There are many indications that Gentile Christians used overt praise of Roman rule to withstand Romans hostility, and to also distance themselves from repeatedly rebellious Jews (Note #15). St. John’s Gospel (18.36) has Jesus claim the “Kingdom of God” is no threat to authority: “My Kingdom is not from this world … my Kingdom is not from here.” St. Paul (Romans 13.1–2, 7): “Let every person be subject to the governing [Roman] authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment … Pay to all what is due them — taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Similarly, accounts of St. Paul’s travels in Acts of the Apostles show compliance with Roman authorities, if not cooperation. According to Diehl (p. 52): “Paul speaks openly to Roman rulers Festus and Agrippa in Acts 25:1–26:32 about his gospel message, and he does not appear to be a major threat to the imperial system (Acts 26:30). We can note that in the book of Acts the Roman authorities actually aided and protected Paul in his conflict with the Jewish leadership in various cities: in Corinth (Acts 18:12–17), in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27–40; 22:22–30), in Caesarea (Acts chapters 23–25), and in Rome (Acts 28:17–20).” In Scroggs’ judgment (p. 147): “The author of Acts … wants to convince his readers that the Church has nothing to fear from civic and Roman government, that the Church and Rome are compatible.” M. Grant (p,219): “Acts is hostile to the Jews. Like the Gospels, it is very eager to show that the early Christians never shared disloyalty towards Rome. … We are also assured that it was never the Romans who persecuted the Christians, but only the Jews.”

Vaage (2006b, pp. 258–259): “Christianity … promised its practitioners a greater measure of individual well-being and contentment but always entirely within the bounds of the existing [magisterial] social order. If occasionally one might be obliged to ‘serve God rather than man,’ such service was … as a martyr or witness to the truth in question. Luke’s representation of Jesus and his disciples, including the figure of Paul, as men of (ascetic) valour is quite compatible with the evangelist’s larger political vision of early Christian accommodation and submission to Roman rule.

Obedience to Roman authority became a common Christian ecclesiastical theme. “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right” (1 Peter 2.13). In Titus (3.1), a second century pseudonymous letter ascribed to St. Paul, Christians are admonished “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient.” In a fourth century treatise on Christian doctrine (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, VII.1): “Thou shalt fear the king, knowing that his appointment is of the Lord. His rulers thou shalt honor as the ministers of God, for they are revengers of all unrighteousness; to whom pay taxes, tribute and every obligation with a willing mind” (ANF vol. 7, p. 468).

St. Irenaeus (ca. 180, Against Heresies V, Wiles and Santer, p. 226): “It is by God’s decree that men are born and it is by the same God’s decree that rulers are set up — rulers appropriate to the people to be ruled over by them at that particular time. Thus some rulers are given by God with a view to the improvement and benefit of their subjects and the preservation of justice; others are given with a view to producing fear, punishment and reproof; yet others are given with a view to displaying mockery, insult and pride — in each case in accordance with the deserts of the subjects. Thus, as we have already said, God’s just judgment falls equally on all men.”

Slavery is not to be challenged: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor … Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful of them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved” (1 Timothy 6.1–2). “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2.9–10). Briggs (p. 117): “There is no Pauline or New Testament passage that addresses the vulnerability of slaves to sexual exploitation or physical torture. … It is unlikely that Paul or the New Testament ‘Haustafeln’ [household code] intended to prevent owners from physically beating their slaves for what they perceived as disrespectful speech, laziness, tardiness, or lack of success in a task.

St. Augustine (ca. 410) offers the notion (City of God XIX, 15) that slavery is somehow justified by war’s victory over the vanquished, whose servitude in defeat “could never have arisen save through sin … a result of the first judgment of God, who humbles the vanquished either for the sake or of punishing their sins. … This servitude is, however, penal, and is appointed by that law which enjoins the preservation of the natural order and forbids its disturbance” (NPNF Series 1, vol. 2, p. 141). According to St. Ambrose (ca. 380), slaves can draw comfort that “the lower the station in life, the more exalted the virtue” (Ste. Croix 2006, p. 352).

St. Clement of Rome (ca. 95) beseeched the Corinthian Christians to subject themselves to priests and presbyters like soldiers in the Roman Imperium: “Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them.… each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, and the small without the great” (ANF vol. 1, p. 15). To distinguish Christians (probably from rebellious Jews), St. Justin Martyr (ca. 150) proclaims to the Romans: “more than all other men are we your helpers and allies in promoting peace” (Apology 1.12, ANF vol. 1 p. 166). St. Irenaeus (ca. 180): “Through their [Roman] instrumentality, the world is at peace” (ANF vol. 1, p. 503). Tertullian (ca. 198): “A Christian is enemy to none, least of all to the Emperor of Rome, whom he knows to be appointed by his God, and so cannot but love and honour; and who’s well-being moreover, he must needs desire, with that of the empire over which he reigns so long as the world shall stand— for so long as that shall Rome continue” (ANF vol. 3, p. 195).

Eusebius (ca. 330), Ecclesiastical History: “The [Roman] Emperor directs his gaze above, and frames his earthly government according to the pattern of that divine original, feeling strength in its conformity to the monarchy of God” (Davis, p. 73). In his book, In Praise of Constantine (III–IV), Eusebius exclaims: [T]his is the law of royal authority, the law which decrees one rule over everybody. Monarchy excels all other kinds of constitution and government. For rather do anarchy and civil war result from the alternative, a polyarchy based on equality. … Him the voices learned in God have acclaimed in prophecy as Supreme Commander and Chief High Priest, Prophet of the Father and Carrier of Great Counsel, Radiance of the Paternal Light and Sole-Begotten Son … [Jesus Christ] has modeled the kingdom on earth into a likeness of the one in heaven, toward which He urges all mankind to strive, holding forth to them this fair hope” (H. A. Drake, pp. 87–88).

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (5.5) also recounts Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ letter (ca. 169) in which Rome’s German legions “parched with thirst” were saved by Christian soldiers’ prayers for rain and victory. “The message was clear. Christians are no danger to Rome; they are instead the cause of its security” (Attridge, p. 189). “Generally Eusebius presented the empire as an institution that accorded the church the respect it deserved. … and in spite of the persecutions, saw the Roman empire as an institution ordained by God as part of his scheme for the propagation of the Christian faith” (Humphries, pp. 38–39). “The elimination or sublimination of local identities is the means to peace and unity for both church and empire. … Eusebius unites Constantine’s imperial aspirations and the church’s proselytizing desires most powerfully when he describes the cross as symbolic of their dual victory” (Schott, pp.157–158).

By contrast, Jewish Rabbis saw Rome as the Biblical Esau, long term enemy of Israel (Neusner 1987, p. 187), and made little attempt to curry favor with Rome. “Of the thousands of Jewish inscriptions that have been discovered in the Land of Israel, whether Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, [this] is the only one dedicated to the welfare of a reigning [Roman] monarch” (S. J. D. Cohen 1992, p. 203). Gribetz (p. 60) points out that Rabbis equated Roman Emperor birthday celebrations with those of Egyptian Pharaohs, casting “the contemporary Roman leader in the shadow of an ancient enemy of the Jews, a biblical character who epitomizes the enslavement of Israel and the denial of God.” Rabbinical opposition to Roman dominance extended from “refusal to collaborate with, and contempt for their [Roman] rulers” to cautioning Jews that “attendance of sanguinary games” is “tantamount to murder unless they could save the human victims” (Schwartz, p.114). Compared to Gentile Christianity’s submissiveness to Roman rule, it is obvious that Jesus’ call for an imminent “Kingdom of God” in Israel (Note #15) would have conflicted with Roman despotism, crucifying him as “King of the Jews.”

Unfortunately for those Christians who sought freedom and justice in a “Kingdom of God,” their leaders’ demand for obedience to Roman authority meant preservation of Roman social and economic divisions. Oakman (2008, pp. 161–162): “What was originally a radical social critique by Jesus and his followers of the violent and oppressive political-economic order in the countryside of the early Empire becomes in Luke’s conception a rather innocuous sharing-ethic ambiguous in its import for rural dwellers. No dramatic social reconstruction … is expected or is necessary.”

By substituting obedience and piety for Jesus’ social justice, Christianity proposed reforming people to improve their subjection to the state, rather than restructuring the state to improve peoples’ lives. “Follow the rules, and only desire what is given.” Social hierarchies of rich and poor, politically powerful and politically weak, thus prevailed in both earthly Rome and earthly Christianity. Jesus Christ’s delayed “Kingdom” and its rule of justice was hence transferred to the spiritual Heaven to which Jesus had ascended. Until Christ’s second coming, Gentile Christians must await justice, not in an earthly “Kingdom of God” (Note #22) but in St. Paul’s “Our citizenship is in Heaven” (Philippians 3.20). However, Heaven, like earth, also followed the Christian concept of imperial political power, so when Christ returns, it will be with celestial authority “in the same way” he went to Heaven (Acts of the Apostles 1.11), allowing Jesus to say imperiously “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to me” (St. Matthew 28.18).

Sadly, throughout all these pronouncements, the New Testament bears no mention of the recurrent Jewish struggle, nor of any other struggle, against injustice and impoverishment caused by the avarice and tyranny of Rome’s rulers, armies, procurators, and collaborators. As discussed in Note #15, exploitation was an impelling motive for Roman conquest, east to west. Agricultural Israel, like other conquered territories, was brought “into the orbit of empire to siphon off its surplus product in the form of tribute, taxes, rents, interests and loans, and a variety of other devices” (Arnal 2001, p. 101). “Pax Romana” was “Tax Romana” for many whom the Romans vanquished.

In a famous anti-Roman speech by Calgacus, a learned British leader (ca. 85 C.E.): “Nature has willed that every man's children and kindred should be his dearest objects. Yet these are torn from us by conscriptions to be slaves elsewhere. Our wives and our sisters, even though they may escape violation from the enemy, are dishonored under the names of friendship and hospitality. Our goods and fortunes they collect for their tribute, our harvests for their granaries. Our very hands and bodies, under the lash and in the midst of insult, are worn down by the toil of clearing forests and morasses. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desolation and call it peace.”

Roman society was a slave society, characterized by Conzelmann (p. 40) as ruled by “rapacity and injustice.” In an existence continually supplemented by fresh conquests and ruined peasants, Rome followed the tenet that military power primarily determines society’s social and economic structure, furnishing an empire of which more than one third were slaves (Hubbard, p. 91). “The Roman legions purposely terrorized subject peoples in the ‘shock and awe’ devastation of villages and their land, slaughter and enslavement of the people, and public crucifixion of any who dared lead resistance” (Horsley 2012, p. 80). To Cicero, perhaps the most famous of Roman orators, Jews and Syrians were among the “nations born to slavery” (De Provinciis Consularibus 5.10).

In all of its literature and activity, Gentile Christianity never expressed opposition to Roman political, economic, and social exploitation. Not a single Christian saint was martyred for struggling against exploitative injustice in the Roman Empire. The “subversion” of which Christians were accused, was that of opposition to Roman civic religion, but never “subversion” of abusive Roman rule. Even after the failed Bar Kochba rebellion (135 C.E.), some Jewish Rabbis, by contrast, began to predict the fall of Rome from the second century onward (Feldman 2006, pp. 791–799, Neusner 1987). A passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 33b) condemning Roman “improvements,” quotes Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai: “Everything they [Romans] established they established for their own needs. They established markets to seat prostitutes in them; baths to pleasure themselves; bridges to extract taxes” (Lapin, p. 127).

The underlying perception of many Palestinian sages, already evident in the Mishnah and later even more so in the Palestinian Talmud, is that Roman rule is not only evil but in fact illegitimate, at least within the boundary of Eretz Israel” (Gafni, p. 254). According to some Sibylline oracles of Jewish origin, such sentiments go further: “Alas city of the Latin land [Rome], unclean in all things…You have a bloodthirsty heart and an impious mind…But now the eternal God will destroy you…Mingle with the flames of fire…Inhabit the lawless regions of Hades” (Barclay 1996, p. 227). In one Talmudic story (Yerushalmi Avodah Zorah 1:2), Rome’s origin came not from the mythic struggle of Romulus/Remus (twin sons of Mars, the god of war) against the king of Alba Longa, but from angel Michael’s curse. “It was Solomon’s sin of marriage with a foreign princess and the subsequent introduction of idolatrous practices into Solomon’s home that provoked the angel Michael to throw a reed into the sea, causing the geographical territory of Israel’s archenemy, Rome, to arise out of it” (Gribetz, p. 67).


Roman responsibility for Jesus’ execution was also minimized, if not jettisoned, as an accommodation to Roman despotism. In the so-called Gospel of Peter, a popular second century document with fragments dating to the first century (Miller 1992, p. 394), it is Jews rather than the Romans who judge, torture, and crucify Jesus. This claim is repeated in various early Christian anti-Jewish polemics (Note #8), such as those of St. Melito of Sardis (ca. 170), who excludes any Roman involvement in Jesus’ passion. St. Melito insisted that Jesus, like Israel’s Passover lamb commemorating Jewish freedom from the Egyptians, was sacrificed to free Christians from the Jews. Baseless accusations that Jewish complaints caused Christian martyrdom (as that of St. Polycarp, ca. 155) also diverted attention from Roman oppression, using martyrdom as a virtuous Christian “counterpart to Judaism” (Moss 2012, p. 85), as though Jews did not have martyrs.

Among scholars commenting on the Gospel stories of Jesus and the Passion, Vermes (2005) recounts a glut of contradictions and inconsistencies. “It is hard, indeed almost impossible, to imagine a nationalist Jewish crowd encouraging Romans to kill one of their countrymen” (p. 61). Similarly, the declared innocence of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, “is best held to be fiction, devised by the evangelists with a view to currying favour with Rome, in whose empire the nascent Church was developing. Christianity being generally unpopular in Roman eyes — Tacitus calls it a ‘pernicious superstition’ (Annals 15.44) — it was in the interest of the Gospel writers to placate the authorities. Also, by the time of the recording of the Passion narratives the Jewish rebellion had been put down by the armies of Vespasian and Titus. It was therefore politically doubly correct to blame the Jews for the murder of Christ and to absolve the Roman Pontius Pilate” (Ibid. p. 121).

Ehrman (2016, pp. 156–157): “The attempts to show [Pilate’s] innocence differ from one Gospel to the next, but as you line them up chronologically, Pilate becomes more and more exculpated in the decision that Jesus had to die. Historically, it would have been Pilate’s own decision, pure and simple, probably on the basis of a very brief trial in which he decided that Jesus was a troublemaker. Later, some Christians began to claim that he washed his hands of the affair and declared Jesus not guilty [St. Matthew 27.24]. Somewhat later, he was explicitly said to have declared Jesus innocent three times [St. Luke 23. 4–22]. Yet later, he was recorded as handing Jesus over to Jewish chief priests themselves for execution [St. John 19.16]. It is likely that these are not things that actually happened. They are distorted memories of what happened by later Christians in the throes of controversies with Jews over whether Jesus was really the messiah.

In Simon’s words (p. 118): “The theological need to show the Jewish people as rebels against the divine message [Jesus Christ as universal savior] chimes in with the political need to exculpate the Roman power.” (See also Brandon 1968.) “It is, moreover, counter-intuitive to hold that Jews generally would consider compatriots executed by an oppressive occupying force to be anything other than victims, if not the heroes” (Fredriksen 1986, p. 12).

It is also difficult to conceive that Jesus’ trial and execution resulted from religious differences — that Jesus was “a blasphemer of God” (St. Matthew 26.65) — as though professing to be a prophet or Messiah contravened a sacred law (Note #15). From all indications (Notes #4, #16), neither Jesus nor his disciples opposed Temple worship, purification rites, and Temple sacrifices. In St. Matthew (23.19), Jesus declares it is “the altar [Temple] that makes the gift [sacrifice] sacred.” Had Jesus been a religious transgressor, the Jewish Sanhedrin had the right to order capital punishment by stoning (Brandon 1967, pp. 3–8, 246–249).

Occurring in Israel’s most prominent edifice, a Temple disturbance would have been seen by Romans and their collaborators as a political act, a threat to the dominant “order.” Since the Temple, in addition to its religious role, “played an integral role in the organization, legitimation, and administration of the national community” (Meyers, p. 1022), any proclamation or action in the Temple precincts to replace governing powers with a new “Kingdom of God” would have been sufficiently radical for the Romans to charge a Jewish preacher for “sedition” (Note #15). Jesus’ execution by crucifixion, a common Roman punishment for provincial opposition, was thus eminently political: caused by an action “directed not only against the Roman oppressors, but also against the ruling authorities among the Jews, the elite priests and their followers” (Ehrman 2014, p. 245). The titular heading on Jesus’ cross was “King of the Jews” — a satirical tag given to a rebellious political upstart.

“[I]t is clear from what we know of the Roman and high-priestly rule of Judea that a demonstration against the Temple would have been viewed as a challenge to the imperial order” (Horsley 2012, p. 147). “[Jesus’] act can be regarded as that of a political revolutionary, representing the protest of the Galilean underclass to its exploitation by the political and hierarchical elites of the cities” (Brent, p. 28). “The words of Jesus make sense when he contrasts what he sees as the ideal function of the Temple (‘a house of prayer’) with what he hyperbolically sees as its present state (‘a den of robbers’)” (Crossley 2008, p. 10). Jesus’ “vision of the liberation coming with the reign of God directly attacked a principle element of the Roman order in Palestine and attracted a following of people victimized by debt” (Oakman 2008, p. 32, also Note #15).

To the Romans, variant Jewish religious beliefs were probably no more disquieting than other variant religious beliefs throughout the empire. However, a messianic leader supplanting Rome’s exploitative regime with a new “Kingdom” of any kind was seditious (Feldman 1992, p. 16), and sedition (seditio) equaled treason (maistas), a capital offence.

The ruling pattern of killing popular Jewish charismatics acclaiming “a new Kingdom of God” echoed what happened to other messianic figures such as John the Baptist. “Now, when others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XVII:V). “In the footsteps of John, Jesus appeared as the envoy inaugurating the eagerly awaited onset of the reign of God over Israel and the world” (Vermes 2012, p. 32).

Some Gospel statements obliquely reveal Jesus’ threatening undercurrent of forceful change: promoting a new restorative Kingdom of God, and organizing followers and disciples to engage in action to attain a new King for this new “Kingdom.” “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force” (St. Matthew 11.12). “[S]ince then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force” (St. Luke 16.16). The crowds who followed Jesus hailed him as “the prophet who is to come into the world” and “take him by force to make him king” (St. John 16.14–15). “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts of the Apostles 1.6). As their kingly leader, Jesus preaches to his disciples “I confer on you just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom “(St. Luke 22.29). “He said to them … the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me” (St. Luke 22.36–37). Even after Jesus’ death, St. Luke (24.21) has his disciples express disappointed hopes to the resurrected Jesus “that he was the one to redeem the kingdom to Israel.”

There can be no reasonable doubt why Pilate decided to crucify Jesus and his followers … Pilate had incontrovertible proof that they were a subversive group. Their leader had been preaching a coming kingdom, made royal claims in Jerusalem during the sensitive period of Passover, opposed the payment of tribute, and was surrounded by a band of men who were armed with swords and were ready to use them. Perhaps he also organized some disturbance at the gates of Jerusalem and/or the Temple, in which case things would have been even worse. Having gathered together this consistent body of evidence, no ruler in his right mind would have regarded Jesus as a harmless preacher or a deluded lunatic, and no further investigation would have been necessary. There is every indication that, not only subjectively but objectively, Jesus and his followers constituted a threat to public order. Any Roman governor would have sought to remove such a (crucifiable) group, particularly its leader. This explains why Jesus was crucified as an insurrectionist and self-style king, why he was crucified along with some of his followers or collaborators (or people ideologically related to him), and why he was crucified in the middle” (Barmejo-Rubio, pp. 148–149, his emphases). “A Roman prefect needed no more reason for crucifying a Galilean than discovering him surrounded by a band of armed men in Jerusalem at Passover” (D. B. Martin, p. 9).

Analysis by 79 Biblical scholars concluded overwhelmingly that “the assertion that the Romans were innocent of Jesus’ death and the Jews responsible is pure Christian propaganda. … It is not just the content of the trial but the fact of a trial that lacks historical foundation” (Funk et al. 1998, p. 568). Unfortunately, some Christian apologists still support major anti-Jewish elements in the crucifixion story, claiming that Gospel accounts should not be disputed by “too rigorous a quest for certitude[!]” (Brown, p. 19). Or, as avowed in a more theologically Christianized mode: the significance of the historical Jesus “is clearly secondary to the significance of the theological and mythical Jesus’ (Taussig, p. 193).