by A.N. Sherwin-White
Sandpiper Books 2000
Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the events in the NT occurred against the historic background of the Roman Empire. Throughout the NT, we find and feel the presence, sometimes center stage, sometimes more peripheral, of Rome, its agents and its influence. At least four Roman Emperors are mentioned in the Gospels and Acts, three by name (Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius). One issues a decree that is unwittingly crucial in fulfilling a Hebrew prophecy made seven centuries earlier (Micah 5:2; see Luke 2:1). One orders Jews out of Rome (Claudius) and one is the Caesar to whom Paul appealed his criminal case (Nero), and about whom history records that he began the systematic persecution of Christians and who, tradition has it, executed both Paul and Peter.
Roman governors rule in Judea (Quirinius, Pilate, Felix, Festus), and elsewhere. Jesus, who had instructed His listeners to “render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” was condemned by to death by a Roman governor, beaten, then crucified by Roman soldiers, who also guarded His tomb in hopes of preventing His departure from the grave. Roman soldiers are found in Judea, and in Galilee, some being converts of John the Baptist, and others respectful and appreciative acquaintances of Jesus. A Roman centurion was among the early converts in Acts; Roman soldiers rescued Paul from the Jerusalem mob, and escorted him safely to Caesarea. Another spared his life after the shipwreck on Malta. Some of Caesar’s own palace guards became converts in Rome. Paul’s (and Silas’) Roman citizen plays an important part in the narrative in Acts. Something over 20 Latin words are borrowed into the Greek NT, nearly all being words associated with government and rule. Everywhere in the NT, there is Roman government, Roman law, Roman commerce, Roman coins, Roman culture and custom. Read more about Review: Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament