First of all, credit where credit is due. I am not the person who noticed this. My friend and teacher Rico Cortes of Wisdom in Torah ministries contacted me on Tuesday morning and asked if I wanted some homework. Unlike my 14 year old sons, I actually love to do homework and so I jumped at the chance. Rico said, “Homo Novus – research it and I want to know if you see what I see.” I told him that I would get to it after school, not knowing what to expect, and went off to make the boys breakfast. While they were eating I snooped around and within about 30 minutes my jaw was hanging down and I responded to him with something like, “Oh my gosh, this is phenomenal,” but no one had written about it. There are no scholarly papers linking this piece of historical context to the First Century Biblical writings that I could find. So what I am going to present to you is something that Rico noticed and did the original footwork on. I put my findings into writing and sent them to him so that he could look over what I was seeing and we found that we were in agreement. He went ahead and shared what I wrote to him on his facebook page, and will be incorporating it into a much larger teaching on his website www.wisdomintorah.com very soon – it is going to be mindblowing and so if you are not already a site member, you want to become a site member. Everything I write, I write because Rico instilled me with a passion for learning as much as humanly possible about the Word of our King and God. So without further ado, here is what Rico figured out and I wrote in witness of:
Roman leadership (administrative authority) during the years of the Early Republic was restricted to the Patrician class (aristocracy) and certainly at no time in the Roman Empire do we ever see a complete eradication of the caste system, although at times advancements were indeed made. The years of 494 to 287 BC brought a great civil struggle between the Patrician class and the Plebians (commoners) which did eventually result in the granting of rights of Plebians to run for public office.
Of course, running for office and achieving office were two entirely different things and it was a rare event for a commoner to break in to the world of Roman politics. It was not until the passage of Lex Gabinia in 139 BC that secret ballots allowed Roman citizens to vote their conscience instead of being required to vote for the candidate of their patron’s choice. Still, even in the wake of this new legislation only the rare plebian was able to climb his way to the top echelon of government power – the Consul, which gave a man automatic entry into the Senate.
Such men who achieved this were called novus homo – ‘new men’ – the first in their families to achieve Senatorial status. There were two types of novus homo – the first came from well-connected equestrian (or greater) families and the second came from families on the outside – the aforementioned plebians. Here’s the catch, they were Senators (called ‘small senators’) but they weren’t in the ‘in crowd’ – the caste system that made it so hard for them to achieve success still held them back. They had the elected position, they had the recognition, they had the authority – but they were still treated like second class citizens for a few generations.
How does this relate to Paul and the Ephesians? Ephesians 2:11-22 details the problem going on throughout the mixed assemblies of Asia – a problem related to another caste system. In this case, the caste system was not Roman patrician vs Roman plebian, but Jewish believers (and nonbelievers) in Yeshua vs believing yet uncircumcised former gentiles. In city after city we see this same problem of a caste system between believers with a definite legal wall of separation between the groups. The edicts of Shammai had really solidified existing Jewish prejudice against Gentiles to the point that, even when said Gentiles lived an entirely Jewish life in obedience to Torah Law to the exclusion of all idolatrous practices, they were not considered to truly be Jews unless they underwent formal conversion. In essence, the problem facing first century converts was much the same as was faced by the novus homo of the Roman Senate. They had a place, but it was resented and sometimes even undermined by the existing aristocracy.
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 for through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Paul was a Roman citizen living among a population all too aware of the unjust Roman caste system – they would understand all too well the allusion that Paul was making to the political situation in Rome and to the difference between the equity of the Kingdom of Heaven under the great King YHVH and the Empire of Rome under the divine-pretender emperors. Gentile converts were being brought into the Kingdom in droves, but what status did they have? Were they regarded by God as johnny-come-lately’s, charity cases, or there merely to be a servant class to God’s chosen people – forever second best – a very distant second best? No, like any novus homo, they were chosen members of the upper echelon of humanity, not only full citizens of the Kingdom but on an equal level with the established jewry. What did that mean? It meant full authority, the same access to the Father through the mediatorship of Yeshua. Unlike the ‘new men’ elected as Consuls (and therefore automatically made members of the Senate), when they received election through Yeshua that middle wall of petition was broken down, and the man-made ordinances that set up a genetically based caste system was abolished because unlike Rome, God is no respecter of persons:
Acts 10 34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Here we see the precedent in Acts 10 – Cornelius and his family are righteous commandment keeping gentiles – ger tzadik – but they are excluded from the fullness of Jewish community life because Cornelius, as a Roman Centurian, is uncircumcised. When the Spirit falls on Cornelius’ entire family, it was an act over-ruling the ordinances of men – Cornelius was elected as a full citizen, and so was his entire family. Peter, realizing this, stays in his home and eats with his family. Peter, far from treating Cornelius like a Roman ‘new man’ who was grudgingly acknowledged but never accepted, embraces Cornelius’ family and shares the intimacy of table fellowship that would have been, up to this time, forbidden to them.
We see Paul fighting this same battle again and again, a battle against both his Jewish brethren who very much wanted to see and enforce things in terms of ‘them vs us’ and the Gentile converts who kept falling for it and assuming the Jews were correct. Yeshua, however, didn’t merely make ‘new men’ out of the Gentiles – the language is plain:
‘for to make in himself of twain one new man’
Yeshua made ‘new men’ of both Jews and Gentiles – it is through Him that we came to the Father. He preached to those who were near, and to those who were far off – holding each to the same standard, preaching the same message. We were called by the same message to the same life, the same rights and the same authority as believers – different parts of the Body with different functions according to His gifts to each man and yet all equal citizens, none above another.
Gifford, Paul Review of T. P. Wiseman’s New Men in the Roman Senate, Constellations Vol 2 No 2 (Winter 2011) pp 154-156
Gruen, Erich S, Review: New Men in the Roman Senate, 139 B.C.-14 A.D. by T. P. Wiseman The Classical Journal Vol. 69, No. 3 (Feb. – Mar., 1974), pp. 251-253
Unknown author, The Novus Homo: a study in politics and social mobility in ancient Rome
Wikipedia entry for Novus Homo