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First Century Celebrity Culture

Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars, written about 120 AD, provides interesting historical information.  His description of Nero resembles some of celebrity culture today- egotistical, pursuit of applause, self-centered, exaggerated sense of self-importance.

“He [Nero] also chose a few young equites and more than 5,000 ordinary youths, whom he divided into claques to learn the various Alexandrian methods of applause – they were known respectively as ‘Bees’, ‘Roof tiles’ and ‘Brickbats’ – and to provide it liberally whenever he sang.  It was easy to recognize them by their pomaded hair, splendid dress and absence of rings on their left hands.  The equites who led them earned 400,000 sesterces a performance.” 217

 “…[he] would attend no entertainment or official business unless he had a voice trainer standing by, telling him when to spare his vocal cords and when to protect his mouth with a handkerchief.  Whether he offered people his friendship or plainly indicated his dislike for them often depended on how generously or how feebly they had applauded.” 221

“Nero never wore the same clothes twice…” 223

“When the palace had been decorated throughout in this lavish style, Nero dedicated it, and condescended to remark, ‘Good, now I can at least begin to live like a human being!’” 224

“[as his end approached] he muttered through his tears, ‘Dead! And so great an artist!’238

This sounds all too familiar today.  Yet, it was during this time that Paul wrote the following to Christians:

Phil 2:3f- Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …

1 Cor 3:5-7- What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1 Cor 3:21- let no one boast in men.

2 Cor 10:17-18- “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

(Nero had visited the Isthmian games in Corinth and declared his own glory)


Let us truly have the mind of Christ, demonstrating gospel humility rather than pagan self-centeredness.  Fellow pastors, we are often encouraged to exalt ourselves and this is too much in vogue. Remember, in the first century there were prima donnas, but they were pagans, not preachers.


  1. Ray says:

    Thanks Phil. Always good to hear from you. Blessings on our labors!

  2. Thanks Ray for your good words concerning the pastoral ministry. I am always challenged and blessed by your teaching.

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