The Erastus inscription (Romans 16)

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Erastus was a first century Christian who worked with Paul. The earliest mention of him is in Acts 19:22: Paul, at Ephesus on his third missionary journey around A.D. 53-55, “sent two of his helpers , Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia“. Then, in Romans 16:23, Paul wrote (probably from Corinth around the year 57) that “Erastus, who was the city’s director of public works“, sent greetings. Finally, in 2 Timothy 4:20, when Paul was writing from a prison in Rome toward the end of his life (around 66-67), he gave a status report on his co-workers, including the statement that “Erastus stayed in Corinth”. It appears that Erastus was a resident of Corinth and, if so, most likely became a believer as a result of Paul’s 18-month ministry in that city on his second missionary journey, around A.D. 50-52 (Acts 18:1-17).

In 1929 an inscription was discovered at Corinth mentioning an Erastus who may have been the same one referred to in the New Testament. Located in a paved area northeast of the theatre and dated to the mid-first century A.D., it reads “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense”. An aedile, an elected official, was a city business manager responsible for such property as streets, public buildings and markets, as well as for the revenue gleaned from them. He was also a judge who decided most of the city’s commercial and financial litigation. In addition, an aedile was responsible for the public games taking place within a city.

Thus, Paul’s term “director of public works” in Romans 16:23 probably describes Erastus’ position as an aedile. Some have argued that since the Greek word Paul used, oikonomos, may not have been exact equivalent of the Latin aedile, Erastus may have held a lower position at the time of Paul’s writing. On the other hand, it is possible that Paul first encountered Erastus while he was discharging his fiscal responsibilities and thus perceived him primarily in this role. Also, Corinth was distinctive in that the games there were run not by the aedile but by a different set of officials. Thus, the aedile at Corinth basically functioned as a city treasurer (the rendering used in some translations, such as the NASB).


 

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