Apr 28, 2009


Next, we turn to the letters of Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, 61-113 AD). Pliny was not a historian, although his collected letters help provide us with great historical insight to this day.

In one such letter, Pliny, who was the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor from 111-113, wrote to Emperor Trajan on proper protocol for dealing with the Christians under his jurisdiction. Here is an important portion from Epistles book 10, letter 96:

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.

One key phrase in this pericope from Pliny is “carmenque Christo quasi deo dicere secum invicem”, or “sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a god”. Maurice Goguel argues that quasi

“seems to indicate that, in Pliny’s opinion, Christ was not a god like those which other men worshipped. May we not conclude that the fact which distinguished Christ from all other ‘gods’ was that he had lived upon the earth?” (Maurice Goguel, Life of Jesus, translated by Olive Wyon (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1933), 94.)

Theissen and Merz assert that Pliny may see Christ as a “quasi-god, precisely because he was a man”. (Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus, 81.)

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