize' his body? Jul 5, 2017 at 12:58
  • @SolaGratia Sorry, not sure what you are getting at? Jul 5, 2017 at 13:00
  • St. Paul chatizes his body so he 'might not become reprobate'. He clearly doesn't do it for the fun. Jul 5, 2017 at 13:34

Paul states "No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." As previously mentioned, the word 'prize' is not in the Greek. Adokimos can mean, not standing the test, not approved. So the above can mean, "No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disapproved". The question may be, disapproved by who? Many think this approval is by God but it may be the approval of those he preached to. If Paul didn't walk the walk, run the race effectively, he would be seen as a hypocrite, not to be trusted and not to be believed.

Romans 7:22-25

22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

In verse 25, Paul is assured of his deliverance from the flesh through Jesus Christ. So he is assured of his salvation through Christ from the sins of his flesh. So, the disapproval, even if by God, was not disapproval to damnation. But I think the disapproval he avoids is those he has preached to.

Romans 9:22

22 To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some".
For Paul, above all, he does not want them to stumble because of his hypocrisy. Remember, Paul is the one who said he wished to be accursed from Christ for the salvation of his kinsmen.

Romans 9:3

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,

Is Paul's approval he is seeking those he has preached to or the approval of God? In the context of the chapter, my conclusion is the approval of those he has preached to.


This passage has nothing to do with eternal security in any direct fashion and in an oblique fashion it assumes the security of the born again, spirit-filled believer. In chapter 9 Paul is naming the Corinthian believers as the seal or demonstration of his apostleship rather than any exertion of authority in the flesh:

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. - 1 Cor. 9:16-18

The whole chapter is Paul explaining why he has the right to take his living from those to whom he ministers the gospel and explaining why he does not avail himself of those rights. This is the "prize" for which he beats and enslaves his body: So that he may present the gospel without charge or perceived abuse of power.

The key word in OP "the adjective αδοκιμος (adokimos)" carries the meaning unaccepted, and thus by implication rejected or deemed either worthless or inapplicable. This doesn't mean that the thing considered is actually worthless, but only that it's been reckoned as such. Thus we are left to discern whether this reckoning of worthlessness is accomplished by God or by man.

The use of the exact same word, three times, in 2 Corinthians helps clear the matter:

Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates. Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. - 2 Corinthians 13:3-8

Paul's use of approved and reprobate here indicate the 'appearance' of the power of Christ in believers; strength and weakness. Paul trusts that they know he is not reprobate (v.6) though he appears as reprobate (v.7). The Corinthian Church is famous for putting the accent on outward, physical giftedness and Paul's response is that weakness in the flesh is strength in Christ. He would rather appear as reprobate (weak) according to fleshly reckoning in order that they who believe may actually be approved (strong) in Christ according to the Spirit.

Paul is not expressing concern, in 1 Cor. 9:27, that he might lose his salvation or the approval of God: He knows that he is accepted in the Beloved. His concern is that his proclamation of the Gospel not be marred by anything that we might perceive as self-serving; that he not be disqualified in our eyes. He wishes to present the Gospel without charge because it is given to us without charge.


Context is key, my friend.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 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.

In this context, Paul is talking about being disqualified from rewards! The Apostle Paul is speaking about a prize.

The thing is, salvation is not a prize for our good deeds. Otherwise, WHY did Jesus die and rise again? God could have just left us to ourselves to work our way into Heaven. If we need to keep commandments to be saved, Jesus died for nothing.

Yes, rewards can be lost. Privileges can be lost. That is the nature of rewards; you win or lose them based on your performance.

Privileges can also be lost.

Salvation is not a prize. It is not a privilege. It is not obtained because of our deeds. It is not a try-out or a qualification test for Heaven.

All religions teach salvation as something we obtain by our efforts. Any works salvation religion that claims to be Christian (Christian-flavored, rather) is no different than Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and other religions. Because in all religions, man must follow commandments (8-fold path, 5 pillars) to enter Heaven.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

To better understand this, please read 1 Corinthians 3, in which Paul teaches that you can win or lose rewards. If you are a lazy, unfruitful Christian, you do not win any rewards.

Read the Bible in proper context, dear friend! Because taking verses out of context is how you create false doctrines!

Remember, the Bible contains the following statements too!

And Judas went and hanged himself.

Go and do thou likewise.

If you were to take those two verses out of context, you could even justify murder!

Remember, Christianity looks to Jesus Christ, the Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace to save us.

Religion looks to man to follow a set of commandments.

The Lord Jesus Christ perfectly kept the commandments. He died for us.


As I read this passage, If I did not at least question my understanding of "one saved always saved", I would be intellectually dishonest. And there are quite a few verses in the bible that on face value can rightfully challenge that doctrine. This passage is one of them.

If I believe all of God word is true and without error, this verse in particular sure seems to say, "Hey, maybe salvation is a free gift, but we need to work (and work really hard!) to keep it." Sure seems to say that a great man of God like Paul is also in jeopardy of losing that gift. (wow... what hope have I?)

But then a multitude of verses come to mind written by the same man that really make him seem out of character here. And if I'm honest I would have to say it makes the whole bible look like it really is a bunch of contradictory fables.

So this is where faith comes in, as one is tested. One must trust that the spirit will guide to truth as we seek wisdom and His answers like we would search for gold and silver.

As I seek to understand this, I first look at the context of the chapter and ask what point is Paul trying to make in all those paragraphs together. What is his point in writing this section of the letter. Here is how I see it thus far.

Paul doesn't want to take money or anything from the congregation even though he is worthy and has the right to. (v1-12) A God ordained right I may add.(v14) He is making a defense to those who are examining (judging) him.(v3) He seems to be rather adamant in these verses to make sure everyone knows that he is deserving of these things and no could accuse him of wrong for taking these things but he list all these things he sacrifices (endures), he endures so these things won't be a stumbling block for any coming to an understanding of Christ(v12)

12 ...we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

I ask myself does the suffering here have any relation to what he is saying in verse 27 (discipline my body keep it under control)?

He goes on to talk about talking about how important preaching is to him and he would do whatever it takes to win others (v15-23)

Then we go onto running the race in verse 24. I ask myself what is the race? This is of course an metaphore so you have to read into it. The word race here is only used twice in the new testament. Here in 1 Co. and Hebrews 12. Neither which explain clearly what "the race" is.

Closest I could find at this point is the word "course" which might be related to the metaphore of "race". I assume it is safe to say Paul was not talking about a literal race but instead the path or "course" taken to get to the end of life.

Timothy actually uses "Course" and "Crown" in the same overall thought. Similar to the way 1 Co. 9 uses "Race" and "Wreath" in 24 and 25.

I really find it hard to believe how these two writers might be talking about different things. It seems to me they are just using different but similar words to express the same thing.

2 Ti 4:7-8

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

So in Timothy does "the race" have something to do with keeping the faith?

And according to Acts, is it to "testify to the gospel of the grace of God"? Acts 20:24

...if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

I guess I can argue that course and ministry are two separate things independent of each other, therefore course/race is not "to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." But I don't know.

It seems that all the verses in this chapter prior to 26 are building up an argument to help support his main point here in verses 26 and 27 So putting this chapter together with the others found in the bible I ask, Could I summarize this chapter into a paraphrase of verses 26 and 27 as

So I do not (run) testify to the gospel of the grace of God aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control. I beat it and make it a slave, (lest) so that after preaching to others I myself would not be a castaway, disapproved, disqualified from preaching the gospel, because I put an obstacle in the way of the gospel by giving those who are judging me an opportunity to discredit me by taking all your things.

Then in the very next chapter the very next sentence he says,

And I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren,

It seems the greek word "de" is connecting verse 27 to 10:1 and forward. It is translated "and, moreover, for, now , when". In a sense saying

I do not want to be disqualified from preaching to you because I don't want you to be ignorant and here are some of the things I want you to know. He goes on to teach them about the lessons from Israel in the wilderness ect..

I'm sure I am not 100% correct here but I think I am on the right track. It still troubles me how part of the metaphore in v24 ties in spiritually "but only one receives the prize". But that's OK for now. I'm gonna keep digging because these gold in them there hills :-)

I would love to hear any of your thoughts or corrections.

  • As this is not an internet forum, I am not sure what to make of this answer, however intriguing your understanding is. Please see how we are different from other sites. Jul 4, 2017 at 23:23
  • 2
    Welcome to Christianity.SE! Please take a few minutes for the tour. This is a really intriguing point of view, but do you know if that position aligns with any doctrine by your or any other denomination or group or is this merely your personal reflection on the subject?
    – Wtrmute
    Jul 5, 2017 at 15:13

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