Emperor Worship and the Pauline Communities
LEUNG Chun Ho Bernard

Over a century ago, the German philologist Adolf Deissmann observed that there arose a "polemic parallelism" between the uses of Christological titles in the early church and the political titles attributed to the Roman emperors. This sheds a new perspective on the reading of the Pauline epistles as "anti-imperial," i.e. Paul wrote subtly and polemically to counter the influence of Roman imperial ideology prevalent at that time in the cities of Paul's ministry. The most ubiquitous and far-reaching instrument for the diffusion of imperial ideology was "Emperor Worship" (or "Imperial cults"). However, did the institution of "Emperor Worship" in provincial settings put political pressure on the Pauline communities to take part in the cult as a civic and religious duty, so that Paul needed to response to the crisis in a hidden way? This article, firstly, aims to investigate the scope and complexity of "Emperor Worship" in the early Roman Empire. This step is crucial for the interpreters of the Pauline epistles to comprehend correctly the significance and functions of "Emperor Worship" in the social-political life of the Roman cities in which the early Christians might be affected. Secondly, this article will (1) assess the prevalence of "Emperor Worship" in the Roman provinces and cities where Paul established the Christian communities; (2) evaluate the claim that "Emperor Worship" caused social and religious tensions to the Pauline communities; and (3) comment on the trend for "anti-imperial rhetoric" in the reading of Paul.