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Duff, Paul B. Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017. xii+263 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

It is common for a modern reader of the New Testament to read their spiritual experience into the earliest Jesus followers. But words like conversion, baptism, and church have modern nuances of meaning which are sometimes quite different than the first century. For example, as the early Jesus movement moved away from Jerusalem and into the Roman world, evangelists reached out to Gentiles, Roman pagans who worshiped both local gods and imperial deities. Duff compares the ancient context of the New Testament to an alien, foreign environment (241).

Paul Duff Jesus followersin the Roman EmpireWhat would the Roman culture think when someone joined a Christian community? Since Christians worshiped Jesus exclusively, they rejected family and local gods. As Duff explains, what we call “conversion” would be seen by the Romans as a “deserting ancestral traditions as a defection from ancestral customs for foreign laws” (115-6). By accepting the Gospel of Jesus Christ these “converted pagans” were challenging accepted cultural values and they put themselves in mortal danger.

Paul Duff’s Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire attempts to set the Jesus movement into the context of the ancient world. This book sets some of his previous more technical work on the churches in Revelation, Who Rides the Beast? Prophetic Rivalry and the Rhetoric of Crisis in the Churches of the Apocalypse (Oxford 2001) and his recent Moses in Corinth: The Apologetic Context of 2 Corinthians 3 (NovTSup 159; Brill 2015) into a more popular form.

In the first section of the book, Duff begins with a survey of the three competing worldviews in which the Jesus movement developed. Chapter 1 sets the stage by tracing the Hellenization of Judea and the rise of Roman power after 63 B.C. In some ways Jews were open to Greek culture, but reacted strongly against the attempt to force Jews to Hellenize by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Having set this context, Duff then gives a short account of the Jesus movement and the “quest for the historical Jesus.” He correctly observes “that all of Jesus’s teaching and actions were performed in a Jewish context” (63) and that the claim Jesus was the Messiah can be traced by to Jesus’s own teaching (67). Duff then moves to the development of the movement after the resurrection (although what the disciples of Jesus actually experienced is unclear to Duff (70). He is suspicious of using Acts as a historical source since he dates the book late, written A.D. 80-120 (68) and contains “novelistic interpretations” (74).  Duff observes that Paul did not focus on the Kingdom of God as the other Jesus followers did, preferring to call Jesus Lord or Son of God (75).

Chapter 3 traces the movement from idols to the true God. Although Duff is doubtful about the historicity of the book of Acts (101), Acts 14 as a model for understanding paganism and the gods. (Duff defends his use of the term pagan in his introduction.) In the Roman world, there were many gods and those gods were like humans and occasionally interacted with people (90). Sometimes this interaction was good, and humans might cajole a god into acting on their behalf through worship and sacrifice. That Paul and Barnabas could be gods was a real possibility for the people of Lystra in Acts 14. Paul’s sermon in Acts 14 is significant since he declares that he worships the “living and true” God (as opposed to the not-living and false gods of the pagan world). This God’s wrath is coming on all people and he will judge the world through his son, “whom he raised from the dead.” By accepting the message of Jesus even the pagans can escape this coming wrath.

This preaching was attractive to some pagans and they not only listened to the message Paul preached, but accepted it and turned from false idols to the living God (1 Thess 1:9-10). What was it in Paul’s preaching that was compelling to the Greco-Roman world? There were people throughout the empire who were already attracted to Judaism (the God Fearers like Cornelius in Acts 10) and perhaps others who were attracted to Judaism without making a commitment. For Duff, Paul was an “itinerant Judean religious expert” (136) who used the Hebrew Scripture and worked miracles in order to reach people who were already interested in religions from the “mysterious east.”

Duff uses Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 to describe the earliest churches in the pagan world. Paul’s ideal church was “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.” The earliest Jesus movement was a family in which women played a significant role. Similarly, Paul’s churches had a place for women as well. He surveys the list of women who Paul specifically mentions in this letters (Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla, etc.) Duff dismisses 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as an interpolation, although he does not argue this point (162) and does not think Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles so 1 Timothy 2:11-12 does not represent Paul’s churches (166-7). Although there were a few wealthy members, the earliest Christians were from fairly low economic and social status (192).

The third section of the book is a pair of chapters treating the accommodations the Jesus movement made as well as the resistance to Empire. By committing themselves to the exclusive worship of Jesus, new Christians severed ties with the culture in which they lived. Duff compares early churches with voluntary associations in the Roman world. Like a local house church, these associates met regularly and often had sacred rituals and moral expectations. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have parallels with these associations, but the worship of Jesus as Lord sets the early church apart from any pagan counterpart (207).

Gentiles in Paul’s churches would have been under enormous pressure to participate in civic life, including festivals dedicated to various gods. In chapter 8 Duff describes some of these civic festivals or sacred meals at temples. Could a Christian attend a birthday celebration for a family member if the meal was hosted at a local temple? Modern readers are often confused by the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols in the New Testament, including Acts, Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation. Marriage to a non-believer was also a complicated issue, as 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear. Both controversies continues well into the second century, Duff cites Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and Tertullian as an examples.

Conclusion. Duff succeeds in this goal of immersing the reader in the ancient world, teasing out the implications living in the Greco-Roman world for the early Jesus movement. In a study such as this I would have expected more on the Imperial Cult (only a few pages, 86-88). In addition, there is little on Paul’s view of the Empire (was Paul anti-imperial?) Since Duff is skeptical of the book of Acts, he does not make much used of Paul’s activity in Ephesus in Acts 19 or the challenge of the Gospel to the cult of Artemis. Nevertheless, Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire is a valuable introduction to the study of early Christianity.

 

 

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Marcion also was able to develop a following in Rome between 140-150 because of theological toleration.  Marcion (From Sinope in northern Turkey, 110-160) was active in Rome from 140-150.  Hippolytus claims he was a son of the bishop of Sinope, and was at one time ordained as a bishop himself.   By trade, Marcion was a ship-owner, specifically a naukleros.  Under Trajan (d. 117)  there was almost non-stop war, and shipowners were pressed into service of the government.  This was such a problem that by the time of Hadrian (d. 138) most of these demands were reversed and benefits given to shipowners (specifically, freedom from municipal liturgies). Lampe suggests that “under Hadrian, the situation of a shipowner was at its best” (242).

MarcioniteMarcion was therefore a wealthy man, and when he came to Rome he gave the church 200,000 sesterces.  This was the value of a small manor in Rome at the time (Marital 3.52), or a middle sized farm.  The amount needed to buy into the equestrian rank at the time was 400,000.  This was therefore a sizable contribution!

That he was a naukleros helps to explain why he was in Rome with time available to write and debate theology. The naukleros was the owner of the ships, but he did not necessarily need to travel with them, he is not a “sailor” or a “captain,” he is the wealthy company owner.  This also gives him opportunity to travel and spread his theology after he leaves Rome in 150.  This money was returned to him when he was excommunicated, possibly financing the spread of his theology to other areas.

While often styled as a gnostic in secondary literature, Marcion was a biblicist who “barricaded himself with a canon of scripture” (Lampe).  His theology was motivated by defining what scripture was authoritative (Paul, and his version of Luke); he also represents a complete break with Judaism in that he rejected the Hebrew Bible entirely.   He allegorized what scripture he did retain.

There is no spirit of Hellenism in his work at all! He appears to have had no training as a philosopher or as a rhetorician.  Gager has argued that Marcion’s rejection of allegory is an indication of philosophical training, but this misses the point since many philosophers in the second century were allegorizing Plato and Homer.  Marcion’s theology was motivated by the Problem of Evil, but his answer is nothing at all like one might find in the contemporary philosophical schools on the issue.  His arguments indicate that he had no formal philosophical training.

The real problem was how to deal with Marcion.  Obviously what he taught was not “orthodox,” his Bible was not what the rest of the churches used, and his view of God and Jesus was completely out of step with the church and scripture.  But there was no real “central authority” which could act to silence Marcion.  The heresy of Marcion was a factor leading to the development of a monarchic bishop in Rome.

In the years after Paul, factionalism increased.  Since the churches in Rome were isolated, there was little control on doctrine.  Individual teachers were free to interpret whatever scripture they had in whatever way they saw fit.  The factionalism we discussed in a previous post could result in creative theology, for good or bad.

Divided Church 2A positive example is Justin, who held meetings in a room above a bathhouse. Justin is well known from Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, and the Acts of Justin’s Martyrdom. He was a philosopher, although his education was not excellent – he began with a Stoic teacher, followed a peripatetic teacher until he demanded pay, then he failed an exam to be a student of a Pythagorian.  He has a general, eclectic education, cites various poets and philosophers, but has some geographical and historical problems.  Literary style is good, but not great.  He seems to have had philosophical lectures rather than rhetorical lessons. He arrived in Rome in 135 and converted to Christianity.  His Dialogue claims to take place during the Bar Kohkba rebellion in 135.  He had rooms above a bathhouse where he instructed students, and maintained the pallium, “mantle of a philosopher” until his martyrdom.

Justin tried to present Christianity as a philosophy, “Christians worship God with their intellects” (Di. 1.6.2, 12.8, etc.) That Christianity was a philosophy was accepted by no less that Galen, although Celsus refused to use the word for Christianity (it was sofiva to Celsus, and Christians were sophists, usually a pejorative use of the word.)   For the most part Justin was treated as a philosopher by Romans, but few (if any) philosophers investigated the claims of Christianity.

Justin’s influence was to encourage a philosophical strain in the theology of the second century, Tatian and Euelpistus both were (neo) platonic in perspective.  While present day theologians debate whether this is a good thing, in the second century it had the positive effect of making Christianity more acceptable to the educated and higher social classes.

A negative example are the Valentinians. Valentinus (c100-c160) was in Rome for 15 years, (as early as 136, as late as 166) and was considered for the position of bishop about 143 (according to Tertullian, Ad. Val iv).  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria; he died on Cyprus after having left Rome.  He was a highly educated man with a brilliant mind; we wrote in a beautiful poetic language.  Lampe (295) finds his style parallel to Plato.  His philosophy is generally platonic.  He seems to know Timaeus well, and interprets this work in the style of the neo-paltonists.

Two inscriptions found in Via Latina indicate that there was at least one Valentinain congregation in this affluent suburb.  This indicates (for Lampe) that there was a house church in Via Lampe which was Valentinian in orientation; no other traces of Valentinian house churches appear elsewhere in the city.  The marble inscription uses imagery which must be Christian (praising the father and son) and likely Valentinian (entry into the bridal chamber, a sacred meal, baptism, etc.)   A gravestone inscription was also found in Via Latina which also uses Valentinain imagery (again, the bridal chamber, washings, the “angel the great counsel”)

Valentinian theology was quite esoteric and obviously gnostic.  Highly dualistic, they saw the world as evil, the believer was by nature alienated from the world.   This sort of early gnosticism is an attempt to support Christianity with a philosophical foundation, but in doing so, Valentinus moved away from scripture.  Marcion, on the other hand, represents a sort of “back to the Bible” movement — in an extremely negative sense!  More on Marcion next time.

Factionalism was a problem for the Roman congregations before Paul.  Romans 14:1-15:7 indicates that there are some in Rome who considered food laws important enough to be a matter of contention, while others are not taking the food laws as applicable in Christ.

Romans 14:5-7 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

This may indicate divisions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians we have seen already by Acts 15 and Galatians.  Given the small size of congregations and immense population in Rome, it is likely that the churches functioned as islands of believers (to use Lampe’s word), perhaps initially ethnic enclaves.

Assuming that Philippians was written while Paul was in prison in Rome, it is possible to learn several things about the state of Christianity in Rome in the early 60’s.

Philippians 1:12-14 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Philippians 4:22 All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

We know that Paul was influential in the household of Caesar.  He states that the whole palace guard has heard the gospel, presumably from solders converted while they were guarding him.  These guards would have been gentiles converted from paganism, as opposed to Jews converted within the synagogue. This indicates that Paul is continuing his two-part mission, to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.

Divided ChurchThat Paul had success among the Gentiles encouraged the local Roman church to also engage in a similar ministry. As we observed earlier, there was good reason for the Jews to avoid contact with the gentiles based on their expulsion under Claudius in A.D. 49.  Romans seems into indicate that the church in Rome was made up of a series of small house churches (Dunn calls them apartment churches, which is more accurate since the poor did not live in houses!)

There is some evidence in Philippians of factionalism.  Phil. 1:15 says that some people preach the gospel out of “envy and rivalry” and “false motives.” These opponents of Paul try to stir up trouble for Paul while he is in prison, possibly indicating that there are at least some who “preach the gospel,” meaning that Jesus is the Christ, the crucifixion and the resurrection, etc., but they are doing so in a way that is “against Paul.”  This may be personal, but it may also be theological. (Or some combination of the two, of course!)

This may indicate that they disagree with the more radical elements of Paul’s theology, that Gentiles come to Christ apart from the Law, without converting to Judaism.  It may be that these rivals opposed Paul and perhaps even disagreed with the Jerusalem council (or, were ignorant of it; or, did not feel that they ought to be bound by it). That there are Jews who would still oppose Paul in Gentile inclusion may indicate an earlier date for Philippians, or that the issue of Gentile inclusion remained a major sticking point for the early church.

It may be something of a surprise to find that there were some congregations in Rome that were openly hostile to Paul, that seems to be the evidence of the book of Philippians.

There is a bit more evidence of factionalism in 1 Clement.  This letter was written A. D. 95-97 by Clement, a bishop in Rome.  The church of Rome was undergoing persecution when the letter was written (1:1, 7:1) but still felt it important to contact the Corinthian church.  According to tradition, Clement was the third bishop of Rome, although it is not at all clear that there was a single unbroken line of bishops who exerted any kind of authority over all of Roman Christianity before the year A. D. 200.

Clement wrote this letter on behalf of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth for the purpose of advising them on certain church matters.  The letter was considered to have had some level of authority, although we do not know how it was received by the Corinthians.  For our purposes here, 1 Clement 5 is the key text, although Clement returns to Paul in chapter 47.

1 Clement 5:5-7 Because of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the way to the prize for patient endurance. (6) After he had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, (7) having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West.  Finally, when he had given his testimony before the rulers, he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example of patient endurance. (Translation by Holmes, p. 33.)

While Clement’s evidence is a bit later than Paul’s time, there is at least some evidence of the fact that Paul face opposition in those two years he was in Rome under house arrest.

Marcion also was able to develop a following in Rome between 140-150 because of theological toleration.  Marcion (From Sinope in northern Turkey, 110-160) was active in Rome from 140-150.  Hippolytus claims he was a son of the bishop of Sinope, and was at one time ordained as a bishop himself.   By trade, Marcion was a ship-owner, specifically a naukleros.  Under Trajan (d. 117)  there was almost non-stop war, and shipowners were pressed into service of the government.  This was such a problem that by the time of Hadrian (d. 138) most of these demands were reversed and benefits given to shipowners (specifically, freedom from municipal liturgies). Lampe suggests that “under Hadrian, the situation of a shipowner was at its best” (242).

Marcion was therefore a wealthy man, and when he came to Rome he gave the church 200,000 sesterces.  This was the value of a small manor in Rome at the time (Marital 3.52), or a middle sized farm.  The amount needed to buy into the equestrian rank at the time was 400,000.  This was therefore a sizable contribution!

That he was a naukleros helps to explain why he was in Rome with time available to write and debate theology. The naukleros was the owner of the ships, but he did not necessarily need to travel with them, he is not a “sailor” or a “captain,” he is the wealthy company owner.  This also gives him opportunity to travel and spread his theology after he leaves Rome in 150.  This money was returned to him when he was excommunicated, possibly financing the spread of his theology to other areas.

While often styled as a gnostic in secondary literature, Marcion was a biblicist who “barricaded himself with a canon of scripture” (Lampe).  His theology was motivated by defining what scripture was authoritative (Paul, and his version of Luke); he also represents a complete break with Judaism in that he rejected the Hebrew Bible entirely.   He allegorized what scripture he did retain.

There is no spirit of Hellenism in his work at all! He appears to have had no training as a philosopher or as a rhetorician.  Gager has argued that Marcion’s rejection of allegory is an indication of philosophical training, but this misses the point since many philosophers in the second century were allegorizing Plato and Homer.  Marcion’s theology was motivated by the Problem of Evil, but his answer is nothing at all like one might find in the contemporary philosophical schools on the issue.  His arguments indicate that he had no formal philosophical training.

The real problem was how to deal with Marcion.  Obviously what he taught was not “orthodox,” his Bible was not what the rest of the churches used, and his view of God and Jesus was completely out of step with the church and scripture.  But there was no real “central authority” which could act to silence Marcion.  The heresy of Marcion was a factor leading to the development of a monarchic bishop in Rome.

In the years after Paul, factionalism increased.  Since the churches in Rome were isolated, there was little control on doctrine.  Individual teachers were free to interpret whatever scripture they had in whatever way they saw fit.  The factionalism we discussed in a previous post could result in creative theology, for good or bad.

A positive example is Justin, who held meetings in a room above a bathhouse. Justin is well known from Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, and the Acts of Justin’s Martyrdom. He was a philosopher, although his education was not excellent – he began with a Stoic teacher, followed a peripatetic teacher until he demanded pay, then he failed an exam to be a student of a Pythagorian.  He has a general, eclectic education, cites various poets and philosophers, but has some geographical and historical problems.  Literary style is good, but not great.  He seems to have had philosophical lectures rather than rhetorical lessons. He arrived in Rome in 135 and converted to Christianity.  His Dialogue claims to take place during the Bar Kohkba rebellion in 135.  He had rooms above a bathhouse where he instructed students, and maintained the pallium, “mantle of a philosopher” until his martyrdom.

Justin tried to present Christianity as a philosophy, “Christians worship God with their intellects” (Di. 1.6.2, 12.8, etc.) That Christianity was a philosophy was accepted by no less that Galen, although Celsus refused to use the word for Christianity (it was sofiva to Celsus, and Christians were sophists, usually a pejorative use of the word.)   For the most part Justin was treated as a philosopher by Romans, but few (if any) philosophers investigated the claims of Christianity.

Justin’s influence was to encourage a philosophical strain in the theology of the second century, Tatian and Euelpistus both were (neo) platonic in perspective.  While present day theologians debate whether this is a good thing, in the second century it had the positive effect of making Christianity more acceptable to the educated and higher social classes.

A negative example are the Valentinians. Valentinus (c100-c160) was in Rome for 15 years, (as early as 136, as late as 166) and was considered for the position of bishop about 143 (according to Tertullian, Ad. Val iv).  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria; he died on Cyprus after having left Rome.  He was a highly educated man with a brilliant mind; we wrote in a beautiful poetic language.  Lampe (295) finds his style parallel to Plato.  His philosophy is generally platonic.  He seems to know Timaeus well, and interprets this work in the style of the neo-paltonists.

Two inscriptions found in Via Latina indicate that there was at least one Valentinain congregation in this affluent suburb.  This indicates (for Lampe) that there was a house church in Via Lampe which was Valentinian in orientation; no other traces of Valentinian house churches appear elsewhere in the city.  The marble inscription uses imagery which must be Christian (praising the father and son) and likely Valentinian (entry into the bridal chamber, a sacred meal, baptism, etc.)   A gravestone inscription was also found in Via Latina which also uses Valentinain imagery (again, the bridal chamber, washings, the “angel the great counsel”)

Valentinian theology was quite esoteric and obviously gnostic.  Highly dualistic, they saw the world as evil, the believer was by nature alienated from the world.   This sort of early gnosticism is an attempt to support Christianity with a philosophical foundation, but in doing so, Valentinus moved away from scripture.  Marcion, on the other hand, represents a sort of “back to the Bible” movement — in an extremely negative sense!  More on Marcion next time.

Factionalism was a problem for the Roman congregations before Paul.  Romans 14:1-15:7 indicates that there are some in Rome who considered food laws important enough to be a matter of contention, while others are not taking the food laws as applicable in Christ.

Romans 14:5-7 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

This may indicate divisions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians we have seen already by Acts 15 and Galatians.  Given the small size of congregations and immense population in Rome, it is likely that the churches functioned as islands of believers (to use Lampe’s word), perhaps initially ethnic enclaves.

Assuming that Philippians was written while Paul was in prison in Rome, it is possible to learn several things about the state of Christianity in Rome in the early 60’s.

Philippians 1:12-14 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Philippians 4:22 All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

We know that Paul was influential in the household of Caesar.  He states that the whole palace guard has heard the gospel, presumably from solders converted while they were guarding him.  These guards would have been gentiles converted from paganism, as opposed to Jews converted within the synagogue. This indicates that Paul is continuing his two-part mission, to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.

That Paul had success among the Gentiles encouraged the local Roman church to also engage in a similar ministry. As we observed earlier, there was good reason for the Jews to avoid contact with the gentiles based on their expulsion under Claudius in A.D. 49.  Romans seems into indicate that the church in Rome was made up of a series of small house churches (Dunn calls them apartment churches, which is more accurate since the poor did not live in houses!)

There is some evidence in Philippians of factionalism.  Phil. 1:15 says that some people preach the gospel out of “envy and rivalry” and “false motives.” These opponents of Paul try to stir up trouble for Paul while he is in prison, possibly indicating that there are at least some who “preach the gospel,” meaning that Jesus is the Christ, the crucifixion and the resurrection, etc., but they are doing so in a way that is “against Paul.”  This may be personal, but it may also be theological. (Or some combination of the two, of course!)

This may indicate that they disagree with the more radical elements of Paul’s theology, that Gentiles come to Christ apart from the Law, without converting to Judaism.  It may be that these rivals opposed Paul and perhaps even disagreed with the Jerusalem council (or, were ignorant of it; or, did not feel that they ought to be bound by it). That there are Jews who would still oppose Paul in Gentile inclusion may indicate an earlier date for Philippians, or that the issue of Gentile inclusion remained a major sticking point for the early church.

It may be something of a surprise to find that there were some congregations in Rome that were openly hostile to Paul, that seems to be the evidence of the book of Philippians.

There is a bit more evidence of factionalism in 1 Clement.  This letter was written A. D. 95-97 by Clement, a bishop in Rome.  The church of Rome was undergoing persecution when the letter was written (1:1, 7:1) but still felt it important to contact the Corinthian church.  According to tradition, Clement was the third bishop of Rome, although it is not at all clear that there was a single unbroken line of bishops who exerted any kind of authority over all of Roman Christianity before the year A. D. 200.

Clement wrote this letter on behalf of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth for the purpose of advising them on certain church matters.  The letter was considered to have had some level of authority, although we do not know how it was received by the Corinthians.  (In some early canons of scripture, 1 Clement was cited as scripture, Clement of Alexandria, for example.  See Holmes, 24.)  For our purposes here, 1 Clement 5 is the key text, although Clement returns to Paul in chapter 47.

1 Clement 5:5-7 Because of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the way to the prize for patient endurance. (6) After he had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, (7) having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West.  Finally, when he had given his testimony before the rulers, he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example of patient endurance. (Translation by Holmes, page 33.)

While Clement’s evidence is a bit later than Paul’s time, there is at least some evidence of the fact that Paul face opposition in those two years he was in Rome under house arrest.

The audio for this evening’s sermon is available here, as is a PDF handout.  Remember that you can leave comments and questions at the bottom of the page, or by clicking on the comments link just above this paragraph.

Chronologically, Romans provides the earliest glimpse at the character of the churches in the city of Rome.   Christianity came to Rome through these synagogues, likely from Jews who heard the gospel while in Jerusalem as early as Pentecost.  Paul wrote Romans in the second half of the 50’s to already existing congregations which have separated from the synagogues or were formed outside of the synagogues of Rome.

Evidence for the church developing out of the synagogue is found in Romans 16.  Aquila and Priscilla are Jewish, as well as Andronicus, Junian and Herodion who are identified as Jewish (7, 11), the names Mary and Aristobolus may also indicate a Jewish origin.  According to Acts 18:2 and Seutonius, Claudius 25.4, Jews were expelled from Rome in A.D. 49 (although Dio Cassius dates the edict of Claudius to A.D. 41, Acts and Seutonius both agree with the early date).  Just who was expelled is debated, it is hardly possible to have the whole population expelled given a Jewish population of 30,000 at the time.  It is possible just the ringleaders were expelled, people such as Aquila and Priscilla.  Perhaps only a single synagogue engaged in the rioting over Chrestus and was completely expelled.  The bottom line is that by 49 there were lively debates among Jews over who Jesus was and these debates were violent enough to attract the attention of the authorities.

Romans indicates that some Jews returned by the mid-50’s, specifically Aquila and Priscilla.  By the time Paul writes Romans, there are Jewish Christian congregations, perhaps mixed Jew and Gentile congregations, and maybe a purely Gentile Christian congregation.

How many congregations of Christians existed in the mid-50’s can be determined from Romans 16, Peter Lampe argues for at least five different Christian “islands,” but probably as many as eight, based on the following data:

  • The phrase “those with them” plus proper names is used five times in Romans 16 (5, 10, 11, 14, 15). This may indicate Paul knows of five separate house churches in Rome.
  • There are other Christian names listed who probably did not belong to the same congregation (or they would be listed with the others), so at least two more could be implied.
  • Paul lived in Rome in a rented house, likely constituting an eighth congregation.

There is no central meeting place for these congregations.  Paul hosts at least one in his house, perhaps others met with him at other times for instruction and debate.  It is not too much of a stretch to imagine Paul engaged in the sort of ministry he had in Ephesus, teaching and debating the scriptures in an informal “school” at times when people could visit – afternoons and evenings.  In addition, there is nothing which requires a “church” to meet only on Saturday or Sunday, in ten different locations at general the same time.  It is possible that ten congregations meet at various times and in various places during the week, and even some individuals attending multiple churches.

The congregation size of a house church would vary depending on the home in which the church met.  I would suggest that the churches initially met on the analogy of a Synagogue, where ten men coming together to study the scripture constituted a synagogue.  If this is the case, by the time Paul arrives in Rome in the early 60’s, there were no more than a few hundred Christian in a city of millions.

The audio for this evening’s sermon is available here, as is a PDF handout.  Remember that you can leave comments and questions at the bottom of the page, or by clicking on the comments link just above this paragraph.

Paul meets with various Jewish leaders three days after arriving in Rome.  There was no centralized leadership of the various synagogues in Rome in the first century, so this sort of meeting may  have occurred many times over the next two years.  In general, these Jews seem open-minded, they have no instructions from Jerusalem, nor has anyone come to Rome to accuse Paul.  That there are no letters from Jerusalem is significant.

  • It is possible that the Sanhedrin chose to drop the case, choosing not to go to the expense of following Paul to Rome.
  • A second possibility is that travel conditions prevented letters from arriving before Paul.
  • A third possibility is that contact between Jerusalem and Rome was not particularly close – perhaps Jerusalem did not exert that much influence on Roman Jews.

With respect to Roman Law, this is a hint that the charges against Paul were likely dropped.  His accusers simply do not show up to offer evidence, therefore Paul would have been set free. Roman Jews would unlikely allies against Paul primarily because the political climate of Rome encouraged them to keep a rather low profile.  They would have had to employ lawyers in order navigate the imperial courts, an expense they may not have been able to afford at the time.

We know quite a bit about the state of the Jews in the early 60’s in Rome. There were at least four or five synagogues in Rome in A.D. 60, based on inscriptional evidence, but there were likely more, based on a population of between forty and fifty thousand Jews living in Rome at the time. As we have already seen, in A. D. 49 Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, although this likely only effected the leaders of the riots.  Claudius died in A. D. 54, after which time Jews likely returned to Rome, although they hay have “kept a low profile.”

The Jews had some support among the Romans, even in the Imperial household.  Converting to Judaism was seen as scandalous, although many were attracted to Judaism’s one God and higher moral teaching.  Nero’s second wife and consort, Poppaea Sabina was very pro-Jewish and may have been a Jewess herself.  Nero’s relationship with her began as early as A. D. 58; he kicked her to death in 64 or 65.

Paul is seen as representing a sect, or a schism within Judaism.  “People everywhere” are talking about Paul’s theology, but within the context of Judaism.  This is a indication that, at least as far as Rome is concerned, there is not yet a “parting of the ways” between Christianity and Judaism. The Greek word translated here as sect is the same used for the “party” of the Pharisees or Sadducees.  There is no negativity in the word itself in Greek, it is simply a way of describing a sub-group within a larger group.

The sect of Paul is being opposed by people “everywhere,” a word which is rare in the New Testament, but appeared in Acts 13:45 for the Jewish response to Paul after his first major synagogue speech. (The NIV translated it “speak abusively” there, the word has the idea of refuting an idea, contradicting, etc.)  This may be because the content of the Christianity in Rome primarily concerned who Jesus was (the messiah) and the status of the kingdom of God which he claimed to have established.

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Christian Theology

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