Tag Archives: Roman Empire

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 2

Read Part I here.

The Testimony of History Regarding
Church Government

Churches and religious doctrines were not always what they are today. In fact, in New Testament times (during the first century A.D.) there were no major branches of Christendom, no denominations. There was no church organization larger than a single local church overseen by a plurality of bishops (overseers), elders, or shepherds. These terms were used interchangeably. Today, however, one encounters hundreds of denominational groups, and universal organizations. What has happened since the first century to bring about this change? It did not happen suddenly, but was a gradual process over the centuries.

The Apostles of Christ warned in their sermons and letters of departures or apostasy from apostolic teaching and practice. See Acts 20:29-30, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and 1 Timothy 4:1 as examples. Notice Paul’s warning to the elders of the church at Ephesus barely a quarter of a century after the establishment of the church in Jerusalem in A.D. 30.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  (Acts 20:29-30 ESV)

Emperor Constantine the Great (A.D. 507-337). Statue in Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Emperor Constantine the Great (A.D. 307-337). Statue in Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Historian Philip Schaff wrote about the changes in church government which were evident by the second century:

“We cannot therefore assume any strict uniformity. But the whole church spirit of the age tended towards centralization; it everywhere felt a demand for compact, solid unity; and this inward bent, amidst the surrounding dangers of persecution and heresy, carried the church irresistibly towards the episcopate…. Such a unity was offered in the bishop, who held a monarchical, or more properly a patriarchal relation to the congregation…. And in proportion as every church pressed towards a single centre, this central personage must acquire a peculiar importance and subordinate the other presbyters to itself…” (History of the Christian Church, II:142-143).

“Among the city bishops the metropolitans rose above the rest, that is, the bishops of the capital cities of the provinces” (Schaff, II:153).

Immediately after the discussion of the monarchal episcopate, Schaff discussed “Germs of the Papacy.” In A.D. 588, John the Faster, patriarch of Constantinople [later known as Istanbul], assumed the title of “universal bishop.” The emperor, in A.D. 606, took the title from John and conferred it upon Boniface III, bishop of Rome. This was the first pope, almost 600 years after the establishment of the New Testament church.

F. F. Bruce says,

“There was in apostolic times no distinction between elders (presbyters) and bishops such as we find from the second century onwards: the leaders of the Ephesian church are indiscriminately described as elders, bishops (i.e. superintendents) and shepherds (or pastors)” (Bruce, The Book of Acts, 415).

By the fourth century enough changes had taken place that the Roman emperor Constantine called together the bishops of the churches, mostly from the eastern part of his empire, to discuss various issues that were dividing the churches.

The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum in the background. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum in the background. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is where Iznik (ancient Nicaea or Nicea) enters the picture. In A.D. 325 the first of seven Ecumenical councils was held here. After five more councils in Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, the seventh of these councils was held again in Nicea.

In the next post we will begin our visit of Nicea.

Turning from idols to serve the living God

Recently I was browsing through photos made in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (Salonica, Thessalonica), Greece, in 2008. I was impressed with the images of various gods and goddesses that were known in the city in the first century A.D. There were statues and busts of Egyptian gods such as Isis, Serapis, and Harpokrates/Horus. Greek gods and goddesses such as Dionysus, Hades, Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, and the mother of the gods often associated with Kybele (Cybele) were known. And there were others.

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Immediately my mind was drawn to Paul’s commendation of the saints at Thessalonica in the middle of the first century A.D.

 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 ESV)

But there were other “gods” known to the Thessalonians. The deified Alexander, considered a son of Zeus, was represented in the museum. Another significant form of idolatry was the Cult of the Emperor of Rome. A sign associated with one display says,

The cult of the emperor was both an instrument of imperial policy propaganda and a means for the transmission of Roman culture. The image of the emperor gives a concrete form to the abstract idea of the Empire. Whether a full-length statue or a bust, it makes his presence felt everywhere: in outdoor and indoor spaces, in fora, in villas, and in libraries.

Here is a statue of Octavian Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (27 B.C. – A.D. 14). Augustus was emperor at the time of the birth of Christ (Luke 2:1).

Statue of Augustus, Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Augustus, Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, and other emperors were represented in the museum displays.

An interesting temporary exhibition was about the discovery of an important archaeological site known as Kalindoia. The site is located about 48 km (30 miles) southeast of Thessalonica. Paul traveled a few miles north of Kalindoia when he went from Philippi, via Amphipolis and Apollonia, to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). Below is the drawing of the chamber of the imperial cult. A temple for imperial worship was located here from the 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D.

Artist conception of the chamber of the Imperial Cult. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Artist conception of the chamber of the Imperial Cult. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign associated with this drawing states that there were pedestals for statues here. “One of them was the statue of Emperor Octavian Augustus.” The Cult of the Emperor was especially pervasive in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and may have some bearing on understanding the man of lawlessness (sin) in 2 Thessalonians 2. It is certainly helpful in understanding the background of the book of Revelation.

But that’s not all. Another sign mentions the eponymous local heroes such as war heroes, deified mythological figures, or the heroized dead “were also worshipped.”

The gospel of Christ has power to touch the hearts of men and inform them about the difference between idols made of “gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man,” and the God who does not dwell in temples made by man (Acts 17:29 ESV).

Florida College Annual Lectureship 2015

Many of our readers attend the annual Florida College Lectureship. The theme for the February 2-5, 2015 lectureship is “Light Shall Shine Out of Darkness.

I am scheduled to present an illustrated lecture on “The Roman Imperial Cult in Palestine” Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. in Puckett Auditorium. It would be my pleasure to see some of our readers in the audience.

The complete lectureship program is available here.

Florida College Press has recently published two of my out-of-print books. Revised editions of Biblical Authority and The Finger of God are back on the shelf.

Two revised books by Ferrell Jenkins now available.

Two revised books by Ferrell Jenkins now available.

The bookstore manager asked me to do a book signing Thursday between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. Love to see you there.

Other books in print include:

  • Studies in the Book of Revelation
  • The Early Church
  • The Theme of the Bible
  • God’s Eternal Purpose (Ephesians)
  • Better Things (Hebrews)

Several books that I have edited or have a chapter are listed if you search with my name at the Florida College Bookstore site here.




John was “on the island called Patmos”

John, the writer of the book of Revelation, was “on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 1:9). I am convinced that this was the apostle John. He was there because of (Greek dia, on account of) the word of God. Filson says this could mean either banishment, or banishment to hard labor. He points out that the word of God and witness or testimony are used in Revelation 6:9 and 20:4 “in reference to a persecution situation” (Interpreter’s Dictionary Bible III:677).

The Romans used the island as a penal settlement to which they sent political agitators and others who threatened the peace of the empire (Tacitus Annals 3.68; 4.30; 15.71). According to Eusebius, John was banished to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian, A. D. 95, and released 18 months later under Nerva (HE III.18.1; 20.8-9).

View of the port of Skala from Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the port of Skala from the monastery at Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Patmos is a rocky island off the west coast of Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea, about 37 miles southwest of Miletus. The island is one of the Dodecanese (twelve) or of the Southern Sporades. It is about 10 miles long (N–S) and 6 miles wide at the north end, and consists of about 22 square miles of land area. The island is mountainous and of irregular outline. Some visitors to the island have suggested that the natural scenery “determined some features of the imagery of the Apocalypse” (HDB III:693-94).

Patmos has been a part of Greece since 1947, and may be reached by boat from Piraeus, Samos, Kos, or Rhodes. The ferry from Samos takes about 2 1/2 hours, arriving at the port of Skala. Some cruise ships sail from Kusadasi, Turkey, to Patmos.

On the way from Skala to Chora, the only other town on the island, one passes the Monastery and Cave of the Apocalypse. This site is marked as the traditional place where John received the Revelation.

At Chora, the monastery of St. John the Theologian dominates the island. It was built by a monk called Christodulos (slave of Christ) in A. D. 1088. The monastery library is noted for its manuscripts, but especially for its collection of more than 200 icons. The oldest book in the library is part of a 6th century codex of Mark (Codex Purpureus). The second oldest manuscript is an 8th century A. D. copy of Job.

Bell tower on the Monastery of St. John the Theologian at Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bell tower on Monastery of St. John the Theologian at Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hadrian’s Arch in Antalya (Attalia)

Many of the Roman ruins we see in the Bible World belong to the early second century. This illustrates the tremendous power of the Empire throughout the region at that time.

Hadrian ruled from A.D. 117-138. We know that one of the major persecutions against Christians came during his reign. Many arches were constructed to honor him. The most impressive Roman ruin in Antalya (Attalia of Acts 14:25) is Hadrian’s Arch. The three-arch gateway was extensively restored between 1960 and 1963.

Hadrian's Arch in Antalya, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hadrian’s Arch in Antalya, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The area around the arch bustles with tourists.

Evidence of Cinnamon in use 3000 years ago

Live Science reports (here) on the investigation of 27 flasks from five archaeological sites in Israel showing that cinnamon was stored in them. The flasks date back to about 1000 years B.C. Ten of the 27 flasks contain “cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, indicating that the spice was stored in these flasks.” Tel Dor is the only site named in the report.

At this time cinnamon was found in the Far East with the closest places to Israel being southern India and Sri Lanka located at least 3,000 miles (nearly 5,000 kilometers) away. A form of it was also found in the interior of Africa, but does not match the material found in these flasks.

This discovery “raises the intriguing possibility that long-range spice trade from the Far East westward may have taken place some 3,000 years ago,” researchers write in a paper to be published in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry. Although cinnamon can be purchased today at any grocery or bulk food store, 3,000 years ago, people in the Levant would have needed to take part in trade that extended beyond the edge of the known world in order to acquire it, something this discovery suggests they were willing to do.

This trade may go back ever further into antiquity and involve other goods and parts of the Middle East. The researchers note, for example, that black pepper from India has been found in the mummy of Ramesses II, a pharaoh of Egypt who lived more than 3,200 years ago.

Cinnamon displayed on the Spice Route at Avedat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cinnamon and pepper displayed on the ancient Spice Route at Avedat.

Cinnamon is mentioned only four times in the Bible.

  • Cinnamon was used in the anointing oil for the tabernacle (Exodus 30:23).
  • The adulterous woman tells the young man that she has perfumed her bed with cinnamon and other spices (Proverbs 7:17).
  • Cinnamon is used in the sexual/sensuous context of Song of Solomon 4:14.
  • Cinnamon is one of the spices imported by Babylon (the ancient Roman Empire) in Revelation 18:13.

Much archaeological work goes on in the library and in the lab.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Fort Babylon in Old Cairo

Daily News Egypt carried a brief article about the Roman ruins in Old Cairo here. The article says,

The fort was built on the southern end of the old Pharaonic town Per-Hapi-On, or ‘The river house of On’. According to some historians the mispronunciation of the name by the Romans led to the name Fort Babylon but others claim it was named after a number of captives brought there from Babylonia during the time of Sesostris.

Roman Emperor Diocletian built the fort in 300 C.E. as the stronghold of three legions in charge of securing Egypt. The garrison of Fort Babylon vowed to secure ships on the Nile and a canal that passed through the town connecting the Nile with the Red Sea. This canal was first established by the Pharaohs, and was restored and enlarged by the Roman Emperor Trajan. The fort was renovated and fortified by the Roman Emperor Arcadius.

Our photo shows ruins of the Roman fort that was known as Fort Babylon in Roman times. At that time the Nile River flowed beside the Fort, but has since changed its course. New building of Old Cairo dwarf the old structure.

Roman Tower (Fort Babylon in Old Cairo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Tower (Fort Babylon in Old Cairo). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign in front of the structure says that it was constructed by Diocletian (c. A.D. 300) to fortify the Roman harbor of Old Cairo built by Trajan (c. A.D. 110).

HT: Agade List