Communities of Resistance

Carter uses many examples from the Bible to support his idea that early Christian literature offered, and indeed demanded, an alternative lifestyle to that of Rome. Carter further argues that the Christian adherence to this very non-Roman life made it impossible for Rome to accept or even tolerate the early church.


He uses the Book of Revelation in its historical context to point to images and symbols of a fallen empire. Revelation speaks of the “fallen Babylon,” but John could just as easily be speaking about the anticipated (hopeful) fall of the Roman Empire. Since this document was written during a time of Roman oppression, Carter’s assessment of Revelation does make sense in that context. Even if that was no John’s intent, there is little doubt that the presence of Rome would have influenced the writing. The Christian community would be anxious to see Rome fall the way Babylon did for the Jews. They would want to see God favor the Christians over the Romans.


Carter’s interpretation of Paul’s letters leads us to understand that Paul’s aim was to establish a community of believers whose existence was in direct opposition to Roman rule. He cites Paul’s insistence that salvation comes through Christ alone, and his use of language that evokes images of Christ being the emperor to whom allegiance should be pledged. It’s interesting that he does this, because even though Carter is arguing this large opposition to Rome, Paul could not escape the imagery of Roman rule. What Paul tried to do, however, was to shift the attention away from the sovereignty of Rome, to the sovereignty of Christ. Paul emphasized that worshiping idols was akin to worshiping Satan, which made worshiping the emperors ungodly. He also wrote about Christ coming again, to compare the Kingdom of God, which has no end, to the Empire of Rome, which was surely to fall.


Carter finishes this section with an important question: How are Christian supposed to live? The attitudes that Christians need to have which Paul, Matthew, and John wrote about were in direct opposition to Roman thoughts about civil responsibility. Should they lie about their true allegiance? That would be counter to God’s will for them; they would be putting their soul in jeopardy, but they could also lose their life over it. Other options that Carter brings up are to fight, try to get laws changed, or to try to co-exist. None of these options work for the Christian, and for good reason. A small community of believers oppressed by a larger community of believers needs to stick to its morals in order to come out of the situations feeling like it won.


Carter argues that much of the early Christian writings were, at their base, propaganda against Rome. This might be a stretch, but—at the very least—there is evidence to support the idea that the Roman domination of the known world was on the mind of the early Christian church.

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