After Jesus’ ascension, the believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.
Daniel N. Balge
Modern pavement often bears the name of the finisher who poured and smoothed the concrete. Before the concrete hardens, a stamp presses a logo and sometimes a date into the still soft surface. Once hardened, the pavement records a bit of history.
An old paving stone in Corinth bears a similar mark. There in 1929, archeologist T. L. Shear found a long limestone block into which had been chiseled seven-inch-tall letters spelling out in abbreviated Latin, “Erastus, for his office of city manager, laid this pavement at his own expense.” The inscription sparked a conversation that continues to this day.
That stone is worth talking about. Among the apostle Paul’s fellow Christians in Corinth was a man named Erastus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul included him among those sending greetings to the believers in Rome. He identifies him as “Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works” (16:23).
Archeologists agree that the inscription dates from the first century, but that doesn’t settle the question as to whether the Erastus who proudly paid for pavement in Corinth is the Erastus Paul mentioned. And that is a fair question. Erastus (“Beloved”) was a common Greek name in the Roman world. There might have been more than one public official in first-century Corinth named Erastus.
Moreover, the Greek word Paul uses to describe Erastus’ job does not match precisely the corresponding Latin word carved in Corinthian pavement. The essence of the Greek word is “manager” and involves especially money management. We might call Erastus a “treasurer”; many English translations do. The Latin word implies a higher office with oversight of public buildings and projects. Scholars debate whether the words refer to the same office. It might also mean that Erastus had different offices in his governmental career.
So, should we claim that the man whose name is etched in municipal stone is the same man Paul mentions in Romans? Let our answer settle thoughtfully somewhere close to “possibly.” We can’t prove it; we can’t rule it out.
And in the end it doesn’t matter. Our confidence in the Bible does not rest on archeological discoveries. Are these discoveries interesting? Yes. But our faith is not strengthened. Only the gospel can do that. We stand on what we know. For our learning, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to mention a man of status and responsibility who believed in Jesus. He apparently fell outside Paul’s earlier description of the Corinthian Christians, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26).
This Erastus might be the one whose inscription in stone has endured for two thousand years. More significant—and of greater honor—is that his name is inscribed in the Word that will stand forever. But even more important is what we glean about him. Despite worldly success, civic honor, and material wealth, Erastus had become a baptized child of God. God’s Spirit had brought another camel through the eye of the needle.
And that brings us to the most important inscription of all. “Written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27) with his Savior’s blood is the name “Erastus.”
Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.
This is the final article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.
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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017
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