How does the NT protect those accused of burning Rome?
- Nero accused the Christians of burning Rome in 64 and he executed many of them. But what about the Christians in Rome who managed to evade arrest? Did the church try to protect them? Did the NT writers and copyists afford them protective silences? Do the NT texts conceal the identities of the Roman Christians in case the texts fell into enemy hands? This could explain the following observations:
1. Luke does not name any believers in Rome, which is very odd, given the importance of the city and his tendency to name believers in other cities. While Luke mentions the movements of Prisca and Aquila from Italy to Corinth to Ephesus (Acts 18:2,18,26; cf 1 Cor 16:19), he is strangely silent about their return to Rome (Rom 16:3). Intriguingly the author of the P.E. assumed that Prisca and Aquila stayed in Ephesus (see 2 Tim 4:19) and seems to have been unaware that they returned to Rome. It is possible that their presence in Rome in the 60s was successfully hushed up.
Luke does reveal that he himself was with Paul in Rome, but he does not reveal his own identity. Indeed, it is possible that he limits the 'we passages' largely to sea voyages as a protective measure to make himself untraceable. The sea leaves no footprints.
Acts is ambiguous about whether Aristarchus accompanied Paul to Rome.
The absence of names may be to protect those individuals from reprisals.
2. Acts makes no mention of the deaths of Peter and Paul (presumably at the hands of the Romans). Indeed, legal proceedings against Paul drop out of the narrative towards the end of Acts, as do all mentions of the soldiers who guarded him. One possible explanation for these silences is that Luke does not want to fuel the suspicion that the Christians had burned Rome in retaliation for the execution of Paul and Peter.
3. Most writers write about things about which they know more than their readers, and this explains the overall shape of Acts. The first half of Acts records events that occurred before the birth of many of its readers. The second half of Acts records the career of Paul, about which Luke had insider information (consider the "we passages"). It is not unlikely that Luke stayed on in Rome after the events of Acts 28 (see 2 Tim 4:11). The need to protect the believers of Rome would explain why Acts ends so abruptly: subsequent events in Rome could not be recorded properly without endangering the believers there, and Luke may not have had specialist information on events outside Rome from that time. Luke stopped at 28:31 because it was too risky to continue.
4. Some manuscripts of Romans omit all mention of "Rome" (Rom 1:7&15). This may be to avoid identifying those listed in chapter 16 as residents of Rome.
5. P46 has the doxology (Rom 16:25-27) at the end of chapter 15. This may indicate that the greetings in chapter 16 were once omitted by a copyist. If so, it may have been to protect those listed there.
6. The need to protect those listed in chapter 16 could help to explain the popularity of the 14 chapter version of Romans.
Are there any other ways that the NT protects the Christians who had been in Rome in the 60s? Are any of the 6 possibilities listed above implausible?
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