“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (NKJV)
The King James Version translates the end of 1 Cor 9:27 in this way: “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (emphasis added). The word castaway in modern English means “a shipwrecked person, anything cast adrift or thrown away, an outcast” (dictionary.com). That translation could imply loss of everlasting life or at least a statement that the Apostle Paul feared he might not be born again. A website called av1611.com defines castaway as “That which is thrown away. A person abandoned by God, as unworthy of his favor; a reprobate. 1 Cor. 9:27.”
The New King James Version, cited above, translates adokimos (the Greek word in question) as disqualified. Many translations choose that word (NASB, NIV, HCSB, NET, MEV, RSV, NRSV). The word disqualified means “1. to deprive of qualification or fitness; render unfit; incapacitate. 2. to deprive of legal, official, or other rights or privileges; declare ineligible or unqualified. 3. Sports. to deprive of the right to participate in or win a contest because of a violation of the rules” (dictionary.com). That word is more ambiguous concerning eternal destiny than is castaway. Still there are many who understand the “prize” in 1 Cor 9:24-27, for which Paul fears being disqualified, to refer to everlasting life. In their 2001 book The Race Set Before Us, Schreiner and Caneday say, “Warnings and admonitions call for faith that endures to receive the prize. The prize is salvation, eternal life…If one abandons the race one will not receive the prize” (p. 40). Of course, Free Grace people understand the prize to refer to ruling with Christ and thus the disqualification is understood as missing out on ruling with Christ in His kingdom.
But both of those translations are bad translations. Those translations introduce needless, potential confusion.
The Greek word is adokimos. The letter “a” in front of a Greek word will reverse its meaning. The same is true in English. The opposite of typical is atypical. The opposite of symmetrical is asymmetrical. The option of theist is atheist.
The word dokimos means approved. Here are all seven of the NT occurrences of dokimos:
“He who serves Christ…is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom 14:18).
“Greet Apelles, approved in Christ…” (Rom 16:10).
“For there must be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Cor 11:19).
“For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor 10:18).
“…not that we should appear approved…” (2 Cor 13:7).
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God…” (2 Tim 2:15).
“…but when he has been approved he will receive the crown of life…” (Jas 1:12).
To see an example of how translators sometimes get the wrong idea about the meaning of adokimos, look at how they translate dokimos and adokimos in 2 Cor 13:7:
“Now I pray that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved [dokimos], but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified [adokimos]” (2 Cor 13:7).
That is the translation used in the NKJV, LEB, and MEV. Some even have approved and reprobates there (KJV, GNV). I only found two translations, the NASB and Young’s Literal Translation, which render these words as approved and unapproved (or disapproved) in 2 Cor 13:7. (The Wycliffe translation is similar with approved and reprovable. Several translations have passed the test and failed the test.)
Paul was not concerned about his eternal destiny. He knew he was secure in Christ (1 Tim 1:16; 2 Tim 1:12). His concern was whether he would have the Lord’s approval at the Judgment Seat of Christ. He wanted to hear those blessed words, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17). In order to gain that approval, He had to endure in the faith (2 Tim 2:12; 4:6-8).
We who believe in Jesus for everlasting life know that we have that life. Now we should discipline our bodies and endure in the faith so that one day soon we would be approved by our Lord.