• Paul and Places Comments Off on THE EMPEROR AND “PEACE WITH GOD” AND THE “PEACE OF GOD” (Romans 5:1-2)

    by Gordon Franz

    People the world over yearn for peace, especially in war-torn areas where there is bloody strife. The weak tend to look to a stronger entity to bring about that peace. In today’s world, that stronger entity is the United Nations.

    On June 26, 1945, the Charter of the United Nations was signed in San Francisco. Its preamble states that the peoples of the United Nations are determined to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” To that end, they are to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.” In article one of the charter, the first of four stated purposes of the United Nations is to “maintain international peace and security, and to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

    The former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, was famous for this rhetorical question that he would ask of his constituents: “How am I doing?” If the UN asked the same question, the answer might be: “Not to good!” It would be a fair question to ask, why haven’t they brought about world peace?

    Across the street from the UN headquarters in New York City is the Isaiah “Peace Plaza” which may give us a hint as to why the United Nations has failed in their quest to bring peace to the world. Engraved on the wall of the plaza is a partial quotation of a prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah. It says: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4). Unfortunately they left out the key Person of this prophecy … the LORD!

    On the grounds to the north of the United Nations building, there is a bronze statue on a pedestal of a very muscular naked man with a raised hammer in the right hand beating a sword into a plowshare. The irony of this statue is that it was donated to the United Nations by the atheistic communist state of the Soviet Union! The Isaiah “Peace Plaza” and statue of a man beating his sword into a plowshare would be examples of places that display a form of godliness, but deny its power that comes from the Lord (cf. 2 Tim. 3:5).

    The context of the verse on the “Peace Plaza” wall is this: “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and they spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the LORD” (Isa. 2:1-5; non-italic words are on the “Isaiah Wall”).

    Isaiah did have a vision of universal peace in the “latter days” where nations will beat their swords into plowshares and they shall not learn war any more. But the context of that verse has nothing to do with the United Nations. In Isaiah’s vision the LORD; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is mentioned four times, yet His name does not appear on the wall. In the prophecy Isaiah foresaw the nations of the world flowing to the LORD’s House in Jerusalem, not to the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The nations will one day walk in the ways of the LORD as He teaches them from His Law, the Torah, not by walking in the ways of the United Nation Charter or the unbiblical decisions passed by the Security Council. In the latter days the LORD will judge the nations, not the Security Council or the General Assembly!

    The United Nations is a humanly contrived organization that is seeking peace apart from the true source of peace, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace! Isaiah would write: “For unto us a Child is born [His humanity], unto us a Son is given [His divinity]; and the government will be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

    Yet people yearn for the day when the words of the angelic host at the birth of the Lord Jesus will be fulfilled: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14).

    People the world over would like to see a cessation of wars, as well as peace among their fellow human beings. But more than that, in the quietness of their hearts, they want to have peace with God.

    In the 1st century AD there was Pax Romana, the peace of Rome on land and sea. Yet this peace was brought about in honor of the god Janus, and by the spear and sword of the mighty Roman army. Fighting for “peace” is an oxymoron! The Apostle Paul, however, wrote a letter to the church in the capital of the Roman Empire and gave them the secret of how to have peace with God.

    The Temple of Janus in Rome

    Let’s take a look at peace, as signified by the temple doors of Janus. In the mid 1st century AD, the Temple of Janus, the two-faced god, also known as Ianus Geminus, stood between the Forum Romanum and Forum Iulium (Ovid, Fasti 1:257-258; LCL 5:21). The temple was built by Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC), the second king of Rome who reigned from 717-673 BC. One of his first acts as king was to build this temple to the god of the gates and doorways, as an indicator of war and peace and placed a bronze statue of Janus in it. The doors were open when the army was out to war and shut when they returned from war and there was peace. For most of King Numa’s reign, the doors were shut (Richardson 1992:207-208).

    A year or so before Caesar Augustus died in AD 14, he wrote out a will and deposited it with the Vestal Virgins in the Forum. He also wrote three other documents that were to be read by the Senate upon his death. One of documents was an account of what he had accomplished during his 41 year reign which “he desired to have cut upon bronze tablets and set up at the entrance to the Mausoleum” (Suetonius, Deified Augustus 101.4; LCL 1:287). This was called the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (“The deeds of the Divine Augustus”).

    The original bronze plaques which were at the Mausoleum have long since disappeared. However, there is one copy and several fragments of this text that still exist. The best preserved copy, in both Latin and Greek, is on the Temple of Roma and Augustus in Ankara, Turkey and is known today as the Monumentum Ancyranum. A German scholar, Theodor Mommsen, called it the “Queen of Inscriptions.” Fragments of the Res Gestae have also been found in the excavations at Apollonia, Pergamon, and Psidian Antioch in Asia Minor.

    In the Res Gestae, Augustus wrote: “Janus Quirinus, which our ancestors ordered to be closed whenever there was peace, secured by victory, throughout the whole domain of the Roman people on land and sea, and which, before my birth is recorded to have been closed but twice in all since the foundation of the city, the senate ordered to be closed thrice while I was princeps” (2.13; LCL 365).

    Plutarch (AD 45-120), a Greek writer in the Roman government of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, gave an account of the life of King Numa in his Parallel Lives. He states: “[Janus] also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about. But in the time of Augustus Caesar it was closed, after he had overthrown Antony; and before that, when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls, it was closed a short time; then war broke out again at once, and it was opened” (King Numa 20.1-2; LCL 1:373).

    During the reign of Nero, peace was finally established between the Roman Empire and Armenia. To commemorate this peace, the Armenian king Tiradates visited Rome and the Roman Senate issued a series of coins with the closed doors of the Temple of Janus on the reverse side and a Latin inscription surrounding the temple that stated: “Peace to the People of Rome both on land and sea having come, the doors of Janus he closed.” These coins were minted in AD 66. Ironically, the coins had not lost their luster when the First Jewish Revolt broke out in the same year and the doors were re-opened! The temple doors were again closed during the reign of Vespasian after the First Revolt was squashed.

    The city of Rome, later the Republic, and finally the Empire were constantly at war with its neighbors and also expanding its territory by military force. It was very rare that there was peace and the doors of the Temple of Janus were closed. The historical sources record only five periods up until the end of the 1st century AD when there was peace. The first was a lengthy period during the reign of King Numa. The second was a short period when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls in 235 BC. The third period was thrice during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The first time was after the battle of Actium in 31 BC. The second time the doors were closed was at the end of Cantabrian War in 25 BC. The third time the doors were closed during the reign of Augustus was not recorded so it is unknown. The final two periods are during the reign of Nero when peace was established with Armenia. The doors, however, were closed only briefly because of the First Jewish Revolt soon broke out. They were closed again during the reign of Vespasian after the Revolt was over.

    The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus
    Epictetus was a Phrygian Stoic philosopher who was born in Hierapolis in the Lycus Valley (cf. Col. 4:13), sometime in the mid-1st century AD. He died sometime during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). He was a crippled Greek slave and a student of Stoic philosophy.     Ironically the healing waters of his hometown, Hierapolis, could not cure him.

    He moved to Rome and was a slave of Epaphroditus who was a freedman of Nero and his personal secretary. Epictetus’ master eventually freed him as well which allowed him to study Stoic philosophy with Musonius Rufus until he was expelled from Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian when all the philosophers were banished from the city in AD 89. Epictetus established a Stoic school of philosophy in Nicopolis of Epirus (cf. Tit. 3:12) and called it a “healing place for sick souls.” Interestingly, Epictetus had the opportunity to be exposed to Christianity in Hierapolis, Rome and Nicopolis. One wonders what kind of impact this might have had on his thinking.

    Epictetus’ lectures were written down by Lucius Arrian (AD 86-160). On one occasion Epictetus said: “Behold now, Caesar seems to provide us with profound peace, there are no wars any longer, nor battles, no brigandage [bandits] on a large scale, nor piracy, but at any hour we may travel by land, or sail from the rising of the sun to its setting. Can he, then, at all provide us with peace from fever too, and from shipwreck too, and from fire, or earthquake, or lightening? Come, can he give us peace from love? He cannot. From sorrow? From envy? He cannot – from absolutely none of these things” (Discourses 3:13.9-10; LCL 2:91).

    Epictetus does not state which Caesar he had in mind when he made this statement. He could have had his contemporaries in mind: Nerva, Trajan or Hadrian, but I suspect, but can not prove, that he had Octavian, known in the New Testament as Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1), in mind.

    When the life of Octavian is examined closely, it can be seen that he is Satan’s counterfeit messiah. Satan knew the prophecy of Daniel 9 and the time of Messiah’s coming. Octavian was Satan’s man waiting in the wing to deceive the world and distract them from the coming of the Lord Jesus. Octavian was a mock and mimic of the Lord Jesus. Octavian had a “miraculous” conception. According to Roman legend, His mother was impregnated by a snake in the Temple of Apollo in Rome. The Lord Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:35). Octavian was born under the natal sign of Capricorn which the astrologers interpreted to mean that he was destined to rule the world. This was in contrast to the miraculous star that led the wise men to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-12). Octavian was considered the “son of a god” because he was the adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar. The Lord Jesus is the Son of God and God manifest in human flesh (John 1:1-3, 14; 20:31). Finally, Octavian brought “world peace” (Pax Romana), and the doors of the Temple of Janus were closed on three separate occasions. The Lord Jesus will one day bring world peace (Isa. 9:6-7). What more could Satan ask for? But there was one thing Octavian could not do. To paraphrase Epictetus: “The emperor can bring peace on land and sea, but he cannot bring peace to the hearts of men and women!”

    If not the emperor, then who could?

    The Apostle Paul and “Peace with God”
    The Apostle Paul provided the answer to the church in Rome: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

    The only One who can give peace to the hearts of men and women is the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh. Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans during the winter of AD 57-58 when he was in Corinth, a Roman colony. This was during the 4th year of Nero’s reign when he was 20 years old. It was known as the “Golden Years” of the reign of Nero.

    The epistle to the Romans is Paul’s theological masterpiece. When he gets to chapter five, he writes “Therefore …” What has preceded this verse is Romans 1-3. In that section Paul writes that the world is guilty of sin before a Holy God. He writes: “For all [Jews and Gentiles] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In Romans 4-5 he writes about justification by faith alone. He gives two examples of people in the Hebrew Scriptures who were justified by faith alone. The first was Abraham who was justified by faith alone before the Law was given. Paul demonstrates this by quoting Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” His second example is the blessedness of David who was under the Law, but God imputed righteousness to him apart from his works. Paul demonstrates this by quoting the psalm David composed after he acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba to God (cf. 2 Sam. 12:13-14; Ps. 51). “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Ps. 32:1-2). Paul clearly states that justification is apart from works when he writes: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).

    Paul writes that we are “justified by faith.” Some have given the simplistic, and inaccurate, definition of justification as “Just-as-if-I-never-sinned.” Actually, justification is a judicial act whereby God declares a sinner righteous (cf. Phil. 3:9).

    When a person is declared righteous by God, they have “peace with God.” This is the result of the Lord Jesus Christ’s work on the Cross, on behalf of the believers and is also the fulfillment of Bible prophecy: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

    After a person has been justified by faith and has peace with God, Paul writes in another epistle that believers can have the “peace of God”: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col. 3:15). This is accomplished by letting the Word of Christ dwell in the believer richly (Col. 3:16) and being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

    Perhaps these verses were flowing through the heart of Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), the “prince of Scottish hymn writers,” when he penned the words to the hymn, “I Hear the Words of Love.”

    I hear the words of love,
    I gaze upon the blood,
    I see the mighty sacrifice,
    And I have peace with God.

    ‘Tis everlasting peace!
    Sure as Jehovah’s Name,
    ‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
    For evermore the same.

    The clouds may go and come,
    And storms may sweep the sky;
    This blood-sealed friendship changes not,
    The Cross is ever night.

    My love is ofttimes low,
    My joy still ebbs and flows,
    But peace with Him remains the same,
    No change my Savior knows.

    And yonder is my peace,
    The grace of all my woes!
    I know the Son of God has come,
    I know he died and rose.

    I know He liveth now
    At God’s right hand above;
    I know the throne on which He sits,
    I know His truth and love!

    There are at least three things that we can learn about “peace with God” and the “peace of God” from the Temple of Janus, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus and the Apostle Paul. The first is that we must recognize, like Epictetus, that no human being can give us “peace with God.” Second, “peace with God” can only be attained by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh. And finally the “peace of God” is letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Have you trusted the God of Peace to forgive all your sins? Have you trusted Him to give you the righteousness of God and a home in Heaven because you have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for your salvation? For the believer in the Lord Jesus, do you know the peace of God which passes all understanding?


    1998    Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Trans. by F. Shipley. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 152.

    1985    Discourses. Vol. 2. Trans. by W. A. Oldfather. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 218.

    Inwood, Brad
    1996    Epictetus. P. 532 in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd ed. Edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth. Oxford and New York: Oxford University.

    2003    Fasti. Vol. 5. Trans. by J. Frazer, revised by G. Goold. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 253.

    1993    King Numa. Pp. 307-383 in Plutarch, Parallel Lives. Vol. 1. Trans. by B. Perrin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 46.

    Richardson, Lawrence, Jr.
    1992    Ianus Geminus. Pp. 207-208 in A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore. MD and London: Johns Hopkins University.

    1989    Lives of the Caesars. The Deified Augustus. Vol. 1. Trans. by J. C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 31.

  • Paul and Places Comments Off on THE ARCH OF TITUS AND THE OLIVE TREE OF ROMANS 11

    by Gordon Franz

    During the last two decades of the First Century AD, Rome was in the grip of the self-deified Emperor Domitian.  Imagine a small group of believers in the Lord Jesus walking pass the Coliseum in Rome and turning westward toward the Roman Forum and the Capitoline Hill.  They observe at the highest point of the Via Sacra (Sacred Way) the newly erected Arch of Titus.  Perhaps a few in this group might be struck by the olive groves on both sides of the road and caught the irony of this view.  The Arch of Titus commemorated the triumphal procession by the Roman army after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and also memorialized the apotheosis of Titus, but what of the olive trees?

    Imagine again that one of these individuals in the group had survived the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem by the Roman army, was brought to Rome as a prisoner and was paraded as a captive in the triumphal procession of Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus.  He was later sold as a slave in the Eternal City, Rome.  Perhaps the household this individual was sold into also had Christian slaves.  Eventually one of the Christians shared with this Jewish person the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ.  The message was simple.  God loved the world and sent His Son, the spotless Lamb of God – the sinless Lord Jesus, to die and pay for the sins of all humanity.  He offers the free gift of eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, God’s righteousness and a home in Heaven to any and all that would put their trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior.  Doing good works and obeying the commandments were not good enough to merit God’s righteousness.  Only faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone would gain God’s favor (John 3:16; Rom. 4:5; Phil. 3:9; Eph. 2:8, 9: I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 2:2).  This Jewish slave was touched by this message and trusted the Lord Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

    As this group of believers walks up the Via Sacra, the new convert ponders some verses that were read that morning at a meeting of the brothers and sisters in the Messiah Jesus.  The verses said: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword?  As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39, NKJV).

    The Jewish convert was joyful in the fact that absolutely nothing could separate a believer in the Lord Jesus from the love of God.  But there were several burning questions in his mind, who as a teen-ager had experienced tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword at the hands of the Romans in Jerusalem several decades before.  When he viewed for the first time the panel on the Arch of Titus with the Temple implements being carried off in the triumphal procession he asked the group: “Does God still love ethnic Israel?  He said He did (Deut. 7:8; Jer. 31:3).  Is He finished with her, or is there still a future for the nation of Israel?”  The leader stepped off the Via Sacra and walked over to a branch in the olive groves and said, “The answer to your question, dear brother, is found in this olive tree.  Yes, our loving God still has a future for the nation of Israel!”

    The Arch of Titus
    Emperor Domitian erected this single-fornix arch with elegant proportions in memory of his deceased brother, Titus, after he was deified by the Roman Senate in AD 81.  Above the arch was an inscription that read: “The Senate and the Roman people to the deified Titus Vespasian Augustus the son of the deified Vespasian” (Holloway 1987:184).  This arch stood 15.40 meters high, 13.50 meters wide and 4.75 meters deep and was faced with Pentelic marble (Richardson 1992:30).

    There were three reliefs that would have caught the eyes of anybody walking under the arch.  As one looked up to the crown of the arch there was a relief with an eagle carrying the deified Emperor Titus to heaven.  This was his apotheosis (deification).

    There are also two passageway reliefs to note.  On the south side is a relief of the Roman army carrying off the booties from Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem in the year AD 70.  The relief includes a menorah (lamp stand), the table of showbread with two vessels on it, and the two silver trumpets.  There were also soldiers holding signs with names of the cities conquered or pictures of various battle scenes.

    On the north side of the passageway is a relief with Titus riding a chariot being driven by Roma.  Nike, the goddess of victory, is crowning him with a wreath, showing his victory over the Jewish nation.

    Josephus, the first century Jewish historian and an adopted member of the Flavian family, gave a detailed account of this triumphal procession in his book, Jewish Wars, written about AD 75 (7:123-157; LCL 3:541-551).  After the triumph, some of the objects were placed in the Temple of Peace (Templum Pax) built by Vespasian near the Roman Forum and other objects were placed in his palace on the Palatine Hill (Wars 7:158-162; LCL 3:551-553; Richardson 1992:286-287).

    There was another arch built a few years earlier that was dedicated to Emperor Titus’ victory over the Jewish people in the Circus Maximus but it is not known archaeologically today.  It is, however, known from coins, reliefs and mosaics (Richardson 1992:30).  One of the inscriptions on this arch states:
    “The Senate and the Roman People to the Emperor Titus Caesar Vespasian Augustus the son of the deified Vespasian Pontifex Maximus, holder of the tribunician power for the tenth time, imperator for the seventeenth time, consul for the eighth time, father of the fatherland, the very princeps of Rome because by example and advice of his father he overcame the Jews and destroyed the city of Jerusalem which even before was besieged by generals, Kings and peoples in vain or left unmolested by them” (Holloway 1987:191).

    The Olive Tree in Romans 11
    The Apostle Paul wrote an epistle to the church in Rome about AD 58.  At the end of chapter 8 of this epistle, he asks the question, “What can separate us from the love of God?”  (8:35). He answers his own question by saying, absolutely nothing! (8:35-39). A Jewish believer in the Lord Jesus, reading this statement after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 might ask the question, “What about ethnic Israel?  Is God finished with her?”  Paul answers these questions in the next three chapters of this book (Rom. 9-11).  In chapter 9 he discusses the past history of Israel and her election by grace.  In chapter 10 he presents present day Israel and how they are seeking righteousness from God by their works, and not by faith alone in Christ alone.  Finally in chapter 11 he reveals the future for ethnic Israel.  One day, all Israel will be saved (11:26).

    Our imaginary group gathers around an olive tree near the Arch of Titus.  The leader points to a wild olive branch that had been grafted into the olive tree and says: “The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to our church and described the root of an olive tree as the blessings to all the families of the earth promised in the Abrahamic Covenant (Rom. 11:16-18; cf. Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:6-9).  Some of the branches of the olive tree, ethnic Israel, had been broken off because of their unbelief; yet wild olive branches, Gentiles, were grafted in (11:17-22).  The salvation of Gentiles was to provoke ethnic Israel to jealousy (11:11-14).  If an individual Jewish person returned to the Lord Jesus and trusted Him as Messiah and Savior, they would be grafted back into the tree (11:23-25).  But there is a day coming when “all Israel shall be saved” when they look upon Him whom they have pierced (11:26; cf. Zech. 12:10; Rev. 1:7).

    For a discussion on grafting by one who was contemporary with the Apostle Paul, see Columella, De Re Rustica 5.11; LCL 2:101-113.  For a discussion on the arboriculture of Romans 11:17-24, see Baxter and Ziesler 1985:25-32; Ramsay 1905:16-34, 152-160; Bruce 1988:203-210.

    The Conclusion of the Whole Matter

    There are at least two theological truths that could be drawn by a believer in the Lord Jesus in the 1st century AD who visited the Arch of Titus.  First, Emperor Titus was declared to be the son of a god by a vote of the Roman Senate and his apotheosis was validated by large inscriptions over monumental structures, by coins, and by a relief showing him ascending to heaven on the back of an eagle.  In sharp contrast, the Lord Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by His bodily resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:3-4), and this declaration was validated by the many eye-witnesses who saw Him after His resurrection (I Cor. 15:1-9).  The resurrected and living Lord Jesus is infinitely superior to the dead and cremated Emperor Titus (Aitken 2001:73-88; 2005:82-85).

    Second, the two scenes from the passageway of the Arch of Titus indicated that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and some might conclude that God had rejected ethnic Israel.  However, the Apostle Paul illustrated from the olive tree in Romans 11 that Israel’s rejection was not complete, but only partial and that there remains a remnant of Israel according to the election of grace (11:5).  Their rejection was not final, but only temporary because one day in the future “all Israel shall be saved” (11:26).


    Aitken, Ellen Bradshaw
    2001    Portraying the Temple in Stone and Text: The Arch of Titus and the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Pp. 73-88 in Religious Texts and Material Context.  Edited by J. Neusner and J. Strange.  Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

    2005    Reading Hebrews in Flavian Rome.  Union Seminary Quarterly Review 59: 82-85.

    Baxter, A. G.; and Ziesler, J. A.
    1985    Paul and Arboriculture: Romans 11:17-24.  Journal for the Study of the New Testament 24: 25-32.

    Bruce, F. F.
    1988    The Letter of Paul to the Romans.  Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

    Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus
    1968    De Res Rustica (On Agriculture), Books 5-9.  Vol. 2.  Trans. by E. S. Forster and E. H. Heffner.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 407.

    Holloway, R. Ross
    1987    Some Remarks on the Arch of Titus.  L’Antiquite Classique 56: 183-191.

    1979    Jewish Wars, Books 4-7.  Vol. 3.  Trans. by H. Thackeray.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 210.

    Ramsay, William
    1905    The Olive-Tree and the Wild-Olive.  Expositor, 6th series, 11:16-34, 152-160.  Reprinted   in Pauline and Other Studies in Early Christian History. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1906: 219-250.

    Richardson, L., Jr.
    1992   A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.  Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.

  • Paul and Places Comments Off on Lovers of Husbands and Children

    By Gordon Franz


    Ancient funerary monuments, sarcophagi, and ossuaries can tell much about the dead that can be instructive for the living today. The inscriptions about the dead can tell the living today what life was like in the past and can teach us lessons for life today. A visit to a cemetery can be an interesting, instructive, and a very informative experience.

    When I was a student, and later a field trip instructor, at the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, I would give tours of the Protestant cemetery located behind the old Bishop Gobat School on Mount Zion. This cemetery contained the graves of the “Who’s Who” of the 19th and early 20th century Protestants living in Jerusalem. Most would recognize the name Horatio Spafford (1828-1888), the composer of the well loved hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” As an archaeologist, I was keenly interested in the gravestones of Dr. Conrad Schick (1822-1901), an architect and early explorer of Jerusalem; Sir Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), the father of modern Biblical Archaeology; Dr. Clarence Fisher (1876-1941), one of the excavators of Samaria; James Leslie Starkey (1895-1938), the first excavator of Lachish; and other archaeologists and explorers of Jerusalem. As a believer in the Lord Jesus, I was moved by the epitaphs on some of the tombstones that expressed the assurance of eternal life for those who had placed their trust in the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior (I John 5:13).

    The Older Women in the Church

    The apostle Paul wrote a letter to his co-worker, Titus, who was laboring on the island of Crete that instructed him to “set in order the things that are lacking [in the churches on Crete], and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5, all Scripture quotes are from the New King James Bible). He also told Titus to instruct the people in the churches about “things which are proper for sound doctrine” (2:1).

    Of the older women in the churches, the Apostle Paul says they should be “reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things – that they admonish the younger women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God may not be blasphemed” (2:3-5). I would like to look at two phrases in this admonition: “to be lovers of (their) husbands, lovers of (their) children (philandrous einai philoteknous).”

    Funerary Inscriptions

    The epitaphs on tombstones reveal much about an individual and how people viewed their life. In the graveyard of Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City is the tombstone of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804). Among other things, he was an army office in the American Revolution, the first Secretary of the Treasury (1789-1795) and lost his life in a duel with Aaron Burr the vice president of the United States. His epitaph reads: “In testimony of their respect for the Patriot of incorruptible integrity, the Soldier of approved valour, the Statesman of consummate wisdom; whose talents and virtues will be admired by grateful posterity long after this marble shall have mouldered into dust.” The one thing we admire about Hamilton today is that we can carry him around in our wallet because he is on the front of the ten dollar bill! I can also report that after 204 years, his marble gravestone is still there. It has survived the air pollution in New York City, as well as the September 11th attack.

    A Sarcophagus from Aphrodisias

    The ancient city of Aphrodisias is located in the Caria region of southwestern Asia Minor in Turkey today. It was named after its patron goddess Aphrodites, the goddess of love and beauty, and had an impressive sanctuary built in her honor. The city was situated next to a marble quarry and was famous throughout the Greek and Roman world for the marble statues that were sculptured there.

    Just outside the entrance of the Museum of Aphrodisias, there is a marble sarcophagus that was found in the area at the end of the 19th century. On it there is a Greek inscription with three panels that describe why this sarcophagus was made and who was placed in it. It said that the city council and the people of Aphrodisias wanted to honor the deceased – Pereitas Kallimedes, and his wife Tatia, because of certain characteristics and virtues they had observed in this couple. On the third panel, on the right side of the sarcophagus, is the dedication to Tatia. It is translated: “The City Council and the People honored Tatia, daughter of Diogenes, son of Diogenes, grandson of Demrtrios Phileman, a woman who was modest, who loved her husband and children and throughout her life was endowed with dignity and virtue, and who was wife of Pereitas Kallimedes, son of Diogenes, grandson of Apollonios a man who acted piously and munificently in his public offices, embassies and public duties and in his capacity as temple overseer” [emphasis mine]. She was known for her modesty, dignity, virtue, and she loved her husband and children. The same Greek words for “loved her husband and children” are used on this epitaph that is mentioned in Titus 2:4. There are hundreds of tombstones and sarcophagi in the Greek and Roman world that has these two phrases on them describing the deceased women, several were even found on the island of Crete.


    There is no indication that Tatia was a Christian (her husband was the priest of a pagan temple), but we do know that she exemplified some of the things the Apostle Paul instructed the older women to teach the younger women to do in the book of Titus. Today, the older Christian woman should be modeling by her life and reaching by her lips, so that the younger Christian woman will know how to love her husband and children. Perhaps someday he tombstone will also read, “She loved her husband, she loved her children.”

  • Paul and Places Comments Off on Skeletons On The Table

    By Gordon Franz and Ernie McGinnis


    The term “skeletons in the closet” conjures up secrets from our past that we do not want other people to know about. But here is an unusual twist from the ancient Greco-Roman world: skeletons on the table! Recently we visited the Getty Villa in Malibu, CA. Gordon was working on a self-guided tour of the Biblically related objects in the Villa for the students in the Talbot School of Theology’s Bible Lands program, and Ernie was photographing the objects on display for the courses he instructs on Greek and Roman archaeology at Burbank High School. In the Coin Room (212), we observed a small bronze skeleton. When Ernie saw this object he said with excitement, “Cool, my high school kids would love this!” Gordon stared at it with a quizzed look on his face and said, “What was this used for?” Well, inquiring minds wanted to know, so we began our search, (not in closets), but on library bookshelves!

    The Skeleton at the Getty

    The small bronze skeleton was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1978 and published in their museum journal (Frel 1980: 171-172; accession number: 78.AB.307). The Romans called these skeletons a larva convivalis, which means “banquet ghost.” The Latin term convivalis bases its roots on the term vivo, which literally means “to be alive” or “to be lively”. The term itself suggests not only the contradictions between life and death, but also the Greco-Roman view of the futility of life in the face of impending death.

    The skeleton in the Getty collection is made of bronze and is preserved to a height of 6.6 centimeters. It has its skull, collarbone, ribs, spine and pelvic bones and left femur bone. The arms, right leg, and the lower portion of the left leg are missing. The metal “joints and sockets” can still be seen where the limbs were attached to each other in order to give the skeleton flexibility, so when shaken it gives the impression of jumping or dancing. This skeleton reminded people “of the brevity of human life and the necessity of profiting from the short time which remained” (1980:171).

    There are ten similar skeletons scattered in museums throughout Europe; one is made of silver, another of wood and the rest are made of bronze. Dr. Frel has dated all these skeletons from the first century BC to the first century AD and associated them with Roman Epicureanism (1980:171, 172). Epicureanism bases its roots in the ancient Greek philosophy of Epicurius of Samos (341-270 BC) who taught man’s greatest accomplishment is to be found in his tranquility of mind, which is subject to those most base activities that bring man his fleshly pleasures. Epicureans believed that the gods existed, but they were impersonal and off somewhere living a life of eternal, undisturbed happiness. They thought that the gods should be admired and respected, but not to expect favors or even punishment from them (Furley 1996:533). The Apostle Paul had some encounters with Epicurean philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:18).

    A picture of this skeleton can be seen at the Getty Museum website:


    Party Time in Puteoli

    Titus Petronius Arbitor lived during the reigns of Emperors Claudius and Nero. Tacitus, a Roman historian (ca. AD 55-AD 120), recounts some aspects of Petronius’ life this way: “He was a man whose day was passed in sleep, his nights in the social duties and amenities of life: other industry may raise to greatness —Petronius had idled into fame. Nor was he regarded, like the common crowd of spendthrifts, as a debauchee and wastrel, but as the finished artist of extravagance. His words and actions had a freedom and a stamp of self-abandonment which rendered them doubly acceptable by an air of native simplicity. Yet as proconsul of Bithynia, and later as consul, he showed himself a man of energy and competent to affairs. Then, lapsing into habit, or copying the features, of vice, he was adopted into the narrow circle of Nero’s intimates as his Arbiter of Elegance; the jaded emperor finding charm and delicacy in nothing save what Petronius had commended” (Annals 16.18; LCL 5:363-365). In other words, Petronius was a competent, happy-go-lucky, administrator, yet also a consummated “party animal” par excellent!

    As an intimate with Nero, Petronius was falsely accused by his rival, Tigellinus, of being involved in the Piso conspiracy to overthrow Nero. When this was known, Petronius took matters into his own hands and committed suicide in AD 66, by slitting his arteries and slowly bleeding to death as he ate his final meal listening to music and poetry. He died, but not before revealing the skeletons in Nero’s closet! Tacitus goes on to say, “Not even in his will did he follow the routine of suicide by flattering Nero and Tigellinus or another of the mighty, but — prefixing the names of the various catamites [boys kept for sexual purposes] and women – detailed the imperial debauches and the novel features of each act of lust, and sent the document under seal to Nero. His signet-ring he broke, lest it should render dangerous service later (Annals 16:19; LCL 5:367, brackets added by authors).

    Most likely, Petronius was the author of the satiric novel, Satyricon, written during the reign of Emperor Nero. In chapters 26-78 of this lengthy novel (LCL 43-183), he described a debaucherous party, a Cena Trimalchionis, (Latin for “banquet of Trimalchio”, the host of the meal) at the home of a freedman named Trimalchio, most likely in Puteoli (Harrison 1996:1150).

    At one point in this extravagant comic meal, served with exotic dishes and lavish “entertainment”, the host, Trimalchio, brings in vintage wine that was said to be 100 years old. He notes, “Ah me, so wine lives longer than miserable man. So let us be merry.” Petronius goes on to say that the guests “drank and admired each luxury in detail, a slave brought in a silver skeleton, made so that its joints and sockets could be moved and bent in every direction. He threw it down once or twice on the table so that the supple sections showed several attitudes, and Trimalchio said appropriately: ‘Alas for us poor mortals, all that poor man is is nothing. So we shall all be, after the world below takes us away. Let us live then while it can go well with us’” (Satyricon 34; LCL 61).

    The bronze skeleton on display at the Getty Villa is the kind of object mentioned by Petronius. Interestingly, a silver skeleton was found in the excavations at Pompeii, not far from Puteoli. It is now on display in the Museo Nazionale in Naples (Frel 1980:171, footnote 2; Caetani-Lovatelli 1895:10, fig. 1). The Apostle Paul, Dr. Luke and Aristarchus visited the believers in Puteoli for seven days as they made their way to Rome for the first time in AD 60 (Acts 27:2; 28:13).

    The Greek historian Herodotus (484 —ca. 430 BC), describes drinking bouts at banquets in Egypt several hundred years before the time of Petronius. He wrote: “At rich men’s banquets, after dinner a man carries round a wooden image of a corpse in a coffin, painted and carved in exact imitation, a cubit or two cubits long. This he shows to each of the company, saying ‘Drink and make merry, but look on this; for such shalt thou be when thou art dead.’ Such is the custom at their drinking-bouts” (Persian Wars 2:78; LCL 1:365).

    Eat, Drink and be Merry?

    The Mosaic Law describes the punishment for a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his parents, even after being disciplined by them. The parents would bring him to the elders of the city and state that he was a stubborn and rebellious son, and also a glutton and a drunkard. If he was found guilty, all the men of the city would stone the rebellious son to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

    Solomon, the wisest man in his generation, passed on some wisdom to his son: “Hear, my son, and be wise; and guide your heart in the way. Do not mix with winebibbers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags” (Prov. 23:19-21).

    Yet this wise man (Eccl. 12:9; cf. I Kings 4:29-34), nicknamed Koheleth (“the preacher”), anticipating the Epicurean philosophy, put eating and drinking in their proper perspective. He begins and ends his sermon by stating: “Vanity of vanities. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2; 12:8), but sets this concept in the context of his concluding remarks: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13, 14; see also 11:9, 10).

    The Apostle Paul has both these themes in mind when he penned his epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians. He understood the whole creation to be subject to futility, or vanity (Rom. 8:18-22), and also that the believers in the Lord Jesus will one day appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive rewards for the work they do in their bodies for God’s glory (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2Cor. 5:9, 10).

    The theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes is the search for the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of life. Solomon states: “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor — it is the gift of God” (Eccl. 3:11-13). The concept of eating and drinking and enjoying the fruits of ones labor reoccurs over and over in the book (Eccl. 2:24; 3:12, 13; 3:22; 5:18, 19; 8:15; 9:7-9).

    God has put eternity in the hearts of people who wish to know the end from the beginning, but who will not fully understand the plans and purposes of God this side of eternity. Thus, the believer in the Lord Jesus must walk by faith and not by sight, believing that God is sovereign and in control of history and all things will work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). While walking by faith, they are to eat and drink and enjoy the labor of their hands because it is a gift from God. [For a full development of the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes, see Wright 1972:133-150].

    The Epicureans, on the other hand, eat and drink to excess, and do not recognize that life is a gift from God and have no thought of a future judgment. Petronius, who did not labor with his hands, exemplified this philosophy. For him, life was one big party. He thought, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”

    Jesus, a Glutton and Winebibber?

    Jesus ate with tax-collectors and sinners, and was falsely accused of being a glutton and winebibber (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). Apparently He ate at some extravagant banquets and one wonders if a silver or bronze skeleton was thrown on the table during these meals.

    Ironically, it was Jesus that held the key that unlocked the door to the meaning of life, as well as eternity. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 9:56; 19:10), and to give His life for a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The Lord Jesus was sinless, (He had no skeletons in His closet), so as God manifest in human flesh, He could die on the Cross and pay for all the sins (the “skeletons in our closets”) of humanity (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; James 1:13). He rose again from the dead three days later to prove that sin had been paid for, Satan conquered, and death vanquished.

    He offers the free gift of eternal life and God’s righteousness to any and all, including Petronius and other Epicureans, who would put their trust in Him and Him alone for their salvation, and not their works or any merits of their own (Rom. 4:1-8; 5:8; Phil. 3:9). All who trust in Him would receive an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-10). Since believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will have new bodies and live forever in Heaven; at this banquet they will also sing the lines from Handel’s Messiah, “O Death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. Hosea 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:55, 57). Alas, there will be no servants walking around that banquet throwing skeletons on the table!


    Caetani-Lovatelli, C.
    1895 Di Una Piccula Larva Convivale in Bronzo. Monumenti Antichi 5:5-16.

    Frel, Faya Causey
    1980 A Larva Convivalis in the Getty Museum. The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 8: 171-172.

    Furley, David
    1996 Epicurus. Pp. 532-534 in Oxford Classical Dictionary. Third edition. Edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth. Oxford and New York: Oxford University.

    Harrison, Stephen J.
    1996 Petronius Arbiter. Pp. 1149-1150 in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Third edition. Edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth. Oxford and New York: Oxford University.

    1926 The Persian Wars. Books 1-2. Vol. 1. Trans. by A. D. Godley. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 117. Reprinted 1999.

    1969 Satyricon. Trans. by M. Heseltine, Revised by E. Warmington. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 15. Reprinted 1997.

    1937 Annals. Books 13-16. Vol. 5. Trans. by J. Jackson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 322. Reprinted 1994.

    Wright, J. Stafford
    1972 The Interpretation of Ecclesiastes. Pp. 133-150 in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation. Edited by W. Kaiser, Jr. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Third Printing 1976.

  • Paul and Places Comments Off on Paul at Isthmia –Going For The Gold!

    By Gordon Franz

    A sport shoe company ran an advertisement during the 1996 Olympics, with the line, “You do not win the silver medal, you lose the gold!” That line caught the essence of athletic competition. The athlete enters the competition with the goal of winning the event, not losing it. The legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, tried to instill this winning attitude in his football players when he said, “Winning is not everything, it is the only thing.”

    The epitaph of a boxer named Agathos Daimon found on a funerary monument at Olympia in Greece said:

    Here he died boxing in the stadium
    Having prayed to Zeus for a wreath
    or death. Age 35. Farewell.

    For this competitor, second place was not an option. He went for the gold and died trying to win it (Milavic 1992: 11).

    The Apostle Paul described the Christian life in terms of athletic metaphors. His goal was to win the “race” of the Christian life, not to loose it (Phil. 3:12-14; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:6-8). He died winning the race!

    Paul at Corinth

    Dr. Luke does not explicitly state why Paul went to Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18). However, the discerning Bible student, knowing the historical-geography of the city of Corinth could surmise three reasons for Paul going to this city. First, Corinth was on the strategic lines of communications. There was the major east-west maritime trade route that went via the Isthmus of Corinth, which was a vital link in trade between Rome and the eastern part of the empire. There were also the north-south land roads that went from the Greek mainland to the Peloponnesos. Many people passed through this area and Corinth would be strategic for the spread of the gospel. The second reason for Paul going to Corinth was that there was a Jewish community in Corinth (Acts 18:4). As a general rule, Paul sought out the Jewish community because he had a desire to reach his kinsmen according to the flesh with the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 9:1-5). The third reason was that the Isthmian Games were held during the spring of AD 51 and Paul knew there would be many people from throughout Greece at this event. The games were a golden opportunity to reach many with the gospel. All three reasons for going to Corinth have one common denominator. The Apostle Paul wanted to reach as many people as he could with the gospel. The message that Paul preached to these people was that the Lord Jesus died for all the sins of fallen humanity and rose again from the dead on the third day to prove that sin had been paid for. Paul taught that the Lord offers eternal life, a home in heaven and forgiveness of sins to any and all who would put there trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. Good works, baptism, or any other meritorious deeds had nothing to do with ones salvation (1 Cor. 15:3,4; Eph. 2:8,9; Rom. 4:5; 5:8).

    The Isthmian Games

    Athletes throughout Greece would converge on the Isthmian Games every two years during the spring. These games were in honor of the Greek god Poseidon (the Roman counterpart was Neptune), the “earthshaking god of the sea”. The most prominent building at Isthmia was a temple dedicated to Poseidon. There was also a stadium, theater and hippodrome used for the athletic competitions. A small structure called the Palaimon was situated near the Poseidon temple. Within this structure, the athlete took an oath to abide by the rules of the Games. If they broke the oath, they were disqualified from the Games.

    The athletes would compete in footraces, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus and javelin, the long jump, chariot racing, poetry reading and singing. (You did not know singing was considered an athletic event, did you?). According to several inscriptions that are contemporary to Paul, women competed in these games as well. The inscriptions mention women winning the 200-meter dash as well as the war-chariot races.

    Since there were no permanent accommodations at the site, the people stayed in tents in the surrounding fields. Fixing or selling tents would have given Paul and his new found colleagues, Aquila and Priscilla, ample employment as well as opportunities to share the gospel with those attending the Games (Acts 18:3). Joining him also were two of his disciples, Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).

    Paul’s Use of Athletic Terminology

    Let us examine four passages of Scripture where Paul probably has the Isthmian Games in mind when he penned the words.

    The first passage is 1 Cor. 9:24-27. This section introduces the next portion concerning Old Testament examples of believers who were tempted with various sins (10:1-13). Paul encourages them to exercise self- discipline in their Christian life so they will not be disqualified from the race.

    Unlike the modern Olympic games where gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the first three places respectively, in the ancient games, only the winner received the crown. There was no second place award – winning was everything! Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to run the race of the Christian life to obtain the prize (verse 24). According to Paul, believers are to “compete” by being temperate or exercising self-control, in their personal behavior (verse 25a). In the Isthmian Games, those who won the competition were awarded a celery crown for the prize. Paul describes it as a “perishable crown”, yet focuses the believers attention on the goal of the “heavenly race”, an “imperishable crown” (verse 25b).

    The two word pictures that Paul uses in verse 26 are that of a runner who runs focused on the finish line and the boxer who doesn’t shy away from his opponent like a shadow boxer, but rather engages him to the finish. In the Olympics, boxing was the most brutal of events. The boxer wrapped his knuckles with leather straps. In the Roman competition, which the Isthmian games probably followed, the wrapping “incorporated lead, irons and even spikes”! The athletes boxed, sometimes up to four hours, until one competitor was knocked out. Or one boxer “signaled defeat by a raised index finger” (Milavic 1992: 14). Boxing was serious and brutal competition. At times, the Christian life could be also (2 Tim. 3:12).

    Paul goes on to say that he disciplines his body so he will not be disqualified from the Christian “race” (verse 27). Paul is not saying he could loose his salvation. He knew that was eternally secure in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 1:12; Rom. 8:31-39). He was, however, concerned that the Lord would not be able to use him in preaching the gospel to others and that he would suffer the loss of rewards as well as be “ashamed at His coming” at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-17; I John 2:28; 2 Tim. 2:11-13).

    The second athletic passage to examine is 1 Tim. 4:7,8. Paul admonishes Timothy to “exercise yourself to godliness”. He had in mind the gymnasium, which is common in every Greek City, where the athlete would spend time exercising his body in preparation for the upcoming games. The priority for the Christian should be on exercising the “spiritual life” before the “physical life.” Paul is not against exercising ones body because he points out there is some temporal benefits for it. However, exercising the spiritual life should be a priority because it has both temporal and eternal consequences.

    The third passage is 2 Tim. 2:5. Paul states, “If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” Most likely Paul had in mind the oaths that the athletes took in the underground cave of the Palaimon. Here, the athletes swore that they would follow the rules in their training as well as not cheat in order to win the Isthmian crown. In the Christian “race”, we must follow the rules as well. In order to know what the rules are, one must know the “Rule Book”, the Word of God. It behooves the believer in the Lord Jesus to read, study and apply the Word of God to his / her life.

    The final passage, 2 Tim. 4:6-8, was penned by Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting his execution in June of AD 67. One of the archaeologists that excavated at Isthmia described Paul’s words here in this way. “The words in Greek have a more distinctly athletic flavor. To bring this out the passage might be rendered: ‘I have competed in the good athletic games; I have finished the foot race, I have kept the pledge (i.e. to compete honestly, with reference to the athletic oath). What remains to me is to receive the crown of righteousness, which has been put aside for me; it will be awarded to me by the Lord, the just umpire, on that day’ (an allusion to the last day of the games when, presumably, the prizes were handed out to the winners)” (Broneer 1962:31, footnote 23).

    It is interesting that Paul brings up the same two word pictures that he uses in 1 Cor. 9, the boxer and runner, when he describes his disciplined Christian life. Now at the end of his life, the discipline had paid off. He was a winner and the fear of being disqualified is behind him.

    Paul addressed this passage to his disciple Timothy who had spent time with him in Corinth during his second missionary journey. He instructed Timothy to go to (Alexandria) Troas and bring his winter garments and books that he left in the care of Carpus (2 Tim. 4:13,21). Paul apparently had left them in Troas during his fourth missionary journey on his way to Nicopolis where he was eventually arrested and taken to Rome (Tit. 3:12).

    At this point, permit me to use my “sanctified imagination”. On his journey from Troas to Nicopolis, Paul stopped in Corinth to meet the believers. While there, he heard of Emperor Nero’s performance in the singing competition or actually saw it himself. Emperor Nero was visiting Corinth in order to inaugurate the beginning of the Isthmian canal project. While there, he wanted to compete in the Isthmian Games, so the people accommodated him by changing the date of the event to the fall of AD 66.

    Suetonius, a Roman historian, wrote about Nero’s singing exploits in Greece in his Lives of the Caesars, Nero. He described Nero’s voice as “weak and husky” (Nero 20:1) and even commented that one of Nero’s generals, probably tongue-in-cheek, called it a “divine voice” (Nero 21:1). The singing competition did not involve just one song, but a whole oratorio usually lasting several hours. Suetonius describes some humorous events that transpired while Nero sang. “While he was singing no one was allowed to leave the theatre even for the most urgent reasons. And so it is said that some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the walls, since the gates at the entrance were closed, or feigned death and were carried out as if for burial” (Nero 23:2). This is hardly a description of a prize-winning performance. Yet Nero won almost all the contests he entered. How did he do it?

    There were four ways Nero could win the singing competition. First, he could win on his own merits because he had an excellent voice. Suetonius put the lie to that. Second, he could bribe his competition to “throw” the contest. Some of them did take the money Nero offered them (Nero 23:2). One greedy competitor thought he could take advantage of this and ask for 10 talents (of gold?). Nero thought this was extortion so he reverted to his third option, which was to send his thugs out to intimidate this competitor. Needless to say, he was convinced to drop out of the event! The final way for him to win was to bribe the judges. That Nero did very effectively by offering the judges Roman citizenship and a large sum of money (Nero 23:3; 24:2)!

    I believe Paul was aware of what transpired at Isthmia and used this as the backdrop for his final words to Timothy. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who love His appearing.” The Apostle Paul knew he had played by the rules and that he had won the race. The Lord Jesus, the righteous Judge, would reward him for his victory. This was a marked contrast with Nero who did not play by the rules and had bribed the unrighteous judges!

    Perhaps Paul stopped at the office of the Agonothetes, the president of the Isthmian Games, at the southern side of the Agora of Corinth. He noticed the athletic scene on the mosaic floor. In the midst of the circular panel an athlete stood wearing a leafy crown and holding a palm branch, and giving thanks to the seated Eutychia, the goddess of good fortune, for his recent victory. Paul probably chuckled when he wrote Timothy because his crown came from the Lord Jesus, not Eutychia (2 Tim. 4:8) and it was to Him he gave all the glory for the strength to stand firm in the conflict (2 Tim. 4:18).

    Paul’s Outreach Strategy

    There are at least three lessons that can be gleaned from Paul’s visit to the Isthmian Games. The first is that he went where the people were. There are some Christians who have expressed concerns about Christians going to athletic events, especially the Olympics, because of the commercialism and the pagan New Age influence. Yet this is nothing new. Paul had Poseidon and commercialism to contend with at the Isthmian Games. It would be helpful to keep in mind that Paul did not go to the Isthmian Games to worship Poseidon, he went to witness to people! Christians should take advantages of local and state fairs, athletic events, and religious festivals to present the gospel to a multitude of people.

    Second, when Paul communicated with the people in his epistles, he used familiar illustrations. His epistles are peppered with athletic terminology (Sauer 1956: 30-67). The teacher of the Word of God should know his audience and use word-pictures from everyday life that is familiar to them. In the event that believers are going to large events to pass out tracts, the gospel literature should be pertinent to the event and clearly presents the gospel.

    Third, Paul was not a “Lone Ranger” missionary when he engaged in mission work. He always did his outreach with others. He was able to work side by side with transplanted “locals”, Aquila and Priscilla as well as continue his discipleship of Silvanus and Timothy (2 Tim. 2:1,2).

    The Challenge

    We in the assemblies claim to follow the New Testament pattern of worship and missions. Do we? Are we seeking the lost where they are at? Do we speak in terms that people can understand? Are we disciplining younger people to continue the work after we are gone? Well might we be imitators of Paul as he followed the example of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

    Remember that we are not running the “race” for celery leaves, but eternal crowns!


    Broneer, O.
    1962 The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games. Biblical Archaeologist 25/1: 2-31.

    Milavic, A.
    1992 Ancient Olympia: The Place, The Games. The Celator 6/7: 6-16.

    Rolfe, J. C., trans.
    1992 Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Nero. Vol. 2. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

    Sauer, E.

    1956 In the Arena of Faith. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

  • Paul and Places Comments Off on Gods, Glory and the Gold of Philippi

    By Gordon Franz

    The Apostle Paul’s visit to Macedonia marked the first time he set foot on European soil (Acts 16:11). However, this was not the first time the gospel was proclaimed in Europe (cf. Acts 2:10). In fact, the “Macedonian call” (Acts 16:9) seems to imply that there were already believers in Macedonia that needed help in evangelizing their province.

    One writer commented, “Out of Macedonia, Alexander the Great once went to conquer the Eastern world but later from Macedonia the power of the gospel went to conquer the Western world of Paul’s day” (Swift 1984:250).

    Philippi played an important role in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. He also had an effective and lasting ministry in the lives of the believers in the Lord Jesus in Philippi.

    Historical Overview

    The earliest city that occupied the site of Philippi was called Datos. In 360 BC Greeks from the island of Thasos colonized it. They changed the name to Krenides, meaning “with many springs” because of the abundance of springs in the area (Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 16:3:7; LCL 7:243). It was also famous for the fertile plain that stretched out before it as well as Mt. Pangaion to the southwest. To the east of Philippi was the Orbelos mountain range.

    In the mountains of that area, there were gold and silver mines (Strabo Geography 7, fr 34; LCL 3:355). It was these mines that caused friction between the Thracian tribes and the colonists from Thasos. In 356 BC, the colonists invited Philip II, the king of Macedonia, to help defend themselves from the Thracian tribes. Seeing the strategic importance of this city as well as the gold and silver mines, Philip II was more than happy to assist them. In the process of helping, he took over the city, enlarged and refortified its walls and renamed the city Philippi in his honor.

    Diodorus of Sicily, a Greek historian of the first century BC, writing in his Library of History describes what happened next. “And then, turning to the gold mines in its territory, which were very scanty and insignificant, he increased their output so much by his improvements that they could bring him a revenue of more than a thousand talents. And because from these mines he had soon amassed a fortune, with the abundance of money he raised the Macedonian kingdom higher and higher to a greatly superior position, for with the gold which he struck [as coins] … he organized a large force of mercenaries, and by using these coins for bribes induced many Greeks to become betrayers of their native lands” (Book 16:8:6,7; LCL 7:261). This is a classic example of the world’s Golden Rule. “He who has the gold makes the rules!”

    Alexander the Great, the son of Philip II, was able to use the money to raise an army and pay his troops well. They swiftly conquered the Persian Empire, just as the Prophet Daniel predicted (Dan. 8:5-8; 11:3,4a).

    The Romans conquered Macedonia in 168 BC and divided it into four parts. Philippi became the chief city of one of the districts (cf. Acts 16:12). The Romans also built the via Egnatia, a military and commercial road that went across northern Greece between 146 and 120 BC. The Apostle Paul and his team were able to make effective use of this road for the spread of the gospel in the 1st century AD.

    A pivotal battle in the history of the Roman Empire took place at Philippi. On the Ides of March (March 15, 44 BC) the tyrannical Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome by a conspiracy lead by two Senators, Brutus and Cassius. They misjudged the mood of the people of Rome and had to flee to Asia Minor because the people did not support the assassination. While there, they began to raise an army in order to reconquer Rome and reestablish it as a Republic. Brutus had the audacity to mint coins with his portrait on the obverse and on the reverse two daggers, a liberty cap and the words “EID MAR” (Eidibus Martiis)! (Molnar 1994:6-10). Mark Antony and Octavian (later to be known as Augusta) lead an army from Rome to Philippi in order to confront Brutus and Cassius. The Republican army of Burtus and Cassius had the clear advantage as far as its defensive position, access to supplies, finances and military tactics. However, the tired and ill supplied army of Mark Antony and Octavian defeated them. Upon recognizing their defeat, Brutus and Cassius committed suicide (cf. Acts 16:27).

    The description of this battle can be read in the writings of the ancient historians Appian (Roman History 4:105-138), Dio Cassius (Roman History 47:35-49; LCL 5:189-217) and Plutarch (Parallel Lives, Brutus 38-53; LCL 6: 209-247 and Parallel Lives, Antony 22; LCL 9:183,185).

    This defeat meant that Rome would have an imperial form of government and not a republican one. It ensured the worship of the deified dead emperor and would later be grounds for contention between the Christians and the Roman government. The Christians would refuse to worship the imperial cult.

    After this battle, Philippi was enlarged and became a Roman colony and discharged soldiers were given fertile land to farm and settled in the city (Strabo, Geography 7, fr. 41; LCL 3:363). Luke was accurate when he said Philippi was a colony (Acts 16:12). After the Battle of Actium in 30 BC more soldiers were settled in Philippi. It should be no surprise that Paul used military terminology when he wrote his epistle to the church of Philippi. Some of the believers might have had relatives that had been in the Roman army. Paul called Epaphroditus “my fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25).

    The Visits of the Apostle Paul

    The Apostle Paul visited Philippi for the first time on his second missionary journey in AD 49/50. Following the principle set forth by the Lord Jesus, he went out “two-by-two” with his co-worker Silas (also known as Silvanus) and their disciple Timothy (cf. Matt. 10:2-4; Luke 10:1; Acts 15:40; 2 Tim. 2:2). Dr. Luke, the author of the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts, escorted them from Alexandria Troas (Acts 16:10,11).

    As Paul’s custom was, he sought out the Jewish people whenever he went into a new city (Rom. 1:16). His desire for the Jewish people was that they might come to faith in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:1-3).

    On Shabbat he found a group of women praying by the riverside (Acts 16:13). The phrase “where prayer was customarily made” may indicate there was a synagogue or prayer structure of some sort near the riverside. Recent excavations of the western necropolis of Philippi unearthed a Jewish burial inscription from the 2nd century AD that mentioned a synagogue in Philippi (Koukouli-Chrysantaki 1998:28-35, plate 11). The question is, was there an earlier one?

    The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, a God-fearer from Thyatira. She and her household were baptized and she offered Paul and his team hospitality (Acts 16:14,15).

    One day, while Paul, Luke and Silas were on their way to prayer, they were harassed by a slave girl possessed with the “spirit of divination” (“pythoness“). Apollo, the god of prophecy and the giver of oracles at his shrine in Delphi inspired this “spirit”. Not wanting an endorsement from the “enemy”, Paul cast the demon out of this girl (Acts 16:16-18; cf. Luke 4:31-37).

    The owners of the slave girl seized Paul and Silas (but not Luke) and brought them before the magistrates at the Forum. They were accused of being Jews and causing trouble in Philippi. This anti-Semitism might stem from the fact that Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome the previous year because they were troublemakers (Acts 18:2; Suetonius, Deified Claudius 25:4; LCL 2:53).

    Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. While there, they were “praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). This joyous attitude while being persecuted was already set forth by James the son of Zebedee (James 1:2-4) and Peter (1 Peter 1:5-9; 3:13-4:19).

    At midnight, an earthquake struck and the Philippian jailer thought all the prisoners escaped. Thinking along the lines of Brutus and Cassius, he decided to commit suicide. Paul stopped him when he informed the jailer that nobody had escaped. The jailer, realizing that there was something different about Paul and Silas, asked them “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In unison, they responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:25-31).

    The magistrates decided to let Paul and Silas go. However, Paul knowing Roman law asked that the magistrates come and get them out. They wanted an apology because they were uncondemned Roman citizens. When the magistrates found out Paul and Silas were Romans, they were afraid. I suspect that Paul wanted to hold this over the heads of the magistrates. If they persecuted the church at Philippi or did not protect them, Paul would tell the authorities in Rome what had happened. There would be severe punishment and loss of a job if Rome found out (Acts 16:35-40; cf. I Thess. 2:2).

    Paul knew that Roman citizenship had its privileges! However, he knew that his heavenly citizenship was more important. This citizenship would entitle him to a place in Heaven and a transformation of his earthly body, when the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ returned to earth (Phil. 3:20,21). This was in marked contrast to the emperors who were called “saviors” but could not do anything about immortality and eternal life (cf. I Tim. 1:17; 6:15,16; Witherington 1994:99-102).

    With this, Paul, Silas and Timothy left Philippi on the Via Egnatia for Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). While ministering there, and probably in Corinth, the church at Philippi sent Paul some money to help with the work (Phil. 4:15,16). Paul thanked them for the gift, but prayed the Lord would bless them for their efforts (Phil. 4:17,19).

    Paul visited Macedonia after an extended stay at Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Most likely Philippi was his first stop (Acts 20:1). After three months of traveling through Greece, he rejoined Luke at Philippi. Both proceeded to travel to Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 20:3-6).

    The epistle of Philippians was written from prison in Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment there (AD 60-62). He thanked the Lord for their fellowship in the gospel and expressed his desire to visit with them again (Phil. 1:3-8, 26,27; 2:24). He was also going to send Timothy to visit on his way to minister in Ephesus (Phil. 2:19-23; cf. I Tim. 1:3).

    After Paul was released from his first imprisonment (2 Tim. 4:16), he went on a fourth missionary journey (Kent 1986:13-15,21,47-50). His desire was to go to Spain (Rom. 15:28). Church history seems to indicate that Paul visited this country. He was also on the island of Crete (Tit. 1:5) and wrote his first epistle to Timothy from Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3; 3:14,15). There is a good possibility that he wrote this epistle from Philippi before he went to Asia Minor.

    Was Philippi Dr. Luke’s Hometown?

    Some scholars have suggested that Dr. Luke’s hometown was Philippi. This is a possibility. When one examines the pronouns in the book of Acts this observation is borne out. Up until chapter 16, Luke is writing about the work of Peter and Paul. When Paul, Silas and Timothy get to Alexandria Troas the pronouns change from “they/them” (Acts 16:7,8) to “us/we” (Acts 16:9,10). Dr. Luke escorts the group to Philippi (Acts 16:11,12). He is with them when they go to the place of prayer (Acts 16:13,16,17). When Paul and Silas leave Philippi, Dr. Luke stayed behind (Acts 17:1). Paul picks him up on his way to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:5,6). Luke appears to have stayed in Philippi for at least six years. More than likely it was because it was his home.

    After Paul cast the demon out of the slave girl, he and Silas were tried before the magistrates and accused of being Jewish, but Luke was not (Acts 16:19,20). Dr. Luke was a respected member of the community so they did not bring him before the magistrate. But also, Luke was a Gentile (cf. Col. 4:11,14), so the accusation of being Jewish would not have applied.

    This possibility will never know for certain unless an archaeologist uncovers an inscription in Philippi with Dr. Luke’s name on it, although this is not outside the realm of possibility. A number of years ago an inscription was found in Corinth with the name of Erastus on it (Rom. 16:23; Acts 19:22; 2 Tim. 4:20).

    The Book of Philippians

    The central theme of the book of Philippians is: “the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel” (cf. Phil. 1:5,6; Swift 1984:237; Luter and Lee 1996). This theme is the reason Paul wrote to implore two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, to be reconciled to one another and have the same mind in the Lord (Phil. 4:2-3). Apparently these two sisters were murmuring and disputing and this was hindering the gospel work (Phil. 2:14). James, the son of Zebedee, addresses the issue of fighting in the church and states that the root cause of this problem is pride (James 4:1-12).

    Paul uses an interesting word picture when he described the women as those who had “labored with me in the gospel” (Phil. 4:3 NKJV). This word comes from the gladiatorial arena of two gladiators that fought side by side against the beasts (Hawthorne 1983: 180; Witherington 1994: 105,106). In the second and third centuries AD (after the time of Paul), the theater of Philip II was converted into an arena for spectacles between gladiators and beasts (Koukouli-Chrysanthaki and Bakirtzis 1995:23,24). Imagine the gladiators going into the arena to fight the beasts and then turn on each other. The lion would turn to the bear in bewilderment and say, “Aren’t they suppose to be fighting us?” The bear would growl, “Who cares, once they finish each other off, we’ll have them both for lunch!” The apostle Paul would say, “Hey ladies, what’s wrong with this picture? You’re supposed to be fighting the “beasts”, not each other!” (cf. Eph. 6:10-17).

    Paul brilliantly lays the theological foundation and solution to the problem before he addresses the women. This was the same pattern used by Nathan when he confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. After Nathan told a parable about a rich man taking a poor man’s lamb, he asked David what should be done. David correctly responded, “The man ought to die”. Nathan pointed to David and said, “You are the man!” (II Sam. 12:1-12).

    The fighting was caused by pride. Apostle Paul addressed the subject of the mind of Christ that entailed humility in chapter 2. In that chapter, Paul gives four examples of humility; the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5-15), himself (Phil. 2:17,18), Timothy (Phil. 2:19-24), and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30). In chapter three, Paul addresses the issue of trusting the flesh.

    One can imagine the first time this epistle was read in the church at Philippi. Euodia is sitting on one side of the room listening and thinking to herself, “Amen, preach it Paul, we need to be more humble.” On the other side of the room Syntyche is saying, “That’s right Paul, we should not trust the arm of the flesh.” When chapter 4 was read, Paul in essence said, “Euodia and Syntyche, you need to kiss and make up!” That must have been a tense, yet powerful, moment in the meeting.

    A plausible background / setting for Philippians 2:1-10 might be a prominent building on the north side of the Via Egnatia on the edge of the Forum (marketplace). This building was the Haroon for the cult of dead king Philip II (Koukouli-Chrysantaki 1998:19). People worshiped him, believing him to be a god (Fredricksmeyer 1979).

    Philip II was, in many ways, like King Uzziah of Judah. Both had material possessions (gold and silver) and a strong military, and because of that, both had hearts that were lifted up with pride (2 Chron. 26; Isa. 2). In the spring of 336 BC, Philip II celebrated the wedding of his daughter Kleopatra to Alexandros, king of Molossia, in the theater at Aigai. Diodorus describes the wedding procession and Philip’s arrogance. “Philip included in the procession statues of the Twelve Gods wrought with great artistry and adorned with a dazzling show of wealth to strike awe in the beholder, and along with these was conducted a thirteenth statue, suitable for a god, that of Philip himself, so that the king established himself enthroned among the Twelve Gods” (Library of History 16:92:5; LCL 8:95). Moments later he was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. Truly “pride goes before destruction and the haughty spirit before the fall” (Prov. 16:18)! Another example of a king struck down in a theater because he thought he was a god was Herod Agrippa I at Caesarea (Acts 12:20-24; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 19:343-350; LCL 9:377-381).

    Diodorus of Sicily goes on to summarize the life of Philip in these terms: “Such was the end of Philip, who had made himself the greatest of the kings in Europe in his time, and because of the extent of his kingdom had made himself a throned companion of the Twelve Gods (Book 16:95:1; LCL 8:101).

    I believe the Apostle Paul was thinking about the Haroon of Philip II when he penned the words, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but he made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8 NKJV). With these verses, he set forth the ultimate example of humility, the death of the Lord Jesus, for the two sisters to follow.

    Paul went on to say, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:9-11 NKJV). With one sentence from Paul’s pen, he has set the Lord Jesus, God manifest in human flesh, apart from every god or goddess in Philippi, even Philip II, for whom the city was named and the people worshiped!

    Paul had admonished the believers to “esteem others better than themselves” and to “look out for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3,4). A Biblical example from the life of the Lord Jesus that Paul might have had in mind was when the Lord Jesus paid the Temple tax for Himself and Peter. This is a great example of humility and esteeming Peter better than Himself (Matt. 17:24-27; Franz 1997:81-87).

    In chapter three, Paul writes about having confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:4). In essence, he is saying, “If anybody could gain God’s righteousness by works, it would be me. I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5,6). Yet Paul realized all theses things were “rubbish” (NKJV) when it comes to gaining God’s righteousness (Phil. 3:8,9).

    Paul used the vulgar term skybala to describe his utter revulsion of the qualifications he thought would merit his salvation. Today we would use a four-letter word for excrement! Shocking? Yes, but in so doing, Paul was following the example of the prophet Isaiah who describes all our righteousnesses as “filthy rags” (64:6). In today’s vernacular, that would translate to menstrual rags! (cf. also Zech. 3:3-5).

    There is absolutely nothing we can do to gain God’s righteousness. If we try to work for our salvation it would be an affront to God because He abhors anything we do to merit salvation because it detracts from the finished work of His Son on the Cross.

    To the west of Basilica B of the excavations at Philippi, there are remains of a public toilet (Koukouli-Chrysanthaki and Bakirtzis 1995: 45,46). This structure was built in the 2nd century AD (after the time of Paul), yet it should reminds us of the skybala. Paul realized that the only way to gain salvation was to be “found in Christ”. Only He could give us His righteousness whereby we could stand before a Holy God. This righteousness was freely given by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus and not by keeping the Law (3:9).

    The Glory in Philippi

    Paul describes the Thessalonian believers as “our glory and joy” (I Thess. 2:20). He would have said the same thing of those in Philippi, but he also calls them his “joy, crown and beloved” (Phil. 4:1). When we read the account in Acts 16, we see the Lord opening the hearts of Lydia and her household (16:14,15). Also, the demon-possessed girl was delivered from Satan’s hold (16:19). The Philippian jailer and his household believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (16:31,33).

    In his letter to the Philippian church he mentions the Praetorian guards (“palace guards” NKJV, 1:13) who had heard the gospel while Paul was in chains in Rome. This would have been significant for the people at Philippi. Some of the coins of Philippi from the reign of Claudius-Nero were minted with the Latin inscription COHOR PRAE PHIL. This commemorated the “settlement of veterans from the Praetorian cohort at Philippi” (Burnett, et. al. 1992: 208; coin 1651). Perhaps some of the believers in Philippi knew Praetorian guards in Rome and would be interested in Paul’s outreach there. This would help them to pray more effectively for their former colleagues and friends (Phil. 1:12).

    The Peace of God

    Philippi was the scene of a terrible battle in 42 BC and peace in the region was shattered. Emperors Claudius and Nero seemed to have brought a measure of peace to the region. However, neither of them could bring peace to the hearts of men and women.

    The Apostle Paul had written to the church at Rome and stated how they could have “peace with God” through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). To the church at Philippi he will write about the “peace of God” which will surpass all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This peace would come by meditating on the God of Peace and the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, a good report, virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8,9).

    Oh sinner, do you have “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1)? Oh saint, do you have the “peace of God” (Phil. 4:7-9) and know “the power of His resurrection” even while suffering (Phil. 3:10)?


    Burnett, A., Amandry, M., and Ripolles, P.
    1992 Roman Provincial Coinage. Vol. 1. London: British Museum and Paris: Bibliotheque nationale de France.

    Franz, G.
    1997 “Does Your Teacher Not Pay the [Temple] Tax?” (Mt 17:24-27). Bible and Spade 10/4: 81-87.

    Fredricksmeyer, E.
    1979 Divine Honors for Philip II. Transaction of the American Philological Association 109: 39-61.

    Hawthorne, G.

    1983 Word Biblical Commentary, Philippians. Waco, TX: Word.

    Kent, H.
    1986The Pastoral Epistles. Revised edition. Salem, WI: Sheffield.

    Koukouli-Chrysantaki, C.
    1998 Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. Pp. 5-35 in Philippi at the Time of Paul and after His Death. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity.

    Koukouli-Chrysanthaki, C., and Bakirtzis, C.
    1995Philippi. Athens: Archaeological Receipts Funds.

    LCL = Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press.

    Luter, B., and Lee, M.
    1995 Philippians as Chiasmus: Key to the Structure, Unity and Theme Questions. New Testament Studies 41: 89-101.

    Marotta, M., and Zakelj, A.
    2002 Portraits and Representations of Alexander the Great. The Celator 16/7: 6-20.

    Molnar, M.
    1994The Ides of March. The Celator 8:11: 6-10.

    Swift, R.
    1984 The Theme and Structure of Philippians. Bibliotheca Sacra 141: 234-254.

    Witherington, B. III
    1994 Friendship and finances in Philippi. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International.

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