Letter from Pliny the Younger
I found something today in my studies of Jesus and how he affected changes in the world as no other person has done before or since. I found a translation of a letter from Pliny the Younger to the Roman Emperor Trahan. Pliny was the Roman Governor of the province of Bithynia, what is modern day Turkey. It struck me as marvelous.
I found that this letter was the first official record of the Romans making a distinction of Christianity from Judaism. In addition, the distinction that was used to see the difference in how 1st Century Christians behaved and the way they were viewed, and why Romans first started executing Christians. If was not because they were causing riots or causing problems with the civil or federal governments. They just simply would not deny Jesus. This governor was not even sure if he was within his power to execute them for just being Christians, but did so anyway. Below is his description of a Christian…
“-That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery; that they would not break their promises, or deny what was deposited with them, when it was required back again; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal.”
The 1st Christians met early before light, sang praises to Jesus and live a life that was committed to doing no one harm. No lies, no thievery, no adultery, no breaking of promises, and no denying of Jesus. Very simple terms to live life on. Yet how many Christians today can say they live by these simple guides for life?
Can you say that you wish no one harm? Do you gossip and spread lies? Do you put your nose where it doesn’t belong, just so you can talk bad of others? Do you steal from work? Are you honest with your taxes? I don’t think I need to go any further.
Early Christians were killed for living this simple way of life in order to show others Christ. Purpose your heart to do no one harm, to speak no evil, to commit no thievery or pilfering, to control your lusts and commit no adultery. Keep your word and keep that which has been trusted to you.
Keep these in mind:
- If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink – Proverbs 25:21
- Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, – Luke 6:27
- Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you – Matthew 5:44
- Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. -1 Peter 3:9
There are many more we could include. I hope this inspires your own study.
I am including the direct translation as provided by pbs.org the Frontline.
PLINY’S EPISTLE TO TRAJAN ABOUT 112 CE
It is my constant method to apply myself to you for the resolution of all my doubts; for who can better govern my dilatory way of proceeding or instruct my ignorance? I have never been present at the examination of the Christians [by others], on which account I am unacquainted with what uses to be inquired into, and what, and how far they used to be punished; nor are my doubts small, whether there be not a distinction to be made between the ages [of the accused]? and whether tender youth ought to have the same punishment with strong men? Whether there be not room for pardon upon repentance?” or whether it may not be an advantage to one that had been a Christian, that he has forsaken Christianity? Whether the bare name, without any crimes besides, or the crimes adhering to that name, be to be punished? In the meantime, I have taken this course about those who have been brought before me as Christians. I asked them whether they were Christians or not? If they confessed that they were Christians, I asked them again, and a third time, intermixing threatenings with the questions. If they persevered in their confession, I ordered them to be executed; for I did not doubt but, let their confession be of any sort whatsoever, this positiveness and inflexible obstinacy deserved to be punished. There have been some of this mad sect whom I took notice of in particular as Roman citizens, that they might be sent to that city. After some time, as is usual in such examinations, the crime spread itself and many more cases came before me. A libel was sent to me, though without an author, containing many names [of persons accused]. These denied that they were Christians now, or ever had been. They called upon the gods, and supplicated to your image, which I caused to be brought to me for that purpose, with frankincense and wine; they also cursed Christ; none of which things, it is said, can any of those that are ready Christians be compelled to do; so I thought fit to let them go. Others of them that were named in the libel, said they were Christians, but presently denied it again; that indeed they had been Christians, but had ceased to be so, some three years, some many more; and one there was that said he had not been so these twenty years. All these worshipped your image, and the images of our gods; these also cursed Christ. However, they assured me that the main of their fault, or of their mistake was this:-That they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery; that they would not break their promises, or deny what was deposited with them, when it was required back again; after which it was their custom to depart, and to meet again at a common but innocent meal, which they had left off upon that edict which I published at your command, and wherein I had forbidden any such conventicles. These examinations made me think it necessary to inquire by torments what the truth was; which I did of two servant maids, who were called Deaconesses: but still I discovered no more than that they were addicted to a bad and to an extravagant superstition. Hereupon I have put off any further examinations, and have recourse to you, for the affair seems to be well worth consultation, especially on account of the number of those that are in danger; for there are many of every age, of every rank, and of both sexes, who are now and hereafter likely to be called to account, and to be in danger; for this superstition is spread like a contagion, not only into cities and towns, but into country villages also, which yet there is reason to hope may be stopped and corrected. To be sure, the temples, which were almost forsaken, begin already to be frequented; and the holy solemnities, which were long intermitted, begin to be revived. The sacrifices begin to sell well everywhere, of which very few purchasers had of late appeared; whereby it is easy to suppose how great a multitude of men may be amended, if place for repentance be admitted.
TRAJAN’S EPISTLE TO PLINY
You have taken the method which you ought in examining the causes of those that had been accused as Christians, for indeed no certain and general form of judging can be ordained in this case. These people are not to be sought for; but if they be accused and convicted, they are to be punished; but with this caution, that he who denies himself to be a Christian, and makes it plain that he is not so by supplicating to our gods, although he had been so formerly, may be allowed pardon, upon his repentance. As for libels sent without an author, they ought to have no place in any accusation whatsoever, for that would be a thing of very ill example, and not agreeable to my reign.
From The Works of Josephus,
translated by William Whiston
Hendrickson Publishers, 1987
- Posted in: Christian History