When most of us think about the underlying basis of government, we think about concepts like republican democracy and parliamentary government. These concepts actually have their roots in Greek culture. Centuries prior to the New Testament era, the Greeks envisioned autonomous cities functioning as a republic. Concerning the Greeks and city-states, Derek Tidball writes:
It was considered by them to be the best form by which an individual could associate with his fellow men. And were it ever to work ideally, they considered that it would result in utopia. Among its ideals was the full democratic participation of citizens in the city’s affairs through the regular popular assembly. The members of the city donated public service, voluntarily and enthusiastically. Their willingness was secured by a healthy sense of competition ensured that citizens remained motivated to participate in the city’s affairs. (77)
Of course, they extended citizenship to only a small minority of free males, but still, the ideas of the politeia were innovative by historical standards.
The key phrase in Tidball’s statement is “were it ever to work ideally.” The reality was that long before the period of the New Testament, cities found it necessary to join into federations for mutual protection. During the years of the Roman Republic (5th Century to late 1st Century B.C.E), the ability of the senators to maintain order deteriorated into an era plagued by revolts and jockeying for power. Open civil war broke out in 49 B.C.E., from which Julius Caesar emerged as the victor and was named dictator for life over the newly united and expanded empire. He used his extensive power to consolidate the bureaucracy but was assassinated in 44 B.C.E., by senators who hoped to restore the government to its republican operations. Julius Caesar was popular with the masses and the people were outraged by the actions of the senatorial leaders whom they considered to be out of touch with reality.
Two years after his death, they declared Julius Caesar Divus Iulius, a divine being. His adopted son Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus inherited the title of Caeser and his father’s wealth. He then spent the next fifteen years developing a hierarchy that was personally loyal to him while eliminating all his opponents. If his father had been Divus Iulius then Gaius was Divi filius, “the son of God.” Upon bringing all the empire under his authority, he officially offered to return control of the Empire back to the Senate in 27 B.C.E. Instead, the Senate bestowed upon him the title Augustus, which at that time was a religious term (as opposed to a political term) indicating supreme authority, and Principes, meaning “first citizen.” (See Augustus Caesar) From this point on, Augustus Caesar continued to solidify his control of the empire. “Peace and tranquility” prevailed throughout the Empire under his 41-year rule, which ended in 14 C.E. It was commonly proclaimed that Augustus, the “Son of God,” had brought the good news (gospel) of peace and tranquility to the whole world. (See Up Against Caesar)
But the problem for Augustus was how to consolidate his power. The previous model for organizing the Republic’s affairs had been based on the idea of the Greek city-states with their ideas of fraternity and equality. Augustus lifted up the model of the household as his model for the Empire. The Roman Empire became the Roman household in macrocosm with Augustus as the pater familias of the Empire and all status pyramids of honor culminated in him. Oisek and Balch write:
This structured domestic [household] code has its origin in Aristotle, but the ethic was reinforced by Emperor Augustus. According to Dio Cassius, Octavian [Augustus Caesar] called on his soldiers “to conquer and rule all mankind, to allow no woman to make herself equal to a man.” The imperial ideology structured Roman society and households as macrocosm and microcosm. The Stoic philosopher Arius Didymus drew up a summary of Aristotle’s politics and household ethics for the emperor; he argues that “a man has the rule of this household by nature, for the deliberative faculty in a woman is inferior, in children it does not yet exist, and in the case of slaves, it was completely absent.” Further, Augustus’s politics formed the social psychology of the time; the competition, hierarchy, and patriarchy of Roman imperial society were internalized by individual persons and groups. Local elites of the many cities around the empire competed to fit in with the Augustan moral revolution. (119)
In short, the “son of God,” who had brought peace and tranquility into the world, was creating a new world order based on the idea of the household of Caesar.