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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Asia

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(Ἀσία)

Asia had a great variety of meanings in ancient writers. It might denote (1) the western coast-land of Asia Minor; (2) the kingdom of Troy (poetical); (3) the kingdom of the early Seleucids, i.e. Asia Minor and Syria (frequent in 1 and 2 Mac.); (4) the kingdom of Pergamum (Livy); (5) the Roman province Asia; (6) the Asiatic continent (Pliny). In Strabo’s time-the beginning of the 1st Cent. a.d.-the province was ἡ ἰδίως καλουμένη Ἀσία (Geog. p. 118), and in the NT (where the name is found 22 times-15 times in Acts , 4 times in the Pauline Epistles, once in 1 Peter, twice in Rev.) Asia almost invariably denotes proconsular Asia. St. Paul the Roman citizen naturally assumed the Imperial standpoint, and made use of Roman political designations, while the Hellenic Luke, though he frequently employed geographical terms in their popular non-Roman sense, was probably to some extent influenced by St. Paul’s practice of using the technical phraseology of the Empire.

The province of Asia was founded after the death of Attalus III. of Pergamum (133 b.c.), who bequeathed his kingdom by will to the Roman Republic. The province was much smaller than the kingdom had been, until, on the death of Mithridates (120 b.c.), Phrygia Major was added to it. Cicero indicates its extent in the words: ‘Namque, ut opinor, Asia vestra constat ex Phrygia, Caria, Mysia, Lydia’ (Flac. 27); but the Troad and the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Patmos, and Cos should be added. Pergamum, so long a royal city, naturally became the capital of the province, and officially retained this position till the beginning of the 2nd cent. a.d.; but long before that time Ephesus (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) was recognized as the real administrative centre. When the provinces were arranged by Augustus in 27 b.c., Asia was given to the Senate; it was therefore governed by proconsuls (ἀνθύπατοι, Acts 19:38). Its beauty, wealth, and culture made it the most desirable of all provinces.

The only passage in which St. Luke certainly uses ‘Asia’ in the popular Greek sense is Acts 2:9, where he names Asia and Phrygia together as distinct countries, whereas in Roman provincial language the greater part of Phrygia belonged to Asia. In such an expression as ‘the places on the coast of Asia’ (Acts 27:2) the sense is doubtful; but it is probable that, where the historian refers to Jews of Asia (Acts 6:9; Acts 21:27; Acts 24:18), to ‘all the dwellers in Asia’ (Acts 19:10; cf. Acts 19:26 f.), and to St. Paul’s sojourn in Asia (Acts 19:32; Acts 20:16; Acts 20:18), he has the province in view. St. Paul almost certainly uses the word in its Roman sense when he speaks of ‘the firstfruits of Asia’ (Romans 16:5 Revised Version ), the churches of Asia (1 Corinthians 16:19), afflictions in Asia (2 Corinthians 1:8), apostates in Asia (2 Timothy 1:15).

Though the Roman meaning of Asia is generally assumed by adherents of the S. Galatian theory, it is not incompatible with the other view. Thus Lightfoot, an advocate of the N. Galatian theory, holds that, while St. Luke usually gives geographical terms their popular significance, ‘the case of Asia is an exception. The foundation of this province dating very far back, its official name had to a great extent superseded the local designations of the districts which it comprised. Hence Asia in the NT is always Proconsular Asia’ (Gal.5 1876, p. 19, n. [Note: . note.] 6). Only those who find ‘the Phrygian and Galatic region’ (Acts 16:6) in the north of Pisidian Antioch are obliged (like Conybeare-Howson, i. 324) to assume that Asia ‘is simply viewed as the western portion of Asia Minor, for the Paroreios belonged to proconsular Asia, in which preaching was expressly forbidden (Acts 16:6). See Phrygia and Galatia.

1 Peter 1:1 is a clear instance of the use of geographical terms in the Roman administrative sense. The four provinces named-Bithynia and Pontus, though here separated, being really one-sum up the whole of Asia Minor north of Taurus. The Seven Churches of Revelation were all in proconsular Asia (Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:11), and it is possible that the so-called ‘Epistle to the Ephesians’ was an encycla to a group of churches in that province.

For the ‘Asiarchs’ (Revised Version margin) of Acts 19:31, see following article.

Literature.-F. J. A. Hort, The First Epistle of St. Peter, London, 1898, p. 157f.; A. C. McGiffert, Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 273f.; W. M. Ramsay, Church in Roman Empire, London, 1893, and St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, do. 1895, passim.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Asia'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/asia.html. 1906-1918.

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