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Dictionaries :: Caesar's Household

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International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

Caesar's Household:

hous'-hold (hoi ek tes Kaisaros oikias, "they that are of Caesar's household," Php 4:22): These words occur in the epistle which Paul wrote from Rome near the end of his first imprisonment there, probably in the end of 61 AD, to the church in Philippi. They give us most interesting information in regard to the progress made in the propagation of the gospel in Rome.

It is necessary to ask, in the first place, What is meant by the words "Caesar's household"? and when the meaning of that phrase is known, then it is needful to discuss the question which rises at once, In what way did the gospel enter Caesar's household? How is it that the gospel, which at the first chiefly advanced among the poorer classes in the Empire, made its way at a bound into the very palace of the Caesars?

1. What Exactly Was Caesar's Household?:

"Caesar's household" meant the whole of the persons, slaves and freemen alike, composing the establishment of the emperor in his palace on the Palatine Hill at Rome. The slaves of the imperial household formed a host in themselves. At a time when many a private citizen in Rome owned several hundreds of slaves, it need not surprise anyone to know that there was a vastly larger number of such persons in the palace of the emperor. This was a period when the city of Rome and the court of the Caesars swarmed with Asiatics, many of whom were Jews, and many of them would be in slavery, or in employment, in the imperial court. It cannot be forgotten that Poppea, Nero's shameless consort, was a proselyte to Judaism and that she continued to advocate successfully the cause of the Jews before the emperor as occasion arose.

These persons in the emperor's palace would be employed in every conceivable capacity as household servants, cooks, bathmen, gardeners, grooms, kennel-keepers, porters, doorkeepers, messengers, secretaries, amanuenses, teachers, librarians, architects, carpenters, shoemakers, and in all other forms of service. Of course they were not all slaves: there was a very large number of freemen. The domus or familia Caesaris (represented by the Greek oikia Kaisaros) included the whole of the imperial household, the meanest slaves as well as the most powerful courtiers. On the character and constitution of this household we happen to possess more information than perhaps on any other department of social life in Rome. "In Rome itself, if we may judge by these inscriptions, the domus Augusta must have formed no inconsiderable fraction of the whole population; but it comprised likewise all persons in the emperor's service, whether slaves or freemen, in Italy and even in the provinces" (Lightfoot, Commentary on Phil, 171). In the list of offices filled by members of the imperial household were also such functions as those of keepers of the wardrobe or of the plate-chest; even the "tasters" formed a separate class of servants under a chief of their own. To belong to Caesar's household would secure even to the lowest grade of slaves substantial privileges and immunities, and would give a certain social importance, which made this position a valued one. An office in the emperor's household, however mean, was thought of so highly, that in the monumental inscriptions such a fact is recorded with scrupulous care.

2. How Did the Gospel Enter into Caesar's Household?:

The next inquiry is, How did the gospel win its way into Caesar's household? And, first, there is no need at all to suppose that the gospel was unknown, even in the palace, previous to the arrival of Paul in Rome.

3. The Gospel Known There before Paul's Arrival:

For in that numerous household of the emperor there would be Jews, perhaps many of them; and all the Jews were at that time filled with Messianic hopes, and thus were ready to listen to the gospel. As soon therefore as the gospel entered Rome, as soon as it was proclaimed in the many synagogues there, these members of Caesar's household could not fail, equally with the other members of the synagogue, to hear the story of Jesus Christ and of His cross and resurrection. A fact such as this, that the gospel was known in Rome previous to Paul's arrival there, is quite sufficient to account for the other fact, that the gospel was known in Caesar's palace.

4. The Gospel Advances in the Palace:

But the propagation of the gospel received a great impetus and help forward, when Paul arrived in the city. For although he was a "bound prisoner," his wrist fastened by an iron chain, day and night, to the soldier who guarded him, he was able to "preach the kingdom of God and to teach those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him" (Ac 28:31 the King James Version). And in this way the gospel would again reach members of the emperor's household. Immediately after his arrival in Rome, Paul had put himself in communication with "the chief of the Jews"-probably the rulers of the synagogues in Rome-and many of them came to him in his lodging and conferred with him. Those chief men of the Jews expressed their great desire to hear from him what his thoughts were in regard to the hope of Israel (Ac 28:22); and naturally all the Jews in Rome would be equally desirous to gain this information from a man of the outstanding position and character of Paul. The Jewish community in Rome had for years past been permeated with the hope of the coming of the Messiah; indeed successive rumors of false Christs had kept them in a fever of excitement, which, on one occasion at least, had broken out in tumult, so strong was their hope of His speedy appearing. Thus it would come about, as a matter of course, that the gospel would reach all the Jews in Rome, and from this knowledge of Jesus, whom Paul proclaimed, the Jews who were in the service of the emperor could not possibly be excluded.

5. The Gospel Carried by Paul's Soldier-Guard:

But besides this, the fact that Paul was in daily contact and intercourse with the soldiers who guarded him could not fail to lead to the introduction of the gospel into Gospel the regiment. And as part of the Praetorian Guard was quartered in buildings on the Palatine Hill, attached to the emperor's palace there, there was thus one other channel through which the gospel would be made known to some of those who resided in the palace of Caesar. It is thus seen that there is nothing at all surprising in the fact that there were Christians in Caesar's household.

6. Lightfoot's Conjecture:

Some of Lightfoot's suggestions and conjectures on this subject are exceedingly interesting. He reviews the names of the persons to whom Paul sends greeting in Ro 16 and compares them with the names of persons who lived at that time, and which have been found in monumental inscriptions on the columbaria or places of sepulture exhumed on the Appian Way. Many of the occupants of those columbaria were freedmen or slaves of the emperors, and were contemporaries of Paul. The result of Lightfoot's review of the names is that he claims to have established a fair presumption that among the salutations in Ro 16 some members at least of the imperial household are included (Phil, 177).

In the household of the emperor there were necessarily many persons of high rank. Perhaps we may find a hint that the gospel had been embraced by some in the higher grades of society, in such strange facts as the execution of Titus Flavius Clemens, a man of consular rank and cousin to the emperor, and also in the fact that Flavia Domitilla, the wife of Flavius Clemens, was banished by Domitian, notwithstanding her near relationship to him, for she was the emperor's niece. Her daughter Portia also shared in the same punishment of exile. The charges brought against all three were atheism and inclination to Jewish customs: surely such charges were sufficiently vague and even self-contradictory. The opinion has been suggested that probably these three persons in the inner circle of the emperor's kinsmen were Christians.

7. Aristobulus and Narcissus:

Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler, etc., 353), speaking of Lightfoot's conjectures, already referred to, writes, "In all probability he is right in thinking that all the slaves of Aristobulus (son of Herod the Great) and of Narcissus (Claudius' favorite freedman) had passed into the imperial household, and that members of their two families are saluted as Christians by Paul (Ro 16:10 ff)."

The fact of greatest interest in the whole subject is, that in society so profligate and corrupt as the court of Nero, there were "saints," Christian men whose garments were clean and who kept themselves unspotted from the world amid surroundings so dreadful and in temptation so unceasing; that the gospel was known and obeyed and loved, and that hearts and lives were loyal to Christ even in the palace of Nero Caesar.

Written by John Rutherfurd

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