Three very different influences contributed to the early formation of Paul. All three are emphasized in a single thirty-verse section of the Book of Acts. The setting is the grounds of the temple in Jerusalem. An angry mob had attacked Paul, accusing him of desecrating the temple. The Roman troops responsible for maintaining order in the city had just rescued Paul from the crowd and taken him into custody. The soldiers were garrisoned in a tower located at a corner of the temple. As they carried Paul up the stairs that led from the temple grounds into their barracks, Paul requested permission to address the crowd below. The Roman commander was surprised to hear Paul speaking in fluent Greek. Paul quickly informed him that he was a native Greek speaker. In fact, he was a citizen of the city of Tarsus in the province of Cilicia. He described it as "no ordinary city," or, as we might say "not just any old city" (Acts 21:39).
The Roman commander granted Paul permission to address the Jewish crowd. Paul began by introducing himself to the crowd. He also pointed out that he came from Tarsus. But he emphasized that he was also a Jew, in fact, that he had come to Jerusalem at a young age to study under Gamaliel, a leading teacher of the Jewish law (Acts 22:3). A citizen of Tarsus, a Jew educated in Jerusalem—there was more. The commander soon learned about it. Paul's address did not appease the Jewish crowd, who screamed for his death (Acts 22:22). Determined to learn the reason for this major disturbance of the peace, the commander ordered a centurion to examine Paul by beating him. It was illegal to scourge a Roman citizen without a hearing and formal charges. Paul quickly informed the centurion that he was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25). Immediately the centurion stopped the scourging procedure and went to the commander to inform him of Paul's citizen status. Coming to Paul, the commander learned that Paul was indeed a "high status" citizen: he had been born with a citizen's rights (Acts 22:28).
Paul's self-identification on all three accounts was directly suited to the occasion. Initially, before the Roman commander his Tarsian citizenship explained why he spoke fluent Greek. Before the Jewish crowd, Paul emphasized his Jewish heritage. He wanted them to know that he had always been true to his Jewish faith and still was faithful to God's leading. In face of an imminent scourging, Paul appealed to his Roman citizen's rights. Paul did indeed share all three identities. Each contributed to the success of his mission to the Gentiles. To his Tarsian heritage he owed his fluency in the Greek language and probably much of his cultural orientation. His ministry would mainly be in hellenistic cities like Tarsus; his early years in that city prepared him. To Paul's Roman heritage he owed the legal protection that assisted him throughout his ministry. Even more, the Roman world order facilitated his extensive travels. To his Jewish heritage, Paul owed his faith and his perspective on life. More than anything else, Paul was, and always remained, a faithful Jew.
This chapter will examine the influence of Tarsus and Rome upon Paul. Chapter 2 is devoted to Paul's Jewish heritage.
Scholars are divided over the extent to which Tarsus influenced Paul. Some argue that Paul was formed almost totally by his background in the Jewish Diaspora and that Diaspora Judaism was more lax and Hellenized in its attitude toward the Jewish law than was Palestinian Judaism. Others argue that Paul left Tarsus as a young boy and received all his training from elementary school on in Jerusalem. The truth likely lies somewhere in between these extremes. Paul was reared in Tarsus by a pious Jewish family who sent him to study the Jewish Torah in Jerusalem, probably while he was in his early teens. In his earlier years, Paul would not have been wholly sheltered from the hellenistic culture of Tarsus; it would have influenced him in various and subtle ways.
Our knowledge of ancient Tarsus is limited. The city thrives today and is still called by its ancient name. The modern city lies over the ruins of the old, preventing excavation. Literary references to the ancient city are almost as sparse as the archaeological evidence.
Tarsus lies on the fertile Cilician plain in the southeastern corner of modern Turkey. The ancient city was located about ten miles north of the Mediterranean Sea. The river Cydnus flowed from the Taurus mountains located to the north of the city. Its course went through the center of the city. Several miles south of the city, the river widened into a natural inland lake. At an early stage of the city's history, the Tarsians dug a channel connecting the lake to the sea, thus providing a spacious, protected harbor. In Roman times the whole area around the lake was extensively populated, and there were settlements northward all the way to the city. Some twelve miles farther north of the city began the foothills of the Taurus mountains. In Paul's day there was an extensive settlement in these foothills as well. One scholar estimates that in Paul's day the population of the whole area around Tarsus was "not less than half a million."
Another twenty-five miles north the road from Tarsus led up into the Taurus mountains through the famous pass known as the Cilician Gates. A natural river channel, the pass had been widened by the Tarsians to provide a wagon trail, which they chiseled out of sheer stone. This pass was on the main route from Syria to Asia Minor, the primary trade route connecting the east with the west. With its fine harbor and famous pass, Tarsus was a major center of commerce. As a boy Paul must have observed the traders on their journeys through the Cilician Gates. His own propensities for travel may well have been first engendered in Tarsus.
The earliest mention of the area around Tarsus is in ancient Hittite records from around 1200 b.c. where the Cilician Plain is referred to as Kizzuwatna. Not long after, Greeks seem to have settled around Tarsus, having come from Ionia. The people of Tarshish mentioned in Genesis 10:4-5 were probably the inhabitants of the Cilician plain. In the ninth century b.c., the area was subjugated by the Assyrians and subsequently by the Medes and the Persians. Tarsus is mentioned in the Persian records. Persian domination lasted until the time of Alexander the Great. In 333 b.c. Alexander defeated the Persian forces decisively at the battle of the Issus River, not far to the east of Tarsus. After the death of Alexander a decade later, Tarsus came under the domination of Seleucus, one of Alexander's generals, whose empire centered in Syria. The later Seleucid kings granted Tarsus the status of a Greek polis, which gave it a measure of independence and self-government. More important, it was during this period that "Hellenism" came to Cilicia, Syria, and Palestine. Alexander dreamed of a world united around Greek culture, and his successors did much to make that dream come true. The Greek language became the common tongue for communication throughout the civilized world. Greek institutions were established everywhere—baths, gymnasiums, theaters, marketplaces (stoa), and architecture. This spread of Greek culture is known as "Hellenism." Entire cities were built in Greek style with the full repertoire of Greek institutions. The Decapolis in Palestine, which Jesus visited, consisted of ten such hellenistic cities (Mark 5:20). Tarsus was another. Every city where Paul ministered was influenced by the hellenistic culture and spirit, even Jerusalem. Paul first came into contact with Hellenism in his native Tarsus.
Rome was the next great power to exert its influence over Tarsus. The Romans first created a province of Cilicia in 102 b.c. This consisted primarily of the western part of Cilicia, where the Taurus mountains extended all the way to the Mediterranean. The eastern plain, where Tarsus was located, was not yet incorporated into the early Roman province but retained its Greek "free city" status under the Seleucid kings. Roman political control by this time was being exerted everywhere in the Mediterranean world. The Seleucids were basically "tribute kings," wholly subservient to Rome. For a time in the early part of the first century b.c., the kings of Pontus and Armenia succeeded in resisting Roman rule. During this period, the king of Armenia subjugated the city of Tarsus. His rule was short-lived, as he was decisively defeated by the Roman general Pompey in 67 b.c. On this occasion Pompey reorganized the old province of Cilicia, expanding it by the addition of the eastern portions of the Cilician plain. He also incorporated the areas of Syria and Phoenicia into the province under a single governor, the imperial legate of Syria. From this time until a.d. 72, and thus throughout all of Paul's life, Syria, Cilicia, and Phoenicia comprised a single Roman Province.
Julius Caesar visited Tarsus in 47 b.c. and was enthusiastically received by the city. The Tarsians even renamed their city Juliopolis for a while after their famous visitor. When civil war broke out in Rome in 44 b.c., the Tarsians naturally allied with Antony and Octavian, the defenders of the murdered Caesar against his assassins Cassius and Brutus. This brought some grief to Tarsus when Cassius and his troops arrived in the city in 43 b.c. At that time Cassius exacted a very heavy tribute payment from the city, so heavy that a number of citizens had to be sold into slavery to pay for the levy. Their slave status was short-lived, however. Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius at the battle of the Plains of Philippi in 42 b.c. Soon thereafter Antony arrived in Tarsus, freed those who had been enslaved, and declared Tarsus a "free Roman city."
This status of a "free city" brought many privileges with it, including local law, self-government, and exemption from the heavy provincial taxes. Tarsus still retained its "free city" status when Paul grew up there. Antony returned to Tarsus in 38 b.c. when he had a rendezvous there with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. It must have been a colorful occasion when she sailed up into the harbor of the Cydnus beneath a purple canopy in her royal barge with its gilded stern and golden oars.
One of the most extensive literary references to Tarsus is the description of the city's government by the Greek geographer Strabo (54 b.c.-a.d. 24). Strabo wrote that Tarsus "surpassed" Athens and Alexandria in its love for philosophy. This is sometimes mistakenly interpreted to mean that Tarsus was superior to all the Greek cities in its philosophical training. Strabo, however, was not referring to the quality of the education so much as the zeal for education. The Tarsians outstripped everybody else in their love for the study of philosophy. He went on to say that only natives studied in Tarsus. Outsiders did not come to study there. Even the natives usually went elsewhere to study after they had exhausted the courses available in their home city. Seldom, says Strabo, did they return.
One who did return was Athenodorus, a Stoic philosopher who taught the emperor Augustus and was attached to the imperial court in Rome for many years. Athenodorus (ca. 74 b.c.-a.d. 7) retired from the court of Augustus some time around 15 b.c. and returned to his native Tarsus. In the meantime, Tarsus was experiencing particularly bad government from an oligarchy that had come to power in the time of Antony. Augustus entrusted Athenodorus with the power to expel the old government and initiate his own reforms. Strabo praises Athenodorus for his reforms and his own enlightened rule. After his death, he was succeeded by another philosopher-ruler, Nestor, also a Stoic. Tarsus seems to have been unique among hellenistic cities in having such a rule by philosophers for a time. And, that time was the period of Paul's youth.
Neither Acts nor Paul says much about his family except to mention the strict Judaism under which he was reared. That will be discussed in chapter 2. But do we know anything else about them?
Writing in the third century a.d., the Christian scholar Jerome mentioned a tradition that Paul migrated to Tarsus with his family from Gischala in Judea. Jerome added that they fled because the area was being laid waste by the Romans. This tradition presents two problems. The first is the easiest to treat. Gischala was in Galilee, not Judea. However, there is ample evidence that the term Judea was used to refer to all of Palestine in the first century. The second problem is more difficult. Paul told the Jewish crowd that he was born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3), not carried there from "Judea." Jerome's tradition must be corrected at this point. The most likely time for a Jewish family to flee Roman repression in Palestine was that of Pompey (around 67 b.c.). If Jerome's tradition has any historical basis, we must assume that the family went to Tarsus before Paul's birth, perhaps as much as two generations earlier.
Paul's family were Diaspora Jews; that is, they were Jews who lived outside Palestine. Also referred to as the Jewish Dispersion, Jews had from the time of the Babylonian captivity been living in communities outside the Holy Land. Many did not return from Babylon when Cyrus permitted the return from exile. There were other periods of major Jewish migrations from Palestine; for instance, to Alexandria in the third century b.c. and to Syrian Antioch in the second. Antiochus IV seems to have settled a number of Jews in Cilicia and also in Rome. By the first century, Jews lived in every major city of Asia and Syria-Cilicia.
Unfortunately, we do not know a great deal about Diaspora Jews. There are few sources of information—some writings which seem to have originated in the Diaspora, such as the Wisdom of Solomon, the apocalyptic book of IV Ezra, the little fictional writing called Joseph and Asenath, and the writings of the Alexandrian apologist Philo. Their religion does not seem to have differed much from that of Palestine, either in belief or in practice. Philo, for instance, used elaborate allegorical methods derived from the Greeks. He employed them to expound the Jewish faith to the hellenistic world. His own faith, however, was squarely centered in what could be called "orthodox" observance of the Jewish law. Diaspora Jews usually lived in Jewish quarters with other Jews. The synagogue was the center of their community life.
Did Paul come from a family of means? There really is little evidence to go by. Some scholars have argued that his family was wealthy. This conclusion is based on one or both of two considerations. The first is the fact of their Tarsian citizenship. According to the Stoic philosopher Dio Chrysostom, who visited Tarsus in the late first century, one of the measures initiated by Athenodorus a century earlier was to restrict the right of voting to those who were able to pay a 500 drachma poll tax.This was a considerable amount, equivalent to 18 months' wages for a working-class person. A second consideration is Paul's tent-making trade (Acts 18:3). It is possible that Paul worked with the material known as cilicium, which was made of woven goat's hair. Named for Cilicia, where it originated, it was used for tents and saddles. It was durable and expensive. Tarsus was famous for its textile business. The Jewish rabbinic writings record that there was extensive commerce in textiles between Judea and Cilicia. Paul's family may have had connections with this trade. It is also possible that Paul's family was not involved in tent making at all. Paul studied in Jerusalem to be a rabbi, a teacher of the law. The Jewish ideal for teachers was that they be self-supporting and not earn their livelihood by teaching. In this way they remained unencumbered and free to teach as they saw fit. Paul may have learned his tent making in Jerusalem in order to fulfill this ideal.
The life of a pious Diaspora Jewish family like Paul's would have centered around the synagogue. Religious instruction took place there on a regular basis through the readings of Scripture and the prayers in the worship every Sabbath. There may also have been synagogue instruction in Scripture for young Jewish boys. They were expected to learn large portions of the Pentateuch. We know that by the second century elementary schools existed for teaching boys aged six through twelve the written books of Law. These were known as the "houses of the book" (beth haʾsepher). We have little evidence for educational practices in first-century Diaspora Judaism. Religious education was a family responsibility, and Paul may have received his primary instruction in the family circle. One thing is certain: he learned his Greek Bible well. Paul cited Scripture consistently from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Scripture. Of course, Paul ministered among Jews and Gentiles outside Palestine for whom Greek would have been their primary language. His use of the Greek Scripture was thus natural. He had probably first become acquainted with it in Tarsus.
Another influence on Paul in Tarsus would have been the presence of Gentile proselytes and God-fearers in the synagogue. Proselytes were converts to Judaism who had been circumcised and who agreed to live by the Torah. God-fearers were synagogue adherents, Gentiles who believed in the one God and who participated in synagogue worship but who had not been circumcised and become fall converts to Judaism. A good example of a God-fearer is the centurion Cornelius: he worshiped God, prayed constantly, and gave generously to the needy (Acts 10:2). God-fearers were usually present in the synagogues where Paul later witnessed as a Christian missionary. They were probably present in the synagogue of Paul's youth in Tarsus. It may well have been there where he first developed a burden for the salvation of the Gentiles, a burden which would become the passion of his life.
Did Paul have any formal education in Greek schools? Hellenistic cities like Tarsus had a long tradition of primary education. Boys between the ages of six and fourteen, were sent to elementary schools, where they were trained in the basic skills of reading, writing, simple arithmetic, and music. Moral formation was also a major component of their studies. The writings of the Greek poets were emphasized. Does Paul show any evidence of such training? His literary skills are beyond question, as demonstrated in his letters. They are written in a fluent, educated Greek, neither the careless style of the popular papyri nor the artificial, verbose style of first-century schools.
Only rarely does Paul show any awareness of the Greek writers. In fact, there are only three instances where he quoted them. In his speech to the philosophers of Athens he quoted the third-century b.c. Stoic poet Aratus: "We are his offspring" (Acts 17:28). Aratus was a "local," a Cilician poet from the town of Soli, not far from Tarsus. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul quoted from one of the comedies of Menander, a playwright of Athens (ca. 341-290 b.c.): "Bad company corrupts good character" (1 Cor. 15:33). Finally, in his letter to Titus, Paul quoted Epimenides, a Cretan religious teacher from around 500 b.c. Epimenides described the bad character of his fellow Cretans: "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12).
These are the only three instances where Paul reflected any clear awareness of Greek writers. Even these need not have come to Paul through formal schooling. They had become proverbial tradition, well known by the general public. Paul's literary background was elsewhere. Throughout his letters he drew from the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint. He quoted from it, he alluded to it, his choice of words reflected that he was thoroughly steeped in it. His primer was not the Greek writers but the Greek Bible. Did Paul attend grammar school in Tarsus? Perhaps some judgment such as that of Martin Hengel is on target: he received his elementary education in Tarsus, but it was in a Jewish school, not a Greek school.
Greek secondary education was attended only by the rich. It was designed to prepare a young man for public service. Advanced mathematics and literature were a part of the curriculum. A major component was the study of rhetoric. Rhetoric was the art of persuasive speech for use in the legislature, the law courts, and for public occasions such as funerals. By Paul's time formal handbooks had been developed for teaching rhetorical method. Especially valued were those of Aristotle, Cicero, and, later, Quintilian. In recent years a number of scholars have noted how Paul seems to have employed a number of devices from formal hellenistic rhetoric. His speeches in Acts can be analyzed according to the major divisions of classical rhetoric. Rhetorical method was also applied to written as well as oral communication, always with an emphasis on persuasion. The use of such devices as irony, various figures of speech, and appeals to emotion and common knowledge were all designed to carry an argument. Some scholars have attempted analyses of entire Pauline epistles according to the major categories of classical rhetoric.
Greek rhetoric was taught on the "high school" level, from ages fourteen to eighteen. But Paul probably never studied rhetoric in the schools of Tarsus. He was most likely already in Jerusalem studying under Gamaliel at this point in his life. Any formal training would have been in that city. Hellenism had penetrated the entire civilized world by the first century. The Romans were its most ardent supporters. Jerusalem would have been familiar with Greek culture. Paul's teacher Gamaliel had a reputation of being open to the study of Greek learning. Paul, however, may not have studied formal rhetoric. Rhetoric was above all an oral medium. In Tarsus especially Paul would have been exposed to the popular Cynic and Stoic street philosophers and their artful methods of persuasion.
Part of Paul's education as a boy in Tarsus would have been his exposure to the various institutions of Hellenism like the theater and the gymnasium. Paul doesn't show much interest in the former. Once he described his suffering as an apostle as being a "spectacle" (Gk., theatron) to the world. That is about it for his acquaintance with drama, but it is quite different with the gymnasium (1 Cor. 4:9). Every hellenistic city had its gymnasium, its center of athletic training. There men and youths engaged in athletic competition in the nude. This was where the institution derived its name, gymnos being the Greek word for "naked." For Jews, nakedness was religiously offensive. When the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes sought to introduce a gymnasium into Jerusalem, it contributed to the revolt that eventually led to the Maccabean wars. Diaspora Jews seem to have been more open to Greek athletic events. The Alexandrian Jew Philo attended the games. Paul may have done so as well.
A number of times in his epistles, Paul employed athletic images. Some of these may have been mere metaphors, such as his frequent references to running. Other passages, however, reveal his clear awareness of Greek athletics. Particularly is this true of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, where Paul combined images of the foot race, boxing, and training for competition. Philippians 3:12-14 presents a developed picture of the runner with eyes fixed on his goal, straining to reach it. The Pastoral Epistles frequently employ athletic images, such as physical training (1 Tim. 4:8), competing by the rules (2 Tim. 2:5), fighting the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12), and winning the race (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul's athletic references are too pervasive in his letters for him to have shared the antipathy that some Jews felt toward the games. His love for sports may have been a part of his Tarsian legacy.
In the late nineteenth century, the history of religions school of biblical interpretation flourished. This school investigated early Christianity against the background of the pagan religions of that day. At the height of this method of study, much of Paul's theology and practice were explained as heavily influenced by or even produced by these non-Jewish and non-Christian religions. In particular, it was argued that Paul's teachings were derived from the contemporary mystery religions. These were cults which were widespread throughout the Roman Empire in the first centuries after Christ. They were developments from ancient native religions, and they came from nearly every part of the empire. From Greece came the oldest of the cults, the Eleusinian mysteries. From Asia Minor came the cult of Dionysus. It had its roots in the worship of the ancient Mother Goddess. From Persia came the worship of the "invincible sun," Mithraism. The cult of Isis originated in the worship of Isis and Osiris in Egypt. Behind all these was usually some form of ancient nature religion which celebrated the dying and coming to life of the seasonal agricultural cycle. In their first-century form, they had been uprooted from their original setting and universalized. They were called "mysteries" because secret rites lay at their heart. They flourished in an age when the old local gods were no longer considered protectors because of the dominance of Rome. They promised protection and deliverance on an individual level. Through undergoing the secret rites, adherents were "perfected" and guaranteed immortality.
Those people initiated into a mystery formed local brotherhoods called thiasoi. From the second century b.c., most of the mysteries had brotherhoods in all the major cities of the Roman Empire. Not much is known about the rites of the individual mysteries because of their esoteric nature. Initiates were sworn to secrecy. One of the few testimonies is that of Lucius Apuleius, who was initiated into the Isis mysteries at Cenchrea, a port of Corinth. Most of the mysteries probably followed a pattern similar to Lucius's experience, which involved purification, extensive esoteric instruction, a sacred meal, and a vision of the goddess. The rites of Dionysus were particularly notorious for their frenzied dancing and drunken revelry.
History-of-religions scholars argued that Paul virtually turned Christianity into a mystery religion. The Lord's Supper was seen as a cultic meal in which initiates consumed the god. Baptism was traced to the Taurobolium, a mystery rite involving the slaughter of a bull and the bathing of the initiate in its blood. Paul's view of the believer's union with Christ was seen to come from oriental mysticism with its goal of the believer being totally absorbed into the being of the deity. Even the early Christian confession of Christ as "Savior" and "Lord" was seen to come from the local and imperial Greco-Roman cults. Today the excesses of the history-of-religions school are largely ignored. There are a few scholars who would argue that Paul was exposed to the mystery cults in Tarsus. But there is no evidence that there were any brotherhoods of any of the mysteries in Tarsus in Paul's day. In fact, one cannot be sure of any fully developed mystery rites in the first century anywhere. All our sources for them date from the second century and later.
There were undoubtedly remnants of the old Cilician gods in Tarsus in Paul's day. In the coinage of ancient Tarsus a native god often appears. He is usually depicted seated, holding out grapes or ears of grain. He was a typical near-eastern agricultural god. The Great Mother cult, an ancient fertility religion, originated in Phrygia, not far west of Tarsus. The sacred object of the goddess, a meteorite, was taken to Rome in 191 b.c. Veneration of the Great Mother lay behind the worship of Artemis in Ephesus with which Paul clashed (Acts 19:23-41). Paul almost certainly encountered the indigenous Greek religions from an early age. They seem to have contributed nothing to his religious thought beyond a possible word or two in his vocabulary. The content of his faith came from the Old Testament and from his conviction that Christ was the risen Messiah.
Paul related easily to the Greek philosophers. Acts 17:16-21 depicts him holding his own with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the Athenian marketplace. His address from the Areopagus held the philosophers' attention until he came to the inevitable "offense" of the gospel—the death and resurrection of Christ and the final judgment (Acts 17:22-31). Paul even quoted a Stoic philosopher (v. 28). Is this an accurate picture? Was Paul that well acquainted with the philosophical currents of the time? The answer seems to be "yes."
There is much in Paul's letters which bears favorable comparison with the contemporary philosophers, particularly with the Stoics and Cynics. These were the most familiar to the general population. It is often hard to distinguish between the two, and so they are often put together—Stoic/Cynic. In Paul's day, both were peripatetic street philosophers. They used similar methods of argument, and both emphasized moral teaching. The Cynics were the original street preachers. They abandoned all luxuries, living lives of poverty, dressed in ragged cloaks, depending on begging for sustenance. They were particularly known for their sharp social critique. Stoics were perhaps the most popular philosophers of the day. They sought detachment from the world and total self-sufficiency as the greatest virtue. They believed that the world was permeated by a rational spirit which held everything in balance. Every human was believed to possess this spirit and thus to participate in divinity. Because the divine was seen to pervade everything, they emphasized living in harmony with nature and with one's fellow human beings. This emphasis on brotherhood made Stoicism especially popular with the military.
As we have seen, Tarsus was a major center of Stoic education and was even ruled for a time by the Stoics during the period of Paul's boyhood. One would not be surprised to see him being familiar with Stoic thought and manners. Some common Stoic themes do occasionally appear in his letters. For example, Stoics would have agreed with Paul's argument in Romans 1:19-20 that God is "clearly seen" in his creation. They, too, believed in a divine design that pervades all nature. They likewise would have agreed with Paul's reference to those who "do by nature things required by the law" and to those whose "consciences" bear them witness (Rom. 2:14-15). The idea of natural law was at the heart of the Stoic system. A Stoic, however, would have found Paul's use of these concepts incomprehensible. Paul used the ideas of God's visibility in creation and of human conscience to argue human responsibility for sin. For the Stoic, they were a sign of humanity's divinity; for Paul, they pointed to human lostness. The same can be said for Paul's statement in Philippians 4:11 that he had "learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Paul even used the Stoic terminology, autarches (self-sufficient). The goal of the Stoic was to become totally self-reliant, detached from the world, dispassionate, able to take whatever life might dish out. For a Stoic, this could be accomplished by tapping on one's inner resources, on the divine spark within each one of us. Paul shared no such view of human divinity. His sufficiency indeed came from divinity—not his own, but God's (Phil. 4:13).
Paul did not share the basic viewpoint of the Stoic philosophers. His debt to them was more in form than in substance. For instance, he often used their style of argumentation. Known as the diatribe style, this was a method of arguing by extensive use of rhetorical questions. A development of the Socratic method of teaching by asking questions, it was perfected by the Cynics in their street preaching and adopted by the Stoics. The Stoic diatribe often set up an imaginary dialogue partner, a sort of "straw person" who would ask questions, often in rapid succession. The Stoic would advance his argument by responding to these "straw" questions. Paul frequently used the method, particularly in Romans. A good example is Romans 6:1. Paul had been maintaining that we are saved by God's grace, not by our own good works. Now he wished to address the issue of whether this means that morality has no role in the Christian life. He used the diatribe method to raise the issue. The imaginary dialogue partner asked, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" Paul answered his own question with a strong "by no means!" and proceeded to argue that a Christian no longer sins, because the sinful life has been buried with Christ. Paul's "by no means" (Gk., mē genoito) often accompanies the diatribe style. Paul used it three times in the space of nine verses in the diatribe argument of Romans 3:1-9.
In Paul's day the major component of Stoic teaching was moral instruction. This often followed certain standard forms. Paul was familiar with the forms and often used them. For example, there were the virtue and vice lists, lists which enumerated various good qualities to be nurtured and bad traits to be avoided. The "acts of the sinful nature," which he listed in Galatians 5:19-21, take the form of a traditional vice list. The "fruit of the Spirit," which follow in verses 22 and 23, are a "virtue" list. A related form of hellenistic moral instruction were the lists of qualifications for leaders. These often took a rather stereotypical form, listing the various characteristics which made for a good leader in specific professions. Paul followed this form in his lists of qualifications for overseers and deacons in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 3:2-13). A final form of moral teaching was that of the "household order," where instruction was given to various members of the household as to their responsibilities toward one another. Paul likewise used this form of teaching (Col. 3:18-4:1).
In all these instances, Paul followed the form of hellenistic moral teaching. His content was generally quite different. For example, in the household order the philosophers usually furnished advice to only one party in the relationship, generally the subordinate member in the social order of the day (wives, children, slaves). In the household orders of Colossians and Ephesians, Paul addressed the responsibilities of both parties (husbands as well as wives, parents as well as children, slaves as well as masters). For the Stoic, the advice was always based on what was believed to be in accordance with nature. For Paul, the instruction derived from one's relationship to Christ (what was seen to be fitting in light of one's Christian status).
Paul may have been influenced by the philosophers in other ways as well. For instance, it has been argued that Paul combated his opponents in 2 Corinthians 10-13 with an ironical type of argument which emphasized that the true philosopher often appears in weakness rather than arrogance, a type of ideal that ultimately went back to Socrates. Others have noted how Paul's methods of dealing with his churches exemplify a sort of "pastoral care" that had much in common with the communities of the philosophers. Again, it must be emphasized that lines of dependence are difficult to establish. The influence of the philosophers may have been communicated to Paul indirectly, mediated through the Diaspora synagogue or even in his schooling in Jerusalem. It should also be noted that sometimes the connection was negative. For example, in the first century some of the traveling philosophers had become virtual charlatans, preying on the innocent for their personal gain. Paul may have had to dissociate himself from them on occasion. At Corinth, it might have been the bad taste of itinerant philosophers that led him to forego the material support of the church (1 Cor. 9:3-18).
We will never know for certain how much and in what ways Paul was influenced and formed by his years in Tarsus. In the cross-fertilization characteristic of the age, Paul could have been exposed to hellenistic influences in Jerusalem as well as in Tarsus. One legacy he almost certainly owed to Tarsus, however: There he was exposed to Gentiles to an extent he never could have been in Jerusalem. It was probably not by accident that a Diaspora Jew like Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:5).
Politically, Paul's world was a Roman world. Rome's conquest of the Mediterranean basin was complete by the first century a.d. The only areas not under Roman control were the Parthians to the east of Syria and the barbarian tribes of northern and eastern Europe. The Romans established strong borders to keep the latter out. Within those borders there was relative peace throughout the Mediterranean world. Rome's administration of its empire took various forms, but the one constant was the Roman presence.
Paul grew up in a world ruled by Rome. His native Tarsus was a free city under Rome, which meant that it had a measure of independence and self-government. Still, it was within the Roman administrative province of Syria-Cilicia; the supreme local authority was the imperial legate of Syria. When Paul moved to Jerusalem, he lived in a city which was even more directly controlled by the Romans. Judaea was under a Roman procurator, who resided in Caesarea and periodically came to Jerusalem to hold court and attend to affairs. Roman troops were permanently garrisoned in the city. Though the Jewish Sanhedrin had probably been delegated a degree of jurisdiction in local matters, the supreme authority lay with the Romans, particularly in more serious matters like capital crimes. Jesus, for instance, was formally condemned by the Roman procurator Pilate and executed on a Roman cross.
Paul had even closer ties with Rome; he possessed the coveted Roman citizenship. He never mentioned his citizenship in his epistles; he had no occasion to do so. In Acts Luke related several incidents involving Paul's status as a citizen—his informing the Philippian magistrates that they had violated his citizenship by scourging him (16:37-39), his divulging his citizenship to avoid another beating in Jerusalem (22:25-29), and the Roman tribune's advising the governor Felix of the prisoner Paul's Roman citizenship (23:27). Paul's citizenship was not mentioned but was obviously implied when he appealed to Caesar (25:10-12). A number of questions naturally arise over Paul's citizenship. What privileges did it carry? How did Paul's family acquire it? How could he prove he had it?
Roman citizenship was not common when Paul was born into it. It was granted on an increasing basis through the course of the first century and thereafter. Finally, in a.d. 212 it was extended to all inhabitants of the Roman empire (the Constitutio Antoniana). But in Paul's day it was uncommon in the provinces of the empire, where even high-ranking officials often did not possess the coveted status. Citizenship carried a number of advantages. Perhaps the primary one was that citizens were subject to Roman law, not to the local laws of the provincial cities. A citizen could agree to trial by local law but always retained the right to be heard before a Roman tribunal. Only a Roman citizen had the legal right to marry another Roman citizen. A citizen could not be scourged or imprisoned without a hearing and the establishment of sufficient cause. In capital offenses, a citizen had the right to appeal the decision of a lower court to the emperor. In general, citizens were exempt from cruel punishments like crucifixion. There were exceptions. For example, Jews of Roman citizenship (equestrian rank) were crucified by Florus in a.d. 66 at the outbreak of the Jewish war: Josephus, War, 2.308.
There were various ways by which citizenship could be granted. Freeborn natives of Rome were automatically citizens. When they took up residence in the provinces, they carried their citizenship with them. One could become a citizen through military service. Veterans often or more years were granted citizenship. Sometimes individuals or whole territories were granted citizenship by vote of the Roman senate or by imperial decree. Usually this was in gratitude for some special service rendered to the state. Some have suggested that Paul's family may have obtained the status in this manner—through services rendered to the military in their tent-making trade. Direct purchase of citizenship does not seem to have been possible. When the tribune Lysias told Paul that he had obtained his citizen's rights by paying a large sum of money (Acts 22:28), he was probably referring to the bribes he had to pay the "right people" to obtain the coveted status.
One of the most common means by which people became Roman citizens was by being freed from slavery. When a Roman citizen freed a slave, the slave legally obtained his patron's citizenship along with freedom. The patron's name now became his own legal name. It is very possible that Paul's father or grandfather obtained Roman citizenship in this fashion. Philo, for example, told how a number of Jews had been carried captive to Rome by Pompey in 63 b.c. and how they were later set free and continued to live in the city. Paul's family may have obtained citizenship in some such fashion. In the case of such "freedmen," their citizen's rights were limited in some respects. They could not hold public office, for example. Children born to them, however, had no such restrictions, being full citizens in every respect. Paul's situation was the latter; he was born a Roman citizen.
How did a person prove Roman citizenship? During the time of Augustus, a policy was adopted whereby newborn citizens in the provinces were registered in the office of the provincial governor. Registry had to be completed within thirty days of birth and in the presence of seven witnesses. A permanent record was kept in the official archives. Presumably a copy was furnished to the family. It may have been like the small diptych which military veterans carried with them to confirm their citizenship. It consisted of a pair of folded wooden tablets inside which was inscribed the official record of their citizenship. Citizens probably did not have to produce proof of citizenship on demand. Penalties were severe for imposters, serving as a deterrent to deception.
One badge of citizenship was a person's name. Roman citizens had three names, as in the following examples: Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero. The first name, called the praenomen (Gaius, Marcus), was little more than a formality. In the first century only a handful of praenomina were used. The second name (Julius, Tullius) was called the nomen. It denoted the Roman tribe to which one belonged. Every citizen belonged to a tribe (or gens). This tribal name linked individuals to their ancestry or to the patron from whom they obtained their citizenship. The third name (Caesar, Cicero) was known as the cognomen. This was the name which carried the most weight for actually identifying the individual. Often it was a name which was commonly used in a given family.
The tripartite name was distinctly Roman. Jews and Greeks normally used only a single name. A full three-part Roman name never appears in the New Testament. Latin names are common in the New Testament but never the full formal name. Three praenomina occur: Gaius, Lucius, and Titus. Only two nomina occur: Cornelius and Julius. Twice a double name (nomen and cognomen) appears: Sergius Paulus and Claudius Lysias. Paul (Paulus) is a cognomen. It is a Latin, not a Jewish name. It is significant that Paul always called himself by this Roman name in his epistles. He never used Saul, which is found only in Acts. Paul may have deliberately avoided using the name Saul (Gk., saulos) in his Greek letters. The Greek word saulos refers to personal affectation, especially in one's walking. It was sometimes used of the seductive sauntering of prostitutes. See T. J. Leary, "Paul's Improper Name," New Testament Studies 38 (3, 1992): 467-469.
Many have speculated about Paul's possible full name. Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Marc Antony were all patrons who bestowed benefits on Tarsus. If Paul's ancestors were granted citizenship by one of these, they would have taken on the first two names of the patron. The resulting name for Paul would then be Gaius Julius Paulus, or Marcus Antonius Paulus. Others have noted that Paulus is a common cognomen found among the Aemilius tribe. They suggest that Paul's name may then have been L. Aemilius Paulus. The church fathers speculated about Paul's name as well. Jerome suggested that Paul took it from Sergius Paulus, Paul's first convert on the first missionary journey. It is indeed at the place where Luke mentioned Sergius Paulus that he first introduced the name Paul into the narrative of Acts (13:9). But Paul was himself a Roman citizen and would have had his Latin name from birth. Augustine preferred to play on the etymology of Paul's name, noting that the Latin word paulus means "small," and suggesting that Paul preferred to be known as the "least" of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9) rather than by the name of the arrogant king Saul. All speculation aside, Paul's Roman name would have served him well as he ministered in the provinces of the Roman Empire as the apostle to the Gentiles.
For the first few hundred years of its existence, Rome had a republican form of government with a senate as its governing body. With the burgeoning empire and with the growing power of the military, in the first century b.c. the republic eventually gave way to rule by a single individual—first Julius Caesar and then his nephew Octavian. Octavian, better known as Augustus ("revered"), ruled from 31 b.c. to a.d. 14. He was emperor when Jesus was born (Luke 2:1) and probably at Paul's birth as well. Paul lived under three other Roman emperors. Tiberius Caesar (a.d. 14-37) was emperor when Jesus began his ministry (Luke 3:1). Jesus was crucified during his reign, and Paul was probably converted while Tiberius was emperor. The emperor throughout most of Paul's missionary activity was Claudius (a.d. 41-54). He is mentioned twice in Acts—in connection with a worldwide famine (11:28) and with his expulsion of the Jews from Rome (18:2). The emperor to whom Paul appealed was Nero (a.d. 54-68), and, if early tradition is correct, he was the emperor responsible for Paul's death.
The emperor was princeps, "first" in command. But under him was an extensive imperial retinue. At the top were the governors of the various provinces. For administrative purposes, Rome's subject territories had been divided into a number of provinces. These were of two types: senatorial and imperial. Senatorial provinces tended to be the older, more settled districts. They were ruled over by a governor of senatorial rank who was appointed by the Roman senate. The governor was called a proconsul and generally served a term of one year. Gallio was the proconsul of the province of Achaia (southern Greece) around a.d. 52. The Jews of Corinth made a formal accusation against Paul before Gallio, who quickly dismissed the case (Acts 18:12-17). Since the government of the senatorial provinces was well established and stable, Roman troops were usually not stationed in them. Most of Paul's missionary activity was conducted in senatorial provinces. In his day, the senatorial provinces were Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, Pamphylia, Africa, Macedonia, Asia, Bithynia, Achaia, Crete, and Cyprus.
Imperial provinces were those that had only recently come under Roman administration. Their governors were called procurators and were appointed by the emperor. Often these provinces lay along the borders of the empire or in areas where there was instability or resistance to Roman rule. Correspondingly, troops were regularly stationed in these territories. Syria-Cilicia, Gaul, Galatia, and Britain were among the imperial provinces in Paul's time.
In addition to provinces, there were small "client" kingdoms where the Romans allowed local kings to retain their rule. These kings were little more than puppets who swore their allegiance to Rome. Herod the Great (40-4 b.c.) is a good example of a client king. He owed his rule over Judaea to the Romans. He served as a "benefactor" of Rome throughout his reign, paying for lavish building enterprises in cities all over the Roman Empire. During most of Paul's ministry, Judaea was not ruled by a local king but was directly administered by Roman procurators/governors, except for the brief three-year reign of Herod's grandson Agrippa I (a.d. 41-44). Agrippa is the "king Herod" of Acts 12. Paul had close dealings with two of the Judaean governors: Felix (Acts 23:26-24:26) and Festus (Acts 24:27-26:32).
In his epistles Paul consistently used official Roman provincial designations. He referred to Philippi and Thessalonica as "Macedonia" (2 Cor. 8:1), to Corinth as "Achaia" (2 Cor. 9:2), and to Ephesus as "Asia" (Rom. 16:5). Likewise, he addressed the Galatian epistle to the province and not the particular cities where the Galatian churches were located. If he had done the latter, we would not have the problem of determining whether the Galatians were located in the northern or in the southern portion of the province.
Paul ministered in many hellenistic cities. The majority of these were of two types: free cities and colonies. Free cities were based on the Greek model of the independent city-state. The Roman policy was to allow as much local autonomy as possible, to encourage cities to govern themselves as long as they maintained allegiance to Rome. Well-established hellenistic cities which had a history of self-government and had demonstrated their loyalty to Rome were often given the status of free cities. Among the cities where Paul ministered, Syrian Antioch, Thessalonica, and Athens were all free cities. Being a free city carried a number of advantages. In theory, free cities were allowed to pass and to enforce their own laws. Roman troops were not to be quartered within the city limits. The city was exempt from provincial taxation and allowed to levy its own taxes. Since free cities were allowed to determine their own government, they varied widely in their laws and administration. For instance, Luke referred to the officials of Thessalonica as "politarchs" (Acts 17:6), a term which has been found in inscriptions at Thessalonica and that seems to have been unique to that city.
Colonies were the highest status of cities in the Roman Empire. As the name implies, colonies were little islands of Roman culture and government scattered throughout the empire. Like free cities, colonies enjoyed self-government and exemption from provincial taxes. But the government and law were uniform in the colonies. They all had Roman law and Roman government. Colonies were always comprised of a nucleus of Roman citizens, who alone had the vote and who were responsible for the administration of the city. Colonies were particularly numerous along the frontiers of the empire. Troops and veterans would be located there to ensure the integrity of the empire's borders. Among the colonies where Paul witnessed, Pisidian Antioch and Lystra were of this type of military border colony. Another type of colony was the veteran colony. These colonies consisted of settlements of retired Roman soldiers. One of the rewards of serving in the military was the receipt of a pension and a homestead upon retirement. These veteran communities were usually located on land which Rome had acquired through its conquests. They were "colonies" of the mother city; their law, their administration, and often their language were Roman.
Among the veteran colonies where Paul served were Corinth and Philippi. Corinth had been destroyed by the Romans in 146 b.c. in reprisal for its leadership in the Greek wars against Rome. It was rebuilt in 44 b.c. by Julius Caesar. A number of veterans were settled there. In addition, many of the indigenous Greek population were granted Roman citizenship by Caesar. The new city was organized as a Roman colony. Philippi was an ancient city located close to the plain where in 42 b.c. the decisive battle of the Roman civil war took place, Octavian and Antony prevailing over the republican forces of Brutus and Cassius. Philippi was at that time reorganized as a colony, and veterans of the victorious forces were settled there.
The scene of Paul's imprisonment in Philippi (Acts 16:19-40) illustrates a typical Roman colony. Paul and Silas were accused of a crime and taken before the magistrates of the colony. Every colony had this Roman governmental structure of two chief judicial officers (called duoviri). The two Christian missionaries were beaten with rods and then cast into prison. The rods were the typical Roman instruments for scourging. They were carried about by the police (called lictors) and were bound in bunches called fasces. (Mussolini's government was called "fascist" because it used this symbol of the fasces, the bundles of rods carried by the police of ancient Rome). Quite understandable was the great concern of the magistrates over having improperly scourged the two Roman citizens, Paul and Silas. Roman law prevailed in the Philippian colony, and scourging without a hearing was a serious breach of law. It is possible that Paul's letter to Philippi reflects the city's colonial status. A great deal of military language appears in Philippians. Paul spoke of the Roman palace guard (1:13) and described Epaphroditus as a "fellow soldier" (2:25). He used the language of citizenship (3:20) and may even have reflected Roman laws regulating partnerships in his references to the Philippians serving as his partners in the gospel (1:7; 4:10-20).
In the Roman provinces, even cities which enjoyed neither colonial nor free city status were often given considerable local autonomy. This was the case for both Jerusalem and Ephesus in Paul's day. The account in Acts of Paul's encounter with the Ephesian silversmiths illustrates the interplay of local and imperial jurisdiction that prevailed in these cities (Acts 19:23-41). Luke referred to the crowd which gathered in the theater as the dēmos (v. 30) and the ecclēsia (v. 32). These are both technical terms for the assembly of voting citizens in a Greek city. The city clerk (v. 35) was the presiding officer of the assembly. Under Roman rule, the clerk was the liaison officer between the town assembly and the Roman administration. He was thus concerned that the Ephesians might fall under Roman suspicion through having an unlawful assembly (vv. 39-40). He reminded them of the regular courts to which they could appeal, presided over by the Roman proconsul (v. 38). The Romans preferred that locals administer their own internal affairs as much as possible, but they were always on guard against disturbances of the peace and possible revolts. Riots would inevitably result in tighter Roman control, and this was the main concern of the Ephesian town clerk.
The military. Paul frequently encountered the Roman military. Legions were regularly stationed in the imperial provinces where he ministered, like Syria-Cilicia and Galatia. He would have come in contact with the military especially in border colonies like Lystra and Pisidian Antioch and with the veterans of Philippi. There were likely many Christian converts from among the military in these places. Paul received good treatment from the various Roman officers who were responsible for him during his periods of imprisonment, officers like the tribune Lysias (Acts 22-24) and the centurion Julius (Acts 27).
It is striking how wide a variety of the various ranks Paul encountered, and it may prove helpful to give an overview of the Roman military organization. The basic unit of the Roman army was the legion, which consisted of from five thousand to six thousand personnel. During the time of Augustus, the number of active legions within the empire varied from eighteen to twenty-five. Within a legion were two types of officers: nobility and career military. Nobility held the high-ranking positions. They had to be of equestrian (knight) rank. The imperial legate was the commander of the legion. He was answerable to the governor of the province in which his legion was stationed. Under the legate were six tribunes. Claudius Lysias, the officer under whom Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, was a tribune and the top-ranking officer over the forces in Jerusalem. He may have begun as a career officer. His obtaining Roman citizenship was essential to his climbing the ranks, a possibility open only to the nobility. The career ladder for nobles usually started with the rank of tribune. From there it led to the position of a minor officer in the administration of a province, then to the rank of legate, from there to a major civil post such as a consulate, and finally to the top status of provincial governor (proconsul).
The backbone of the Roman legions were the career military. These were of two types. Regular legions in the republican and early imperial periods were comprised only of Roman citizens, nobility holding the top ranks, plebians the lower. Auxiliary legions were comprised largely of noncitizens, drawn from the natives of the province in which the legion was located and from mercenaries who came from elsewhere. From the time of the emperor Claudius, veterans of the auxiliary forces were granted citizenship upon their retirement.
The smallest unit of a legion was a squadron of eight soldiers, known as a contubernium. Ten squadrons comprised a centuria. A centurion was its ranking officer. Centurions appear often in the New Testament, such as the centurion Julius who accompanied the prisoner Paul to Rome (Acts 27:1). The largest division within the legion was the cohort. There were ten cohorts within a legion. The centurion Cornelius, to whom Peter witnessed, was a member of the "Italian Regiment" (Acts 10:1), a contingent of native Italians stationed in Caesarea. No legion was stationed in Italy, just as there were none in the senatorial provinces. The only forces in Italy were the emperor's own elite corps, known as the Praetorian Guard, which consisted of nine cohorts. In Philippians Paul mentioned witnessing to the Praetorian Guard (Phil. 1:13), and he may have been under their custody during his confinement in Rome (Acts 28:16).
Roman legions were often on the move, trained to move quickly from one region to another as the circumstances demanded. The very favorable picture the New Testament consistently gives of the Roman military is evidence that many like Cornelius became Christians. They carried their faith wherever they went. Many places, perhaps even Rome itself, doubtlessly first heard the gospel from military personnel.
Travel. A by-product of the Roman military was the extensive system of roads which crisscrossed the empire. Largely built by the military, the primary purpose of the roads was for the rapid deployment of troops. By the end of the first century, there were over fifty thousand miles of primary (paved) Roman roads. As the proverbial statement goes, all roads did eventually lead to Rome. Augustus erected a golden milestone for point zero in the middle of the forum in Rome. On Roman roads throughout the empire, mile markers were erected measuring the distance to the central marker in Rome. Many thousands of these markers still remain today as do long stretches of the ancient stone roads and bridges, a testimony to their durability and the skill of those who engineered them. The Roman roads interconnected, all eventually leading to Rome. Paul traveled them often.
For instance, he walked the Via Augusta between Pisidian Antioch and Lystra and the Via Appia on his trip from Puteoli to Rome (Acts 28:15). One of the roads he traveled most was the Via Egnatia, which ran from Byzantium west to the Adriatic coast at Dyrrhachium. At this point a person caught a ship, which sailed across the Adriatic directly to Brundisium on the eastern coast of Italy. From there he or she proceeded north to Rome. Paul traveled the Via Egnatia between Neapolis, Philippi, and Thessalonica. The ancient road ran through the center of Philippi, and extensive remnants of it can still be viewed from the modern road that links Philippi with Kavala (ancient Neapolis). Paul traveled thousands of miles by foot. His extensive journeys would not have been possible in an earlier day before the advent of the Roman road system.
Paul frequently traveled by sea as well. Ancient navigation was not without its dangers. Paul spoke of being shipwrecked three times and being adrift at sea for a day and a night (2 Cor. 11:25), and all this took place before the catastrophic wreck on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27). In an earlier day, however, Paul may not have escaped with his life. Piracy had made voyage on the Mediterranean extremely precarious. In the first century before Christ, Pompey rid the eastern Mediterranean of its pirates, and by the early first century a.d. Augustus had virtually eliminated piracy. What was true of the sea was also true of land travel. In an earlier day, Paul could not have traveled unmolested on such precarious routes as those of his first missionary journey. The passes through the rugged Taurus mountains and the sparsely inhabited territory made the area a haunt for brigands. The Romans, however, cleared the land routes as well as