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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Robbers of Churches

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This is the Authorized Version rendering of the word ἰερόσυλοι used by the town-clerk of Ephesus on the occasion of the riot described in Acts 19. ‘For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess’ (Acts 19:37). The term ‘churches’ according to the Elizabethan usage could be applied to pagan temples. The Revised Version substitutes the word ‘temples’ for ‘churches,’ but this is also a mis-translation, and there is strong evidence in favour of Ramsay’s view that the passage should be translated thus-‘guilty neither in act nor in language of disrespect to the established religion of the city.’ The term ἰερόσυλος could now apply to any person guilty of any form of action disrespectful to the established worship.

Instances of the narrower, more literal meaning of the term occur in Romans 2:22 and in 2 Maccabees 4:42. In the former passage St. Paul asks: ‘Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples?’ ‘Dost thou rob temples, and so, for the sake of gain, come in contact with abominations without misgiving?’ (Cf. Denney, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Romans,’ London, 1900, p. 600). In the latter passage, the term ‘church-robber’ is applied to Lysimachus, brother of Menelaus the high priest, who was killed in a riot (170 b.c.). He and his brother had committed sacrilege by stealing the sacred vessels, and this conduct provoked the disturbance. ‘Thus many of them they wounded, and some they struck to the ground, and all of them they forced to flee: but as for the church-robber himself him they killed beside the treasury.’

Literature.-W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, London, 1895, The Church in the Roman Empire, do., 1893; J. T. Wood, Discoveries at Ephesus, do., 1876.

R. Strong.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Robbers of Churches'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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