06 December 2014

Inbox: What about Erastus the City Chamberlain?

Isn't this an example of a Christian holding public office?

Yes it is. Paul mentions Erastus the oikonomos of the city at the end of the Epistle to the Romans.

First of all I offer a subjective and historical argument that the Church in its infancy was perhaps a bit more permissive when it comes to some of these questions. During the early days of growth and during the time of the Apostles ministry, things were in transition. The Temple still stood, Rome had not begun to persecute. Many ideas were still forming.

This is not to say the Apostles were short-sighted. By no means. But it does suggest that there was a degree of charity due to the circumstance. The Church learned much in subsequent centuries but with knowledge and growth also came many theological tares and cancers. There was a purity and innocence in the Early Church but it was by no means free from theological and ethical tangles. The New Testament itself makes this painfully clear.

We can also extend that same charity in our own day. People must come to Christ where they are at. Some were called as slaves and could not easily disentangle themselves from that position. Some were called while in the army and in many cases (as today) you cannot simply leave. Some are called while already separated or divorced and bringing the situation to a God-honouring and ethical conclusion isn't always easy or possible.

People lives and circumstances are messy. In the book of Acts many of these issues are not being addressed. The Gospel was spreading to all quarters of society. That was exciting and a manifest work of God. How it would all play out, that would take time and wisdom.

All that said, the person of Erastus is interesting. The name is mentioned two more times outside of Romans 16. He's mentioned in Acts 19 and again in chapter 4 of Paul's final letter to Timothy.

We have no way of knowing if he's speaking of the same Erastus. He very likely may have been speaking of a certain Erastus in Corinth and another Erastus who traveled with Timothy and Paul's company.

If they are separate people, then there's nothing else to say.

If they're the same man, that's very interesting. Because it would suggest that Erastus left his position as chamberlain, as economic steward of the city and instead became an Evangelist along the lines of Timothy.

I wish we could know for sure.

Depending on how one constructs the chronology of the New Testament, Acts 19 may antedate the letter to the Romans. If so, then the Erastus sent to Macedonia would certainly be a different person than the Corinthian Erastus mentioned by Paul in Romans. Is the Erastus in 2 Timothy the same Erastus in Acts 19? We don't know that either but it seems likely.

One thing is certain. The tradition that Erastus of Corinth was one of the Seventy Disciples of Christ is without foundation.

Again if we're speaking of two separate men... one in Corinth and another traveling with Paul, then the latter may have been of the Seventy. But again, I doubt it unless he was a Jewish Christian who took a Latinized name. But we have no Jewish name indicated as with Silas/Silvanus for example.

But I really doubt that one of the Seventy followers of Christ then traveled to Corinth and took up office as a chamberlain. I suppose that notion would please certain theological schools of thought, but it is without foundation.