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Evidence and Paul’s Journeys
Paul sends two assistants, Erastus and Timothy, to visit the churches in Macedonia.
This is the only time that Erastus is mentioned in Acts, although he is mentioned twice in Paul’s letters. At the close of the letter to the Christians at Rome, Paul states that Erastus is the treasurer of the city from which he is writing, which is the city of Corinth.
Then, at the end of his second letter to Timothy, Paul records that Erastus stayed behind after Paul left Corinth. In these references to Erastus, and assuming that it is the same individual in each case who is being named, he is mentioned only in passing.
During an archeological excavation of Corinth in 1929, a first century pavement was uncovered which contains the following inscription: “Erastus, Procurator and Aedile, laid this pavement at his own expense.” The pavement was in the public square and Erastus had apparently paid for it in return for his election to the aedileship.
The Latin word Aedile denotes an official who, among other duties, is in charge of the financial affairs of the city. Since Paul states that Erastus was the treasurer of Corinth, it would seem that his existence has been confirmed by archeological evidence.
Unfortunately, the matter is more complicated than this. The Greek word that Paul uses to denote “treasurer” (Oikonomos) is not the equivalent of the Latin word Aedile, which refers to a somewhat higher office in ancient municipal government. Of course, Erastus may have been promoted to the office of Aedile after Paul’s letter was written. It may also be that Paul, in using the word Oikonomos, is employing a colloquial Greek word as a rough equivalent to the word Aedile. If either one of these explanations is true, the existence of Erastus, his job, and his city of residence, have been confirmed by archeological evidence.
There are further complicating factors. First, the name Erastus was very common in antiquity, so the pavement could have been laid by someone else having that name. Second, there is scholarly disagreement over whether the word Oikonomos could have been used as a colloquial title for Aedile. Third, there is scholarly disagreement over whether someone holding the office of Oikonomos could later have been promoted to Aedile. The weight of historical evidence suggests that the office of Aedile was held only by men of social standing, while those who occupied the socially lower office of Oikonomos were usually not promoted to the rank of Aedile.
In short, the evidence is tantalizingly inconclusive. While it is possible that the Erastus of the Corinthian pavement was the companion of Paul, we cannot know for certain that this is the case.
Bruce, F. F. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982, page 280.
Cadbury, H. J. The Book of Acts in History. New York: Harper, 1955, page 55.
Gill, D. W. J. “Acts and the Urban Elites.” In D. W. J. Gill and C. Gempf, eds., The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994, page 112.
Hemer, C. J. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990, page 235.
Evidence and Paul’s Journeys
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