The above question is likely to have crossed the minds of many first time readers. This episode depicts some of the prolific works of Prof. Longenecker. Bruce is based at St. Mary’s College, a branch of University of St. Andrews located in Scotland. He is a senior lecturer in Theology. He does research and writings pertaining to New Testament. His work on this book has been commended to have brought a new face in Christianity. The book is viewed as a tool of encouragement to both believers and prospects.
The ‘lost letters of Pergamum’ is among the ancient fictional stories found in the city of Pergamum during those days. The story involves two characters with distinct backgrounds. Their relationship eventually culminates into one convert. The two persons in question were Luke, the renowned writer of the two gospel books: Luke and Acts of Apostles. The other person is Antipas, one of the aristocrats in the ancient Roman Empire. Antipas was a wealthy none believer during those days. He was however, as a lover of both written books and selected articles, met Luke who was a Christian fellow.
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From their cozy relationship, Antipas exchanged numerous letters with Luke. The end product of this led to Antipas finally getting converted to Christian faith. He was full of faith and pursued his Christian ambition with zeal. Why do I say this? I realize that Antipas had reached a point of giving away his life just for the sake of a colleague in faith. This is amazing! Truly this episode creates a turning point in the lives of many believers especially the new converts who may feel bored and discouraged by the Christian life.
The Main Theme
Antipas being an aristocrat never had soft heart for people regarded as low class. The gap between him and this group was so wide that it was almost unthinkable for them to meet at a certain function. In fact according to the Roman law by then, it was ‘unethical’ to associate with such groups. Christianity was regarded as a pagan life! The main reason for this was that Christian life, had been regarded a foreign practice. Practicing it therefore had grave consequences. Among the results one could encounter was punishment by death. Anybody who knew how Christian life could exasperate the authorities of those periods dared not get involved in their activities.
It all started when Antipas decided to invited Capurnius to a gladiatorial function in Pergamum. This according to the writer, made the first step towards the conversion of Antipas. Capurnius had a stock of literary materials in his library. It seems Antipas was an avid reader of articles and books. My view to this assumption is due to Antipas’ subsequent action after this encounter with Luke. He sent a second letter to Capurnius library requesting for an Alexandrian edition of Homer. This according to Longeckener, led to eventual long-term friendship with Apostle Luke. The second question is: how did Luke come into the picture? Luke was a partner in that Library. He replied to Antipas’ letter by informing him of Capurnius’ absence. He did not only send the reply, but also accompanied the letter with a copy of his gospel manuscripts.
The above events quickly degenerated into cordial relations, making Antipas to enquire more from Luke about the experience in Christian life. He eventually exposed one of his partner, Euphemos whom he resided with. They were both curious about Christianity and its perceived benefits.
According to the writer, Christians of those days were seen to be against the normal social norms within the Roman Empire. They were like a Jew who was lost by subverting his ways and pledging allegiance to foreign government! Antipas and his friend knew the implications about this. The duo therefore did not to get into the hot pan. They saw it fit to make adequate consultations. Of course any person with an interest in something must try to acquire knowledge about it. This is what the two gentlemen did.
Journey to Christian life
Although Antipas was cautious about his moves, his interest in the faith blossomed on daily basis. He never knew how to fulfill his burning desire until he visited Antonius house, a devout Christian. Here, he met another acquaintance of Antonius. His name was Simon B. Joseph. According to this book, Simon was a former employee of Antipas. Their brief encounter made him commence the journey towards getting full conversion to this faith. Antipas met face to face with the true love of Christian brothers. Antonius and his wife, Mania did not mind about Joseph’s status. Initially, Antipas viewed his former servant as an out-cast entity who did not deserve any sympathy. It was however contrary to how the couple treated him. They gave him love from the bottom of their own hearts. They cared for him until he fully recovered.
Nevertheless, Antipas continued to engage in cosmetic Christian activities such as attending fellowship gatherings, making more enquiries and reading some the books containing Christianity and its practices. All the aforesaid items made him grow in faith day by day. He did this for quite substantial time. The occasion that finally broke the camel’s back was his trip to Galilee. Here, his former servant, Simon was also present. Although Simon recovered, his health was still not very stable. Unfortunately, Simon saw a woman with a little child miss a space for shelter in their small boat. Simon despite his health status selflessly offered his; which made him grow very sick. This finally led to his ultimate demise!
This amazing love seemed to have eventually changed Antipas’ mind and perception about Christianity. He felt quite indebted to this faith and therefore wanted to be part and parcel of it. One thing that impressed Antipas most was how the Christian brotherhood of Antonius, his wife and Simon differed from that of the Kalandion faith. This was another gathering of some purported Christians whose practices were doubted by Antipas. According to the author, the Kalandions were only interested in power and magics of Jesus, they did not have the brotherly love therefore were freelancing! In other words, they never had specific place of worship. The belief and practices of Kalandion group made Antipas be drawn to the other group. It was evident that he was certainly looking for a genuine faith; not only by words, but by real action.
The level of loyalty within the Christian family of Luke also played a major role in Antipas’ change of life. Why? Antipas found that even long before he joined this group, his correspondence with Luke exhibited some wide differences. While he subscribed to the authority of the emperor of Rome by then, his counterpart, Luke only talked about Jesus and his Kingdom! The two were therefore two worlds apart. But the humility and love which was portrayed by these Christian brothers charmed him. This scenario was quite different from the Kalandion group who were blending Christian practices with the allegiance to the world leaders. The love for Christ by Luke’s group was evident. He perceived them as devout believers, ready for any eventuality just for their Christ.
Antipas finally befriended a fellow believer whom he met in Antonius’ house. His name was Demetrius. He refused to participate in pagan ceremonies; always held in honor of their patron god. He was to do this due to his membership of Stone Manson Guild. Such act was viewed as truancy and serious offence, punishable by death. Surprisingly, Demetrius held to his guns and refused to give in. This led him to face death charges but instead, Antipas offered on his friend’s behalf; dying as a martyr. What a wonderful loyalty!
It’s because of the above events that make it hard for his long time and cherished roommate, Euphemos to even utter a word. Euphemos could have wondered what went wrong with his erstwhile long time friend, accepting to die on a stranger’s account. The thought of engaging in conversation was not a priority as it would bring some sad memories about the past. The only thing to do was not to talk about it. Antipas finally moved to his eternal resting place, a journey to martyrdom!
Antipas story exposed how genuine brothers in Christ should live. They should too show their love for Christ and neighbors through action. Of course this episode can be contrasted with the famous two main commandments. The commandments direct us to first love God, our creator and by doing this; we shall extend it to our neighbors. Here, neighbors mean any other person a part from you. Therefore, a brother, sister, parents and friends form this pool of neighbor. Antipas felt that his faith was not enough until he made it manifest through action. He therefore chose to die for his favorite friend Demetrius.