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Erastus of Corinth (Romans 16.23): Responding to Recent Proposals on his Rank, Status, and Faith

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2011

John K. Goodrich
Moody Bible Institute, 820 N. LaSalle Blvd, Chicago, IL 60610, USA. email:


Studies on Erastus, the Corinthian oikonomos (Rom 16.23), continue to dispute the fundamental make up of his identity, including his administrative rank, socio-economic standing, even his status as a believer. Ultimately seeking to defend the view that Erastus was a Christian who served as a Corinthian municipal quaestor, this article responds separately to two recent essays, replying initially to Weiss' charge that Corinth did not have the municipal quaestorship, then critiquing Friesen's claim that Erastus was an unbelieving public slave.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 Goodrich, John K., ‘Erastus, Quaestor of Corinth: The Administrative Rank of ὁ οἰκονόμος τῆς πόλεως (Rom 16.23) in an Achaean Colony’, NTS 56 (2010) 90115CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Theissen, Gerd, ‘Soziale Schichtung in der Korinthische Gemeinde: Ein Beitrag zur Soziologie des hellenistischen Urchristentums’, ZNW 65 (1974) 232–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 238–46; cf. Meeks, Wayne A., The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University, 1983) 59Google Scholar.

3 Goodrich, ‘Erastus’, 108–12.

4 Goodrich, ‘Erastus’, 112.

5 Weiss, Alexander, ‘Keine Quästoren in Korinth: Zu Goodrichs (und Theißens) These über das Amt des Erastos (Röm 16.23)’, NTS 56 (2010) 576–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Weiss, ‘Keine Quästoren’, 581.

7 Weiss, ‘Keine Quästoren’, 579.

8 Elsewhere Weiss considers Erastus to be an aedile (Sklave der Stadt: Untersuchungen zur öffentlichen Sklaverei in den Städten des Römischen Reiches [Historia Einzelschrift 173; Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2004] 51–2Google Scholar).

9 This is affirmed by Bispham, Edward, From Asculum to Actium: The Municipalization of Italy from the Social War to Augustus (Oxford Classical Monographs; Oxford: Oxford University, 2008) 332Google Scholar: ‘Quaestors are commonly found in Latin colonies, and also under the Principate, but very rarely if at all in the municipia of the period between the Social War and the Triumvirate; the same is by and large true of Roman colonies’.

10 Curchin, Leonard A., The Local Magistrates of Roman Spain (Phoenix Supplementary 28; Toronto: University of Toronto, 1990) 2930Google Scholar. See also Curchin, Leonard A., Roman Spain: Conquest and Assimilation (London: Routledge, 1991) 67Google Scholar: ‘Although quaestors are provided for in the Flavian municipal law and also occur in substantial numbers at colonies like Tarraco and Valentia [a Latin colony], there are many other cities where no quaestors are attested at all. This may mean either that some cities did not have this type of magistrate, or that for some reason (such as the lowness of the office compared with the other magistracies, or the unpopular role of the quaestor as tax collector) mention of a quaestorship was frequently omitted from inscriptions outlining the careers of local aristocrats’.

11 Curchin, Roman Spain, 112. See also Alföldy, Géza, ‘Wann wurde Tarraco romische Kolonie?’, Epigraphai: miscellanea epigrafica in onore di Lidio Gasperini (ed. Paci, Gianfranco; Tivoli: Tipigraf, 2000) 322Google Scholar, at 22: ‘Wir gehen kaum fehl in der Annahme, daß die colonia Iulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco im Herbst 45 oder Anfang 44 v. Chr. konstituiert wurde. Sonst wäre nach dem Beispiel der Kolonie-gründung in Urso noch am ehesten denkbar, daß dieser Akt einem Vorhaben Caesars folgend erst nach seiner Ermordung am 15. März 44 v. Chr., aber noch in demselben Jahr, vollzogen wurde’. Cf. Salmon, Edward T., Roman Colonization under the Republic (Aspects of Greek and Roman Life; London: Thames & Hudson, 1969) 164Google Scholar, who dates Tarraco's colonization to 45 BCE.

12 Curchin, Local Magistrates, 224–7 (##890–4, 896, 897, 899, 903, 907, 909, 910). In Tarraco the municipal quaestorship is indicated by three designations: qua[est]or = RIT 278; quaest. = RIT 157, 356; q. = RIT 164–8, 171, 272, 312, 349, 918, 922 (RIT = Alföldy, Géza, Die römischen Inschriften von Tarraco [2 vols.; Madrider Forschungen 10; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1975]Google Scholar). Curiously, each of these quaestor inscriptions dates to no earlier than 70 CE. But this should pose no problem for the purpose of comparison, since Erastus himself also served in the second-half of the first century. Moreover, since the Urso charter is a copy dating to the Flavian period, we can be confident that the Flavian Municipal Law did not impact colonies and is therefore not responsible for Tarraco's new quaestors. The point to be made here is that colonies themselves had the autonomy to elect individuals to offices not previously prescribed in their constitution.

13 Curchin, Local Magistrates, 178 (#393). For the date of the colonization of both cities, see Salmon, Roman Colonization, 164.

14 Bispham, Asculum, 367 n. 174; cf. 142. For the date of Venusia's receipt of colonial status, see Salmon, Roman Colonization, 164; Osgood, Josiah, Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2006) 108Google Scholar.

15 Bispham, Asculum, 332 n. 287. Sherwin-White, A. N., The Roman Citizenship (Oxford: Clarendon, 2nd ed. 1973) 90Google Scholar, references this inscription and states, ‘[T]he burgeoning of the lower magistrates in the colonies cannot be confined to the post-Caesarean epoch’.

16 Mitchell, Stephen, Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993) 1.8990Google Scholar: ‘The evidence from Antioch and elsewhere shows that [eastern colonies] were not immune to local influences since inscriptions frequently mention Greek magistracies in the colonies, including gymnasiarchs, grammateis, agonothetai, and agoranomoi. Colonial charters could readily be modified as circumstances changed’.

17 Friesen, Steven J., ‘The Wrong Erastus’, Corinth in Context: Comparative Studies on Religion and Society (ed. Friesen, Steven J., Schowalter, Daniel N., and Walters, James C.; NovTSup 134; Leiden: Brill, 2010) 231–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 238: ‘[T]he identification of the two Erastus references (the inscription and Rom 16.23) proved that the plaza came from the 1st century, and the 1st century date of the plaza proved the identification of the two Erastus references’.

19 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 245.

20 Although it appeared in print shortly after mine, Friesen's essay was originally a conference paper read in January 2007; he thus had no opportunity to consult my work.

21 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 245 nn. 42–3.

22 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 251.

23 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 242.

24 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 242; cf. 237 n. 24.

25 Friesen shows that of the 19 known Latin pavement inscriptions, 18 are datable, 17 of which date well before Hadrian: 11 from the Augustan period, 3 from either the Augustan or Tiberian periods, and 3 before the late 70s CE; 1 inscription dates from the early third century CE (‘Wrong Erastus’, 242–3).

26 Goodrich, ‘Erastus’, 94–5. Precisely what magistracies these oikonomoi inscriptions refer to is not entirely clear, but these individuals were probably not public or imperial slaves.

27 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 250.

28 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 250.

29 The fallacious syllogism would thus go: If Paul grants somebody a Christian attribution, then s/he is a believer. Paul does not grant Erastus a Christian attribution. Therefore, Erastus is not a believer.

30 James Dunn suggests that Aristoboulus could have been the grandson of Herod the Great, perhaps the namesake of Herodion in Rom 16.11, and Narcissus a former freedman aid of Claudius (Romans [WBC 38; Dallas: Word, 1988] 896). The unbelieving status of Aristoboulus and Narcissus is also suggested by Paul's failure to greet them, which I grant is not positive data. But, on the other hand, there does not appear to be any reason to assume these men were believers, since Paul's mention of them is only in reference to others, whereas his reference to Erastus is self-standing.

31 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 250 n. 56.

32 Friesen, ‘Wrong Erastus’, 251.

33 The ethnic sense of συγγενής is a virtual consensus in NT scholarship. See, e.g., Lampe, Peter, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) 161Google Scholar: ‘Paul's use of the word in 9.3 occasions its use again in chap. 16’. Cf. Cranfield, C. E. B., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979) 788Google Scholar; Dunn, Romans, 894; Moo, Douglas J., The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 934Google Scholar; Jewett, Robert, Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007) 962Google Scholar.

34 In his undisputed letters Paul never uses μήτηρ to signify Christian kinship (cf. 1 Tim 5.2) even if other kinds of maternal imagery can be used this way (1 Cor 3.2; 1 Thess 2.7).

35 Jewett, Romans, 969: ‘To refer to Rufus’ mother as “mine” indicates that she had provided hospitality and patronage in such a manner that Paul at some point in his career became virtually a member of their family'. Cf. Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus, 183.

36 Jewett, Romans, 982–3. Others posit that Paul may have included Erastus' title in order to distinguish between individuals bearing the same name. Cf. Meggitt, Justin J., ‘The Social Status of Erastus (Rom. 16.23)’, NovT 38 (1996) 218–23Google Scholar, at 218–19.

37 Friesen considers 2 Timothy to be a pseudonymous letter containing ‘hagiographic, creative fiction’, which is therefore unreliable (‘Wrong Erastus’, 245 n. 41). But even if one or both of the disputed narratives (Acts 19.22 and 2 Tim 4.20) is found to be unreliable in their recounting of history, it does not follow that one or both is based on untrustworthy tradition about the faith commitments of the persons to whom they refer; cf. Barrett, C. K., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998) 921Google Scholar. Thus, if there is found to be sufficient warrant to identify either or both of the later NT Erasti with the Corinthian oikonomos, there is no reason why the traditions they perpetuate regarding his faith status should be considered unreliable. Other commentators dismiss the possibility that Paul's companion(s) in Acts and 2 Timothy is the same individual in Romans, because, after concluding that Erastus the oikonomos was a city magistrate, they assume his administrative duties would have prevented him from traveling abroad. But since his term would have lasted only a single year, and it could have either been served earlier in his career (civic honors were often recorded retrospectively) or commenced between the events narrated in Acts 19.22 and 20.3—Paul probably having written Romans from Corinth during his three months in Greece—there is no reason why Luke's Erastus could not have held political office as well as served alongside Paul in Ephesus. In fact, Erastus' freedom to travel would have been far more restricted were he a public slave. Moreover, if Luke's Erastus is not to be identified with the Corinthian oikonomos, it is curious that he did not also send greetings to Rome since he was probably in Corinth when Paul wrote the letter, having accompanied Timothy there from Macedonia (Acts 19.21–22; Rom 16.21).

38 All three Erasti are linked to Corinth/Achaea, Paul, Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, and perhaps Ephesus; cf. Cadbury, Henry J., ‘Erastus of Corinth’, JBL 50 (1931) 4258Google Scholar, at 43–6. For these reasons, many NT scholars confidently identify at least one, if not both, of the later Erasti with the Corinthian oikonomos. For the identification of all three, see, e.g., McDonald, William A., ‘Archaeology and St. Paul's Journeys in Greek Lands: Corinth’, BA 5 (1942) 3648Google Scholar, at 46; Broneer, Oscar, ‘Corinth: Center of St. Paul's Missionary Work in Greece’, BA 14 (1951) 7896Google Scholar, 94; Harrison, P. N., Paulines and Pastorals (London: Villiers, 1964) 101–2Google Scholar; Hanson, Anthony Tyrell, The Pastoral Letters: Commentary on the First and Second Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus (CBC; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1966) 104Google Scholar; Conzelmann, Hans, Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987) 164Google Scholar; Fitzmyer, Joseph A., The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 31; New York: Doubleday, 1998) 653Google Scholar; Marshall, I. Howard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1999) 829Google Scholar. For the identification of either the Lucan or later-Pauline Erasti with the Corinthian oikonomos, see, e.g., Furnish, Victor P., ‘Corinth in Paul's Time: What Can Archaeology Tell Us?’, BAR 14 (1988) 1527Google Scholar, at 20; Quinn, Jerome D. and Wacker, William C., The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary (ECC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 833Google Scholar; Johnson, Luke Timothy, The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 35A; New York: Doubleday, 2001) 444Google Scholar, 449; Collins, Raymond F., I & II Timothy and Titus: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002) 290Google ScholarPubMed.

39 Oakes, Peter, ‘Contours of the Urban Environment’, After the First Urban Christians: The Social-Scientific Study of Pauline Christianity Twenty-Five Years Later (ed. Still, Todd D. and Horrell, David G.; London: T&T Clark, 2009) 2135Google Scholar, at 33.

40 It is striking, given the focus of his work, that Bruce Longenecker relegated an initial treatment of Erastus to a single footnote (‘Socio-Economic Profiling of the First Urban Christians’, After the First Urban Christians [ed. Still and Horrell] 36–59, at 47 n. 22). This has been recently lengthened to four (partial) pages, though I do not understand why Longenecker, after disassociating Erastus the oikonomos from the Corinthian aedile and acknowledging the wide variety of positions occupied by municipal oikonomoi, would resist positioning the Pauline Erastus any lower than the ES4 category (‘Economic Profiles within Paul's Communities’, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010] 220–58Google Scholar, at 236–9).

41 The commonly cited oikonomoi in IGRR 4.813 have been considered aediles (Mason; perhaps Winter and Clarke), free aedile assistants (Landvogt), aedile assistants (Cagnat), public slaves (Friesen), and possibly public slaves (Weiss). See also my forthcoming study on Paul's oikonomos metaphor in 1 Corinthians (Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians [SNTSMS; Cambridge: Cambridge University]).

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