“Hail Ceasar! Those who are about to die, salute you!”
“I came, I saw, I conquered.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
“All roads lead to Rome.”
We reference it frequently, but only in the odd, oscillating space of viral social media have we ever paid so much attention to the Roman Empire. Indeed, people all over the world have been thinking about this old world over the past few weeks. This all started with a social media trend where wives and girlfriends would ask their husbands and boyfriends how often they think about this once-great empire. The reactions varied, but the gender distinction was immediately evident – men do a whole lot more thinking about Ancient Rome.
It’s worth spending a moment to dwell on this. Why (and how) has this trend emerged? It would be easy to figuratively flick the screen and “play the next video”, but upon further examination, this phenomenon requires more attention.
Why The Roman Empire?
Usually, the main reason such topics go viral is because we tend to find random things funny. The more abstract the topic, the more humorous it hits. For many, seeing a reaction to “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” demonstrates either how disconnected a man’s thoughts are from the current time, or in some more positive instances, the depths of his great intelligence.
If a man’s response is, “The Roman what?” – then we know that he is missing a substantial amount of historical knowledge and context. In some ways, it’s a good test of how deeply he thinks and how aware he is about the events that brought him to the moment he’s currently in.
Likewise, there’s also an element of mockery. If a woman asks her man how often he thinks about robes, armor, and epic battles in the Mediterranean, it can also be to make fun of how seemingly random or irrelevant his thoughts are.
As with most cultural events and trends, there’s opportunity to bring the Christian view of things into the conversation. Using the discussion around The Roman Empire can be a conversation starter to introduce the good news of Christ to someone.
Here are a few good reasons to think about Julias Caesar, Pax Romana, and even plebeians a bit more:
Being an Informed Christian
Hosea 4:6 – “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” is often used to press the need for a historical understanding of current events. Without the knowledge of what has come before, how can we properly understand what’s currently going on? Without this knowledge, how can we be ready for what is going to happen next? The Roman Empire was a juncture in world history primarily because that’s when God saw fit to send his Son for our redemption. Without a rudimentary comprehension of the events of that time, it will be hard to draw the lines that are needed to understand what God is doing through the course of the history we’re all part of.
Moreover, without some knowledge of the Roman Empire, large sections of Scripture will be harder to understand. Daniel 2 and 7, for example, include very specific historical context that makes a lot more sense when one understands the events and epochs being addressed. When Paul is talking to the Epicureans and Stoics on Mars Hill in Acts 17, a more thorough understanding of the philosophical movements that were operating before and during the Roman Empire makes the reading of Paul’s sermon that much more hard-hitting.
A historical understanding of the theological questions and debates (even those that are raging today) is crucial. The Early Church operated within a distinct political and cultural context. Hence, regardless of which continent a church was on (Asia, Africa, or Europe), it usually was within the borders of the Roman Empire. To correctly understand the ins and outs of Early Church theology, knowing the history of what was going on here is immensely helpful. This is not to say that historical context is everything in interpreting Scripture, but it definitely helps!
The fact that God chose to send Christ in the period of the Roman Empire is a testament to His providence. It was during this time that a vast connection of roads and byways joined parts of the world that had previously never known about each other. The political system, though often decried for its abuses, also provided stability (not always, but at times) and rights that allowed Christian churches to flourish, although persecution ebbed and flowed. It’s no coincidence that God’s plan of salvation spread like wildfire throughout the Roman Empire, reaching nearly into borders of modern India, Africa, and Northern Europe.
The Roman Empire was an exciting, invigorating, and dramatic time in history and into this specific epoch God chose to send Christ so that He might save His people. Rome was an era of great upheaval, paradigm shift, and global change. Technological inventions and the mass of organized labor projects left behind incredible monuments that still stand today. The trajectory of civilization that jetted through the early years of AD can be traced with a clear path to help explain our current situation. But what’s most crucial to understand – and why it’s worth doing some thinking about the Roman Empire – is that God purposefully chose this time to spread the good news about Christ all across the earth.
A Great Resource for Beginners
If you don’t have much familiarity with either the Roman Empire or its importance to Christianity, may I recommend the new book Borderland from Answers in Genesis? This book is a visually captivating, intriguing, and easily accessible journey through the Holy Land during the time of Roman occupation. If you live close to Cincinnati, Ohio, it’s worth taking a trip to the exhibit of the same name.
If you haven’t thought about the Roman Empire, you have some catching up to do!