After reading through 1 Peter to 3 John, I noticed several places listed, particularly in the opening lines of chapter 1 of 1 Peter:
“To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…”
I knew these places to be Roman provinces. We have read about the Romans and inferred their cultural influence on the early Christians and on the Jewish people throughout the New Testament; there is even an epistle dedicated to the Romans! But what we have never really discussed exactly is the historical significance of the Roman Empire as it expanded its territories throughout the known world and its affect upon these areas in the terms of Christianity. I sought an answer to a few questions. What is a province? Why would Rome choose these areas? Why are they important to the early Christian church underneath Roman rule?
Firstly, I wanted to define a province. The first definition given by Merriam-Webster literally includes the Roman Empire in its definition of province: “a country or region brought under the control of the ancient Roman government”. The next definition clarified a province as “an administrative district”, which implied that breaking parts of the Empire into provinces meant administrative ease of government for the Romans. Each province was ruled by a governor who was responsible for maintaining financial stability by collecting taxes, maintaining infrastructure by supervising building projects and overseeing major cities’ accounts, maintaining justice by acting as supreme judge, and maintaining order by commanding the Roman legions stationed in the territory (UNRV History). These provinces served as a funnel of money, trade, people, and ideas into and out of Rome.
Secondly, I wanted to know why Rome would choose these areas as provinces. Obviously, expansion of territory by a country has historically been for a specific reason, usually beneficial to the invading country; normally expansion is for trade, to eliminate border skirmishes, and to further prosper a country. In other words, greed of government expands territory. Rome was no stranger to this greed. Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia are in the same area, Asia, which is now modern Turkey. Pontus was the northern coast along the Black Sea (UNRV History) with Bithynia to its west, often joined as a single province (Britannica). Galatia and Cappadocia were further inland, to the south (UNRV History). These areas were perfect for trade and commerce needed by the Romans; the lands were known to have fertile land (Bible Hub), deal in slaves (Ancient History), or be on the sea as in the case of Pontus.
Beneath Roman rule, the early Christian church managed to form, flourish, and establish itself as the next global religion. Pontus had a well-established church system by the year 100 CE (New Advent), and because of its location, was a perfect springboard for launching Christianity into the Middle East including Armenia, modern Syria, Iraq and Iran. The sometimes-attached-sometimes-separate Bithynia also has its place in the early Christian Hall of Fame; one of its major cities, Nicaea, was the birthplace of the Christian profession of faith, the Nicene Creed, in 325 CE (Nicene Creed). Galatia was one of the first areas to have a Gentile Christian community form, as the religion set up shop a mere couple of decades after the death of Christ (Daily Bible Study); the epistle written to the people of this church became known as the “Magna Carta of Christian liberty” as it solidified the Protestant argument during the Reformation (Hermeneutics). Cappadocia became a stronghold and safe haven for persecuted Christians during the Byzantine era; the people of various Cappadocian cities began tunneling underground caves together to form cities with every amenity necessary to live while in hiding (Cappadocia, Turkey). Each of these Roman provinces proved influential and important to the development, sustainment, and success of the Christian Church.
In conclusion, a province is a territory ruled by a larger, more powerful country, in this case Rome. Rome chose to expand into these areas for the lucrative trade possibilities, while Christianity spread further and established a basis for the growth of the religion.