Ministry Resources

The Bible and Exercise

Author: Dr. Craig Keener

If exercise is so important, why doesn’t the Bible mention it more?

The motto of one very successful Bible college basketball team was, “For bodily exercise profiteth” (1 Tim 4:8), though the verse in that version went on to read, “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things.” The NIV and NRSV both say here, probably more helpfully, “physical training is of some value,” but again qualify this in context as physical training being valuable for this life, but godliness being valuable for both this life and the life to come. Ancient speakers often used illustrations like this. They took for granted that physical training was useful but used that observation to emphasize that, if so, how much more important was it to train one’s mind or moral values.

Personally, I find I can be more efficient and function better on every level if I am physically active. So why doesn’t the Bible talk more about exercise?

Here I have learned from my wife’s life in Africa. When living in her home town, her family did not ordinarily have to exercise deliberately (though stretching might still be helpful at times). When you walk miles to and from the market, chop wood, draw water and so forth, you get exercise in the course of your daily life. Of course one could exercise anyway; one of her brothers, who worked out, was particularly strong. But a physically active life in some settings is normal; it is our more sedentary culture in the urban West that requires more deliberate exercise.

The same was probably true of most people in antiquity, except for the very wealthy. The vast majority of people had to till soil, chase livestock, or, like Paul and his companions, walk long distances. Even within a town such as Corinth, most people had to walk from one place to another, say from their upper-story apartment to a nice-sized house church in the Kranion, Corinth’s wealthy suburb.

People with an active physical lifestyle may not need to be exhorted to exercise. It was understood that most people procured food “by the sweat of your brow” (Gen 3:19). In the less physically active settings in which many of us live and work, however, exercise is a very good idea.

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