In which the tour of Philippi continues – and status is everything (pt4)

by Craig on March 4, 2011

I wrote yesterday, on the twin site of Deep into Scripture, about the rules of success in the world. We live in a status driven country – in a status driven world – but not nearly as status driven as Philippi.

In Philippi, who you were, and exactly what your level was in society, was continually on display. Just the clothing you wore said everything – and there was no pretending to be what you weren’t

The slaves were dressed and often branded as such.

The Greek non-citizens in their tunics would be obvious for what they were – better than slaves but certainly not Roman.

Even among the togas of the Romans there were outward symbols of status. Different colored linings on their togas meant different levels of standing.

Everyone was superior to someone, inferior to others, and your position was public knowledge showcased every day. The difference of fashion we would see all around us was for identification not couture.

When there were dramas being performed in that pretty amphitheater we saw as we entered, the display of status was more of a show than the show.

Senators were up front.

Romans involved in politics, but at lower levels, called Equestrians, were next.

Then came other Roman citizens and certain Greek elites.

Up in the nosebleed sections were the Greek non-citizens.

There were no seats at all for slaves.

There was a place for everyone in Philippi, and everyone was put right in their place.

And into whatever class you were born – you remained. You could rise within your own class, but never dreamt of truly climbing above your rank.

The keys to the city were in the hands of the 3 in 100 elite – and they made a habit of regularly reminding the commoners. Even if by the tiniest unintentional action you insulted the pride of an elite there were repercussions.

There is a story of a Greek man who one time forgot to get off of his horse in the presence of a Senator.

Later, the Greek man was on trial for a trivial offense.

The Senator was passing by and remembered the man.

He entered, stopped the proceedings, and announced to the magistrates the details of the horrible indignity the Greek man imposed upon him.

The trial was reconvened

and the verdict of guilty was pronouncd without further delay.

These were the egg shells upon which everyone but the very top of society had to walk. The lower you were in Philippi the more delicate your steps had to be.

But it didn’t stop with the upper class. It trickled right on down to the other classes.

Tax collectors were better than butchers.

Farmers were better than fishermen.

Craftsmen were better than actors.

You were who the society dictated you were.

Even slaves, who were at the very bottom of the ladder, had a descending class order: personal slaves, above kitchen slaves, above grounds-keeping slaves, above mining slaves.

There was a place for everyone in Philippi.

And everyone knew their place.

Can you see why they needed an encouraging letter from Paul?

God Bless.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Dianna McBride March 4, 2011 at 6:51 am

Early Bird reporting for this wonderful tour of Philippi! 😉

As I began reading there was a phrase that caught my attention and remained with me as I read through the entirety of this post. “and there was no pretending what you weren’t”. I understand that there was no rising above your “class”. My immediate thought was how much better off we would be in our society today if that could be said of us. Even in Christian circles I fear too often that this pretending who we aren’t occurs. I’ve certainly done it at times and the reason, “to be accepted” by other Christians.

But then I thought about the class or caste systems that exist in this great land of ours ~ only it is Americans who are observing it. My husband works in research in the local university and he sees it happening all the time. People from other countries where the caste system is THE way of life don’t leave that behind when they come to the USA.

So, I am thinking it is better to just be who we are and realize that we are still under construction ~ growing in grace. I’m so looking forward to the next part of this wonderful tour. Thank you, Craig, for giving us the background because I know it is going to give us much insight as we study the Scriptures together!


Craig March 4, 2011 at 8:22 am

Dianna – it is such a delight to have you along. I heart reading comments that teach me – because we are all learning together. The pretending thing. Well it is nice to get dressed up to the nines and attend a high brow symphony – or art exhibit – or political function – it’s pretend. They weren’t even allowed to do that. Just like the caste system you mentioned. And about pretending in our Christianity – amen and amen to that. ALl the years I struggled with doubt and it seemed everyone around me believed without doubt – I bet there were a lot of pretenders – and if just some of them didn’t pretend I could have outgrown my doubting sooner. But no stone throwing here – WE ALL PRETEND too often. God Bless, Dianna,.


Debbie March 4, 2011 at 9:15 am

Thinking about this a lot. It will put Paul’s letters in a different light. Thank you!Sometimes I think we are more animal than human, the way we treat each other . . .the caste systems and even the invisible ones.


Craig March 4, 2011 at 9:18 am

Amen Deb, as humans, in God’s image we shouldn’t behave like the animals – all their peacock feathers and beating on the chest – we should be above it. It’s a broken world, and one day we’ll be better. Now is to try, later is for perfection. As always Deb, seeing you here is a delight. Thank you. God Bless.


Anonymuss March 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm

sometimes the best distraction from our own lives is a glimpse into the lives of others. it can bring perspective without diminishing one’s own challenges. thank you for this. and, your words are really good so the lack of pictures is not a handicap.


Craig March 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm

still working on pictures – I’m obsessed with finding them for you guys now :) Comeback – they’ll be here soon.


Anonymuss March 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm

actually, i am disgusted by my first statement. no one’s hardship should be valued simply for its ‘distractive’ value. nor should it be valued simply for what i can learn from it. if i don’t truly hurt for those who are victims of injustice, caste, crime, etc. then i bring nothing of value to their lives-even if they have long preceded me. for those who found my first comment offensive, i agree, and i apologize for the aloofness and selfishness and ugliness in it.


Craig March 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I’m sure nobody did – all these people have been gone for 2000 years – Im’ sure they don’t take offense – and neither did anyone else. {smile} I look back on doing laundry by a stream with rocks – and I’m thankful for a washing machine – no big A – no big :)


Michelle March 5, 2011 at 3:31 am

Pretending, hmmmmm….

I was at a Children’s Ministry conference today, and the keynote speaker was talking about we fuel the conversations around us. eg, would anyone wish to join the ministry (Sunday School, etc) from what I say, why do *I* do it…..
Anyways, she talked about our beliefs:
Public Image – what we want others to think we believe;
Private Image – what we think we believe; and
Core Belief – what we truly believe.
And how our core belief drives our actions (blah blah and other wonderful blah – she was a very gifted speaker with a passion for what she does in children’s ministry). But it got me thinking about a lot of different areas in my life, not just my religious education teaching in school, but also my work and family and friends and how what I truly believe about a whole lot of things is revealed through what I do and say.

Just thinking out loud here, now. There would not be many opportunities to change your core beliefs under the Roman system – you would be told your value, or lack of, by the ruling 3%. I guess that’s one reason the gospel was so welcomed by many of different classes, because it taught that we all have value in God’s eyes. And I guess that is the one thing I tell my Grade 2 children in the half hour each week I have with them – it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or where you come from – GOD LOVES YOU and will always listen to you no matter what! (If that’s all they remember at the end of the year, then I’m happy.)
Anyways, just thinking out loud here. Thank you. :)


Craig March 5, 2011 at 6:54 am

Your thinking out loud was fantastic Michelle. We kind of all do have those three levels of belief. That needs to be more public info for those of us who enter into the body of Our Lord and look around at all the ones who believe so much that they get intimidated – they see the public only and think they can never match that – when in reality that’s not the level of belief there really is. And your thoughts on what the gospel would have meant to those in the first century are right on too. And I used to think it odd that the rich didn’t gravitate toward the Gospel. It’s pretty obvious now – they had it really good – and they didn’t like that freedom and sharing stuff. – and also why the Roman government didn’t like it either – the order of their society would be gone if Christianity remained. Really good thoughts Michelle – thank you.


Sarah March 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Love the depth. Keep digging. Delighted to meet you today. Hope you don’t mind if I splash around a bit to get to know you a bit more.



Craig March 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Sarah I am delighted to meet you today too!! Please splash anywhere you’d like. Thank you for the kind words. When I named the sites my sister said mockingly – but with love – That’s IT – everything you do is deep. Backhanded sisterly compliment – family love is grand. No?


Krista March 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Craig, you amaze me. Where do you find the time to write thoughtful posts on two different blogs?!? You are definitely building two quite profound bodies of work here. It’s fun to watch them both grow.

Thanks for keeping up with my faltering corner. What you get there is about all I have to offer on the intellectual plane, but I also am really enjoying building a body of work that elaborates the way I understand the world.

Thanks for the history lesson today!


Craig March 7, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I think the answer is that I’m not a mom – If I were a mom with kids then it might be impossible. Thank you though Krista, that means a lot to me. And about your blog – I have never once read it and not learned something when you wrote theology – or just come away a little amazed at your super mom-ness when you wrote mom stuff. God Bless.


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