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F. F. Bruce

Emperor Worship in the Roman Province of Asia

"Under Roman Law...Christians were liable to suffer penalties imposed by Roman law just because they were Christians, Christian apologists continued to protest that they were innocent of any crime but their protests went unheeded...those who voiced such protests were told that they might easily prove their loyalty to the empire by worshipping the state gods, and in particular by burning incense to the emperor's image or swearing by his divinity...the Christians refusal to countenance such claims, and the language in which they ascribed divine honor to Jesus, could easily be given the appearance of sedition. 

Of all the provinces of the Roman Empire, there was none in which emperor-worship was more thoroughly organized than in Asia. In the Asian city of Pergamum the cult of Rome and Augustus was established as early as 29 BC. Some think that John had this cult in mind when he described Pergamum as the place 'where Satan's throne is' (Rev. 2: 13)-- although others think of the cult of Asklepios, the healing-god with his serpent-image, which was also located there. At any rate, in addition to the other forms of paganism with which Christians in the province of Asia had to live, there was this specially seductive form. Coolness towards the imperial cult might be put down to lack of patriotism. 

We remember how Paul had friends among the Asiarchs of Ephesus, who warned him not to enter the theatre when the riotous demonstration was being held in defense of the great goddess Artemis against her traducers. But it was from the Asiarchs-- the leading men in the cities of the province of Asia--that the high priesthood of the imperial cult was recruited, and the Asian aristocracy thought it an honour to serve in this way. The temptation must at times have been strong for Christians to compromise just a little, to avoid giving their pagan neighbours the impression that they did not appreciate the blessings of peace and prosperity which the institution of the empire had brought to that part of the world. But the majority would not compromise, and to them the imperial cult proved a deadly enemy."

F. F. Bruce, "The Defense of the Gospel" Revised Ed. (England: Inter Varsity Press, 1982) p. 67