the Roman Empire & the NT (1)

This is the world that most of the population, the nonelite [within the Roman Empire], negotiated every day [during the time of the New Testament].

Since the nonelite comprised about 97% of the population, it is not surprising that most early Christians belonged to this group.

An enormous gap separated the nonelite from the elite’s power, wealth, and status. There was no middle class and little opportunity for improving one’s lot. More often it was a matter of survival. There was no “Roman dream” of pulling oneself up by one’s sandal straps.

Degrees of poverty marked the nonelite. Some made an adequate living from trade. Most scraped by either from trade, artisan skills, or farming. Most knew periods of surplus and of deprivation so that regularly many nonelites lived at or below subsistence levels. If crops failed, if taxes increased, or if the elite withheld a city’s food supply and forced up prices, there was little safety net.

Many knew regular periods of food shortages. Poor health was pervasive. Infant mortality was high, with perhaps up to 50 percent not reaching age ten. Most nonelite adults died by age thirty or forty. Elite life spans were longer.

Urban life for nonelites was crowded, dirty, smelly, and subject to numerous dangers: floods, fires, food shortages, contaminated water, infectious diseases, human and animal waste, ethnic tensions, and irregular work. Rural life also knew most of these dangers. In addition, poor crop returns meant immediate food shortages, limited seed for next year, few options with which to trade for what a peasant could not produce, the likely breakup of extended families if some were forced into cities to find work, and the inability to pay taxes or repay loans, thus risking the seizure of land. Anxiety and stress about daily survival were rife.

The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide by Warren Carter (Abingdon Press, 2006), pp.10-11

imminent domain (6)

… God is perfectly free to make up a plan for the salvation of humankind and execute it as he sees it. He does not owe salvation to anyone, unless he first promised that salvation to some person or persons. We must remind ourselves that the New Testament says that all human beings have sinned and fallen short of God’s best for us (Rom. 3:23). Salvation, then, becomes not a matter of something owed to us, but rather a gift of God’s unfailing grace. This means that whether or not everyone is saved is not an issue of justice or of God’s character. Rather, it is an issue of human character and human responsibility. While it is true that many today would like to live in a no-fault world, the New Testament is quite clear about human beings’ moral responsibility for their actions, including responsibility for responding to the gospel.

This entire approach to the issue of salvation inevitably leads to the question – What about those who have not heard the gospel? Are they eternally lost just because they have not heard? The answer to this question must be no. If the answer were yes, then indeed there would be an issue about the character of God and whether we could take seriously Scripture’s testimony that God is love and desires no one to perish.

Romans 1:18-32 deals with just this question. … No one is condemned for what he or she does not know. All people are judged by what they do with the life they have received. Thus Paul is able to conclude that “they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened” (vs.20-21).

Ben Witherington in Imminent Domain: The Story of the Kingdom of God and Its Celebration (pp.65-67)