This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Epaenetus, Stephanas, and inscriptions

I argued here and here that Gaius Titius Justus was given the name/title "Stephanas" because he dedicated his house and household to the service of the church, and that Paul called him "Stephanas" when referring to him in connection with this benefaction (when writing to the Corinthians, who would have understood the significance of the name). Paul says that the household of Stephanas was the "firstfruits of Achaia" (1 Cor 16:15), and I argued that this signifies that Stephanas was the founding benefactor of the Corinthian church.

Now, Paul also describes Epaenetus as the "firstfruit of Asia for Christ" (Rom 16:5). Now, the name "Epaenetus", means "praised/commended", and, like "Stephanas", also belongs to the semantic field of benefaction. There are numerous inscriptions in which beneficiaries agree to "praise" a benefactor, and Rom 13:3 also appears to use the term in connection with benefactions (so Winter).

The connection between the names "Stephanas" and "Epaenetus" and benefaction is illustrated by an inscription from c24 C.E., in which a synagogue community honors a benefactor:

τοῖς ἄρχουσι καὶ τῷ πολιτεύματι τῶν ἐν Βερενίκῃ Ἰουδαίων ἐπαινέσαι τε αὐτὸν καὶ στεφανοῦν ὀνομαστὶ καθ᾽ ἑκάστην σύνοδον καὶ νουμηνίαν στεφάνωι ἐλαίνωι καὶ λημνίσκωι

the leaders and the politeuma of Judeans in Berenike decided to praise him, to crown him by name at each gathering and new moon with a crown of olive branches and ribbon, ...

Reynolds, Excavations at Sidi Khrebish Benghaxi (Berenice), vol. 1, 1977 p244, no. 17. Translation by Phil Harland (Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations).

All this raises the possibility that Epaenetus was the founding benefactor of the church in Asia and that Paul alludes to his benefaction in Rom 16:5 by calling him the "firstfruits", and by referring to him as "Epaenetus", the name/title that he had received for his benefaction. Perhaps he was Tyrannus (Acts 19:9).

It is surely no coincidence that both of Paul's "firstfruits", Stephanas and Epaenetus, have names that are suggestive of honors commonly given to benefactors, and that their names appear only in connection with their benefactions. This illustrates the practice of giving new names to benefactors in the early church (compare e.g. Joseph-Barnabas and Crispus-Sosthenes).


  1. I was never under the impression that Tyrannus was a Christian. I assumed he was some sophist whose space Paul was renting, borrowing, etc.

  2. At any rate, your suggestion that Epaenetus is intriguing. Do we know it's not a slave name?

  3. I too assumed that Tyrannus was not a Christian. However, it is a bit strange that Luke would name a non-Christian in this way. What would be the point? The mention of Tyrannus makes sense if he was a believer and perhaps known to the readers.

    The 6 volumes of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names lists 73 others called Tyrannus, of which no fewer than 36 are on the west cost of Asia Minor, between Pontus and Ionia (which is the region that includes Ephesus. So I think we should assume that Tyrannus was an Ephesian. This same region has only 7 Epainetuses (excluding our guy), out of 51293 people. The name was about 3 times as popular outside this region.

    I have no firm evidence on the social status of those who carried the name Epainetus. Most names are hard to classify. See the cautionary words of David Noy here.

    In 2 Cor 8:18 Paul mentions a "brother whose praise (ἔπαινος) in the gospel is throughout all the churches", so Paul could apply the word to his co-workers.

    All this leaves me still rather undecided on whether Epaenetus was a new name or a birth name.

  4. That's it!! The brother of 2 Cor 8:18, "whose praise (ἔπαινος) in the gospel is throughout all the churches" is Epaenetus. Why hadn't this occurred to me before.

    I had thought that the case of the anonymous brother was some sort of a damnatio memoriae because he fell out with Paul, but now it looks like Paul is making a pun in 2 Cor 8:18.

    What do you think? And do you know if this had been proposed before?

  5. Interesting suggestion, though the case may be strengthened by compiling more epigraphical evidence. If Stephen's suggestion is true, it certainly fits Paul's apparent love for wordplays.

  6. Lampe ("From Paul to Valentinus") has a good section on the prosopography of Rom 16, including a section in slave names. On whether the name "Epaenetus" was common among slaves he writes, "no statement is presently possible".

    However, he argues strongly that Prisca and Aquila were not particularly wealthy. He writes, 'one cannot be speaking about "domestic servants" of the couple.' This rather counts against the view that Epaenetus was a servant of Prisca and Aquila, as some suppose.

  7. My copy of LGPN V has just arrived. It has 7048 entries for Ephesus, including 8 persons called Tyrannus. This is 0.11%. All 8 are from the first or second centuries. Outside of Ephesus the 6 volumes of the LGPN have just 65 Tyrannuses, which is 0.022% of entries. Thus, the name seems to have been 5 times more popular in Ephesus than elsewhere. This supports the historicity of our Tyrannus and the assumption that it was his birth name.

    The statistics for Epaenetus are very different. The LGPN gives only one Epaenetus in Ephesus, which amounts to 0.014% of the entries. Elsewhere Epaenetus constitutes 0.034% of entries. Thus, the name appears to be particularly rare in Ephesus (as in the rest of coastal Asia minor covered by vol V). This makes it less likely that Epaenetus was his birth name.