New Testament 102: All about Gallio

Bruce has a real soft spot for Gallio. I reckon if he played that speculative game “who would I invite to dinner,” Gallio would make the list. Gallio is a popular boy in Corinth too. His appearance in Corinth at the Bema (Justice Seat) in Acts 18 marks the one exact spot we know Paul stood in Greece. The Orthodox Church in Corinth made the scene with Gallio the mural on the back wall of their brand new conference room…

Here’s Robyn standing in front of the Bema.

All this is only vaguely related to the potential essay question. But I’m setting the scene.

Here’s the passage from the Extra Spiritual Version (ESV), complete with whatever footnotes Bible Gateway thinks are relevant:

12But when Gallio was(W) proconsul of Achaia,(X) the Jews made a united attack on Paul and(Y)brought him before the tribunal, 13saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to(Z) the law.” 14But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious(AA) crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint.15But(AB) since it is a matter of questions about words and names and(AC) your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16And he drove them from the tribunal. 17And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

Cool story. I love how the crowd turn on the agitator at the end. They were there to give a beating – so they’re going to give a beating. All right. This judgment may well, if some first century historical reconstruction type people, have made Christianity a legal presence in at least the Achaian province of the empire. Gallio was the proconsul of the province. He was like Chuck Norris in Walker Texas Ranger. If you messed with him you got round house kicked to the face. Gallio’s brother was Seneca. So was his father. Seneca the Older paid to have his kids brought up real good in Roman society. Gallio was even adopted by a rich benefactor (and so changed his name from Novatus to Gallio) His kids were movers and shakers. Seneca the Younger (he’s on wikipedia) was a philosopher who was also Nero’s (the crazy emperor) tutor and adviser. He eventually killed himself (because he had to) after failing to topple Nero in a backstabbing conspiracy (the guy was a nutter – Nero that is). Gallio suffered a similar fate – Nero ordered him put to death, but he may have beaten him to it. Dodging a bullet by taking a bullet (well, a sword or an arrow).

The crux of it

Some people suggest he was basically a pimple on the backside of Roman history who made no real contribution to Rome or humanity. Others think Gallio was a bit blasé about the whole trial of Paul thing. Wikipedia does anyway.

“His behaviour on this occasion shows the impartial attitude of the Roman officials towards Christianity in its early days.”

Lets treat that as a summary of the consensus view on the matter and then we’ll disagree with it. And show that Gallio’s snap judgment (and he was famous as a juror) was a legal decision with consequences that spread through his province and made Christianity a legal subset of Judaism under his rule. While this didn’t set an empire wide precedent (Gallio wasn’t the emperor) – it certainly says something about the legal situation of Christians in first century Rome.

The esteemed B.W Winter wrote an article for the Tyndale Bulletin called Redeeming Gallio and His Judgment in Acts 18 (PDF), there’s another one called Gallio’s Ruling on the Legal Status of Early Christianity (.doc) You should definitely read them if you want to pass this exam.

Here’s the summary of the first one:

“By first-century Graeco-Roman standards, a recent assessment of Gallio – a Roman senator, proconsul and consul of Rome – would have been seen as something of a damnatio that resulted in the dismissal of his achievements and the formal disfiguring of his name from the imperial inscription that bears it in Delphi. However, a re-examination
of the evidence of ancient witnesses comes to a somewhat different conclusion about this important Roman senator. Such testimonies would confirm Luke’s presentation of this legally competent proconsul who made a landmark judgement under Roman law on the status of the early Christian movement.”

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (and what would he know – he’s only an “expert on Paul” according to Wikipedia) reckons Gallio was a hypochondriac wuss who ran away from his post when the going got tough. But Bruce says the Emperor Claudius reckons Gallio was alright, and if he was alright by Claudius, he’s alright by us too. Gallio’s name wasn’t removed from the Delphi inscription because he wasn’t disgraced. And he went on to be a consul of Rome. Basically Murphy-O’Connor is the bad scholar in this answer. And Bruce is fighting the good fight for Gallio. Murphy-O’Connor says the only good thing about Gallio is that he helps us date Paul’s time in Corinth (because Gallio himself was only in Corinth for a year (51-52 A.D).

Gallio did his year of regional service, and then got sick (he wasn’t a hypochondriac, as the bad guys have suggested). Here’s a paragraph from Bruce about a paragraph from a primary source about Gallio:

“In a discussion titled ‘On the Medicinal use of seawater’, Pliny the Elder (AD c.23/4-79) recorded ‘there being many other uses, the chief however being a sea voyage for those attacked by consumption, as I have said, and for haemoptysis, such as quite recently within our memory was taken by Annaeus Gallio after his consulship (post consulatum)’ According to Pliny it was after he completed the one-year term set for a senatorial consulship.”

Gallio the Juror
Gallio was a nice guy. According to his brother.

“Seneca reminded Lucilius that his brother was not inept in his rela­tionships with others. He had a great ability to get along with other people and his unaffectedly pleasant personality charms even those it pays no attention to … No other human being is so charming to just one person as he is to all people.’ In Corinth, Gallio politely addressed them as Ό Jews’, and explained that he simply could not proceed be cause there was no case to answer under Roman law. Luke records that he added, ‘If it were a matter of wrong-doing or vicious crime, then I would have reason to allow the legal proceedings’ (18:14).”

Bruce makes the point that Gallio has more integrity, and was less swayed by Jewish political pressures, than Felix or Pontius Pilate before them – he recognises the trial is a farce. And he calls them on it.

“The impression gained from Seneca is that Gallio was an astute judge of situations, and would have been aware of the hubris and the troubling nature of the litigation that had driven the Jews to pursue this case, and the duplicity that stood behind their charges. In fact Luke recorded that he ‘drove’ (άττήλασεν) the plaintiffs from the tribunal.”

Bruce further suggests the decision was thoroughly grounded in Roman law – and a right exercise of due process. He thinks the Jews were suggesting that Paul was operating outside the law because he’d left Judaism but had not taken up the Roman Imperial Religion (which was his legal obligation – from which Jews were exempt). Gallio decides that it is a Jewish matter, that Christianity is still “Jewish” in essence, and that Roman law doesn’t apply. He says the only law that is relevant to the case is “your law” – meaning Jewish law. He made the judgment before Paul had even had a chance to start his defense because he was such a top-notch juror. Like Judge Judy.

On the Beating of Sosthenes

“What was the reason for this fracas in the Corinthian forum? There are a number of possibilities. It is known that leading Roman citizens followed by their clients attended in the forum, and they operated as loyal supporters of their patrons in the realm of politela. Those standing around saw the dismissal of Jews’ case in the Roman criminal court as an opportunity to demonstrate their support for the emperor’s recent anti-Jewish decree recorded by Luke in Acts 18:2 – ‘because
Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome”

“It is more likely that Luke’s final comment [But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.] is to be interpreted as referring to how Gallio had operated in this case. He drove the accusers from the judgement seat because their case was groundless in Roman law, carefully following the correct legal protocol within whose paramètres he alone operated. He was rightly not concerned with matters outside the formal court hearing, for what happened was not within his remit unless Sosthenes subsequently brought another private prosecution, for assault. As Luke rightly noted ‘and none of these things (18:15, 17) concerned Gallio’, but had Paul been guilty of those in 18:14 he would certainly have proceeded with the case.”

On the Legal Status of Judaism (not from Bruce’s article)

If you’re a student preparing an exam answer you’ll already have done the subject The Cross and the Clash of Cultures, which apart from having an alliterative title, prompted me to do some research on the legal status of Judaism under the empire. Here’s a quote from one of my footnotes that may or may not be of use:

The actual nature of  Judaism’s status, whether or not it was a “religio licita” is in some dispute. The term religio licita seems to be a later development than this question – but the freedoms and exemptions for the Jews certainly existed. Caesar provided some freedom for Jews to practice their religion within the empire – but this may not have had the effect of freeing them for all time. cf Rajak, T, ‘Was there a Roman Charter for the Jews?’, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol 74 (1984) pp 107-123 (I think it’s on EBSCO), which suggests that the phrase “religio licita” to describe Judaism was first recorded by Tertullian, that they only required “public backing, with muscle behind it” rather than a charter to establish these rights, and that it was not the nature of the polis to exclude citizens from the practice of customary activities. See also – Pucci Ben Zeev, M, ‘Jewish Rights in the Roman World – The Greek and Roman Documents quoted by Josephus Flavius’, 1998, Mohr Siebek, pg 412 –the treatment of Jews throughout the empire after Caesar’s death suggests this declaration was not all encompassing precedent, while Rutgers, L.V, ‘Roman Policy Towards Jews’, Judaism and Christianity in First Century Rome edited by Donfried, K.P and Richardson, P, pp 93-116 suggests that Jewish status under Roman law varied greatly from Emperor to Emperor – and that there was no charter or official policy regarding the Jews.

The Romans placed huge value on time honoured traditions – it was part of their shtick, they called it the Mos Maiorum and this was the recognition of tradition that protected the Jews from participating in the Imperial Cult.

On the Imperial Cult and Gallio’s Exemption

Here’s what Bruce says in the second article linked (up the top):

“Christianity was a sect within Judaism and therefore a religio licita, part of the mos maiorum. This was how Christianity was judged in the eyes of the Roman governor with expertise as a jurist. What Gallio ruled ‘when Paul was about to open his mouth’ (18:14a) had implications for this early Messianic movement. Whether Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians, Roman citizens, or provincials, they were all seen as ‘a party’ operating under the Jewish umbrella. Therefore being a Christian in the province of Achaea was not a criminal offence, according to Gallio.

Attention has been briefly drawn to the legal immunity the Jews enjoyed with respect to the veneration of the emperor because of the mos maiorum. While New Testament scholars have underestimated the importance of this cult during the Julio-Claudian emperors, evidence showed that it grew more spectacularly throughout the empire during the first century than even the early Christian movement did…

Paul used the same defense again in front of Felix, and then again in Rome in front of Festus and before Agrippa II – and Bruce argues that the verdict was the same on all counts – and the word “unhindered” at the end of Acts is incredibly important.

In the final hearing before Festus in the presence of Agrippa II, Paul again mounted his defence along the same lines—‘I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said should happen’ (26:22). Festus confirmed Gallio’s ruling that the case concerned ‘certain questions of their superstition’ and the alleged resurrection of Jesus (25:19).

While awaiting the hearing of his appeal, Paul was still allowed to engage in his ministry ‘with all boldness’. After that comment, Luke added the highly significant word, ‘unhindered’ (28:31). This term was used to indicate that there was no legal impediment to what a person was doing.

Addendum: On Murphy-O’Connor

Don’t be too nasty in your answer to the bad cop – Bruce has this to say in his final footnote:

“My point of departure with J. Murphy-O’Conner on the assessment of Gallio should not detract in any way from my appreciation of his important service to New Testament Corinthian studies with what is now the third edition of his excellent collection of primary literary sources and some of the important inscriptions.”

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.