Monday, January 12, 2015

The Erastus Inscription... What does it mean?

When I rented a motorcycle and drove to Corinth from Athens, I had no idea how easy it was to get lost in the city of Athens. The fact that driving in Athens is a complete nightmare aside, the people I rented the motorcycle from told me the day before I was going to rent the motorcycle that I would definitely have a GPS unit on the bike. When I arrived to pick it up, they said they didn’t have any more GPS units available.
Lucky me.
So, having burned the image of the country of Greece into my mind before traveling there, I figured my graciously enduring wife and I could make it to Corinth with moderate ease.
Here is the tiny rented motorcycle with 88,000 miles on it.
Corinth is located west of the great city of Athens exactly 86.8 kilometers (53.9 miles). Knowing this from the map in my head, I figured I would use the sun to get there. If I found a main highway I would keep the sun in the left of my scope of vision (because it was close to noon), and I would be driving west, toward Corinth. Once I kept seeing signs that said “To Corinth,” I knew the worst was behind me… for that part of the journey at least (On the way back to our home in Athens, we didn’t have the sun anymore, which knowing the right highway was helpful, but once you’re in the city without GPS again, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack). In any event, I was thankful to God for a beautiful, sunny day on the way to Corinth (and that we safely made it back home).
After getting off the motorcycle and stretching, I eventually found and went to the information booth where there were pamphlets available in all sorts of different languages. I asked the lady in the booth, in English, where the Erastus Inscription was located, and although she spoke perfect English, she had no clue what I was talking about.
The Erastus Inscription is an ancient inscription found on the pavement among a bunch of ruins about one minute’s walk due north from the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth. I found it after doing some hunting, because clues to its precise location is not easy to find. We were the only people among the ruins in this area, possibly because tour guides do not know what is there so they just point to “some more old ruins” for the tour groups.
The lonely ruins near the Erastus Inscription.
They are missing out. The Erastus Inscription is highly significant. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, during his second missionary journey, came from Athens to Corinth and stayed there for at least a year and a half (see Acts 18:11 and 18:18). One benefit to Paul staying in Corinth was that people would come to Corinth from other distant parts of the ancient world. To avoid going the whole way around the country (for instance, from Venice to Athens) in a sailboat, where dangerous winds and rocks would destroy the boat, the sailors would travel over the thinnest part of land in Corinth, called the isthmus, moving the entire ancient vessel via the Diolkos, which was almost like a railway, to the opposite sea port (where the Corinthian Canal exists today). Thus, they would avoid what could be days’ worth of sailing, and possible death.
The Erastus Inscription with Acrocorinth in the background.
With people from all over the ancient world traveling through here, in order to save time, money and lives, Paul must have seen this as a great strategy for getting the gospel to the gentile world. In any event, his stay in Corinth would eventually cause him to meet some of the locals. One of the locals was a man named Erastus, who was clearly “the city’s director of public works” during the first century A.D. (See NIV Romans 16:23). Erastus apparently wanted to be voted into this position, and made pledges during an election to pave the area in between the nearby plaza and the theater (Garland). After being voted in, he wanted to make it obvious that he keeps his promises, so he had an inscription engraved in the stone slab that was laid at the edge of the pavement. It reads in Latin:


The ancient inscription means in English, “Erastus laid this pavement at his own expense, in appreciation of his appointment as aedile.” Since the Corinthians embraced the Roman customs, this was probably the reason it was written in Latin rather than Greek. Also, oikonomos is the Greek equivalent that Paul used in Romans 16:23 to describe Erastus of the Latin aedilis, both meaning the same thing, which is basically the maintainer of public buildings in the city.
There are other mentions of Erastus as well. One can be found in 2 Timothy 4:20, where Paul is telling Timothy that when he left Corinth, Erastus stayed there in Corinth, which makes sense, because of the occupation of Erastus. He needed to stay there if he wanted to keep his job. Also, in Acts 19:22, the author of Acts, Luke, explains that Paul sent Erastus with Timothy to Macedonia, which gives the reason why Paul felt the need to explain to Timothy where Erastus was.
The Erastus Inscription
In sum, Paul was in Corinth with Erastus, writing to the Romans. The significance of this lies in the fact that there is a stone slab in Corinth with Erastus’ name on it, giving strength to the argument that the New Testament writers have proven themselves to be historically reliable, not only for the books that Paul wrote, but also the books that Luke wrote, since he clearly records Paul's journeys accurately. The New Testament mentions the maintainer of public buildings, Erastus, from Corinth, and in the ancient ruins of Corinth, we find today, the stone slab dated uncontested to the first century, with his name and occupation on it.

The upper left star is the location of the Erastus Inscription, The bottom left is the museum, the bottom right is the Bema, the judgment seat, where Paul was judged by Gallio in Acts 18:12-17. The top right star is a good place to park, if you rent a car or motorcycle from Athens. Just make sure you have GPS.

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Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2003) 11.

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