Daily Archives: June 19, 2012

Persecution of Christians in Pontus

Pliny. Pliny was the governor of the Bithynia and Pontus. According to The Dictionary of the Christian Church he was born c. 61 and died c. 112. He exchanged a series of letters with the Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117 A.D.). I have done some browsing in the older Loeb edition (revised by Hutchinson) of Pliny Letters. I see references to the Black Sea cities of Heraclea (now Eregli), Amastris (now Amastra), Sinope (now Sinop), and Amisus (now Samsun). I mention this to emphasize that Pliny was familiar with the cities of Pontus. He writes of Sinope being ill supplied with water and suggests a solution to the Emperor.

Roman Emperor Trajan in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Emperor Trajan in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pliny wrote to the Emperor saying that he was uncertain about how to deal with the Christians in his province. He said that he had not been present at any of the trials of Christians. He explains his procedure to the Emperor:

In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. (X.xcvi).

The Christians were ordered to offer wine and incense to the image of the Emperor. Pliny had been told that those who are really Christians would not make such an offering. Some of those who were questioned said they had quit serving Christ as much as 25 years earlier. Think about that date (about 85 A.D.). This gets us close to the date of Peter’s epistles (1 Peter 1:1).

Trajan answered Pliny:

The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those denounced to you as Christians is extremely proper. (X.xcvii)

He said that no search should be made for the Christians. If a Christian repented and demonstrated his repentance by “adoring the Gods” [offering the wine and incense to the image of the Emperor] they should be pardoned. I think this is the type of worship mentioned in the book of Revelation which was written a few years earlier to the churches of the Roman province of Asia (Revelation 13; 14:9-11).

Phil Harland comments on the charges brought against the Christians.

The addressees were faced with “suffering” primarily in the form of verbal abuse: they were spoken against, blasphemed, reviled, and falsely called “wrongdoers” (1 Peter 2:12; 3:9, 15-17; 4:3-5; 5:9). The reasons for this suffering stemmed from the Christians’ failure to participate in religious life in the same way as they had before: the Gentiles “are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild profligacy, and they abuse you” (1 Peter 4:4 [RSV]). Persecution of Christians, which was local and sporadic, was more often than not a consequence of denying the gods and goddesses of others, along with the social implications of non-participation in the rituals that honoured these deities

For more along this same line see Phil Harland’s post about Bithynia and Pontus here.

My intention is to turn next to the specific question of the route of travel taken by the messenger who delivered Peter’s epistles throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.