Paul and Imperial Divine Honors

Paul and Imperial Divine Honors March 27, 2024

Clint Burnett has released a new book called Paul and Imperial Divine Honors: Christ, Caesar, and the Gospel.

This book is scholarly and isn’t aimed at the casual or popular reader. Burnett’s thesis aligns with my own conclusion that Paul embedded remarks aimed at the Roman Empire and its imperial cult throughout his epistles.

This is one of the reasons why the early believers were considered Insurgents. (Which is a reality being restored today.)

Here is a great description of the book by publisher along with reviews by other scholars.

How did the imperial cult affect Christians in the Roman Empire?  

“Jesus is lord, not Caesar.” Many scholars and preachers attribute mistreatment of early Christians by Roman authorities to this fundamental confessional conflict. But this mantra relies on a reductive understanding of the imperial cult. D. Clint Burnett examines copious evidence—literary, epigraphic, numismatic, and archaeological—to more accurately reconstruct Christian engagement with imperial divine honors.

Outdated narratives often treat imperial divine honors as uniform and centralized, focusing on the city of Rome. Instead, Burnett examines divine honors in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth.

While all three cities incorporated imperial cultic activity in their social, religious, economic, and political life, the purposes and contours of the practice varied based on the city’s unique history. For instance, Thessalonica paid divine honors to living Julio-Claudians as tribute for their status as a free city in the empire—and Christian resistance to the practice was seen as a threat to that independence.

Ultimately, Burnett argues that early Christianity was not specifically antigovernment but more broadly countercultural, and that responses to this stance ranged from conflict to apathy.

Burnett’s compelling argument challenges common assumptions about the first Christians’ place in the Roman Empire. This fresh account will benefit Christians seeking to understand their faith’s place in public life today.

Clint Burnett is an independent scholar with research interests in early Christianity and Greco-Roman material culture. He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston College. His previous books include Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions: An Introductionand Christ’s Enthronement at God’s Right Hand and Its Greco-Roman Cultural Context.

Editorial Reviews

Religion in the Cities might be an engaging miniseries or virtual-reality tour developed from the picture that Rev. D. Clint Burnett paints of first-century Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Unlike authors who repeat broad generalizations in standard tourist guidebooks—and in many New Testament textbooks—he has immersed himself in the archaeological remains dated to each city when Paul founded churches there. An extensive archive that includes many of his own photos draws on inscriptions, statuary, and coin images to illustrate local differences in divine honors paid to deceased or, occasionally, living members of the Julio-Claudian imperial family.”
—from the foreword by Pheme Perkins

Paul and Imperial Divine Honors by D. Clint Burnett is a game-changing exploration that shatters conventional wisdom about early Christianity’s relationship with the Roman imperial cult. Burnett, an expert in inscriptions, masterfully handles a wealth of historical evidence to present a compelling and nuanced argument. This book is an essential read for scholars, pastors, and anyone interested in the complex interplay between faith and politics. Don’t miss this opportunity to deepen your understanding of Christianity’s historical and contemporary place in public life. A must-have for your theological library!”
—Christoph Heilig, University of Zurich 

“Imperial divine honors were everywhere in the Roman Empire, but Burnett demonstrates that they were not everywhere the same. Burnett’s meticulous research is crucial for scholars like me who are prone to overgeneralizations. He corrects common misconceptions about the Roman imperial cult with the precision of a surgeon, but also a good surgeon’s grace and gentleness. Clergy will benefit from Burnett’s broad insights, scholars from his encyclopedic knowledge.”
—Nijay K. Gupta, Northern Seminary 

“Clint Burnett’s Paul and Imperial Divine Honors is a tour de force, overturning twenty-five years of scholarly debate on the topic by his insistence that only a localized, city-by-city approach to the imperial cult will lead to an accurate exegetical discussion of Paul’s epistles. A masterpiece in the literary, epigraphic, numismatic, and archaeological handling of the ancient evidence, accessible to general readers and scholars alike.”
—James R. Harrison, Sydney College of Divinity 

“In this erudite yet accessible volume, Clint Burnett does a terrific job of explaining the manifold forms of religious devotion to the emperor in the cities of Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica, and how it was part of the atmosphere in which the early church lived. Burnett’s knowledge of inscriptions and artefacts makes the ancient world come alive for readers, who will begin to understand, perhaps for the first time, what it meant to worship Jesus as ’Lord’ in a religiously pluralistic and politicized context.”
—Michael F. Bird, Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia

"Thanks for sharing this!"

Eric Clapton on Jesus
"Thank you Frank and Team! ~ Gordie"

The Truth Booth Podcast
"The insights Kenneth Bailey brings in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes is just amazing, almost ..."

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies ..."
"I am surprised there are no comments about the Thompson Chain. I purchased my first ..."

The Thompson Chain Reference Bible

Browse Our Archives