Roman House Churches
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22. Roman House Churches

Jewish Gentile Mixture

Roman House ChurchesRoman house churches are often of a Jewish Gentile mixture of believers who meet separately in different places. This historical reality creates inevitable tensions and requires a response from Paul in Romans 14.1. He advises, "Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person's faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables." He also suggests in Romans 14.5, "One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike." In effect, Saint Paul's letter says that all believers should respect one another's ethnic, religious, and social diversity and live together in unity.

Priscilla and Aquila

There is currently no accurate way to determine how many Roman house churches existed in Paul's day. Most of the evidence appears in Romans 16, which contains Paul's greetings and several individuals' commendations. He writes, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. All the churches of the Gentiles and I are grateful to them." Some of the named individuals in this chapter are merely Paul's friends and co-workers, but when Paul quotes specific individuals and refers to "other" people in the same verse, he may have churches in mind. Arthur G. Patzia, in "The Emergence of the Church - Context, Growth, Leadership, and Worship," suggests the possibilities include,

In all, there were possibly over 5000 house churches in Rome and vicinity at that time!

Five Roman House Churches

Household GardenThe Apostle Paul describes five house churches in the Roman congregation, probably centered on the city. The house church there does not operate like the Corinthian church. Robert Banks (1939-present), an Australian Biblical scholar, explains the rather unusual greeting in Romans 1.7, "To all God's beloved in Rome, called to be saints" instead of the typical "church" or "churches." Saint Paul writes about "church or churches" in other letters, for example, 1 Corinthians 1.2 "to the church of God in Corinth" or Galatians 1.2 "to the churches in Galatia." Banks argues that since "ecclesia" for Saint Paul "cannot refer to a group of people scattered throughout a locality unless they all gather together, he couldn't describe all the Christians in Rome as Roman faith households."

Roman Christians Assembly

E. Earl E. Ellis (1926-2010), the American Bible scholar in "Pauline Theology - Ministry and Society," also argues that "the whole church of Rome never assembles in one place." In Romans 16, there is another house church in Rome. The "brothers" with Hermas may refer to a Roman house used for Christian workers and congregational meetings. The believers "from Caesar's house" in Philippians 4.21-22, "Greet all God's people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. All God's people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." Note that "amen" is absent in some manuscripts. The Roman Augustinians and Agrippesians' synagogues are probably each a congregation centering on and meeting at the freedmen and slaves of those two houses there. They likely belong to Narcissus, the wealthy freedman, and confidant of Emperor Claudius (10-54 AD), the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy. They also belong to Aristobulus, Herod Agrippa I brother (BC 11-44 AD), King of Judea between 41-44 AD, who lives in Rome. Upon their deaths, their households presumably became part of the imperial holdings but continued to be identified by their names in Romans 16.14. Various Roman houses are known to be run by either Jewish or Gentile believers.

"Roman House Churches"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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