HISTORICAL LIGHT ON PAUL’S WORDS TO TIMOTHY.
313. The authors quoted before, Conybeare and Howson, continue: “But if the agents of Nero’s tyranny seem out of place in such a scene, still more repugnant to the assembled worshippers must have been the instruments of his pleasure, the ministers of his lust. . . . The ancient historians have polluted their pages with the infamy which no writer in the languages of Christendom may dare to repeat. . . . suffice it to say that the courtiers of Nero were the spectators, and the members of his household the instruments, of vices so monstrous and so unnatural, that they shocked even the men of that generation, steeped as it was in every species of obscenity.” They tell of the death of Burrus, and of the fact that Paul now passed into the charge of one of these vile instruments of Nero who succeeded Burrus, and then continue: “Another circumstance occurred about this time, which seemed to threaten still graver mischief to the cause of Paul. This was the marriage of Nero to his adulterous mistress, Poppaea . . . We know from Josephus that she exerted her influence over Nero in favor of the Jews, and that she patronized their emissaries at Rome; and assuredly no scruples of humanity would prevent her from seconding their demand for the punishment of their most detested antagonist.” However, Paul seems to have been acquitted, after a considerable time, to have gone from church to church, in Ephesus, Crete, Macedonia, Miletus and Nicopolis, and probably he was in Spain when he heard of the awful martyrdom of the Roman church under Nero in A.D. 64.
314. Nero himself burned Rome, wishing to widen its streets and to build more modern houses. Tacitus, a pagan historian of those days, says: “The infamy of that horrible transaction adhered to him. In order, if possible, to remove the imputation, he determined to transfer the guilt to others. For this purpose he punished with exquisite tortures a race of men detested for their evil practices, commonly called Christians . . . A number of Christians were convicted, not indeed upon clear evidence of having set fire to the city, but rather on account of their sullen hatred of their kind. They were put to death with exquisite cruelty, and to their sufferings Nero added mockery and derision. Some were covered with skins of wild beasts, and left to be devoured by dogs; others were nailed to the cross; numbers were burned alive; and many, covered over with inflammable matter, were lighted up when the day declined, to serve as torches during the night. For the convenience of this tragic spectacle, the Emperor lent his own gardens. At length the cruelty of these proceedings filled every breast with compassion . . . It was evident they felt a sacrifice, not for the public good, but to glut the cruelty and rage of one man only.”
315. Prof. Ramsay says in his Church in the Roman Empire (page 240, 241): “This went on till the Roman populace was sick of it, and began to pity the sufferers . . . But it can have been no inconsiderable number and no short period which brought satiety to a populace accustomed to find their greatest amusement in public butcheries, frequently recurring on a colossal scale . . . On these grounds we conclude that if Tacitus has correctly represented his authorities, the persecution of Nero, begun for the sake of diverting popular attention, was continued as a permanent police measure, under the form of a general persecution of Christians as a sect dangerous to the public safety.” Ramsay quotes Sulpicius Severus, a historian of those days, who informs us: “This was the beginning of severe measures against the Christians. Afterwards the religion was forbidden by formal laws, and the profession of Christianity was made illegal by published edicts.” Ramsay continues: “When Nero had once established the principle in Rome, his action served as a precedent in every province. There is no need to suppose a general edict of formal law. The precedent would be quoted in every case where a Christian was accused. Charges such as had been brought against Paul in so many places were certainly brought against others; and the action of the Emperor at Tome would give the tone to the action of the provincial governors (p. 243-245).
316. This Epistle was probably written in A.D. 67. James, the brother of John, had been slain by Herod long before. James, the brother of our Lord, had been done to death by a mob, at Jerusalem; and Peter was at Rome to be crucified, or the deed had already been done. And Paul, having such intimate knowledge of conditions at Rome, as well as the enlightenment of spiritual perception, could well discern “the signs of the times,” and hence his precautionary advice, which related largely to the protection of women from possible arrest. We have shown that, owing to the Jewish proselyte, Poppaea, and her influence over Nero, the Jews were in favor in Rome at this time, while the Christians were in the greatest peril. Prof. Ramsay makes the following significant remark: “If the Jews appeared to the Empire to resemble the Christians so much, and yet were treated so differently, the reason for the difference in treatment must have lain in those points in which Christians differed from the Jews, in the estimate of the Imperial Government” (page 355; the italics are our own),¾and at no point was the contrast greater, at this time, than in the Christian treatment of women.
317. For there were four points at any rate, in which this difference was very manifest: (1) In the aggressiveness of Christianity, while Judaism was proud, exclusive and unexpansive; (2) in the instruction of women as expressly permitted by Paul in our present Lesson, whereas the Jewish Oral Law taught that women were only to be instructed in their own special duties, but not in the law in general; (3) in the many conversions of women; and (4) in their activity in the Apostolic Church. On this latter point Lecky, in his History of European Morals, says: “The general superiority of women to men in the strength of their religious emotions, and their natural attraction to a religion which made personal attachment to its Founder its central duty, afforded an unprecedented scope to their characteristic virtues, account for the very conspicuous position that female influence assumed in the great work of the conversion of the Roman Empire. In no other movement of thought was it so powerful or so acknowledged. In the ages of persecution female figures occupy many of the foremost places in the ranks of martyrdom, and pagan and Christian writers alike attest the alacrity with which women flocked to the Church.”
318. But this aggressiveness of Christianity, and activity of Christian women, would not only offend Jews, but the complaint against it, on the part of Jews, would make a deep impression, in time, upon the pagan mind and the Imperial Government. Roman law provided a death penalty for those of lower rank who won converts to their faith, and banishment for those of higher rank. Were the enforcement of this law once demanded, then every new convert would mean fresh danger for the Church,¾and the aggravation would be doubled if that convert were the wife of an unbelieving husband, or the daughter of an unbelieving father.
319. In another place Lecky adds: “Another cause of the peculiar animosity felt against the Christians was the constant interference with domestic life, arising from the great number of female conversions. The graphic title of ‘earpicker of ladies,’ which was given to a pontiff of somewhat later period, might have been applied to many in the days of the persecution, but to the Roman, who regarded the supreme authority of the head of the family, in all religious matters, as the very foundation of domestic morality, no character could appear more infamous or more revolting.”
320. The same writer describes the general attitude of the pagan mind on this subject in the words of Plutarch: “A wife should have no friends but those of her husband; and as the gods are the first of friends, she should have no gods but those her husband adores. Let her shut the door, then, against idle religious and foreign superstitions. No god can take pleasure in sacrifices offered by a wife without the knowledge of her husband.” Now let us continue in the words of Prof. Ramsay which have special reference to Paul’s Epistles to Timothy and Titus: “The advice given by St. Paul as to the relations of the Christians to the society in which they are placed, IS ALWAYS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SITUATION WHICH WE HAVE DESCRIBED AS OCCUPIED BY THEM UNDER NERO” [p. 246: the capitals are ours].
(To be continued).Lesson 42 Home