Monday: A Pagan Response to Rome

The pagan response to the powerlessness many Thessalonians felt was a spiritual movement scholars call the Cabirus cult. The cult was grounded in a man named Cabirus who spoke up for the disenfranchised and was eventually murdered by his two brothers. He was buried along with symbols of royalty, and the cult came to treat him as a martyred hero.

Image © Krieg Barrie from

The lower classes believed that Cabirus had exhibited miraculous powers while alive. They also believed that from time to time Cabirus quietly returned to life in order to help individuals, and that he would return to bring justice to the lower classes and restore the city to its past independence and greatness. The Cabirus cult provided hope for the oppressed in terms reminiscent of the biblical hope.

Things get even more interesting when we discover that the worship of Cabirus included blood sacrifices to commemorate his martyrdom. Reminiscent of Paul, the Thessalonians spoke of “participation in his blood.” By this means they obtained relief from guilt; class distinctions were also abolished. In the Cabirus cult all classes of society were treated equally.

But there was one further dynamic. When the emperor cult arose in the time of Augustus, the Romans proclaimed that Cabirus had already come in the person of Caesar. In other words, the occupying authority co-opted the hope of the oppressed. As a result, the spiritual life of Thessalonica no longer provided relief for the working classes. The common people were left without a meaningful religion. The existence of the emperor cult also meant that if anyone resembling the real Cabirus were to arrive in the city, he would be an immediate threat to the establishment.

The Roman response to the Cabirus cult left a spiritual vacuum in the hearts of the people-a vacuum that the gospel alone could fill. Christ was the true fulfillment of the hopes and dreams that the Thessalonians had placed on Cabirus. The gospel provided both inner peace in the present and, at the Second Coming, the ultimate reversal of current economic and political realities.

Read 1 John 2:15-17 (see also Eccles. 2:1-11). What crucial truths are being expressed here? How have you experienced the reality of these words, in regard to how fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying the things of this world are?



Monday: A Pagan Response to Rome — 9 Comments

    • I would say both. The first three weeks are spent in understanding the background to Paul's letters to the Thessalonians. This is part of the context of what he was speaking to.

      If we don't understand the context we will most likely misinterpret why Paul said what he did to those people and in turn we will misunderstand how it applies to us.

      • True Tyler, most people misinterpret Paul's letters because they don't know the background, hence the context of what Paul is saying. I am happy for this quarter's study. May the Lord bless everyone as we study through this quarter.

  1. It was a bad time that these people had because there were two movements of Cabirus and of Paul, so people were confused. When you analyse these movements there was some similarities such us blood sacrifices and the return to life of Cabirus that they believed.

  2. Hi,
    In our society many people don't care if we believe in Christ, in Buddah, or somebody else. People seem to be willing to accept Christ as one of many others, but only few are willing to accept that Christ is the only God, the only way to Salvation. People are turning back to the old mystical religions looking for a meaning, often they don't experience Christ in Christianity and they turn away from Him. Somebody once said that the danger of not believing in God is not a believe in nothing, but it's believing in anything. The life is full of struggles, we have to work hard, we are surrounded with pain, and even the short joys we experience are nothing when we realize that death brings end to all... Without Christ life wouldn't make sense, the daily struggle would be too heavy to carry... I would rather spend a day with Christ in heaven than a thousand years on this earth without Him. He came so we could live an aboundant life, so every second of living here would have a meaning and would be a beginning of the eternity.

  3. Some similarities according to Yohane Dzinga! Indeed yet so different. No wonder Paul had to come into action to show the difference. The time of Paul, Christ had already defied the roman yoke and more so the death. There was no shedding of blood as did the Cabirus followers. Paul pointed to them the real reason of our very existence, the real provider and sustainer of life. Does not matter whether you die today as long as you die in him, the life, the death and resurrection, you are assured of life tomorrow. This is the faith that should be driving us living in this world full of theories. There are so many doctrines of men flying around us such that if not grounded into the truth and wanting to make man our arm, we will definitely be lost. Let us exercise the spirit of Bereans whilst the light is still shinning before us.

  4. Paul's writing is very complicating unless we understand the context and the historical background. Unless we are thorough with the historical background we can divert it's meaning of the lesson.

    I too need lot of knowledge to teach and understand the Sabbath School class. We need lot of preparation to have a good Sabbath School Discussion.

  5. If we do not understand the background of what was happening politically and socially during that particular point in time and place we will misinterpret Paul's teachings. It is the same way many misinterpret other scriptures because they do not know the context in which they were written. It is very important that as we study the scriptures we actuaaly do a little research on the backgrounds to understand the context in which they were written

  6. The Caribus cult was displaced by the Romans und transfered to Caesar who claimed to be Cabirus. The Thessalonians were forced to accept a foreign religion they did not want. Hearts were left empty and disapointed. The gospel hit right into that empty space, filling hearts with new hope. While only a few Jews responded, a great multitude of Greeks and not few of upperclaas women accepted Christ (Acts 17:4). The time was ripe for the Holy Spirit to work through apostolic witnesses (Gal. 4:4) filling empty hearts. If this was the case at the time of the early rain, how much more today at the time of the latter rain. Wakefulness is necessary, looking for the Holy Spirit's leading using every one of us in His service to fill empty hearts all around us.

    Winfried Stolpmann, Germany


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