Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Part 2: Persecution of the Saints
The Roman historian Suetonius, who lived from about 69 AD to about 140 AD, had a career as the director of the imperial archives under the emperor Trajan. So he must have had a lot of first-hand information upon which to base his histories of the lives of the Roman emperors. In his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, in The Life of Cladius, chapter 25, Suetonius said of Claudius, in brief, that “Since the Judaeans constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” In spite of the bickering over this passage by modern Jews and assorted other scoffers, this brief note must be a reference to the same event which is also noted in Acts chapter 18, where it is recorded that as Paul is in Corinth, he meets Priscilla and Aquila, who were there “on account of Klaudios ordering all of the Judaeans to depart from Rome”. Those who doubt the connection of this reference in Suetonius to early Christianity conveniently assert that there must have been some other Chrestus who caused such a disturbance, among other claims. (It seems that Suetonius did write Christians where he mentioned them again in his life of Nero, 16.2.) But there were certainly Christians in Rome by this time, which is evident as Paul, writing his epistle to the Romans in 57 AD, attests that many Christian assemblies were already established in Rome, and one of the major themes of that epistle is the reasons for the divisions between Christians and Jews.
The mistaking of Chrestus (meaning The Good One) for Christos (meaning The Anointed One), or Christ, was not uncommon among the Romans, Tacitus was also confused over the name in that same manner. But the error even appears in some of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament writings. In Acts 11:26 and 26:28 the Codex Sinaiticus (א) has Chrestian(s) rather than Christian(s). Certain early and notable Christian writers made remarks attempting to correct the confusion. In the late 3rd century the Christian writer Lactantius wrote concerning the name of Christ because, as he himself had said, “the meaning of this name must be set forth, on account of the error of the ignorant, who by the change of a letter are accustomed to call Him Chrestus.” (The Divine Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 7) But perhaps a hundred years earlier, Tertullian had written that “The name Christian, however, so far as its meaning goes, bears the sense of anointing. Even when by a faulty pronunciation you call us “Chrestians” (for you are not certain about even the sound of this noted name), you in fact lisp out the sense of pleasantness and goodness.” (Ad Nationes, Book I Chapter III) Then, at least threescore years before Tertullian, in the mid-2nd century, the Christian apologist Justin Martyr, writing only a short time after Suetonius had made a play on words relating to the error, by writing “For we are accused of being Christians, and to hate what is excellent (or chrestian) is unjust.” (The First Apology of Justin, Chapter IV)