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Holman Bible Dictionary

Citizen, Citizenship

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Officially recognized status in a political state bringing certain rights and responsibilities as defined by the state. Paul raised the issue of citizenship in the Bible by appealing to his right as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37 ; Acts 22:26-28 ). Roman citizenship rights were first formulated in the Valerian Law at the founding of the Roman Republic in 509 B.C., but citizenship rights changed as Roman governments changed. In New Testament times the definition came in the Julian Law passed near 23 B.C.

Becoming a Citizen Roman citizenship could be gained in several ways: birth to Roman parents, including birth to a Roman woman without regards to identity of the father; retirement from the army; being freed from slavery by a Roman master; buying freedom from slavery; being given citizenship by a Roman general or emperor as an individual or as part of a political unit; purchase of citizenship. Paul was born a citizen, but how his family gained citizenship we do not know.

Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities A citizen became liable for Roman property taxes and municipal taxes. A citizen had the right to vote in Rome, though different social classes had different rights at this point. A citizen became a member of a Roman tribe. A citizen was promised a fair trial without certain forms of harsh punishment. A citizen could not be executed without a trial and would not be crucified except by order of the emperor. A citizen could appeal to Caesar and had to be taken to Rome for trial.

Paul made use of these rights as he faced opposition and persecution (Acts 16:37 ; Acts 25:11 ).


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Citizen, Citizenship'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/c/citizen-citizenship.html. 1991.

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