The Erastus Conundrum

The Erastus Conundrum May 19, 2020

In my ongoing conversation with my fellow Christians on the dangers of mixing faith and politics, people will often point to an obscure reference in the book of Romans where Paul refers to a man named “Erastus” who is praised and identified as the treasurer of the city.Here’s the reference:“Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.” (Romans 16:23, NIV)

Some translations refer to Erastus as “the treasurer of the city” and therefore some want to say that Paul’s reference to him is a de facto endorsement of Christians who serve as civil servants in positions of political power.

Their point is that Paul mentions his title as a political servant and fails to pause and criticize his involvement in political affairs. Because of this lack of rebuke from Paul, it must, therefore, be concluded (they surmise) that there’s nothing wrong with Christians being involved in politics.

Right?

Not so fast.

First, it must be noted that 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.

This detail suggests that he may not have actually held a high government office but was simply on par with a city accountant, although it is conceivable that he did hold a position in the city government in Corinth.

We also must note that Erastus is mentioned a total of 3 times by Paul in the New Testament. Once here in Romans, once in Acts 19:22, and once in 2 Timothy 4:20.

If we connect these references together, it seems that he traveled quite often with Paul on his missionary journeys. These journeys often took months, or even years of time.

So, while he may have originally been employed as the city treasurer (possibly at his conversion), it is very unlikely that Erastus would have continued to work as a city treasurer (if indeed this is what his job was when Paul met him) since it would be nearly impossible to imagine someone in the ancient world being allowed to serve in an elected or political position while they were also permitted to take months away from their post. Remember, there were no laptops or internet for those who wanted to “work remote”.

One source I found suggested that Paul’s mention of Erastus being “the treasurer of the city” may have simply been to indicate which Erastus he meant – since that name was as common a name as “John” or “Mike” is for us today.

This reference to his job title might also have been a way of letting us know what his previous identity used to be before he resigned in order to devote himself to missionary travels with Paul and Timothy.

This is confirmed by at least one New Testament scholar:

“A. C. Headlam thinks it improbable that one who held an office implying residence in one locality should have been one of Paul’s companions in travel. On the other hand Paul may be designating Erastus (Romans 16:23) by an office he once held, but which he gave up to engage in mission work.”
politics.
It’s also worth mentioning that the early Christians were mostly concerned with whether or not someone in the Body of Christ held a position that would specifically require them to do violence, or make decisions that could lead to the death of another person made in the image of God. So, even if Erastus did continue to hold political office after his conversion to the Way of Christ, it would not necessarily have been an issue for those early Christians because his office – as an accountant or treasurer – would not compromise his allegiance to the non-violent path of Jesus.

We should also note that it is always a mistake to point to a lack of rebuke from either Paul, Peter, or Jesus as “evidence” of their views on anything. Many Christians tend to do this when it comes to the same lack of rebuke from Peter or Jesus whenever they encounter soldiers. They assume (falsely) that this silence implies tacit approval.

If this silence or lack of rebuke for the person’s occupational choices is taken to imply approval, then Jesus’ lack of rebuke for the prostitute who washed his feet with her hair can also be taken as approval.

Right?

Obviously, not.

If we sincerely want to know what Jesus and the Apostles thought about being involved in the military, or politics, or prostitution, we might consider looking at the Sermon on the Mount for clues. Beyond that, we have dozens of writings from the early Church Fathers which give us ample insight into what the early Christians thought about these things.

They were unanimously non-violent, anti-military, and forbid converts from ongoing entanglement with politics, war, or even prostitution.

 

**

Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX.  Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of several best-selling books, including Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment” which is available now on Amazon.

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