You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 9, 2018.

Over the centuries, much has been written about the origins of the church in Rome.

Catholics and the Orthodox hold to a different history than do Protestants.

Much hinges on what has been recorded a) by historians and b) in the New Testament.

Wikipedia has a bewildering array of ancient historical writings about Peter’s ministry there and whether he and Paul were martyred together, as Catholics and the Orthodox hold. I’ll let you read those.

What brought this to mind was Paul’s friendship with Aquila and Priscilla, introduced in Acts 18:1-4.

Acts 18:2 says that Aquila, born in Pontus in Asia Minor, was a Jew — a convert by then — who had been exiled from Rome. He and his wife Priscilla ended up in Corinth, which is where Paul made their acquaintance.

The Jews and Rome

Bible.org has an informative article by Dr Greg MaGee, ‘The Origins of the Church at Rome’, excerpts of which follow. Emphases mine below.

A number of historical artifacts and writings give us an idea of the Jewish population and where they lived:

Sources indicate that before Christians emerged in Rome, Jews had already established a presence in the city. Inscriptions from Jewish catacombs and comments from literary documents open a window into the life, organization, and struggles of the Jews in Rome. The catacomb inscriptions have most recently been dated from the late second through the fifth centuries A.D.1 Richardson concludes that the inscriptions attest to the existence of at least five synagogues in Rome in the early first century, with the possibility of even more. The “Hebrew synagogue” probably arose first, with subsequent synagogues named after famous allies of the Jews.2 The language used in inscriptions suggests that many of the synagogues were in the poorer districts of the city.3 Scholars have noted the lack of evidence for a central organization or leadership structure that oversaw the different synagogues.4 At the same time, in the inscriptions only leaders are identified in relation to their synagogues. Ordinary Jews affiliated themselves with Judaism as a whole rather than their particular synagogue.5 Thus the Jews viewed themselves as a unified group despite the apparent lack of a controlling body of spiritual leaders in the city.

Literary excepts describe the social and political environment of the Roman Jews. For instance, as early as 59 B.C., Cicero offers his opinion on the Jews during his defense of Flaccus: “You know what a big crowd it is, how they stick together, how influential they are in informal assemblies… every year it was customary to send gold to Jerusalem on the order of the Jews from Italy and from all our provinces.”6 Cicero’s remarks confirm the presence of a large community of Jews in Rome and indicate misgivings about their separatist tendencies. Comments by Philo about events under the reign of Augustus provide further information:

[T]he great section of Rome on the other side of the Tiber is occupied and inhabited by Jews, most of whom were Roman citizens emancipated. For having been brought as captives to Italy they were liberated by their owners and were not forced to violate any of their native institutions… . [T]hey have houses of prayer and meet together in them, particularly on the sacred Sabbaths when they receive as a body of training in their ancestral philosophy … [T]hey collect money for sacred purposes from their first-fruits and send them to Jerusalem by persons who would offer the sacrifices.”7

Like Cicero, Philo notes that the Jews maintained a distinct identity. The section of Rome Philo mentions (Trastevere) was “the chief foreign quarter of the city, a district characterized by narrow, crowded streets, towering tenement houses, teeming with population.”8 Philo also refers to the reason some of the Jews now lived in Rome: their ancestors had been forcibly taken to Rome as slaves (under Pompey).9 Once freed, the Jews bore the title libertini.

Augustus allowed the Jews to practise their faith freely.

However, Tiberius took against the Jews in 19 AD, shipping them to Sardinia. MaGee cites Tacitus’s account:

“Another debate dealt with the proscription of the Egyptian and Jewish rites, and a senatorial edict directed that four thousand descendants of enfranchised slaves, tainted with that superstition and suitable in point of age, were to be shipped to Sardinia and there be employed in suppressing brigandageThe rest had orders to leave Italy, unless they had renounced their impious ceremonial by a given date.”10

John MacArthur adds that Sardinia was rife with plague at the time of Tiberius’s edict:

He took 4,000 Jews and sent them to a country that had the plague, hoping they’d all catch the plague and die. So they were unpopular.

In 39 AD, Claudius also banished the Jews from Rome. MacArthur tells us:

every one of them had to go. Now we know a little about Claudius. And the reason we do is that about 70 years after the edict, it was written about 120 A.D., Suetonius wrote about Claudius. Suetonius was a historian, and he got all the information on Claudius, and he wrote about his life. And one of the statements that Suetonius makes in his life of Claudius is this: “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots – listen – at the instigation of Chrestus, Claudius banished them from Rome.”

Aquila was one of those Jews. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

That the reason of his leaving Italy was because by a late edict of the emperor Claudius Cæsar all Jews were banished from Rome; for the Jews were generally hated, and every occasion was taken to put hardship and disgrace upon them. God’s heritage was as a speckled bird, the birds round about were against her, Jeremiah 12:9. Aquila, though a Christian, was banished because he had been a Jew; and the Gentiles had such confused notions of the thing that they could not distinguish between a Jew and a Christian. Suetonius, in the life of Claudius, speaks of this decree in the ninth year of his reign, and says, The reason was because the Jews were a turbulent people–assiduo tumultuantes; and that it was impulsore Christo–upon the account of Christ; some zealous for him, others bitter against him, which occasioned great heats, such as gave umbrage to the government, and provoked the emperor, who was a timorous jealous man, to order them all to be gone. If Jews persecute Christians, it is not strange if heathens persecute them both.

Chrestus

The name Chrestus is connected with Claudius’s edict.

It is unclear whether Chrestus was a person or, as is more likely, how the Jews in Rome referred to Christ.

MacArthur gives us more information about Chrestus:

Now, Claudius unloaded all of the Jews because they were always having riots, and the riots were instigated by a person named Chrestus. Now, you know, you can go back in history until you’re blue in the face and never find anything about anyone in that area who fits the bill named Chrestus. But what is very interesting is that the Greek Chrestus is only one letter different than the Greek Christis, which is Christ. It’s only the difference between an I and an E. And what it seems to be indicating is this: That what caused Claudius to send all the Jews out was they were rioting over the issue of Christ, which indicated probably some missionaries had come there, and had proclaimed Christ again as always was done in the synagogue, and as always happened with Paul, right? A riot ensued, and the element they had accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah was set against the Jews that were unbelieving, and they threw the city into turmoil, and Claudius got uptight and kicked them all out of town.

They were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus. And you see, Suetonius thinks that Chrestus is some guy who lived then in Rome. And remember, he was writing 70 years later, so it’s easy to see how he could’ve made that simple error. They were probably rioting over the issue of Christ. And it seems to me that that kind of issue would preclude the fact there had to be Christ presented there. So therefore, there was the possibility of Aquilla and Priscilla being saved already. You see? And so they arrive over there in Corinth to ply their trade, and they’re already Christians.

MaGee also mentions Chrestus in his article. He also believes there was no such person:

The claim that Christ stands at the center of the conflict of A.D. 49 is contested on several fronts. First, the most straightforward reading of Suetonius’s account implies that Chrestus himself was present in Rome, as an instigator of the unrest.29 In response to this objection, some advocates of seeing Christians in the mix of the unrest of A.D. 49 propose that either Suetonius or his source was confused about the event.30 Other scholars have supposed that instead of Suetonius confusing the vowels in the name, Christian copyists incorrectly copied the document.31 Alternatively, it is contended that the Latin sentence structure allows for Chrestus being simply identified as the cause of the disturbance rather than being physically present in Rome.32 In further rebuttal of the Christian hypothesis, critics point out that Suetonius only later introduces Christian movement, at the time of Nero.33 This suggests that the Christianity had not been on Suetonius’s radar up to that point. Spence counters by explaining that the chief aim in Claudius 25.4 is to highlight the Jewish rather than Christian experience, even though the claims of Christ were involved.34

Scholars skeptical of a Christian angle to the controversy offer an alternative theory. They assert that the reference to Chrestus indicates that a messianic figure living in Rome was generating turmoil among the Jews.35 One problem with this theory is that no such person is known from any other historical sources. Moreover, Suetonius does not qualify his description by designating the character as “a certain Chrestus,” which would be more expected if the leader had been a figure of only fleeting interest.36 Finally, a rebellion led by a messianic figure would have evoked a more violent response from the Roman authorities.37 The more likely scenario is that Jewish contentions involving the claims of Christ brought about the Roman opposition.

Origins of the church in Rome

For a big clue on the origins of the church in Rome, MaGee says we have only to look at Acts 2:10, part of the story of who witnessed the first Pentecost:

10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,

about whom, he writes the following:

A number of scholars suggest that these temporary residents of Jerusalem may have taken the gospel back to Rome.52

MaGee points out other clues in Acts 6:9 and Acts 8:1:

In Acts 6:9, Luke mentions Stephen’s confrontation with Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (tine” tw’n ejk th'” sunagwgh'” th'” legomevnh” Libertivnwn). These libertini likely correspond to the freed slaves mentioned in sources examined earlier. If some of these freedmen eventually received the gospel message, their contact with libertini elsewhere could have facilitated the spread of the gospel to other regions, including Rome.53 The geographical spread of the gospel to new regions would have been further encouraged when persecutions against Christians erupted in Jerusalem (see Acts 8:1).

Clues from Acts may be incorporated into a wider model that surmises that geographical dispersions of Christians in the first century likely brought Christianity to Rome.54 Both Roman inhabitants who visited Jerusalem before returning to Rome and Jews who settled into Rome for the first time may have played a role.55 Once Jewish Christians reached Rome, they would have had relatively unhindered ministry access in the synagogues, since no Jewish controlling authority could step in to quickly and definitively oppose the propagation of the message.56

Peter — and Paul

MaGee looks at the difference between establishing and building the foundations for the church in Rome with regard to Peter, citing Acts 12:17:

A competing theory promotes Peter as the carrier of the gospel to Rome. The mysterious reference in 12:17 (Peter “went to another place”) opens the door to speculation that Rome was the destination.57 Later church tradition asserts that Peter’s ministry as bishop of Rome spanned 25 years. While the biblical evidence rules out a continuous presence in Rome, it is surmised that Peter could have founded the church in A.D. 42 and then continued his leadership over the church even when in other locations.58 Finally, Rom 15:20-24 could contain an allusion to Peter’s ministry to the Romans, which dissuaded Paul from focusing his outreach in Rome.59

A closer look at earlier Patristic testimony lessens the probability that Peter established the church at Rome. In the mid-second century A.D., Irenaeus envisions a founding role for Peter alongside Paul: “Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, laying the foundations of the Church.”60 Soon after, he refers to the “universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.”61 Immediately, the problem surfaces that in comparing Peter to Paul, who arrived to Rome relatively late in the church’s history, Peter’s unique founding influence in the church becomes less likely.62 More likely, relatively obscure Christians made contributions to the church’s establishment, leading to a vital and growing community. As a parallel, Christianity surfaces in places like Cyprus and Cyrene without any apparent missionary journey by noted apostles (Acts 11:20). In the fourth century, the theologian Ambrosiaster shares a similar perspective on the beginnings of the Roman church:

It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law … One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith; because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ.”63

Scholars are quick to discount the value of Ambrosiaster’s viewpoint as independent testimony.64 Even so, one would expect that the memory of a prominent founder such as Peter or Paul would not likely be forgotten if one of them had indeed established the church of Rome.65

Lonely Pilgrim, a Protestant, wrote a well-researched article, ‘Early Testimonies to St Peter’s Ministry in Rome’. He wonders why anyone would dispute it:

This is somewhat surprising to me. Even as a Protestant, there was never any question in my mind that Peter ministered and died in Rome — perhaps because I’m also an historian. The historical evidence for Peter being in Rome is not just solid; it’s unanimous. Every historical record that speaks to Peter’s later life and death attests that he died in Rome a martyr under the emperor Nero, ca. A.D. 67. No record places the end of his life anywhere else.

Lonely Pilgrim points out that those who doubt Peter had much to do with the church in Rome are also the same people who support Paul’s presence there:

The primary reason for this opposition, I suspect, is that in a fundamentalist view, all religious truth must come from Scripture, sola scriptura — and it is not self-evident from Scripture that St. Peter was ever in Rome. This is also the reason why few Protestants seem to dispute that St. Paul was in Rome: because he tells us he was, repeatedly, in his scriptural epistles. Most more thoughtful Protestants realize that there is a difference between religious truth and historical truth, however intertwined the two may sometimes be; and historical sources are valid authorities for historical truth. These tend to be, incidentally, the Protestants least inclined toward anti-Catholicism.

Lonely Pilgrim cites the first of Peter’s letters:

But the Bible can be an historical source, too. And there is actually a significant testimony in the Bible to Peter’s presence in Rome. In the valediction of Peter’s first epistle, he wrote (1 Peter 5:13 ESV):

She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.

Here the Greek grammar is clear: ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς (sends greetings to y’all) ἡ ἐν βαβυλῶνι (she who is in/at Babylon) συνεκλεκτὴ (she elected/chosen together) καὶ Μᾶρκος (and also Mark) ὁ υἱός μου (my son). Peter, writing the letter, and therefore sending the greetings, is obviously with “she who is at Babylon,” and also with Mark, “[his] son.” She elected is the Church, always personified as a woman; and Peter is with the Church. But the Church where? The ancient city of Babylon had been in ruins for centuries. Peter must have been speaking in a cryptic metaphor. The Babylon of the Bible was the capital of a vast, powerful empire, and stood at the height of sin and excess. Where else could that be in Peter’s day but Rome?

Writing under the emperor Nero, Peter would wisely have used discretion in revealing his whereabouts in writing, lest his letter be intercepted by Roman authorities. The symbolism that is transparent to Christians today would not have been so explicit to those not so steeped in the Old Testament or ancient Mesopotamian history.

Peter and Paul together in Rome

Lonely Pilgrim cites St Clement of Rome — an early bishop of the city — as mentioning that Peter and Paul were there together:

Among the earliest surviving testimony outside the Bible is the first letter of Clement (1 Clement), which is usually dated to around 95 or 96 A.D. Clement of Rome, as evident from the letter, was a high official of the Church in Rome, writing in exhortation to the Church at Corinth to settle a division between the established elders and an upstart faction. The Roman Catholic Church today holds St. Clement to have been the third bishop of Rome (i.e. pope); early patristic writers varied in their listings, placing Clement anywhere from second to fourth. His letter is a clear early example of the bishop of Rome exerting authority over other churches …

Clement was the first writer to place Saints Peter and Paul as a pair, as they have always been in the Roman Church. He showed a clear and personal knowledge of the deaths of both Peter and Paul, and he assumed that his recipients also knew the stories. Most Christians accept that Paul was martyred in Rome; it is not a far stretch to assume from Clement’s pairing of the two Apostles that he also believed Peter to have died in Rome. In fact, his grammar is revealing: Peter and Paul offered their example—their martyrdom—“among us” (ἐν ἡμῖν)—that is, among the Romans. Clement was consistent throughout his letter in the use of the pronouns ὑμεῖς (you, i.e. Corinthians) and ἡμεῖς (we, us, i.e. Romans).

St Ignatius of Antioch, Lonely Pilgrim says, wrote his Epistle to the Romans, which is dated between 98 and 117 AD:

Again he placed Peter and Paul as a pair, and implied that the Romans have had personal contact with the Apostles, who enjoined them with authority.

He also cites Irenaeus of Antioch, who wrote about Peter and Paul in Against Heresies III.1.1 and III.3.1-2:

Here we have, clearly stated, not only the statement that Saints Peter and Paul built the Church at Romenot that they were the first Christian missionaries there, but that by their apostolic ministry they laid its foundations—but also, Irenaeus affirmed the doctrines of Apostolic succession and Petrine primacy, unequivocally and authoritatively, at a date earlier than many Protestants would like to recognize. What is more, St. Irenaeus was not a partisan of the Church at Rome, but the Greek-born bishop of Lugdunum (today the city of Lyon in France). In the face of the growing threat of Gnosticism, the unity of the Church and the authority of Rome were more important than ever.

You can read the citations and more early testimonies from doctors of the Church at the link.

Conclusion

The church in Rome probably started thanks to Roman Jews who witnessed the first Pentecost in Jerusalem.

From there, Peter and Paul — separately and together — laid solid foundations for the church.

I’ll leave the final word to Dr MaGee:

Based on a study of relevant biblical and extra-biblical documents, it is generally agreed that non-apostolic Jewish Christians brought the faith of Christ to Rome in the early decades of the church. After generating both interest and controversy within the synagogues, Christianity was forced to reorganize in the wake of Claudius’s edict against the Jews. The resulting Gentile-dominated church that received Paul’s letter in the late 50’s met in small groups around the city of Rome but maintained communication and held onto a common identity and mission. Paul and Peter leave their mark on these believers, though they merely strengthen the work that had already begun to flourish in the capital city. Beyond these main points, scholars still differ on the exact timeline of the birth and growth of the Christian community, as well as on to what degree Roman reactions against Jewish instability stem from disagreements about Christ. When all is said though, the overall picture of the emergence of Christianity in Rome constitutes yet another significant example of God’s extraordinary work in the early church during the decades following Christ’s death and resurrection.

I hope this is helpful as an insight to the early church in Rome.

Advertisements

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,189 other followers

Archive

Calendar of posts

http://martinscriblerus.com/

Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,382,112 hits
Advertisements