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The Origins of the Church at Rome

Introduction

When Paul wrote his letter to Christians at Rome towards the end of his third missionary journey, he was communicating with what appears to be a firmly established collection of believers in that city. This article tackles a question that primary extant sources do not specifically address: how did that collection of believers in Rome come into existence? The earliest available sources leave only indirect clues towards solving this puzzle. As a result, the answer to the question of how the Roman church began must be framed in terms of probabilities rather than certainties. In this article, we will examine the major sources that contribute to the discussion, analyze how scholars have assessed the material, and propose tentative solutions that best explain the data.

Jews in Rome Prior to the Origin of the Church

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

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

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

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

As seen from Philo, the Jews were permitted to freely engage in Jewish practices under the favorable policy of Augustus. Things changed under the emperor Tiberius. Tacitus reports that Tiberius took action against the Jews in 19 B.C.:

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

Tacitus thus adds another witness that many Roman Jews were freed slaves. He also labels their beliefs as “superstition,” alluding to the scorn Jews endured as a result of their special religious practices. Most important, the record of Tiberius’ move against the Jewish population stands as the first of several actions against the Roman Jews in the first century.11

The pre-Christian sources about Jews in Rome are valuable in two ways. First, they provide a glimpse at the Jewish environment from which Christianity likely emerged. Jews maintained their distinct identity and practices through participation in synagogues that were found mostly in poorer districts of the city. They encountered suspicion from outside observers and occasional unwelcome intervention by the government. Second, the Jewish sources help us to understand later important texts more accurately. The lack of central oversight by Jewish religious authorities, the presence of separate synagogues throughout the city, the existence of a group of libertini, and the government’s policy towards the Jews all set the stage for interpreting later texts related to Christianity’s emergence in Rome.

Christianity’s Presence in Rome in the Time of Claudius

Several important texts relating events in the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54) rest at the center of any discussion of the origins of the church in Rome. In this section we will inspect the primary testimony of Cassius Dio, Suetonius, and Luke, supplemental information presented by Josephus and Orosius, and conflicting theories derived from the records.

The historian Cassius Dio reports the following action taken by Claudius against Roman Jews: “As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city, he did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings.”12 Most scholars agree that Dio places this event at the beginning of Claudius’s reign (A.D. 41). The text states clearly that Jews, while restricted from congregating, were not removed from Rome.13

Difficulties arise when Suetonius relates the following account during Claudius’s reign: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”14 It is not impossible that Dio and Suetonius have the same event in mind. There are similarities between the two descriptions (Claudius enacting measures against the Jews), and neither Dio nor Suetonius mentions two separate edicts. Suetonius does not list this event as part of a chronological sequence, allowing correspondence to Dio’s date of A.D. 41. Still, Dio specifically indicates that Claudius did not expel the Jews, which seems to contradict the account by Suetonius. The arguments for these options will be further evaluated in a later section.

Luke’s passing comment in Acts 18:2 aligns closely with Suetonius’s record: “And he (Paul) found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently arrived from Italy with Priscilla his wife, on account of Claudius commanding all the Jews to leave Rome.” Paul’s first encounter with Aquila and Priscilla can be dated to around A.D. 49, based on Acts 18:12 and the Gallio inscription, as well as the chronological marker in Acts 18:11. The couple’s arrival can likewise be located near A.D. 49, based on the term prosfavtw" (“recently”).

Josephus further complicates matters by painting a picture of Claudius’s early reign that appears to diverge from Dio’s depiction. Josephus presents an edict given by Claudius:

“Kings Agrippa and Herod, my dearest friends, having petitioned me to permit the same privileges to be maintained for the Jews throughout the empire … I very gladly consented, not merely in order to please those who petitioned me, but also because in my opinion the Jews deserve to obtain their request on account of their loyalty and friendship to the Romans… . It is right, therefore, that the Jews throughout the whole world under our sway should also observe the customs of their fathers without let or hindrance.”15

Josephus’ portrayal does not allude to any negative action by Claudius early in his rule. Instead, Claudius appears to guarantee certain Jewish rights.16

Finally, Orosius, who as a Christian authored an account of history in A.D. 417, makes the following contribution:

In the ninth year of his reign, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Both Josephus and Suetonius record this event, but I prefer, however, the account of the latter, who speaks as follows: ‘Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because in their resentment against Christ they were continually creating disturbances.’17

Orosius claims that Claudius’s action against the Jews occurred in A.D. 41. The problem is that the sources he relies on cannot verify the date he puts forward. Suetonius’s report does not fall within a chronological framework, and no known record of this event by Josephus exists. Most scholars view this testimony with suspicion, regarding Orosius as biased and unreliable.18

The major questions surfacing from the above documents are 1) were there one or two moves by Claudius against the Jews, and 2) did one or both events involve conflicts between Christians and Jews?

Following the majority view, it is most likely that Claudius initiated two actions against the Jews in Rome, with the event recorded by Dio preceding that of Suetonius.19 Dio’s date of A.D. 41 for the restrictions on Jewish assembly is too difficult to reconcile with Luke’s date of the late 40’s in Acts 18:2. In addition, Luke and Suetonius agree that Claudius actually expelled the Jews, while Dio specifies that Claudius did not remove them. Incidentally, Orosius’s viewpoint, though suspect, conforms to the view that there was a separate expulsion in A.D. 49.

The attempt to harmonize the different accounts of edicts against the Jews fails to convince. Major contradictions in dates (Dio versus Luke) and outcome (Dio versus Suetonius and Luke) must be resolved through assuming a major error or omission by one or more of the historians. Penna dismisses the historical value of the account in Acts 18 and opts for an early date (A.D. 41) for Dio and Suetonius.20 Benko appeals to the apparent inconsistency between the portrayal of Claudius’s early policy towards the Jews in Dio and Josephus to conclude that Dio’s description aligns with Suetonius’s, at the later date of A.D. 49.21 Hoerber attempts to relate all accounts to one event by assuming that only the leaders of the disputes were driven out.22

If two different events are distinguished, it remains to be seen whether one or both were instigated by controversy over the claims of Christianity. It is possible that the decree in A.D. 41 was caused by disputes over Christ, as implied by Dio in the juxtaposition between permitting Jewish traditional practice (apart from Christ) while outlawing turbulent meetings.23 Evidence shows, however, that starting with the reign of Tiberius, Romans viewed the Jewish population with suspicion. Indeed, in A.D. 19 Tiberius had dealt with perceived Jewish liabilities by removing many Jews from Rome. Similar dynamics in A.D. 41 provide a plausible explanation of events without requiring the identification of Jewish-Christian conflicts.24

Stronger evidence supports that Jewish-Christian turmoil led to Claudius’s reaction in A.D. 49. First, it is easier to place the conversion of Aquila and Priscilla in Rome rather than in Corinth, after they met Paul.25 Paul’s immediate cooperation with the husband and wife team suggests that they already shared his faith in Christ (see Acts 18:3). It is noted also that Paul does not mention baptizing Aquila or Priscilla (1 Cor 1:14-16).26 The religious status of Aquila and Priscilla alone does not prove that Jewish-Christian disagreements provoked Rome’s action. More significantly, Suetonius’s reference to Chrestus is best understood as referring to Jesus Christ. Early sources exhibit evidence of inadvertent or deliberate spelling variations related to “Christ.” For instance, in the early fourth century, Lactantius comments, “But the meaning of this name must be set forth, on account of the error of the ignorant, who by the change of a letter are accustomed to call Him Chrestus.”27 Finally, a disruption within Judaism over the claims of Christ accords well with events unfolding in cities such as Jerusalem, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Corinth.28 Therefore, Suetonius’s mention of Chrestus probably identifies Christ as the reason for the conflicts.

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

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

The State of Christianity in Rome as Seen in Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Years after the expulsion of the Jews from Rome, Paul addresses Christians in the city. Once the whole letter of the Romans is admitted into evidence, we may attain a detailed picture of the state of Roman Christianity in the late 50’s.

Some scholars contend that Romans 16 was actually written to Christians in Ephesus and was attached to Paul’s original letter to Rome. Advocates of this view argue that in this chapter Paul names too many people for a city he had never visited, and that some of the names fit especially well with Ephesus rather than Rome.38 The diverse locations of Romans 16 in the manuscripts (see especially P 46, which places the doxology of Rom 16:25-27 at the end of chapter 15, with the rest of chapter 16 following the doxology) are used as further support.39

Against this hypothesis, Donfried maintains that Paul includes a long list of names in order to boost his credibility with the Roman recipients of his letter.40 Lampe observes that Paul did not necessarily personally know every believer in the list, since the wording only requires personal acquaintance with twelve of the people.41 Furthermore, there are too few names for the Ephesian scenario, since Paul omits mention of important co-workers expected to be found in Ephesus.42 Finally, the final remark in 15:33 is atypical to Paul’s style of closing a letter, and the particle de in 16:1 assumes prior material, making the Ephesian theory less plausible.43

Accepting the integrity of the letter, the believers’ established history in the city is indicated (Rom 15:23), along with the presence of Christians who had believed before Paul had (16:7). The presence of these believers and the many others listed in Rom 16 adds further evidence for the development of Christianity in Rome in the years before Paul’s direct contact with the people there. Christians such as Prisca and Aquila had returned to Rome after having been banished from the city, while Christianity among the Gentiles had blossomed in the city outside the synagogue structure, perhaps from even before Claudius’s edict.44

From Paul’s greetings in Rom 16, we can discern the existence of several gatherings of Christians in the city. Rom 16:3-4 speaks of the house church of Prisca and Aquila.45 Also, two more groupings of Christians surface in verses 14 and 15. Beyond this, the existence of additional groups is less clear. The wording in verses 10 and 11 may suggest that house churches are associated with these households.46 The references to other individuals throughout the chapter create possibilities of other Christian meetings in which these believers participated. The evidence points to the existence of at least three house churches, with the possibility of even more.

Some scholars have highlighted the divisions between the house churches, normally along Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian lines, based on Paul’s instruction in 14:1-15:13.47 This, however, understates the underlying unity assumed by Paul’s address to them as a single entity.48 In Rom 16, some of the individuals are identified as Jews (note use of term suggenhv" in Rom 16:7, 11; cf. Rom 9:3), while many of the remaining are likely Gentiles. The names of believers are presented side-by-side without insinuations of friction between them. The absence of the term ejkklhsiva as applied to the Roman believers as a group has been used as to contend that the Roman Christians were independent from each other.49 But Paul omits this attribution in Philippians, Ephesians, and Colossians as well.50 The fundamental Christian unity mirrors the shared identity the Jews felt in spite of their participation in separate synagogues.

The Gospel’s Spread from Jerusalem to Rome

Next, we evaluate different possibilities about how Christianity made its way from Jerusalem to Rome. In addition to clues from Luke’s account in Acts, both ancient Christians and modern scholars propose theories about how Christianity spread from Jerusalem to Rome.

Acts 2:10 includes visitors from Rome in the list of people who witnessed the events of Pentecost. The term for visitors, also seen in Acts 17:21, is a participle of the verb ejpidhmevw, which denotes “to stay in a place as a stranger or a visitor.”51 A number of scholars suggest that these temporary residents of Jerusalem may have taken the gospel back to Rome.52

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


1 Lee I. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), 264.

2 Peter Richardson, “Augustan-Era Synagogues in Rome,” in Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome (ed. Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 19-29. Richardson notes that as many as thirteen synagogues have been identified from Roman inscriptions, but only these five can be assumed to have existed before the arrival of Christianity to Rome.

3 Harry J. Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome (The Morris Loeb Series; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960), 92.

4 Ibid., 258.

5 Stephen Spence, The Parting of the Ways: The Roman Church as a Case Study (Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Culture and Religion 5; Leuven: Peeters, 2004), 25.

6 Cicero, Flac. 28.66 (Lord, LCL).

7 Philo, Legat. 155-156 (Colson, LCL).

8 Leon, Jews of Ancient Rome, 136. This later becomes the home to a significant number of the early Christians in Rome (Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries [ed. Marshall D. Johnson; trans. Michael Steinhauser; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003], 65).

9 Most notably, King Aristobulus and his family were removed to Rome (Plutarch, Pomp. 45.4; Josephus, Ant. 14.79). Levinskaya notes that Cicero’s speech, given shortly after this event, assumes that a substantial Jewish population already existed before the addition of these slaves (Irina Levinskaya, The Book of Acts in Its Diaspora Setting [vol. 5 of The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; ed. Bruce W. Winter; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993], 169).

10 Tacitus, Ann. 2.85 (Jackson, LCL). The “disenfranchised slaves” mentioned in this passage refer to the libertini mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

11 In Josephus’ version of Tiberius’ decision against the Jews, he reports the same basic historical reality: “[Tiberius] ordered the whole Jewish community to leave Rome. The consuls drafted four thousand of these Jews for military service and sent them to the island of Sardinia; but they penalized a good many of them, who refused to serve for fear of breaking the Jewish law” (Josephus, Ant. 18.83-84 [Feldman, LCL]).

12 Cassius Dio 60.6.6 (Cary, LCL).

13 It is observed that Dio does not offer an explicit explanation of the reason for Claudius’s decision to forbid Jewish assemblies. He only provides the reason for the action Claudius did not take.

14 Suetonius, Claud. 25.4 (Rolfe, LCL).

15 Josephus Ant. 19.288-290 (Feldman, LCL).

16 Though Josephus appears to contradict Dio, it is possible that Josephus is emphasizing the positive aspects of Claudius’s early policy, which would correspond to the allowances made for the Jews’ “traditional mode of life,” as mentioned by Dio.

17 Orosius 7.6, in Seven Books of History Against the Pagans: The Apology of Paulus Orosius (trans. Irving Woodworth Raymond; New York: Columbia University Press, 1936).

18 Ibid., 19.

19 The position is adopted by, among others, Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, Vol 1: Jesus and the Twelve (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2004), 806; F. F. Bruce, “The Romans Debate – Continued,” in The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition (ed. Karl P. Donfried; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991),179; Slingerland, Claudian Policymaking, 106; Spence, Parting of Ways, 67. Wiefel departs from the majority by positing that Claudius expelled leaders of the Jewish conflicts first (from Suetonius) and then introduced a moderating policy allowing for residence in Rome without rights to assembly (with Dio). His main argument is that Dio and Josephus disagree, meaning that Dio must report a later reality. Though this order fits nicely into Wiefel’s reconstruction of the origins of the church at Rome, he fails to make a strong enough case for abandoning the widely accepted date of A.D. 41 for Dio’s account. (Wolfgang Wiefel, “The Jewish Community in Ancient Rome and the Origins of Roman Christianity,” in The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition [ed. Karl P. Donfried; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991],94).

20 Romano Penna, “Les Juifs a Rome au Temps de L’Apotre Paul,” NTS 28(1982): 331.

21 Stephen Benko, “The Edict of Claudius of A.D. 49 and the Instigator Chrestus,” TZ 25 (1969): 407-408. He harmonizes Suetonius and Dio by supposing that some Jews decided to depart Rome (Suetonius) since they were no longer permitted to meet (Dio).

22 Robert O. Hoerber, “The Decree of Claudius in Acts 18:2,” CTM 31 (1960): 692. Like many other scholars, he believes that Luke’s use of pa'" is literary rather than literal (Acts 2:5; 3:18; 8:1; 9:35; 19:10), allowing for a portrayal that corresponds to Suetonius and Dio. An alternative theory regarding Luke’s assertion that all the Jews were expelled posits that the edict was comprehensive but not fully enforced (Schnabel, Christian Mission, 811). Both explanations envision a smaller-scale expulsion that helps explain the silence of Josephus and Tacitus on the event. In addition, it is important to remember that pertinent periods from some sources (Dio, Tacitus) are known only through secondary references: the original accounts are not extant.

23 See Schnabel, Christian Mission, 806.

24 In addition, if Jewish-Christian conflicts were already erupting in A.D. 41, then we must assume either that the disputes subsided for a while and then resurfaced, or that the Romans tolerated the growing disturbances for another eight years, until the eventual expulsion of those involved.

25 Luke does not explicitly state that Aquila is a Christian because his interest lies “not on his religious convictions but on his ethnic affiliation” (Schnabel, Christian Mission, 811).

26 Lampe, Paul to Valentinus, 11.

27 Lactantius 4.7 (Fletcher, ANF). See also Tacitus, Ann. 15.44; Codex Sinaiticus: Acts 11:26, 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16.

28 Lampe, Paul to Valentinus, 12.

29 Slingerland, Claudian Policymaking, 207.

30 Bruce, “Romans Debate,” 179; Wiefel, “Origins,” 93; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans:A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 33; New York: Doubleday, 1993), 31.

31 Levinskaya, Acts in Diaspora Setting, 179-180; Schnabel, Christian Mission, 809. Note the scribal confusion in the verses from Codex Sinaiticus, as mentioned earlier.

32 Spence, Parting of Ways, 76-77.

33 This argument is made by E. A. Judge and G. S. R. Thomas, “The Origin of the Church at Rome: A New Solution,” RTR 25 (1966): 85. Suetonius says, “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition,” Suetonius, Nero 16.2 (LCL, Rolfe).

34 Spence, Parting of Ways, 77.

35 Judge and Thomas, “Church at Rome,” 85-86; Benko, “Edict of Claudius,” 412-413. Proponents of this viewpoint note that Chrestus was a common name for slaves in the Roman Empire.

36 Spence, Parting of Ways, 99.

37 Ibid., 92.

38 In particular, the reference to Prisca and Aquila’s house church in Rom 16:3 resembles their situation in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:19).

39 T. W. Manson, “St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans – and Others,” in The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition (ed. Karl P. Donfried; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991), 12-13.

40 Karl P. Donfried, “A Short Note on Romans 16,” in The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition (ed. Karl P. Donfried; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991), 48-49.

41 Peter Lampe, “The Roman Christians of Romans 16,” in The Romans Debate: Revised and Expanded Edition (ed. Karl P. Donfried; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991), 216.

42 Ibid., 216. Lampe notes that the missing names include “Epaphras, Mark, Luke, Aristarchus, Demas (Phlm, 23-24; cf. Col 4:17-14); Sosthenes (1 Cor 1:1); Apollos, Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:12, 17).”

43 Ibid., 217.

44 James C. Walters, “Romans, Jews, and Christians: The Impact of the Romans on Jewish/Christian Relations in First-Century Rome,” in Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome (ed. Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 177.

45 Jeffers discusses the design and function of apartment structures (insulae) in first century Rome. Most dwellings would have been too small for Christian gatherings, though the largest few rooms in each unit could have accommodated the type of small meetings envisioned from a reading of Rom 16 (James S. Jeffers, “Jewish and Christian Families in First-Century Rome,” in Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome (ed. Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 132-133).

46 Schnabel, Christian Mission, 812, favors a reference to a house church here, while Caragounis is skeptical (Chrys C. Caragounis, “From Obscurity to Prominence: The Development of the Roman Church between Romans and 1 Clement,” in Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome (ed. Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 255-256).

47 Walters, “Romans, Jews, and Christians,” 178-179.

48 See Rom 1:7, 11-12; 15:15, 30-33; 16:1-2, 19.

49 Lampe, “Roman Christians,” 229.

50 Caragounis, “Obscurity to Prominence,” 253.

51 BDAG, “ejpidhmevw,” 370. This term has more relevance for the identity of the Roman onlookers than the word for longer-term residents (katoikou'nte") that introduces the list of Pentecost observers in Acts 2:5 (contra Judge and Thomas, “Church at Rome,” 83).

52 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 4; Fitzmyer, Romans, 29.

53 Schnabel, Christian Mission, 805; Bruce, “Romans Debate,” 178, Cranfield, Romans, 790.

54 Fitzmyer sees slaves and merchants as possible candidates for spreading the gospel in the early decades of Christianity (Fitzmyer, Romans, 30).

55 Rudolf Brändle and Ehkehard W. Stegemann, “The Formation of the First ‘Christian Congregations’ in Rome in the Context of Jewish Congregations,” in Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome (ed. Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 127.

56 Wiefel, “Origins,” 92.

57 John Wenham, “Did Peter Go to Rome in AD 42?” TynBul 23 (1972): 95.

58 Ibid., 97-98.

59 Ibid., 100. Schnabel, Christian Mission, 26, rightly objects that this is not the best explanation for this verse.

60 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1 (Roberts and Donaldson, ANF).

61 Ibid., 3.3.2.

62 The opposite difficulty arises if Paul is given primary credit for founding the church, having taken scattered Christians and forming them into a apostolically legitimate church (see Judge and Thomas, “Church at Rome,” 81-82). In that case, it would be difficult to credit Peter with an equal role in the origin of the church.

63 As quoted by Donfried, “A Short Note on Romans 16,” 47.

64 Cranfield, Romans, 20.

65 1 Clement 5:3-6 (late first century) and Ignatius, Rom. 4:3, though recognizing the important role of Peter Paul in the life of the Roman church, stop short of identifying them as the founders of the church.


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