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Erastus: Director of Public Works and Friend of Paul

Not much is known of Erastus. So far, his name only appears in two sources. No one knows when he was born or died. No one knows if he was married, had children, or his nationality. All that is known is that he lived in Corinth and his official title was "Director of Public Works." And that he was a friend of Paul, and that makes all the difference because it ties the two sources to Erastus together in a fascinating way.

The first source is the Bible; in it an "Erastus" is mentioned three times. Two brief references show that Erastus was a companion of Paul, Acts 19:22 ("He [Paul] sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia") and II Timothy 4:20 ("Erastus stayed in Corinth"). But it is the third reference which provides personal information about Erastus. The Apostle Paul mentions this in Romans 16:23: ". . . Erastus, who is the cityís director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings."

In examining this more closely, archaeologists point out that "Erastus" was a common name during Paulís day and that these three references may not refer to the same person. Granted. But this much is certain from Paulís reference: at one point someone named Erastus was the Director of Public Works, sometimes called "city treasurer," and that he was a Christian. But in what city did this Erastus live? Most New Testament scholars believe Paul was in Corinth when he wrote the letter to the Romans, on what is known as Paulís Third Missionary Trip in the mid-50s. Most likely, therefore, the Erastus Paul mentioned was the Corinthian director of public works/city treasurer. Whether or not he traveled with Paul is unimportant here. What is important is that Paul knew a Christian named Erastus who was the director of public works/city treasurer in Corinth.

The responsibilities of the government today include enforcing laws, maintaining streets and public places, and collecting taxes. But the Roman government of Paulís day did not have all the responsibilities of the U.S. government. Certainly they enforced laws and collected taxes, but often the building and maintaining of streets and public places were done by the wealthy. The director of public works/city treasurer in Corinth would have been wealthy and would have been in a position to have donated funds for projects like building pubic buildings or streets.

So what? This is where it gets interesting.

The second source of information comes from none other than a paving stone in the ancient city of Corinth. In 1929, the archaeologist T. L. Shear discovered amongst the ruins this inscription on a stone in a street which was placed there in the 50s: "Erastus in return for his adeileship laid this pavement at his own expense." An "adeile" (Latin) was in charge of the financial matters of a city. Therefore, in ancient Corinth, in the 50s, a wealthy man named Erastus was given the office of adeile and in return laid a street pavement.

Both Paul in the book of Romans and the inscription agree that a man named Erastus held a public office in Corinth in the 50s. Thus the pavement stone is an historical proof of one verse of the Bible.

You can see a picture of this stone at:  http://www.biblepicturegallery.com/pictures/Epistles/Corinth%20-%20Erastus%20inscription%20Erastus%20laid%20this%20p%20pa.htm

©2004 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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