Category: Rome

The Apostle Paul’s Advice

The Apostle Paul’s Advice

There’s a section in Part 1 of Phoebe’s Journey when Nicholas, one of the primary characters, meets with Paul. There meeting takes place after the Apostle has been brought before the Roman authorities following a complaint by the Jewish synagogue leaders. Paul tells the young man that he ran into his father that day and chuckles as he says, “He was there under more fortunate circumstances than me, I’ll admit.”

Nicholas asks, “You can laugh at being hauled before the Proconsul?”

And the Apostle Paul responds, “I take it seriously, Nicholas. But I understand the leaders of the synagogue are threatened by the message I’m bringing on behalf of the Messiah. They are the ones to be worried. I’ve been in their place. Their world is changing and their hearts are not open yet. With the Lord’s help, I am determined to be patient with them.”

A wise reader sent this comment to me about this exchange between Paul and Nicholas:

It fits very well [when considering] all the changes that have happened in the church during our lifetime. The message of Romans is acceptance and that requires us to have time for our hearts to be opened as well as the hearts of the ones promoting the change. It gives both of us time to evaluate the change to see if it violates scripture or if He challenges our comfort zone.

I have thought about this all day long. When it comes to change–which is rarely easy–how often have we witnessed change agents overstep their bounds in their zeal to bring that change about? And, on the other hand, how often do we witness those who are change-averse dig their heels in and put the brakes on, before they ever even hear the other side out?

This reader is so correct to remind us that practicing acceptance, and opening our hearts, will encourage us to find common ground.

Rich Man, Poor Man

Rich Man, Poor Man

After Corinth was rebuilt by Caesar in 44 BC as a Roman colony, people from throughout the empire began to to settle there in droves, including a large number of freed slaves. Because of Corinth’s geographical position it quickly grew into a valuable trade center. Land travelers from throughout Greece had to pass through the city on most southern routes, plus with two nearby ports it was a huge shipping center. Tourism was also a big industry for Corinth. Every two years Corinth hosted the Isthmian Games–similar in size and scope to the Olympics.

All of this meant that Corinth grew very quickly from a backwater town to the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Corinth went from very poor, to very rich. Some of its top officials were children of former slaves who had earned their freedom and come into money. In Phoebe’s Journey, Phoebe’s mother and father are both freed slaves. Miklos builds his shipping agency to be the largest in the region.

But not everyone benefitted from the growth and the booming economy. Like many cities that grow quickly, huge swaths of people were left behind by the more successful. Corinth became a city with a wide disparity between rich and poor.

Corinth was also a city known for its wild living. It had more than three temples devoted to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, desire, and beauty. The city’s worship of Aphrodite coupled with the large numbers of sailors and itinerant travelers led Corinth to become so known for its promiscuity that its name became slang. “To act like a Corinthian,” was to be drunk. “To play like a Corinthian,” was another way of talking about sex.

Prosperity, tourism, pride, promiscuous culture…it’s easy to see why at least one Biblical  scholar has called Corinth, “at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.”

Gallio’s Pedigree

Gallio’s Pedigree

In the book of Acts, we’re told about the Apostle Paul being brought before the Roman Proconsul Gallio by the Jewish synagogue leaders:

“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.” (Acts 18:12-17)

Part 1 of Phoebe’s Journey, imagines a further meeting between Gallio and Paul with a fascinating series of exchanges between the two. Gallio arguing from his Stoic background, the Apostle Paul making his case as a Christian.

Gallio, the Proconsul of Achaia [Ancient Greece] when Paul was in Corinth, was the son of Seneca the Elder, and brother to Seneca the Younger. All three were prominent in Roman society.

Seneca and Gallio were born in Cordoba, Spain into a wealthy equestrian family, but moved with their father to Rome where he became a famed speaker and writer. Seneca the Elder oversaw his sons’ education in the Stoic school of philosophy. Gallio and Seneca the Younger rose in their careers to seats of power.

As an adult, Seneca the Younger was an essayist, a playwright, and Stoic philosopher. He also was a tutor and adviser to the evil emperor Nero. Seneca the Younger was one of the wealthiest men of his time.

Seneca’s life was one of opposites: Great wealth, ambition, and power vs. introspection, self-examination, and a philosophy advocating humility, civil obligation, and self-denial.

Seneca wrote several essays, one was a treatise on The Happy Life that he wrote to his brother, Gallio. Following are some of Seneca’s observations and suggestions:

  • Find a role model.
  • Never be a slave to your riches.
  • Fight your ego.

I pondered whether we find similar admonitions in the New Testament:

  • Find a role model: Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.”
  • Never be a slave to your riches: Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
  • Fight your ego: I Peter 5:5 “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”

In Phoebe’s Journey, Gallio and the Apostle Paul are educated and wise men. They come from similar, but different backgrounds. They don’t agree about everything, but they find common ground and form a mutually respectful relationship proving that even in our differences, we have similarities.

If you’d like to read more about the philosophy of stoicism, here are three recommended books:

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