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Magistrate

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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The word ‘magistrates’ in the NT is as a rule a translation either of the abstract word αἱ ἀρχαί (literally ‘the authorities’), as in Luke 12:11, Titus 3:1, or of the cognate word, originally a participle, οἱ ἄρχοντες. The former term is the more general of the two, but an examination of the two passages suggests that ἀρχαί is an allusion to magistrates, while ἐξονσίαι is rather a reference to governors, if indeed we can distinguish words which had long been used by Greek-speaking Jews of the world of spirits. There is less doubt about the other equivalent, ἄρχοντες, which occurs in the singular in Luke 12:58, where the reference is clearly to two litigants going before a magistrate (corresponding to the English alderman and the Scottish bailie) in a civil case (a comparison with || Matthew 5:25 f. will show that Luke is more explicit).

The variety of magistrates throughout the Roman Empire was infinite. In Rome the magistrates were called praetores (see article Praetor). Throughout the Italian and Western communities generally the city-constitution approximated to that of Rome. In coloniae it was a copy as nearly as possible. The names by which the magistrates were called varied. For example, at Arretium in Etruria (Persius, Sat. i. 130) and at Ulubrae in Latium (Juvenal, Sat. x. 102) they were called aediles; an inscription at the latter place mentions also a praefectus iure dicundo, a special commissioner sent from Rome to try cases (see Mayor’s note). At other places they were called praetores (cf. below), the original name of the consuls at Rome, e.g. at Fundi in Latium. (Horace [Sat. I. v. 34-36] mocks at the consequential airs and dress of one of them.) In yet other cases they were known as duo uiri aediles, with duo uiri iure dicundo forming a board of four. They held office for one year. The competence of such magistrates was strictly defined, and higher cases were sent to Rome for trial. So in the provinces the governor had to try the most important cases, both civil and criminal, while ordinary cases were doubtless left to the judicial machinery already in existence in the province. The Romans commonly left the system current already in each country, unless it was radically bad.

St. Luke is an authority of primary value for the jurisdiction of magistrates in an Eastern town. From him we learn that in Philippi, a colonia, they were called στρατηγοί (an exact translation of praetores). They unknowingly transgressed the law in flogging the two Roman citizens, St. Paul and Silas, without trial. Their chagrin was all the greater as they prided themselves on their true Roman spirit. At Thessalonica St. Luke’s accuracy is particularly evident, as there be applies to the magistrates a title comparatively rare throughout the Graeco-Roman world, but attested for Thessalonica by a number of inscriptions-the title politarchs (πολιτἀρχαι, Acts 17:6-8); this title occurs also in Egypt. At Thessalonica the rabble were hostile to the new religion, but the politarchs and the better-educated classes generally looked upon it with more favour (see also Authorities, Roman Empire, Town-Clerk, etc.).

Literature.-On the subject in general see T. Mommsen, Röm. Staatsrecht3, Leipzig, 1888; A. H. J. Greenidge; Roman Public Life, London, 1901, chs. iv., viii., x., xi. especially; an admirable synopsis by B. W. Henderson in A Companion to Latin Studies2, ed. Sandys, Cambridge, 1913, p. 372 f.; on the relations between Romans and non-Romans in provincial towns, see Mommsen in Ephemeris Epigraphica, vii. [1892] 436 ff.; on the scene at Philippi, W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, p. 217 ff., Journal of Theological Studies i. [1899-1900] 114 ff.; and F. Haverfield, ib. p. 434 f.; Thessalonian inscriptions containing the title ‘Politarch’ collected by E. D. Burton in AJTh [Note: JTh American Journal of Theology.] ii. [1898] 598 ff.; for the title in Egyptian documents, see Oxyrhynchus Papyrus, no. 745 (iv. [1904]).

A. Souter.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Magistrate'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​m/magistrate.html. 1906-1918.
 
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