Philippi – why should I care about that place?

PhilippiViaEgnatiaEtcOne morning last week as I was thinking about what book of the Bible might be good to re-read next, Paul’s epistle to the Philippians popped into my mind.

“What do you know about the people and place Philippians was written to?” the Lord asked me.

“Not much,” I replied. “Uh – why should I care, exactly?” Not being rude, I was just curious.

“Why don’t you see what you can learn about them?” he suggested.

Okay, I thought, why not. So I approached the subject like Sherlock Holmes might: who, what, where, when, why, how – like that. Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

A bit of background

While Paul was in house arrest in Rome, he did more than boldly proclaim the gospel to anyone and everyone (Acts 28:30-31), he also wrote at least four letters which scholars refer to as the “prison epistles”: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon.

First-century house arrest wasn’t your typical American prison; however, it wasn’t a vacation home either. It’s purpose was to serve as a holding tank for prisoners awaiting trial. Two years was the maximum amount of time someone could be held, at which time they were either tried, found guilty and executed, or released.

Although guards were always nearby, prisoners were allowed much freedom such as access to visitors and limited access outside the home. “The apostle was under the charge of these troops (i.e. praetorian guard), the soldiers relieving each other in mounting guard over the prisoner, who was attached to his guard’s hand by a chain. In the allusion to his bonds, Ephesians 6:20, he uses the specific word for the coupling-chain. His contact with the different members of the corps in succession, explains the statement that his bonds had become manifest throughout the praetorian guard.”

Probably the most difficult part was that prisoners were responsible for payments, such as their rent, food, and so on. This was obviously tricky for someone who was not allowed to work for a wage. In fact scholars say that numerous prisoners died in house arrest due to lack of food.

So what was Paul to do?  Enter the Philippian church.  As Paul was in house arrest completely dependent upon the financial gift of others to keep him alive in prison, the church at Philippi stepped up by sending a man named Epaphroditus with a financial gift (Philippians 4:18).  (This wasn’t the first time the church financially came to Paul’s aid.  In a number of letters Paul mentions the grace-filled generosity of the Philippian church in providing for his needs time and time again: Philippians 4:15-16; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 11:7-9. )

Epaphroditus didn’t travel 800 miles to just bring Paul money, but he also came with news about the health of the Philippian church.  Apparently the persecution Paul faced in Philippi more than 10 years earlier was still on-going against the believers in Philippi (Philippians 1:29-30).  And, not only was the church facing trouble from the outside, but they were also experiencing great disunity and conflict on the inside between one another (Philippians 1:27; 2:3-4,14; 4:2-3).

In light of these threats on the church Paul writes them a letter (what we know to be the book of Philippians), gives it to Epaphroditus and sends him back to Philippi with it (Philippians 2:25-30).


Miscellaneous thoughts about Philippi

“But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.” (I Thess. 2:2 KJV)

This entire chapter describes how Paul lived and preached, both at Thessalonica and previously at Philippi, and what happened because of that – persecution.

In Philippi it had been by Romans – who were upset at losing their demonic source of income and needed a way to get it back.
In Thessalonica it was by the Jews – who disagreed with Paul’s message about Jesus and continued to follow him from town to town.

In Paul’s vision (Acts 16), he saw a Macedonian man calling him to come and help. It wasn’t a man of any specific city or country, but the entire region, what we know today as the country of Greece and other Balkan nations. This was the doorway into Europe…


From Smith’s Bible Dictionary: “Achaia signifies in the New Testament a Roman province which included the Peloponnesus and the greater part of Hellas (Greece) proper, with the adjacent islands. This province, with that of Macedonia, comprehended the whole of Greece; hence Achaia and Macedonia are frequently mentioned together in the New Testament to indicate all of Greece. Ac 18:12; 19:21; Ro 15:26; 16:5; 1Co 16:15; 2Co 7:5; 9:2; 11:10; 1Th 1:7,8 In the time of the emperor Claudius it was governed by a proconsul, translated in the Authorized Version “deputy,” of Achaia. Ac 18:12.”

Note: Macedonia was the northern region of Greece. Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea were there. Hellas was the southern region, before reaching Achaia. Athens was there. The Peloppones peninsula is the western and southern-most region of Greece. Corinth was there.

Paul had not intended to go into that part of the world, at least not yet. He had intended to go into the northern part of Asia Minor (Turkey today). Somehow, we are not told exactly how, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let him go that direction. But he continued his travels and changed directions as necessary, being hindered from first one place, then another. He wound up going west, instead of north.

It was important to God that Paul take the gospel that way next – into Europe. Why? Who was there, that God wanted to reach? Perhaps Romans?

Acts 16 (NIV) (notes in parentheses are mine):

“6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace (an island in the Aegian Sea), and the next day we went on to Neapolis. (A port city, now called Kavala. The Roman road Via Egnatia began/ended here originally, extended on to Byzantium shortly before Paul’s visit.) 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district[a] of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”

Another source: Marvin Vincent Word Studies of the book of Philippians.

About the City of Philippi

Philippi was a city in eastern Macedonia, established by the king of Macedon Philip II in 356 BC and abandoned in the 14th century after the Ottoman conquest. The present municipality Filippoi is located near the ruins of the ancient city and it is part of the region of East Macedonia and Thrace in Kavalla, Greece. Philippi was established on the site of the Thasian colony of Krinides or Crenides (“Fountains”), near the head of the Aegean Sea at the foot of Mt. Orbelos about 8 miles north-west of Kavalla, on the northern border of the marsh that in Antiquity covered the entire plain separating it from the Pangaion hills to the south of Greece.

The objective of founding the town was to take control of the neighboring gold mines and to establish a garrison at a strategic passage: the site controlled the route between Amphipolis and Neapolis, part of the great royal route which crosses Macedonia from the east to the west and which was reconstructed later by the Roman Empire as the Via Egnatia.

Philip II endowed the new city with important fortifications, which partially blocked the passage between the swamp and Mt. Orbelos, and sent colonists to occupy it. Philip also had the marsh partially drained, as is attested by the writer Theophrastus. Philippi preserved its autonomy within the kingdom of Macedon and had its own political institutions (the Assembly of the demos). The discovery of new gold mines near the city, at Asyla, contributed to the wealth of the kingdom and Philip established a mint there. The city was finally fully integrated into the kingdom under Philip V. The city contained about 2,000 people at that time.

More about Philippi

Philippi was in a strategic location — it commanded the land route to Asia Minor. The city was also important because of the gold mines in the nearby mountains.

In 42 B.C., it became the site of one of the most crucial battles in Roman history. In that battle, the forces of Antony and Octavian (cf. Luke 2:1) defeated the republican forces of Brutus and Cassius. The battle marked the end of the Roman republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

Antony and Octavian settled many of their army veterans at Philippi, which was given the coveted status of a Roman colony. Later, other army veterans settled there.

Being a Roman colony, Philippi was governed by Roman laws and subject to Roman rule. Citizens of Philippi were Roman citizens, exempt from paying certain taxes and not subject to the authority of the provincial governor. It was a little Rome in the midst of a Greek culture, just as the church is a “colony of heaven” here on earth (Philippians 3:20).

Events leading up to the founding of the church

  1. Paul was on his second preaching trip and he visited the churches established on his first trip (Acts 15:36; 16:5).
  2. The Holy Spirit prevented Paul from turning aside to Asia or Bithynia and he journeyed to Troas (Acts 16:6-8).
  3. The Macedonian vision directed Paul to go into Europe (Acts 16:9-10).
  4. Paul went to Philippi and searched for a synagogue (Acts 16:11-13). (There wasn’t one.) Though the initial converts were Jews or Jewish proselytes, Gentiles made up the majority of the congregation. The fact that there was no synagogue is evidence that the city’s Jewish population was small.
  5. The church began with the conversion of Lydia at a meeting of Jewish women.

About the church at the time of the letter

The 10 year old Philippian church had its share of problems. At the time of Paul’s letter, its members were desperately poor, they were being persecuted for the cause of Christ, they were being attacked by false teachers, and there was a feud between two prominent women in the congregation.


About Paul’s letter to the Philippians

  • Author

The early church was unanimous in its testimony that Philippians was written by the apostle Paul (see 1:1). Internally the letter reveals the stamp of genuineness. The many personal references of the author fit what we know of Paul from other New Testament books.

It is evident that Paul wrote the letter from prison (see 1:13–14). Best evidence favors Rome as the place of origin and the date as c. 61. This fits well with the account of Paul’s house arrest in Acts 28:14–31. When he wrote Philippians, he was not in the Mamertine dungeon as he was when he wrote 2 Timothy. He was in his own rented house, where for two years he was free to impart the gospel to all who came to him.

  • Purpose

Paul’s primary purpose in writing this letter was to thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent him upon learning of his detention at Rome (1:5; 4:10–19). However, he makes use of this occasion to fulfill several other desires:

  1. To report on his own circumstances (1:12–26; 4:10–19);
  2. To encourage the Philippians to stand firm in the face of persecution and rejoice regardless of circumstances (1:27–30; 4:4);
  3. To exhort them to humility and unity (2:1–11; 4:2–5);
  4. To commend Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippian church (2:19–30); and
  5. To warn the Philippians against the Judaizers (legalists) and antinomians (libertines) among them (ch. 3).
  • Recipients

Christian citizens of Philippi, mostly non-Jews. The city of Philippi (see map) was named after King Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. It was a prosperous Roman colony, which meant that the citizens of Philippi were also citizens of the city of Rome itself. They prided themselves on being Romans (see Acts 16:21), dressed like Romans and often spoke Latin. Many were retired military men who had been given land in the vicinity and who in turn served as a military presence in this frontier city.

That Philippi was a Roman colony may explain why there were not enough Jews there to permit the establishment of a synagogue and why Paul does not quote the OT in the Philippian letter.

  • Characteristics
  1. Philippians contains no Old Testament quotations.
  2. It is a missionary thank-you letter in which the missionary reports on the progress of his work.
  3. It manifests a particularly vigorous type of Christian living: self-humbling (2:1–4); pressing toward the goal (3:13–14); lack of anxiety (4:6); ability to do all things (4:13).
  4. It is outstanding as a letter of joy; the word “joy” in its various forms occurs some 16 times.
  5. It contains one of the most profound Christological passages in the New Testament (2:5–11).
  • Outline
  1. Greetings (1:1–2)
  2. Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Philippians (1:3–11)
  3. Paul’s Personal Circumstances (1:12–26)
  4. Exhortations (1:27—2:18)
  5. Living a Life Worthy of the Gospel (1:27–30)
  6. Following the Servant Attitude of Christ (2:1–18)
  7. Paul’s Associates in the Gospel (2:19–30): Timothy (2:19–24); Epaphroditus (2:25–30)
  8. Warnings against Judaizers and Antinomians (3:1—4:1) (Antinomian: the view that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law.)
  9. Exhortations concerning Various Aspects of the Christian Life (4:2–9)
  10. Concluding Testimony and Repeated Thanks (4:10–20)
  11. Final Greetings and Benediction (4:21–23)


Having gotten that far, I thought I should do more study on the letter itself. So far I’ve read several translations and a few commentaries, plus some word studies by a couple of notable scholars. I’ll share my thoughts about all that in a separate post one day. It has turned out to be a really interesting investigation.

So, why should I care about the people and place of Philippi?

They are a lot like believers today. Men and women, a mixture of races, ages, cultures and financial status, from a variety of religious backgrounds.

Many were military, active duty or retired. Many of those were landowners. No doubt some were civil workers for the Roman government, workers in the nearby gold and silver mines, or tradesmen and shopkeepers serving the thousands of travelers coming through this crossroads between continents. Some were most probably slaves, and some were slave owners. Rich and poor, all were citizens of Rome, the most powerful empire on earth.

They were a melting pot – a lot like America. But there is yet one difference between the Philippians and American believers, at least for the present:

All of them were being persecuted for their faith.

Peter, pragmatic risk-taker businessman

Peter was not an unlettered, brash, egotistical man, as viewed by some Bible scholars. Although not a student of some prominent rabbi, Peter was well educated in the family business – fishing. Fishing was an important and organized part of the economy throughout the Roman Empire and as a first-century Galilean fisherman, Peter was a pragmatic, risk-taking, astute businessman.

As other faithful Jewish men of the day, he was also educated from boyhood in the religious law. An articulate speaker and letter-writer (see his sermons in the book of Acts as well as his Epistles), he was well able to read and write. He was an intelligent man, multilingual by the necessity of dealing with tradesmen of many nations and cultures. Peter was well versed in the business practices of fishing, including record-keeping — required by having to pay multiple taxes, fees and tolls under the Herodian client-kings of Roman rule, also having to pay shares of their catch to his employees and business partners.

Peter’s work week involved buying, selling, trading, marketing, equipping, managing and supervising others in his employ or fishing partnership, as well as the hard work of fishing itself.

Down times due to inclement weather were spent repairing and/or replenishing the fishing nets, boats, oars, sails, rigging, any and all equipment needed for work. Attending the local markets, haggling or bartering for needed materials would be a regular routine.

A native of Bethsaida, a small fishing village on the north edge of Galilee, as a married man Peter lived in the larger port town of Capernaum. He had his own home there where his family lived, including his brother Andrew, his wife’s mother, and perhaps other relatives.

Part of the household duties performed by Peter’s wife and mother-in-law could have included buying materials (flax or flax yarn) to weave fishing nets, then planning with Peter and the other fishermen what kinds and sizes of nets to make. Different types of fish required different fishing techniques, different nets.

Then, they would do the spinning and weaving to create those nets. Fishermen and their families made their nets according to their own needs. Nets made of flax are sturdy and long-lasting, even for hundreds of years with careful tending. Linen for everyday work clothing and ship sails would also be purchased or woven by the women of the household.

A member of a several-family fishing cooperative, Peter was a leader and he led by example. Others followed him. He knew how to plan, make decisions, and carry them out. Making a living was hard work, but he was a hard worker.

He also lived in perilous times, when Roman occupation was causing much turmoil throughout Galilee and Judea. Heavy taxes, tolls, and tribute led to constant unrest. Political, social and religious unrest. People were unhappy with their lot, to say the least. They needed a deliverer.

Faithful to his God, Peter and his family would have taken time off from work to attend major feast days in Jerusalem, where no doubt they heard about John the Baptist. Andrew became one of John’s disciples, until the day John pointed him to Jesus: “The Lamb of God.” After spending a day with Jesus, Andrew was convinced they had found their deliverer. He immediately went to collect Peter.

I’m sure Peter had to think through what it would mean for him to become a disciple of Jesus. He knew the Messiah prophecies. He knew the people needed deliverance from the heavy burdens of Rome. But he was a businessman. What was in it for him? He had a family to feed, employees to supervise. Work to do. It couldn’t have been an easy decision, but when Jesus called, he accepted the commission.

Leaving the business in other hands, Peter left his family and work and changed from being a leader to being a follower.

Things seemed to go well for a time. Peter heard amazing teachings. He saw amazing miracles. He became one of Jesus’ inner circle, a spokesman for the twelve. He affirmed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Some left but Peter stayed, renewing his vows of commitment.

But then persecution started. And Jesus was arrested. The deliverer needed deliverance himself. Who better to carry that out than Peter? He couldn’t let Jesus stay in jail. The Messiah had to overthrow Rome and ascend to the Throne of David!

With his own intelligence, boldness and cunning (plus a little help from John to get inside the grounds, see John 18:15-16), Peter would rescue Jesus from the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans! At least that was his plan…

But things didn’t go according to that plan. God had a very different plan and no human rescue could be allowed to interfere with God’s plan. You know the rest of the story.

Peter was no coward. No turncoat. No hot-head. Usually one of a team, he planned a one-man (or possibly two-man with the aid of John) rescue mission. It failed because it was supposed to fail. However, in that failure was success beyond Peter’s imagination: not deliverance from Rome, but deliverance from sin.

Sources, among many others:

The Galilean Fishing Economy:

“…the activity of fishing operated as a web of relations within the political and domestic environment of the early first century…”

Fishing was not the ‘free enterprise’ which modern readers of the New Testament may imagine. Even fishers who may have owned their own boats were part of a state regulated, elite-profiting enterprise, and a complex web of economic relationships. These are symptoms of an ’embedded economy.’ That is to say, economies in the ancient Mediterranean were not independent systems with free markets, free trade, stock exchanges, monetization, and the like, as one finds in modern capitalist systems. Rather, only political and kinship systems were explicit social domains; economics and religion were conceptualized, controlled, and sustained either by the political hierarchy or kin-groups.

The largest part of the population was composed of peasant farmers, and the family functioned as both a producing and consuming unit. This means that relatives normally worked together, and that kinship ties were fundamental for guild or trade relations. This local, domestic economy was often in tension with the larger political economy. Galilee of the first century was ruled by Herod Antipas, a Roman client, and was therefore a form of an aristocratic empire. (I.e., the aristocrats ruled locally and paid Rome for the privilege.)

Much of the peasant families’ produce (the so-called “surplus”) was extracted by these aristocratic families in the form of labor, produce, and money by way of tithes, taxes, tolls, rents, tribute, and outright confiscation.

Client-kings (such as the Herodians) paid annual tribute to the emperor of two primary types: on land and on persons. It could be direct – a tribute (tax) collected from the people – or indirect – such as towns or temples built and dedicated to the emperor. Josephus indicated that for Judea, the collecting of Roman tribute was controlled by urban elites, prominent men in the larger cities.

The Romans benefited from their provinces through monopolies. Certain trades and industries were essentially “owned” by Rome and contracted to the workers. In Palestine after the First Judean Revolt (66-70 CE), Rome controlled the balsam trade. In Palmyra the Romans monopolized salt, in Tyre the purple, and in Lebanon lumber; in Egypt, Rome had monopolies over most major industries. The net profits from these industries, consequently, went to the Imperial treasury.

Tax collectors, toll collectors, and brokers intruded into all fishing transactions. That there were at least two “layers” to the bureaucracy is indicated by reference to chief-collectors, viz. “tax and toll administrators.” Fishermen received capitalization (money to get the business started) along with fishing rights, and were therefore in debt to local brokers responsible for the harbors and for fishing leases. The location of Levi’s toll office in Capernaum — an important fishing locale — probably identifies him as just such a contractor of royal fishing rights.

“Collection rights of taxes on the cities were sold, and those that were the principal men of dignity in their several countries bid for them…” – i.e., the right to collect taxes was put out to bid, and the man who would pay Rome the highest percentage of taxes he collected got the job. Taxes were often paid “in kind” rather than in money – a percentage of the produce such as figs, olive oil, or fish.

Roman emperors also profited from indirect taxes of various kinds, including customs fees at ports and roads. Some collectors controlled the roads and bridges. Tolls varied from 2% – 5% depending on produce and were different for people (depended on gender and occupation) and type of animals and conveyances. Import duties were also charged; for instance for bringing processed fish into Palmyra in 137 CE.

Fishing police, like game wardens, ensured that no-one fished in the Sea of Galilee without the proper contracts, or sold their catch to unauthorized middlemen. Failure to pay, or to pay on time, brought harsh penalties, including confiscation of property, even physical assaults on men and/or their families including public torture.

Fishermen could form “cooperatives” (koinônoi) in order to bid for fishing contracts or leases – Peter, Andrew, James and John were part of a cooperative (Luke 5). If there were not a sufficient number of family members in the cooperative, the fishermen had to hire laborers to help with all the responsibilities: manning the oars and sails, mending nets, sorting fish, etc.

For their work, the fishermen needed resources from farmers and artisans, including (but not limited to): flax for nets, cut stone for anchors, wood for boat building and repairs, and baskets for fish. It was a very interconnected economy.

The fishing trade also entailed the processing of fish. Processed fish had become a food staple throughout the Mediterranean, in city and village alike. The result was the development of trade distinctions between those who caught fish, those who processed fish, and those who marketed fish. Fishers and fish-sellers might work cooperatively. The distribution of the catch (who got what) was also controlled by government approved wholesalers. The town of Tarichaeae (“Processed-Fishville”) also known as Magdala was just a few miles south of Capernaum and was the site of a major fish-processing installation. Fish was either salted or processed into fish paste, either of which would last a long time and could be exported throughout the Mediterranean area.

The Social Network Developed from Fishing Villages and Towns in Jesus’ ministry:

Peter/Simon, a fisher from Capernaum (Mark 1:16-20)
Mother-in-law of Peter, from Capernaum (Mark 1:29-31)
Andrew, a fisher at Capernaum (Mark 1:16-20)
James, a fisher at Capernaum (Mark 1:16-20)
John, a fisher at Capernaum (Mark 1:16-20)
Mother of James and John [from Capernaum] (Matt 20:20-23)
Levi, a tax-collector (broker?) at Capernaum (Mark 2:14)
Mary, from Magdala/Tarichaeae (Luke 8:2)
Villagers of Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28)

Definitions and descriptions from multiple sources:

From the ISBE (Bible Encyclopedia): (re fishing in sea of Galilee) (3) With Nets: In the most familiar Bible stories of fisherman life a net was used. Today most of the fishing is done in the same way. These nets are homemade. Frequently one sees the fishermen or members of their families making nets or repairing old ones during the stormy days when fishing is impossible.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary: Among the Hebrews it devolved upon women to prepare the meals for the household (Gen. 18:6; 2 Sam. 13:8), to attend to the work of spinning (Ex. 35:26; Prov. 31:19), and making clothes (1 Sam. 2:19; Prov. 31:21), to bring water from the well (Gen. 24:15; 1 Sam. 9:11), and to care for the flocks (Gen. 29:6; Ex. 2:16).

Among the Hebrews, as apparently among the Canaanites, the spinning and weaving of linen were carried on by the women (Prov 31:13,19), among whom skill in this work was considered highly praiseworthy (Ex 35:25).

Spinning was the work of both men and women in ancient Egypt. The Bible characterizes it as the work of women (Ex 35; Prov 31:19). The same method of spinning is still used by the women of Syria, although imported yarn is largely taking the place of homespun thread.


Rome and Romans, more thoughts

I started my study of Romans with a search for information about the people Paul was writing to. Christians, he says, but other than that, who? Several reference books and online sources indicate they were a mixture of economic, racial, educational, and religious backgrounds. Probably they had become believers after Roman Jews attended the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, became Christians, and then brought the Gospel back with them to Roman. (See previous post.)

Paul wrote other epistles to correct things, either mistaken beliefs or practices. So, I wondered if perhaps he had written this epistle with that idea in mind also. Of course, as he planned to visit them, he used the occasion to introduce himself and gave an impressive list of personal references toward the end. But with all of the teaching about the gospel that he included, why did he stress certain things?

I sort of started at the back of the book, to stir up a different train of thought in my mind. I’ve read this book numbers of times, and it always just seemed to me a theological discussion – Paul’s Gospel, so to speak. But obviously it is more than that.

As I flipped through this book, I came to chapter 12, about presenting your bodies as living sacrifices. Why did Paul even mention sacrifices? Why not just say live godly lives, think godly thoughts? Was there something about sacrifices themselves that he was addressing? Correcting? Back to the reference stuff, online searches, etc.

Yes, there was quite a lot about sacrifices in the daily Roman life, Jews and Gentiles and other ethnic groups alike. Rome was a hodge-podge of religious activity. It had no particular one religion that was clearly Roman itself, it had every imaginable kind and variation of religions. And many, many sacrifices! For every lifestyle choice, every problem, every decision, whether by the government or the individual – even when it came to construction of an addition to a public wall – there were sacrifices to some god or other. Asking for favor, asking to avoid displeasure, asking for good weather, good crops, good success, etc.

Okay, lots of sacrifices. What kind? Many kinds. Animals and vegetables, similar to Jewish sacrifices. Very, very rarely, human sacrifices had been made but only in extreme circumstances, according to one historian I read – that is, before the days of Nero.

One interesting kind of sacrifice was where a kind of doll was sacrificed or offered, representing the person making the sacrifice. That of course was supposed to satisfy the particular god. So now these verses in Romans 12 have a deeper meaning for me – offer you yourself to God, your own body, your own person, and not some kind of effigy substitute for yourself like Roman religions do.