Erastus and Corinth – Student dissertation (part 4)

In his surviving writings, Paul’s preferred term for people who are not slaves appears to be ἐλεύθερος (eleutheros); ‘free’. However, in 1 Corinthians 7:22, Paul uses a more specific term ἀπελεύθερος (apeleutheros), ‘freedman/feedperson’, referring to slaves who had been emancipated through the civic and legal process of manumission. Although it was a relatively common word, Paul only uses it once.  Newman University graduand Isabella Wray explored what may have prompted Paul to use it here and what his readers may have understood by its use.

This excerpt from her dissertation, introduces us to a freedperson who, like Babbius Philinus (see part 2), rose to become an influential figure in Corinthian society. What is particularly intriguing about this person, however, is that he may also have also been a member of the Corinthian church…

Paul’s Liberating Theology in 1 Corinthians 7:21-24: The Freedperson’s Journey to Liberation


Isabella Wray


2.5 Erastus of Panaeus

(The Erastus Inscription, Corinth museum and archaeological site, 2016. Image: Isabella Wray).
The inscription translates: “Erastus, Procurator and Aedile, laid this pavement at his own expense.”

This stone, discovered in 1929, formed a pavement in the public square in Corinth.  The 7 ½ foot stone made from limestone, a common material used to lay pavements in the first century Mediterranean, had letters originally engraved with bronze (now missing) (Cadbury, 1931, p.42). Much has been speculated on whether the Erastus the aedile or procurator who laid this stone is in fact the same Erastus mentioned by Paul, Luke and the pastoral epistles in the New Testament (Rom 16:23; Acts 19:22; 2 Tim 4:20). The usual practice on proving the link between the two names is to consider the date, name, place and station of both. The dating of the stone coincides with the dating of the New Testament correspondence that makes reference to him, within the middle of the first century. The name Erastus was not a very common name in particular and, as Taylor (2012, p.165) notes, there is no epigraphic or archaeological evidence of another ‘Erastus’ holding the office of aedile or ‘city treasurer’ at this time. The location of both Erastus of the New Testament and that of the stone’s Erastus is the same – 2 Timothy 4:20 places Erastus in Corinth.

Erastus remained in Corinth; Trophimus I left ill in Miletus.

2 Timothy 4:20

Finally, the status of Erastus is more complex to compare as the term, aedile and oikonomos (which Paul used to describe the Erastus of Romans 16) have different usages. However, both terms can be used to describe a city overseer, or manager (Taylor, 2012, p.165).

Erastus, the city treasurer [ὁ οἰκονόμος τῆς πόλεως], and our brother Quartus, greet you.

Romans 16:23b

Nevertheless, although scholars are wary to conclude these two Erastus are the same person, few can deny or present convincing evidence to disprove the association (Meggitt, 1996). Thus, with the current evidence – and until evidence proves otherwise – we can examine the possibility that they are in fact the same Erastus to help us understand Paul’s movement in Corinth. In which case Erastus’ position in society and within the ekklesia should be investigated to reveal more surrounding the social status and structure of Corinth society, particularly in regards to the freed persons and their position within the ekklesia. Romans 16:23 appoints Erastus as oikonomos which is often translated as ‘city treasurer’ or ‘overseer’ (Cadbury, 1931, pp42-58). The term can also be translated as ‘steward’. However, considering the evidence suggesting that freedmen were recruited into the highest held offices at Corinth, it is likely that the translation of ‘city treasurer’ is correct and can be linked to the word aedile. The stone itself states:



‘Pro’ and ‘Aed’ (procurator and aedilis) are presented as successive positions held by Erastus (Cadbury, 1931). S and P (sua pecunia) translates at ‘own cost’ (see 2.4 in part 3). An aedile would be one of two city managers who would have accumulated large sums of personal wealth before entering office (Taylor, 2012, p.165). Therefore, Erastus was a freedman of considerable wealth. Aediles were some of the most honourable positions to be held in Corinth (Clarke, 2006, p.50) and upon joining office, aediles would be expected to honour the administration for allowing them the opportunity (Clarke, 2006, p.49). Usually this was by erecting monuments or laying pavements with inscriptions of gratitude to the Emperor or his administration. Additionally, on entering office, aediles would publicly proclaim the following oath to the gods and the Emperors, “per lovem et divos imperatores et genium principis deasque Penates”, (Clarke, 2006, p.53). From the New Testament references to Erastus, we know he traveled as an Apostle and friend of Paul and this could mean Erastus left a career within the government office at Corinth which would normally entail harsh penalties by the senate.

Freed persons like Erastus who had climbed the social ladder at Corinth would be expected to live their lives in total gratitude to their seniors and gods (Hurtado, 2000, p.9). In this way, Erastus’ freedom was a debt to the Emperor and the senators, and one that he would be expected to pay back for the rest of his life. For the Emperor and his senate, allowing freedmen like Erastus into a prestigious career acted as a symbol of possibility to all citizens of Corinth. Equally, this was one of the reasons that revolts became much less common during this period (Horrell, 1996, p.67) and wealthy freed persons, like Erastus, could accumulate more wealth for Rome than if they were still enslaved. For Erastus, his life and career directly served the interests of the Emperor and the senate by honouring him publicly, and paying higher taxes (Millis, 2014, p.38). Many of our ancient authors, writing about the everyday reality for the upper strata and the freedmen were closely affiliated to Rome and this makes it difficult to gain a clear picture. Strabo (2016) tells us that life for the wealthy in the Empire was luxurious and honourable for this section of society (Strabo, 2016, loc.16348). However, Tacitus (2015, p.73) states: “You will never coerce such a medley of humanity except by terror”. This terror was felt in the violent repercussions presented by Rome to maintain control over the mass of people living within the Empire. The manumission process also entailed ‘terror’ through the separation of families with the freed person’s children being left behind in slavery and the continuing threat of re-enslavement. Having experienced the manumission process, Erastus may have left loved ones and even children in slavery (Nasrallah, 2014, p.54-73). Later in office, Erastus would face the daily fear of his patrons and seniors willing to execute harsh punishments for anyone who refused to honour the gods and the Emperor as they saw fit (Tacitus, 2015). Hurtado (2000, p.9) explores how roles held within public office, like the position held by Erastus, would have (Pagan) religious implications and becoming Christian “meant abandoning a central feature of common life in Roman cities” (Hurtado, 2000, p.4). In turn the abandonment of Pagan ritualism would hold severe consequences (Hurtado, 2000, p.4).

For the wealthy freed person institutionalization and colonisation was an everyday reality in which they faced immense social pressure to accept degradation and also to project it on others of lower status (Millis, 2014, p.58). Freed persons, like slaves were “products of extensive and pervasive disruption and displacement” (Horsley, 2004, p.11). The appearance of privilege veiled the uncountable costs that the freed person had paid, firstly for their libertas, and thereafter, their success. Despite the terms applied to freed persons (libertas for example), there was little opportunity for freedom of expression or equality in Corinth. Those who strove for it were destroyed by the Empire. Fear of provoking the State through opposing the laws or the State religion or by revolting spread throughout the Empire (Nasrallah, 2014, pp.54-73). Although the freed persons exploited their own dependents, they in turn were exploited by the wealthy senators of Rome for their pursuit of freedom. Marred by the shame of their former slavery and their voluntary acceptance to be used by Rome, Paul’s liberating Gospel message could have appeared attractive to the freed person.

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