Several years ago, I began a teaching for youth church on the book of Romans. To set things up, I asked the class questions about what they knew about Rome. They named a few things—that it was the capital of the world at the time; it was the center of a pagan society; that homosexuality was rampant; that Christianity was considered a bad religion; that it was a republic in decline at the time the book of Romans was written. Then we drew some similarities to the United States. And to many, the light went on as to why the book of Romans is so important to Christians living today in America—our nation is a lot like the Roman Empire as it entered its final years.
We talked about how the gods of the Roman Empire were similar to the gods we share in modern American society. For instance, Mercury was the messenger of the Roman gods. He was described as swift of foot and could travel the roads faster than any of the gods. One of young men said that our cars are similar, reminding us that there was even a Mercury car and that many Americans idolized their cars. The Roman goddess Venus was the goddess of love, beauty and fertility—in short, she was the goddess of sex. American society these days worships sex and pleasure from homosexuality to the terrific horrors of abortion, Americans demand their convenience to sex, their sexual freedom.
In ancient Roman civilization, child sacrifice to the gods was not practiced and was considered barbaric. Infanticide, however, was not only legal, but encouraged. Fathers were allowed to kill their offspring without reprisal. In “The Rise of Christianity” Rodney Stark writes: “Not only was the exposure of infants a very common practice, it was justified by law and advocated by philosophers.” Table IV of the Twelve Tables of Roman Law—the basis of the Roman Constitution—stated “an obviously deformed child must be put to death.” This law justified the killing of any baby that was unwanted, especially females when Romans wanted perhaps only one daughter and many sons.
Apologist Christopher Price points out in his paper “Pagans, Christianity, and Infanticide” that if not for Christians infanticide would have continued as common practice in Roman society. Price writes that early Christian documents such as the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas expressly prohibited infanticide and abortion as murder. There are many similarities between ancient Rome and modern America. Romans 13:12 encourages Christians to “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” It was Christians in ancient Rome who converted pagans one heart at a time and changed the world’s perspective on abortion and infanticide. That was then. What are we doing now?