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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Erastus (Rom 16:23) was Erastus (Acts 19:22)

Was the Erastus of Rom 16:23 the same man as the Erastus of Acts 19:22?

The rarity of the name Erastus
NT scholars have inexcusably failed to quantify the frequency of the name. The table below gives comments that people have made on the rarity or otherwise of the name. They range from "very rare" to "very common". 9 commentators say the name was common, 6 say it was rare, and 2 take an intermediate position. Why such contradictory assessments? And why such imprecision? What is meant by 'common'? 1 in 100? 1 in 1000? It's very vague.

Author Reference Date Comment
Cadbury "Erastus of Corinth" JBL 50 p56 1931 The name Erastus belongs neither to the commonest nor to the most uncommon of names of the Hellenistic world
F.F. Bruce The Acts of the Apostles p414 1965 The name was quite common
Cranfield ICC The Epistle to the Romans p807 1979 The name was common enough
G.A. Lee The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia p126 1982 Erastus was a common name
V.P. Furnish Biblical Archaeology Review Vol XIV No 1 p20 1988 the name itself is not common
C. Hemer The book of Acts in the setting of Hellenistic History p235 1990 this name is perhaps less common than sometimes suggested, but is attested in Ephesus
J. Fitzmyer Anchor Bible Romans p750 1992 The name Erastus is well attested in inscriptions
A.D. Clarke Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth 1993 the name Erastus is relatively uncommon
J. MacArthur Romans 9-16 p379 1994 his was such a common name
Bruce Winter Seek the Welfare of the City p191-192 1994 The name Erastus was rare in Corinth
Justin Meggitt Nov. Test. Vol 38 p222 1996 A relatively common name for our period
Quinn & Wacker The First and Second Letters to Timothy p832 2000 otherwise not found in Corinthian inscriptions
Ben Witherington III The Acts of the Apostles p590 1998 The name Erastus was in any case a very common one
Barton & Muddiman The Oxford Bible Commentary p1110 2001 a very rare name in Corinth
Darrell Bock Baker ECNT Acts p606 2007 The name is common
R. Jewett Romans p981 2007 The name does not appear frequently
David Peterson PNTC The Acts of the Apostles p544 2009 The name was common

The table below gives the statistics from the 6 volumes of the LGPN so far published, which conveniently cover the Aegean region.

Vol 1 Vol2a Vol 3a Vol 3b Vol 4 Vol 5a
Aegean Islands, Cyprus, Cyrenaica Attica Peloponnese, Western Greece, Sicily, Magna Graecia Central Greece Macedonia, Thrace, Northern Shores of the Black Sea Coastal Asia Minor: Pontos to Ionia Total
Erastus 2 14 12 0 4 8 40
All persons 6648962361 43261 43456 33724 51293 300584

Therefore we have just 40 Erasti out of a total of 300584 entries. The frequency of the name Erastus was therefore 1 in 7500. However, I estimate that only about 12000 entries in the LGPN database can be dated securely to the first century, and 11 of these were called Erastus. Therefore, restricting ourselves to the first century, the frequency of the name can be estimated at 1 in 1100.

Now, both Erasti were Christians in the Aegean region. If we assume (generously) that there were 750 Christians in the Aegean region, the chances of having a second Erastus in that group is about 50%. However, I will now show that further considerations make the two-person hypothesis very unlikely.

"Both" were well-known believers
The Erastus of Acts 19:22 travelled with Timothy from Ephesus to Macedonia. Now, as is commonly agreed, 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10-11 shows that Timothy went from Ephesus to Macedonia and was to proceed to Corinth. Assuming that this was the same journey, there is every chance that Erastus accompanied Timothy to Corinth. So, by the time Romans was written, the Erastus of Acts 19:22 was probably known by believers Corinth, and, in any case, was known in Ephesus and Macedonia. Also, the fact the Luke mentions him at all suggests that he was prominent.

The Erastus of Rom 16:23 was also probably well known among the churches, for this explains why Paul sends greetings from him. Minor characters such as Tychicus and Trophimus (Acts 20:4) (who was recognized only by others from Asia (Acts 21:27)) were probably with Paul in Corinth when he wrote Romans, but do not send greetings. Greetings are sent from the prominent believers who were well known to members of the churches who had returned to Rome after the death of Claudius. For more on Paul's selection of greeters in Rom 16:21-23 see my blog post here.

So, both the Erastus of Acts 19:22 and the Erastus of Rom 16:23 were probably well known Christians in the Aegean region. In my judgement there can have been only about 30 such people. The chances of having a second Erastus in a group of 30 people is only about 30/1100 =2.7%. So it is very unlikely that the two texts refer to different men.

"Both" were administrators of money
The Erastus of Rom 16:23 is described as οἰκονόμος τῆς πόλεως. The exact meaning of the term is disputed, but it is agreed that Erastus must have been an administrator of money.

The Erastus of Acts 19:22 travelled with Timothy to Macedonia and commentators have rightly suggested that their mission was to organize the collection for Judea (Bock p606, Witherington 590, Peterson p544, Albert Barnes 1950). This is because:

1) Timothy and Erastus are described as τῶν διακονούντων (helpers) and the similar term, διακονία, is used 5 times (Acts 11:29; 12:25; Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 8:4; 9:1) regarding those who help to take up the collection for Jerusalem (Bock Acts p606).

2) Dunn (p262) remarks about Acts 19:21-22, "The two verses go oddly together: Paul resolves to depart, but then sends others ahead and stays put". The oddity is removed if we suppose that the mission of Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22) was to organize the collection, which was the purpose of Paul's trip to Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 19:21. Luke may have expected his intended audience to know about the collection. The collection was probably declared illegal, particularly in Achaia, so it is not surprising that Luke does not mention the it directly, and neither is it surprising that he does not say that Timothy and Erastus proceeded to Achaia. He had to steer well clear of the collection from Achaia to avoid getting the church into trouble with the authorities (see here).

So, both Erasti were probably administrators of money. As Barnes notes, "the treasurer of the city ... was ... a very proper person to be sent with Timothy for the purpose of making the collection for the poor at Jerusalem".

In my judgement, this last point alone is enough to neutralize the rather week counter-arguments.

Some have suggested that the Erastus of Rom 16:23 is unlikely to be the Erastus of Acts 19:22 because the office of οἰκονόμος would have prevented him from traveling (e.g. Morris p544). However, οἰκονόμος here refers to Erastus's role in administering the collection in Corinth, rather than to a civil office (see Meggitt). In any case, Erastus could have taken his office of οἰκονόμος after returning from his mission to Macedonia. On my chronology there was a full year between Erastus's return to Corinth and the writing of Romans, and Aediles were elected to office for a one year term (Winter 195).

As well as this chronological clumping, we must also reckon with the possibility of social clumping. The name may have been more common in the sections of society to which the Christians belonged, than in the general population. This will change the odds, but not nearly enough to bring the two-person theory back into play.

The Erastus of Rom 16:23 and the Erastus of Acts 19:22 were both probably prominent, well travelled, believers with financial roles. This, and the relative rarity of the name, can leave little doubt that we are looking at just one person. In a future post on the Titus-Timothy hypothesis I will argue that Titus and the 'brother' (2 Cor 12:18) are Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22).


  1. Good stuff. Thanks for posting this. I always like to see actual numbers being crunched where possible. Still, it would be interesting to know how common that name was in relation to other names. Does 1/1100 make it a common name or a rare one? Its relative commoness might indicate whether or not it would be perceived as an unusual or common name. If there were two prominent Erastuses in the Christian community isn't it likely that there names would require further clarification to avoid confusion?

  2. Jonathan,
    thanks for interacting again. When deciding whether we have two Erasti or just one, it is the absolute frequency of the name that matters. The frequency relative to other names is irrelevant, of course. However, numbers are hard to grasp, so it is perhaps instructive to compare the first century popularity of the name Erastus with that of names today. If the estimate of 1 in 1100 is correct, then Erastus was no more common than Edgar is for baby boys in the USA today.

  3. Great post! You should write it up.

    How did you estimate that 12,000 were from the first century? I'm also puzzled by the math. Isn't the probability of two people with the same name .001 (1/1100) x .001?

  4. Thanks, dpettegrew.

    I'm not sure that much is to be gained by "writing up" this work, since it is already available for free to anyone with an internet connection. You are welcome to write it up yourself.

    If 1 in every 1000 people is called "Erastus", then the probability that a person chosen at random is called "Erastus" is, of course 0.001. The probability that two people chosen at random are called Erastus is 0.001*0.001=0.000001. However, we know that we have at least one Erastus, so a more interesting question is "what is the probability that a second person, chosen at random, has the same name as the first person, whose name is Erastus?". The answer to this question is 0.001. I'm not sure whether this answers your question. If not, let me know.

    You may also like to read this post, which also discusses Erastus and identifies him as the anonymous brother of 2 Cor 12:18. This is part of a series of posts on the Titus-Timothy hypothesis, which is summarized here.

  5. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for this clarification. By writing it up, I was mainly thinking of its benefit for developing your argument through elaboration and review. I think the idea is a great one but it needs methodological justification, etc.. Anyway, I hope to give it some attention on Corinthianmatters.

  6. Thanks. I forgot to answer your question about the number of entries in the LGPN from the first century. I laboriously counted cases in a cross-section of pages from the printed volumes. Quite exhausting.

    I might need some help with methodological justification. However, I do find support in Clement and Ignatius for my view that the greeters in Rom 16:21-23 (including Erastus) were people who had travelled. See here. I have also discussed Lucius, Jason, and Gaius at length in other blog posts, which support the view that they had traveled.

  7. Timothy A. Brookins has just published a paper on the frequency of the name "Erastus". "The (In)frequency of the Name 'Erastus' in Antiquity: A Literary, Papyrological, and Epigraphical Catalog" New Test. Stud. 59, pp. 496-516. He gives similar statistics to me and comes to a similar conclusion. I hope that his paper will lay to rest the idea that the Erastus of Acts could be different from the Erastus of Romans.

    It is disappointing that he was not able to calculate, or even comment on, the (all important) absolute frequency of the name. It's encouraging, though, that he cited several electronic resources, including this blog post.