CITIZENSHIP (Gr. politeuma, commonwealth). In the NT the word for citizen often means nothing more than the inhabitant of a country (
Among the Romans, citizenship brought the right to be considered equal to natives of the city of Rome. Emperors sometimes granted it to whole provinces and cities, and also to single individuals for services rendered to the state or to the imperial family, or even for a certain sum of money. Roman citizens were exempted from shameful punishments, such as scourging and crucifixion, and they had the right of appeal to the emperor with certain limitations.
Paul says he had become a Roman citizen by birth. Either his father or some other ancestor had acquired the right and had transmitted it to his son. He was proud of his Roman citizenship and when occasion demanded, availed himself of his rights. When writing to the Philippians, who were members of a Roman colony and therefore Roman citizens, Paul emphasized that Christians are citizens of a heavenly commonwealth and ought to live accordingly (
The citizen had certain rights (iura), privileges (honores), and duties (munera) and these constituted its early political importance, an importance which eroded with the years and the coming of the principate. The ius provocationis (the appellatio, or appeal to Caesar) remained and was exploited by Paul. Among the duties was originally munus militare, or the obligation to serve in the army, but this disappeared. The vote or franchise (ius suffragii) became illusory under the principate. Senatorial honores could be expected only by the most eminent of provincial citizens. Certain civil rights of no mean value remained. The magistrates of Philippi were clearly alarmed to discover that they had imprisoned Rom. citizens without proper trial, and the centurion’s warning to Lysias revealed the serious concern in which the inviolability of a citizen was held. The same stories reveal the emerging importance of Rom. citizenship. In the six references involved, the word “Roman” is used for “Roman citizen,” and it is clear that the status was beginning to take shape as a symbol of imperial unity (
The abstract term politeia occurred only in Lysias’ remark (
A. H. J. Greenidge, Roman Public Life (1896), 132-140; A. N. Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship (1939).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
sit’-i-zen-ship: All the words in use connected with this subject are derived from polis, "city."
These words, with the meanings which they have in the Bible, are the nouns, polites, "citizen"; politeia, "citizenship"; politeuma, "commonwealth"; sumpolites, "fellow-citizen"; and the verb, politeuo, "to behave as a citizen." Each will be considered more fully in its proper place.
(1) The word for citizen is sometimes used to indicate little if anything more than the inhabitant of a city or country. "The citizens of that country" (
(2) Roman citizenship.--This is of especial interest to the Bible student because of the apostle Paul’s relation to it. It was one of his qualifications as the apostle to the Gentiles. Luke shows him in Ac as a Roman citizen, who, though a Jew and Christian receives, for the most part, justice and courtesy from the Roman officials, and more than once successfully claims its privileges. He himself declares that he was a citizen of Tarsus (
How then had Paul, a Jew, acquired this valued dignity? He himself tells us. In contrast to the parvenu citizenship of the chief captain, who seems to have thought that Paul also must have purchased it, though apparently too poor, Paul quietly, says, "But I was free born" (King James Versions; "a Roman born" the
3. Metaphorical and Spiritual:
What more natural than that Paul should sometimes use this civic privilege to illustrate spiritual truths? He does so a number of times. Before the Sanhedrin he says, in the words of our
Later, writing from Rome itself to the Philippians, who were proud of their own citizenship as members of a colonia, a reproduction on a small scale of the parent commonwealth, where he had once successfully maintained his own Roman rights, Paul forcibly brings out the idea that Christians are citizens of a heavenly commonwealth, urging them to live worthy of such honor (
A similar thought is brought out when he says, "For our commonwealth (politeuma) is in heaven" (
See also ROME.