Everything about the lives of first-century followers of Jesus—quality of housing, food, clothing, work, social relationships, roles, diseases, taxes, ways of thinking—participated in the hierarchy, domination, and patriarchy that comprised the societal structures and practices of the powerful Roman Empire.
How did New Testament writings construct the Roman Empire and guide Jesus-followers in their daily lives in Rome’s world?
Followers of Jesus lived in the empire that had crucified Jesus. They adopted a range of perspectives and strategies for making their way in the Roman Empire.
The book of Revelation, for example, attests some of these different perspectives and strategies. Its writer is strongly opposed to the Roman Empire. He constructs the empire as being under God’s judgment (Rev 6:1-8:5; Rev 15-18), controlled by the devil (Rev 12-14), and about to be destroyed by God’s coming empire/rule (Rev 19-22). He tries to persuade the Jesus-followers who live in seven cities of the province of Asia to “come out” from the empire (
Yet the fact that the author tries to persuade these Jesus-followers to “come out” from these cities indicates that many of his readers do not share his perspective. The cities are where they live and work, raise families, buy food, participate in civic groups. In contrast to the writer of Revelation, they think they can be Jesus-followers and live their daily lives in the midst of the empire.
Other New Testament writings advocate numerous, simultaneous attitudes and practices. Matthew’s Gospel presents the empire as controlled by the devil who tempts Jesus by offering control of it to Jesus (
In some New Testament letters, readers are instructed to pray for and submit to rulers and to honor the emperor (
The New Testament writings provide their readers with multivalent attitudes and strategies for engaging the Roman world. Paying taxes is required. Violent revolt is not supported. Apart from Revelation’s call to “come out,” the texts recognize that Jesus-followers live in Rome’s Empire but are often in tension with it and committed to the “empire of God.” They are to repair the damage that Rome’s Empire inflicts on the bodies of its inhabitants, while they pray and wait for God’s empire to replace Rome’s.