Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.”The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” (Act 22:27-28 NKJ)
In Paul’s time, citizenship was not determined by religion but by birth. Therefore, he could boldly say “I was born a citizen.” Later on, when the emperor cults arose, Christians were persecuted in a religious pogrom that interpreted their refusal to offer sacrifices to the emperor as acts of treason. However, such religious nationalisms are illogical because citizens cannot be forced to change their belief-system when the “Head” of a State changes his – even to the extent of claiming himself as god. The very reason that government exists is in order to assure citizens the right to freedom.
Also, citizenship in Paul’s time was not determined by race. That’s why Paul could both be a Hebrew and Roman at the same time.
Roman citizens had special rights that others in the Empire didn’t have. At the end of this article is a quote from Wikipedia describing those rights. For the concern of this article, however, we will only focus on how Paul made sure of being a responsible citizen.
1. Paul knew his citizenship rights. At least in three occassions, when he was punished by officials without trial in Acts 16, when he was about to be beaten again in Acts 22, and when he made his appeal to Caesar in Acts 25, we find him quoting the Roman Law. Many citizens suffer and help increase the amount of suffering in the nation because of a lack of awareness of the Law. There are rules about how long a person can be kept in custody, about appealing to courts, and many such laws that a true citizenship should make himself cognizant with. In fact, a citizen who doesn’t know his rights only adds to the increase of corruption in government.
2. Paul made sure that no government official would violate the rights of another Roman citizen by slack of duty. In Acts 16: 37-38, he makes sure that negligence in duty by the officials and their violation of his rights were brought to their notice and rightly settled. In case, the violation was public, the redressal must also be public. The officials had got Paul and Silas beaten up and Roman law didn’t permit any Roman to be beaten without a proper trial first. It is something similar to the police keeping a person in custody
Edmund Burke has rightly stated: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The forces of evil are like the law of decay: anything left to itself, unattended by the good, will get dilapidated – like a city in ruins. If a citizen doesn’t demand his rights against governmental negligence of duty, then his silence is invitation to injustice and the forces of evil to openly prowl about in the city.
3. Paul prevented a governmental official from unawaringly violating a citizen’s rights. In Acts 22, when there is an uproar in the city and the commander orders Paul to be bound and brought for examination under scourging, Paul quotes his Roman citizenship. A hyper-spiritual person may think it improper and comment that one should suffer for his faith; however, Paul puts his citizenship law above such irrational sentiments of hyperreligiosity. A citizen who allows violation of Law against him is not “being a citizen” in the active sense. A citizen who doesn’t demand his rights is like a customer who pays the price for a commodity and leaves the shop without taking what he has bought with him. He unleashes confusion and anarchy. A true citizen will have the guts to look in the eyes of the violator and say, “What you’re doing is not right, by the Law of this nation!”
4. Paul assisted the government in security issues by providing secret information against those who were conspiring to kill him. In Acts 23, when Paul came to know of the conspiracy to kill him, he immediately made arrangements for the information to be passed to the commander for change of action plan. Was it more a matter of personal security? Certainly, it was more than that. It was a citizen’s moral act. To know of an evil, a conspiracy to crime and to violation of lawful procedures by means of unlawful acts of violence, and not inform of the same to the government is to assist the conspiracy against the government. To withhold any information necessary to the government for the security of the citizens is a greater crime, as it alienates the citizen from the state. It is like the eyes seeing a ditch ahead and not passing the information to the brain for immediate action – a citizenship failure.
5. Paul never sought release by means of bribe, though that could be an easy way out. Governor Felix didn’t ask for a bribe directly; but, he only hoped. However, the Bible says that bribe perverts justice (Exo.23:8; Deut.16:19). A bribe doesn’t just pervert justice for one man, but for the whole nation. It is an act of treason against justice. Paul had a clear conscience; however, even if he had really done something wrong, he would rather suffer for the wrong he did than add the crime of bribery and perversion of justice to the wrong.
6. Paul appealed to Caesar, to the highest court in the empire, when everything around only raged with contempt for true justice. Was Caesar just? That is not the question; as long as it is possible to appeal to a higher authority, to a higher court, the citizen must continue fighting for justice, as a just citizen.
7. Certainly Paul paid honor to whom honor was due, taxes to whom taxes were due, revenue to whom revenue was due, and he honored the king (Rom.13:7; 1Pet.2:17).
8. Paul worked for his living with his own hands and was never an economic burden on others (2Thess.3:8; 1Thess.2:9).
Roman Citizenship Rights (Wikipedia, accessed May 08, 2014)
The rights available to individual citizens of Rome varied over time, according to their place of origin, and their service to the state. They also varied under Roman law according to the classification of the individual within the state. Various legal classes were defined by the individual legal rights that they enjoyed. However, the possible rights available to citizens with whom Roman law addressed are:
- The toga was the characteristic garment of the Roman male citizen, and statues of emperors (here Antoninus Pius) frequently depict them togatus
- Ius suffragiorum: The right to vote in the Roman assemblies.
- Ius honorum: The right to stand for civil or public office.
- Ius commercii: The right to make legal contracts and to hold property as a Roman citizen.
- Ius gentium: The legal recognition, developed in the 3rd century BC, of the growing international scope of Roman affairs, and the need for Roman law to deal with situations between Roman citizens and foreign persons. The jus gentium was therefore a Roman legal codification of the widely accepted international law of the time, and was based on highly developed commercial law of the Greek city-states and of other maritime powers. The rights afforded by the jus gentium were considered to be held by all persons; it is thus a concept of human rights rather than rights attached to citizenship.
- Ius connubii: The right to have a lawful marriage with a Roman citizen, to have the legal rights of the paterfamilias over the family, and to have the children of any such marriage be counted as Roman citizens.
- Ius migrationis: The right to preserve one’s level of citizenship upon relocation to a polis of comparable status. For example, members of the cives romani (see below) maintained their full civitas when they migrated to a Roman colony with full rights under the law: a colonia civium Romanorum. Latins also had this right, and maintained their ius Latii if they relocated to a different Latin state or Latin colony (Latina colonia). This right did not preserve one’s level of citizenship should one relocate to a colony of lesser legal status; full Roman citizens relocating to a Latina colonia were reduced to the level of the ius Latii, and such a migration and reduction in status had to be a voluntary act.
- The right of immunity from some taxes and other legal obligations, especially local rules and regulations.
- The right to sue in the courts and the right to be sued.
- The right to have a legal trial (to appear before a proper court and to defend oneself).
- The right to appeal from the decisions of magistrates and to appeal the lower court decisions.
- A Roman citizen could not be tortured or whipped, nor could he receive the death penalty, unless he was found guilty of treason.
- If accused of treason, a Roman citizen had the right to be tried in Rome, and even if sentenced to death, no Roman citizen could be sentenced to die on the cross.