This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gaius Titius Justus and his new name, Stephanas

Here I argue that Gaius Titius Justus gave part of his house to the community of believers in Corinth, and that he was then named "Stephanas" in recognition of his generosity. The main texts are Acts 18:7; 1 Cor 1:14-16; 16:15-18;  and Rom 16:23.

Benefaction of the meeting space
An inscription from Stobi, Macedonia, probably from the second century reads:
[Claudius] Tiberius Polycharmus, also (called) Achyrios, the father of the synagogue at Stobi, having lived my whole life according to the (prescriptions of) Judaism, in fulfilment of a vow (have donated) the rooms to the holy place, and the triclinium, with the tetrastoa, out of my personal accounts without touching the sacred (funds) at all. All the right of all the upper (rooms of the building) and the ownership is to be held by me, Claudius Tiberius Polycharmus, and my heirs for all (our?) life. If someone wishes to make changes beyond my decisions, he shall give the Patriarch 250,000 denarii. For thus I have agreed. As for the upkeep of the roof tiles of the upper (rooms of the building), it will be done by me and my heirs.
Polycharmus had given some of the rooms of his house to the Jewish community, while retaining other rooms for his own use. Most synagogues may have been formed out of domestic homes.

I will argue now that this same kind of benefaction provided the meeting places of both the Jews and the Christians in Corinth.

Acts 18:7 reads
Τhen he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house adjoined (ἦν συνομοροῦσα ) the synagogue.
Titius Justus is here presented as a benefactor who gave space in his house for Paul's use. His house adjoined the synagogue because he (or his predecessors) had given part of their house to be used as the Jewish meeting place. A synagogue, I suggest, had been formed out of Titius Justus's house, in the same way that a synagogue had been formed out of Polycharmus's house. They may, of course, have later extended their house to compensate for the loss of rooms. Titius Justus, like Polycharmus, had given up ownership of the synagogue space in his house, otherwise Paul would not have needed to leave the synagogue.

It is not surprising that the household of Titius Justus should donate rooms for the use of the Christian community,  since it seems that they had earlier performed the same benefaction for the Jews.

1 Cor 11:17 and 1 Cor 14:23 suggest that the whole church met in one place. Rom 16:23 confirms this and shows that the meeting place was in Gaius's house. Now, there are indications that the house owner (presumably Gaius) had given up ownership/control of the space where the believers met:
  1. Paul writes, "Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?"(1 Cor 11:22). He writes, "homes", rather than "your own homes", and this indicates that the meeting place was probably not considered someone's home (1). See also 1 Cor 11:34.
  2. If the head of the house (Gaius) had control over the space, why did he allow the impropriety at their communal meals (1 Cor 11:17-34)? Surely he would have insisted at least that they wait for each other. And why did he allow the problems of 1 Cor 11:2-16 and 1 Cor 12:1-14:40? There meetings were disorganized and this suggests that no one person was in charge: Gaius no longer owned the space so he could not bring the congregation to order.
  3. Paul insisted on not receiving payment (1 Cor 9:12,15; 2 Cor 11:7-9; 12:14-15) for his work (presumably because he wanted to be seen to be independent of the influence of any patrons). It is therefore unlikely that he would allow himself or the church to be dependent in the long-term on a patron for their meeting space. The independence of the church required that they have joint control of their meeting space.
All this suggests that, as in the case of Polycharmus, the church of Corinth met in a room or rooms that had been donated from a believer's house and the head of the house had given up ownership/control of the space. We can assume that, by calling Gaius "host", Paul is not saying that Gaius owned the meeting space, but that he performed the other roles of a host - putting himself at the service of the congregation.

Gaius as Titius Justus
"Gaius" was a Roman praenomen. He was almost certainly a Roman citizen since he was able to host the whole church, so he almost certainly also had a Roman nomen and cognomen. Since "Titius Justus" is a nomen-cognomen combination, his full name could have been Gaius-Titius-Justus, as many have pointed out. The following arguments confirm this identification.
  1. Gaius, along with Crispus and the "household of Stephanas", was baptized by Paul. The household of Stephanas were "firstfruits" (1 Cor 16:15) and Crispus was also one of the first converts in Corinth (Acts 18:8). This suggests that Gaius, too, was an early convert, who was baptized by Paul himself, before someone else (presumably Crispus) started doing the baptizing. This supports the view that Gaius was Titius Justus, the first Corinthian convert mentioned in Acts.
  2. I have argued that Gaius had given up control of rooms that he had donated for the church. This is exactly the type of benefaction that we should expect from the household of Titius Justus, which had performed the same benefaction for the synagogue.
  3. If, as seems likely Titius Justus's household had been able to donate rooms that could accommodate the synagogue community, they surely were able to do the same for the (presumably smaller) church. The church would have no reason to move to someone else's house. Even if Titius Justus died or apostatized, the space would probably still be available for the church to use.
The role of Stephanas
1 Cor 16:15-18 reads:
Now I urge you, brothers and sisters,  - you know that the household of Stephanas were the firstfruits of Achaia and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints - to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they bave made up for your absence; for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such persons.
The recognition that Paul urges should be given to Stephanas suggests that they were benefactors of the church. Carolyn Osiek writes:
Stephanas particularly can be singled out for his social prominence, for he hosts Paul and the whole church, the members of which are expected, as good clients, to be submissive to him

This is precisely the role that Gaius has in Rom 16:23, so we should start to suspect that Stephanas was Gaius.

Stephanas's household is described as the "firstfruits (ἀπαρχὴ) of Achaia". It is widely agreed that the term "firstfruits" has the sense of "the first with the prospect of more to follow". Paul is not saying that Stephanas was merely the first convert of Achaia, because that would not have really helped him to convince the Corinthians to be submissive to this household, and because Athenians were actually the first converts (Acts 17:34). No, the role of "firstfruits" must have been a more substantial role that commanded respect. This fits the role of Titius Justus perfectly. Titius Justus was the "firstfruits", whose benefaction had been followed by a bumper crop of conversions (Acts 18:7-8), and his benefaction deserved the respect of all the Corinthian believers.

The household of Stephanas had "devoted themselves to the service of the saints", as had Gaius Titius Justus, who had acted as host to the whole church (see above).

Paul devotes a lot space in 1 Corinthians to correct the disorder in the Corinthians' meetings, and this fits nicely with the suggestion that Stephanas was Gaius, the host of he church. We can imagine Stephanas, as host, feeling a sense of responsibility for the meetings and deciding to travel to Ephesus to ask Paul for help in controlling the meetings. Stephanas's journey to Ephesus is explicable if he was Gaius.

In 1 Cor 16:15-18 Paul bolsters the authority of Stephanas and his household and this makes perfect sense if he was the host of the church. The Corinthian church was suffering from divisions and poor behavior in their meetings, so Paul here tries to unite them under the roof of Stephanas, their host.

The name "Stephanas"
The name is very rare. In the six volumes of LGPN published so far there are just 5 people called Stephanas. This represents just 0.002% of all recorded persons. The same database records just 6 cases of "Stephanephoros". Stephanas means crowned or crown-bearer or the like. In New Testament times crowns were given as civic honors to luminaries because of their beneficence or achievements on behalf of the city.(2) In inscriptions the most commonly mentioned response of the community to a benefaction is the giving of a crown (3). Inscriptions found at Delos (twice) see image,(4) Egypt,(5) Asia Minor,(6) and twice at Berenice (7) show that synagogues likewise gave crowns to their benefactors, including those who financed building construction. Since Gaius/Titius Justus gave part of his house to the church, it is very appropriate that Paul recognized his commitment by giving him the name "Stephanas".

John Chrysostom wrote about Gaius of Rom 16:23:
See what a crown (στέφανος) he has framed for him by bearing witness to such great hospitality in him, and brought in the entire Church into this man's house!
Name selection
On the present hypothesis, Paul calls Gaius Titius Justus "Stephanas" in 1 Corinthians because doing so recalls his benefaction and thus bolsters his authority. This explains why the name "Stephanas" appears only in 1 Corinthians, but is absent from Acts. In Romans 16:21-23 Paul sends greetings from all those in Corinth who, through traveling, had met many of those who had moved to Rome (see here). It is therefore surprising that Stephanas (who had travelled at least to Ephesus) is not mentioned, unless he is Gaius. It is not surprising that Paul should call him "Gaius" in 1 Cor 1:14 since this refers to a time before he had been given the name "Stephanas". Also, calling him "Stephanas" here would have conferred honor on him, and Paul did not want to hint that being baptized by him is a point of pride. It was not uncommon for ancient writers to use different names for the same person according to context. Cicero does it frequently, and Paul does it with Cephas/Petros in Galatians. The switch of names would produced no ambiguity for the Corinthian readers. Paul calls him "Gaius", rather than "Stephanas", at Rom 16:23, presumably because he had called himself "Gaius" when he travelled among the churches and met those who subsequently moved to Rome.

Other similar cases of new name giving
Nearly all the benefactors of the church in the New Testament were given new names to honor their generosity. See here.  These include Crispus-Sosthenes and also perhaps Epaenetus who, like, Stephanas, was a 'firstfruits'. In future posts I hope to show that the tradition of giving new names to benefactors continued into the second century.

Summary of the reconstruction
The family of Gaius Titius Justus had given part of their house for the Jewish community to use as a synagogue. After becoming a Christian and being baptized by Paul, he gave further space in his house for the church to use for its meetings. For this benefaction he was honored with the name "Stephanas" (crowned). Having given up ownership of the space he was not able to enforce proper behavior in the church meetings, so he travelled to Ephesus to get Paul's support. Paul then wrote to the Corinthians, referring to Justus as "Stephanas" to remind them that he had provided the meeting space. Paul urged the Corinthians to respect Stephanas and his household, to give them the authority that they needed encourage proper behavior in the meetings. Later, Paul wrote to the Romans and sent greetings from Gaius Titius Justus Stephanas, who on his travels had met many believers who had subsequently moved to Rome. Paul described him as host of the whole church.

I hope that this post summarizes the evidence for Gaius Titius Justus Stephanas, whom I have previously discussed here, here and here.

(1) See the work of Edward Adams, as reported by Justin Mihoc, here.
(2) See "The Fading Crown: Divine Honour and the Early Christians", Journal of Theological Studies, (vol 54.2 Oct 2003).
(3) Frederick W. Danker, Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament Semantic Field.
(4) Menippus, and Serapion, son of Jason. The image is from Philippe Bruneau, "«Les Israélites de Délos» et la juiverie délienne," Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 106 (1982).
(5)  It is disputed whether this inscription concerns Jews.
(6)CIJ 738
(7)Marcus Tittius in Reynolds 1977:244-45, no. 17 = Roux and Roux 1949 = IGRI 1024. Also Decimus Valerius Dionysius in SEG vol.16, no. 931.

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