The role of the Roman Empire

The author of Acts also engaged with the question of a Christian’s proper relationship with the Roman Empire, the civil power of the day.  Could a Christian obey God and also Caesar?  The answer was ambiguous.  The Romans never moved against Jesus or his followers unless provoked by the Jews.  In the trial scenes, the Christian missionaries were always cleared of charges of violating Roman laws, and Acts ended with Paul in Rome proclaiming the Christian message under Roman protection.  At the same time, Luke-Acts makes clear that the Romans, like all earthly rulers, receive their authority from Satan, while Christ is ruler of the kingdom of God. Luke-Acts generally does not portray this interaction of Roman authority and Christians as one of direct conflict.  Rather, each may have considered having a relationship with the other advantageous to its own cause. Christians may have appreciated hearing about the protection Paul received from the Roman officials against the gentile and Jewish rioters in Philippi and Ephesus.  Romans may have approved of Paul’s censure of the illegal practice of magic and the fact that he was a Roman citizen.  Acts did not include any account of a struggle between Christians and the Roman government as a result of the imperial cult.  Thus, Paul was depicted as a moderating presence between the young developing Christian church and the Roman Empire.  On the other hand, events such as the Roman imprisonment of Paul functioned as concrete points of conflict between Rome and the early church.  Perhaps the most significant point of tension between Roman imperial ideology was Peter’s speech to the Roman centurion, Cornelius.  Peter explicitly stated that Jesus was the Lord (κύριος) of all.  This title, κύριος was often ascribed to the Roman emperor in antiquity, rendering its use here was an unsubtle challenge to the emperor’s authority.

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