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The Aedile: Erastus of Corinth


Modern day Corinth Credit: Qweasdqwe/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Modern day Corinth Credit: Qweasdqwe/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Though the Apostle Paul mentions him twice and Luke once, we don’t know that much about Erastus. But still we know more about him than most of the associates that ministered with Paul.

22 And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. (Acts 19:22 NASV)

20 Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. (2 Timothy 4:20 NASV)

23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. (Romans 16:23 NASV)

It was clear from the passage in Acts that Erastus joined Paul on some of his missionary journeys. The passage in 2 Timothy tells us that he was based in Corinth, but the Romans verse provides the most tantalizing clue when Paul says he was a city treasurer (Greek oikonomos which means administrative supervisor, steward, treasurer or manager).

Since Paul wrote the book of Romans while at Corinth, and this along with Luke stating Erastus remained  at Corinth, it is generally believed Erastus was a city manager in Corinth.

This meant he was not only a man of political influence, but undoubtedly very wealthy.

And this is where it gets interesting because in 1929, archaeologists working in the ancient ruins of Corinth discovered an inscription mentioning a man named Erastus on a paved area near an old theater.

The inscription carved into a partly destroyed piece of limestone pavement reads:

Erastv, Pro. Aed. S. P. Strvit

Written in abbreviated form, it literally means:

“Erastus for his aedileship laid the pavement at his own expense.”

Corinth followed the traditional Roman political system. The city was ruled by a council. Beneath the council was an elected chief magistrate, and below the magistrate were two aediles.

The aediles were managers responsible for city maintenance – streets, public buildings and market place and as well collecting revenues from these venues. At times they also worked as judges.

Those seeking the position of aedile would make promises of what infrastructure they would build if selected. In addition, aediles were expected to pay the city a fee if selected.

In turn the person would make his living through the taxes and fees he imposed as an aedile.

It was a prestigious position and this same Erastus of Corinth is actually cited in other writings of the day. John Chrysostom, Basil and Epiphanius each refer to this same Erastus revealing how important he actually was.

Of course, many wonder if the Erastus who was member of the Corinthian church is the same Erastus found inscribed in the pavement in Corinth. Though Paul does not give Erastus the title of aeidile, most are convinced they are undoubtedly the same person.

First, we know Erastus was based in Corinth and the plaque itself dates to the time Paul was in Corinth.

Secondly is the reference to Erastus’ political position in Corinth.  While the plaque describes Erastus’ as an aedile, his actual title, Paul takes a slightly different approach describing what he did.

Paul was basically saying he was a senior administrator in the Corinthian government and certainly one of the top political positions in the city.

Finally, Erastus is a rarely used name. Since it is uncommon, finding two people with the same name, in the same city and holding a similar position is more than a coincidence.

Most conclude this is undoubtedly the same person.

But there is another side story to this. Erastus was a name commonly associated with slaves at the time. So people who were not slaves tended not to use the name for their children.

This makes it interesting, because archaeology shows that it was common for Corinthians to free slaves and appoint them to important political positions such as aedile. They have found several references to these freed slaves being used in similar ways such as Babbius Philinus.

These people would be indebted because of their freedom and were expected to award their patrons accordingly. It was one way for the elites of the city to control the managers.

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul uses the official term describing this particular form of emancipation when he says:

21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman (Greek apeleutheros); likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:21-24 NASV)

In this passage, Paul refers to the “freedman.” It is the Greek word “apeleutheros” and literally means “freed person,” and refers to a slave who had gone through the official process of “manumission” and been legally freed from slavery.

If Erastus was a slave he would have gone through this before he could become an aedile. If this is the case, it suggests that Paul may have subtly used Erastus’ life as an illustration of what Christ has done for us.

As for Erastus, some wonder if he eventually left his position of prestige and wealth to join Paul on his missionary journeys.

Aediles were expected to regularly and publicly honor the heathen gods while holding such prestigious positions.  When Erastus became a Christian, it would have been awkward to continue this practice.

But having been freed, Paul says that such a person is now Christ’s slave suggesting Erastus may have eventually left it all behind to serve Christ.

Sources:

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