Should Christians Play Chess?
Not too many ask this question as the game seems to be an innocent one. Should Christians play chess? There is no physical violence in this game as seen in many competitive sports like football, rugby etc. The dangers in playing chess are more subtle, disguised, and this is why many Christians can’t see any problem in playing chess.
Origins of chess game
Chess is believed to have originated in Eastern India during the Gupta empire, where its early form in the 6th century was known as chaturaṅga (Sanskrit: four divisions [of the military] – infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry, represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively). The earliest evidence of chess is found in the neighboring Sassanid Persia around 600, where the game came to be known by the name chatrang. Chatrang is evoked in three epic romances written in Pahlavi (Middle Persian). Chatrang was taken up by the Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of Persia (633–44), where it was then named shatranj, with the pieces largely retaining their Persian names. In Spanish “shatranj” was rendered as ajedrez (“al-shatranj”), in Portuguese as xadrez, and in Greek as ζατρίκιον (zatrikion, which comes directly from the Persian chatrang), but in the rest of Europe it was replaced by versions of the Persian shāh (“king”), which was familiar as an exclamation and became the English words “check” and “chess”. Murray theorized that Muslim traders came to European seaports with ornamental chess kings as curios before they brought the game of chess. (source: Wikipedia page)
Does the Bible speak about playing chess?
Because there is no evidence that chess existed earlier than the 6th century, we can’t assume that the game existed in the time of Jesus. This is why the biblical evidences will point towards principles about Christian recreation which can help us decide if this game (or others) is something which should occupy any portion of our time. In the times when New Testament was written, the Greek culture was dominant. Even in Israel there were many people conquered by its power. Still there is no biblical evidence that Jesus, His disciples and other Christians engaged in what we call sports, as a way/mean of recreation. They were too busy with better things, things of eternal importance and with eternal consequences.
- Separation from pagan/worldly practices
Lev 18:3 “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.” (ESV)
Rom 12:2 “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
- Personal sacrifice (not sacrificing others for your benefit/pleasure/ego)
John 15:12,13 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
- Wrong ways/practices lead to wrong character traits
Rom 1:29-32 “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
- Christian life is a new life (metamorphosis, complete transformation, not just improvement of old one)
Rom 6:4 “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Rom 6:12 “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
Eph 4:22-24 “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Col 3:7-10 “In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:”
- Help your neighbour/brother to grow
Gal 6:2 “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” [any chance at chess? ]
Eph 4:31 “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
- The principle of sowing – you reap the fruit of the seed you sow
Gal 6:7,8 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
- Stay away of anything dangerous for the spiritual growth
Eph 4:27 “Neither give place to the devil.”
Eph 5:11 “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
1Th 5:22 “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
- Keep watching
1Th 5:6 “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.”
- Search and research for the best activities which will help your spiritual growth
Eph 5:10 “and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Eph 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Php 2:3 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
- Time is sacred: use it for the salvation of your soul and the salvation of others
Eph 5:16 “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
- Servant mindset
Mar 10:43-44 “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
Ethical issues in playing chess
- Like any other competitive sport, chess is war in miniature. The invention of the game came as a result of war experiences, and as a preparation for future wars. The pieces of the game are all part of the war, playing different roles. It’s a battle of minds.
- It’s about defeating somebody else, about exploiting his/her weaknesses and conquering position after position. It’s about humiliating your adversary.
- The game has nothing to do with Christianity, Christian character etc. It’s not about helping others to grow and to win/overcome, which we should do as Christians.
- We can use its example as an illustration, as did Paul, but we can’t engage in something which doesn’t help us grow spiritually (and there is evidence that it does the opposite!), doesn’t benefit us or others in daily duties.
- Chess is about memorizing hundreds and thousands of strategies and moves and using them to exploit the adversary’s bad moves. It is not so much about critical thinking, using your own mind to be creative. Memorization is specific to Catholic education which influenced massively the whole European education. This man-made religion encourages competition between students, they introduced the system of degrees. They have no interest to encourage critical thinking, self-determination. It’s good to have a good memory but it is not enough to be successful, even evaluated by the worldly standards.
- The inventor of the game is not God and inspiration says that Heaven condemns it.
- It’s a waste of precious time, which can be used much better in doing something helpful for us, family, society etc.
- Our only competition has to be with self, not with our friends, neighbours etc. They are not our enemies. Satan is our enemy. We should try to help them be winners and not to try to exploit their weaknesses. God’s kingdom is about loving each (even our enemies) other and helping each other. What people need is not competition with others but inspiration. The best inspiration we find in the Bible, in the lives of Jesus and other characters of the Bible and in the life of the living saints Once you have the proper motivation to learn and to grow, there is no upper limit for development.
- There is room for all. We don’t need to eliminate anybody to grow ourselves, to prosper.
- The only enemy of prosperity is the sin and its propagator, Satan. They have to be eliminated from our personal lives. Chess teaches you that the enemy is outside not inside of you.
- The competition mindset is a characteristic of the flesh. We are not in a 100m speed probe with one winner. We are in a big marathon where we have to finish the race and help others do the same. We can’t and shouldn’t use any sabotage, tactics etc to prevent others from winning, like you are taught to do in playing chess.
- Love will always find solutions to support others. Competition will always strive to invent ways to eliminate others or just to make them stay behind us.
- Our growth should have the purpose to be a bigger blessing for all those around us, not to dominate them, not to exploit their resources (as chess and competition is teaching us), not to step on others. This is a much higher motivational factor than the competition. I learn geography and history not just for better grades or to show others how much I know about other countries, but to become a better missionary one day, knowing better the background of other people, knowing their culture and the best ways to win them for Christ. And the same applies to any area on knowledge. Chess can not teach us these vital lessons of the Kingdom.
- Can we really grow without competing with others? Jesus is an example that it is possible. Enoch, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist and so many others are examples of successful lives, a success measured with God’s standards. Heaven is not a place for lazy people, for self-sufficient people but for those who grow continually, who learn continually and share their knowledge with others. And all this growth is without compromise, without strategies from the darkness.
- What you learn by playing chess can be also learned in much better and more innocent/blessed ways
Christian writers about playing chess
“There are amusements, such as dancing, card playing, chess, checkers, etc., which we cannot approve because Heaven condemns them. These amusements open the door for great evil. They are not beneficial in their tendency, but have an exciting influence, producing in some minds a passion for those plays which lead to gambling and dissipation. All such plays should be condemned by Christians, and something perfectly harmless should be substituted in their place.” EW, AH 498
“It began in the Sanitarium before Dr. Kellogg came into the institution. Persons who came there to board and room brought in chess playing and many other amusements. This was not right, and the Lord rebuked the management. Our Sanitariums are not to cater to the perverted tastes of worldly people. The same evils have existed in the Sanitarium on the hillside. A few years ago the managers made it more of a hotel than an institution for healing the sick.” EW, KC 143
About similar games:
“In the night season I was a witness to the performance that was carried on on the school grounds… The students who engaged in the grotesque mimicry that was seen, acted out the mind of the enemy, some in a very unbecoming manner. A view of things was presented before me in which the students were playing games of tennis and cricket. Then I was given instruction regarding the character of these amusements. They were presented to me as a species of idolatry, like the idols of the nations.
There were more than visible spectators on the ground. Satan and his angels were there, making impressions on human minds. Angels of God, who minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation, were also present, not to approve, but to disapprove. They were ashamed that such an exhibition should be given by the professed children of God. The forces of the enemy gained a decided victory, and God was dishonored. He who gave His life to refine, ennoble, and sanctify human beings was grieved at the performance.” EW, CT 350
Should Christians play chess? The choice belongs to each one of us, of course. We all have a very high call: to be God’s sons and daughters and to help as many as possible around us become sons and daughters of God.
Some more information about the topic of Recreation you can read on the page dedicated to Christian Recreation vs Worldly Amusements.