A Consequence of Legitimacy by Kevin Rhodes

Written by Drew on June 30th, 2008

It is no secret that a study of the book of Revelation introduces all sorts of perplexities. The work is couched in apocalyptic language decipherable only after long hours of careful consideration of the symbols John used. And then there is the historical background of the book. When was it written and what were the circumstances of the persecution that affected the seven churches of Asia? A consultation of the commentaries only leads to frustration. One will maintain that the book is set in Nero’s time before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Another will claim with just as much boldness that the visions John saw occurred later, during the reign of Domitian (A.D. 69-96).

The truth is that there is no simple answer to the question of Christian persecution in the first century Roman Empire. Internally, the book offers nothing more than inconclusive clues. Externally, the evidence is almost as cloudy. Much has been made about the negative appraisals of Domitian’s character given by Roman historians who lived near his time, but to accept their claims without examining them critically is to ignore the fact that many of the works of that era were tainted by political motives.

In A Consequence of Legitimacy, Kevin Rhodes has done the heavy lifting that is needed for a definitive answer to this problem. He states that “the evidence is conclusive that a persecution of Christians in Asia did indeed occur during the reign of Domitian” (156). However, he doesn’t base his entire case on the testimony of one prejudicial witness. For example, he concedes that the evidence does not support the early church historian Eusebius in his claim that Domitian was the second emperor who promoted a Christian persecution (153). Rhodes’s approach is panoramic, taking into account the intricate political tapestry of first century Rome. This approach includes Domitian’s struggle with the senate, along with efforts in provinces like Asia to show loyalty to the emperor through the imperial cult. These considerations lead Rhodes to the conclusion that the persecution of the Christians in the Asian province was not directly instigated by Domitian, but the policies he developed created an environment that allowed the enemies of Christianity to attempt to destroy it.

A Consequence of Legitimacy is a technical work that draws from primary historical sources. Therefore a background in Roman history is helpful to the reader. Otherwise he will want to have a good encyclopedia handy to fill in the gaps of his understanding of World History.

Rhodes has produced a helpful volume. Because of his contribution, we have a firm historical foundation on which we can base our study of the final book in the New Testament.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Matthew says:

    Kevin is a great writer, I got his bulletins from Granbury Street. I worked there for a bit while I was at Brown Trail.

  2. Kevin W. Rhodes says:

    I appreciate your work in both reading and reviewing this latest effort, Drew. I appreciate your comments (and Matthew’s as well) very much.

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