Tale of Three Cities: Rome

Content Author: 
Reagan, David

Background Information

Rome is located in the country of Italy on the continent of Europe.  The date of the founding of the city of Rome is unknown.  In the ancient world and in the Christian world, Rome’s greatest influence was in the areas of form and organization.  This influence was already increasing eight centuries before the time of Christ.  Rome gained control of the Italian peninsula about 275 BC  By 133 BC, Rome governed a world empire stretching from Syria to Spain.  At the time of Christ, Rome was the largest city in the world (population: 1.2 million) and was capital of the Roman Empire.  It eventually became the center of the Roman Catholic Church and since 1871 has been the capital of the country of Italy.

Biblical Mention

The city of Rome is mentioned by name none times in the Bible.  Of these nine references, special attention needs to be given to the one in II Timothy 1:17.  The Apostle Paul wrote II Timothy while in a Roman prison, and in this epistle he praises a man named Onesiphorus because he refreshed Paul and, “was not ashamed of my chain:  But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me” (II Tim 1:16-17).  Rome was therefore known as a place which persecuted Christians.  When Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion, this persecution did not cease.  Those who stood for their beliefs still suffered at the hands of the developing church-state.

Attention also needs to be given to an indirect reference to the city of Rome in the prophetic book of Revelation.  The seventeenth chapter of Revelation speaks of the mother of harlots who will be drunk with the blood of the saints.  She is clearly the one world religion which will deceive multitudes during the great tribulation.  The woman is said to be, “that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18).  The identification of the city is made in verse nine which states, “The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth."  Over and over again, ancient historians identify Rome as the city of seven hills or seven mountains.  Therefore, Rome will be the center of the future one world religion.

Doctrinal Development

The doctrinal development of Rome can most easily be understood by the study of three men.  Although these three men were not born in Rome, they greatly influenced the city by advancing the position of Roman supremacy, by translating the Roman Catholic bible, and by establishing the Roman method of Bible interpretation.

The first man, Cyprian (195-258 AD), did much to develop the doctrine of Roman supremacy.  During the first centuries after Christ, the churches of several large cities were elevated to high positions of respect and authority.  Rome was only one of these important cities.  However, Cyprian taught the doctrine of the primacy of the Roman church over the other churches.  He further claimed that anyone outside the Catholic Church was lost and therefore made way for the Roman Catholic monopoly of salvation.  The teachings of Cyprian were later used by Roman Catholicism to establish its tremendous political strength over the majority of Christians during the Middle Ages.

The second man, Jerome (340-420 AD), is important because of his influence on the Bible.  He lived as a hermit for several years.  Later (with the help of several lady benefactors) he started a monastery in Bethlehem.  He strongly promoted self-denial, the celibacy of the clergy, and the worship of Mary.  Around 382 AD Pope Damasus commissioned him to retranslate the New Testament into Latin.  He used the work of Origen to help in his translation which was later accepted as the official Roman Catholic bible.  Copies of the already existing Old Latin Vulgate, which agreed more closely with the true text, were discarded and often destroyed.  Jerome’s Latin Vulgate triumphed at the expense of pure copies of the Word.

The third man, Augustine (354-430 AD), was bishop of Hippo, North Africa, for many years.  Although there is not space to discuss his doctrine, his method of interpretation needs to be considered.  He established what came to be known as the western type of interpretation which teaches that the scripture must conform to the interpretation of the church.  Thus he led the way for the Roman Catholic requirement that bible interpretation must adapt itself to the tradition of the church.

In some ways the Romans could be compared to the Pharisees of whom Christ said, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matt 15:9).  And again, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9). Some of the unscriptural ideas of the Roman Catholic Church (such as monasticism and infant baptism) may have developed in Alexandria, but they were established as lasting traditions by Rome.

Biblical Corruption

Although Alexandrian scholarship subtracted from the Word, Roman tradition added to the Word.  However opposite these approaches may seem, the two movements joined in the development of the Roman Catholic bibles.  Rome took Alexandria’s diluted bible and added to it according to its traditions.  This resulted in the corrupted bibles which we still have with us today.

The unchanging practice of Roman Catholicism has been to place tradition above the Word.  However, this practice was made a dogma at the Council o Trent in 1546.  This council declared that the apocryphal books together with unwritten tradition are to be received and venerated as the Word of God.  In elevating tradition, God’s Word has been lowered.  In truth, this makes the Word of God of none effect.

The tendency to add to the Word of God can be seen in the two most influential manuscripts of the last century, the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus.  The Vatican manuscript was discovered in the Vatican library  in 1481.  It was discounted by early Greek scholars but was elevated by Westcott and Hort in the translation of the Revised Version in 1881, four hundred years after its discovery.  This manuscript adds the Epistle of Barnabas as well as the apocryphal books to the text of its New Testament.  The Sinaitic manuscript was found in St. Catherine’s Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai in 1844.  It contains the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas in its New Testament text.  This tendency to add to the Word of God can also be found in the New American Standard Version of the English bible.  Located at the end of Mark in large capital letters is the word ADDITION after which follows a short paragraph.  A marginal note explains that a few later manuscripts and versions contain this paragraph.  Absolutely no indication is given as to whether this is the Word of God or not.

Conclusion

Men who claimed to be correcting the New Testament were corrupting it even before all of the New Testament books were written (II Cor 2:17).  There have always been and will always be those who handle, “the word of God deceitfully” (II Cor 4:2).  The two major motives for changing the word of God are Scholarship and tradition.  Scholarship, as found in Alexandria, usually subtracts from the Word while tradition, as found in Rome, usually adds to the Word.  These two influences explain the corrupted bibles of today.  Bible study, therefore, becomes a process of multiple choice.  If you like it, leave it in.  If you do not like it, take it out.  If you want it, but it’s not there, put it in.  Why allow the Bible to change us when we can so easily change the Bible?

But what of God’s pure Word?  Is there not a preserved Bible in existence?  The answer is yes!  God has not left Himself without an absolute witness of truth.  He has preserved His Word!  In the next chapter we will consider the power of preservation and God’s use of Antioch of Syria as well as the surrounding areas of Syria and Asia Minor to keep His Word pure from the corrupting influence of man.

David Reagan

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 15:10

Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die.