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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Philadelphia

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(Φιλαδέλφεια, T WH_ -ία)

Philadelphia was called after its founder, King Attalus II. Philadelphus of Pergamos (159-138 b.c.), whose surname marked his affection for his brother and predecessor, Eumenes II. Philadelphia occupied a strong and commanding position in the valley of the Cogamus, an affluent of the Hermus, at the N.E. base of Mt. Tmolus (Boz Dagh), where Lydia, Phrygia, and Mysia met. Northward and eastward from the city stretched a great volcanic plateau, the Katakekaumene or ‘Burnt Region’-called also the Decapolis-whose famous vintages were one of Philadelphia’s chief sources of revenue. The important trade-route from Smyrna (83 miles west) branched at Philadelphia, one branch going N.E. through Phrygia and the other S.E to the cities of the Lycus Valley. The city was founded for the spread of the Greek language and culture in Lydia and Phrygia, but it made little impression upon the old deep-rooted Anatolian nature-religion.

Christianity became strong where Hellenism had been weak. The Church of Philadelphia, founded probably at the time of St. Paul’s residence in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), had firmly established itself by the time of Domitian, and is praised by St. John almost as warmly as that of Smyrna (Revelation 3:7-13). Before her is set ‘a door opened, which none can shut’ (v. 8), a metaphor usually interpreted as implying a special opportunity for successful evangelistic work, such as Philadelphia certainly had as the centre of a large and populous district. Ramsay accordingly calls her ‘the Missionary City’ (The Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 391). But the whole character of the letter, the ideas of which are closely articulated with each other, points to a different exegesis. The Jews of Philadelphia, enraged apparently at the conversion, which they regarded as the perversion, of some of their number, displayed a more than ordinary malignity in their efforts to crush the infant Church, making free use of their most formidable weapon, the hçrem or sentence of excommunication, by which they thought to shut not only the door of the synagogue but the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven against the apostates. The prophet’s answer, given in Christ’s name, meets them on this ground. Alike as a rebuke to the persecutors and a sursum corda to the persecuted his message is perfect. He denies to the Jews of Philadelphia every sacred title and privilege which had ever belonged to their race. They have disinherited themselves. Hating instead of loving, they are a synagogue not of God, but of Satan. Having forfeited their great and good name, they merely lie when they call themselves Jews. The spiritual succession, and with it the historical title, consecrated and endeared by countless memories, have passed from them to the Christian Church, the true Israel of God. And their boast of opening and shutting the door of God’s house, of admitting and excluding whom they please, of blessing some and cursing others, is foolish and futile. They have indeed the key of their splendid earthly synagogue, but Another has the key of David (Isaiah 22:22), the symbol of regal authority, and He, as supreme in the spiritual realm, has set before the Church of Philadelphia an open door which no man can shut. Great minds run parallel, and the words of the prophet of Ephesus are in spirit identical with those uttered long afterwards by the prophet of Florence. ‘I separate thee,’ said the bishop of Vasona to Savonarola, ‘from the Church militant and triumphant.’ ‘Militant,’ was the reply, ‘not triumphant, for this is not in thy power.’ The power belongs to Him who ‘having overcome the sharpness of death, has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.’

Philadelphia had so many festivals and temples that it was often called ‘Little Athens.’ The hope of a memorial-a name, a statue, or a pillar-in one of its great temples often proved a powerful incentive to good citizenship. But the volcanic region of Philadelphia was frequently visited by seismic shocks, in which the most massive buildings and all their memorials perished. In a.d. 17, e.g., ‘twelve populous cities of Asia fell in ruins from an earthquake which happened by night, and therefore the more sudden and destructive was the calamity.… It is related that mountains sank down, that level places were seen to be elevated into hills, and that fires flashed forth during the catastrophe’ (Tacitus, Ann. ii. 47). Philadelphia was one of the twelve shattered cities. But she is promised, in Christ’s name, the things that cannot be shaken. Every victor in the spiritual conflict will be as a pillar, not in a crumbling earthly shrine, but in the enduring temple of God, and have graven on the tablets of his own memory-monumentum CEre perennius-the mystic names of God and His new Jerusalem.

Christian Philadelphia made a long and brave stand against the Turks, but was conquered by Bayezid in a.d. 1390. It has now a population of 17,000 Muslims and 5,000 Christians. About two dozen ancient churches, lying in ruins, tell their own tale.

Literature.-R. Chandler, Travels in Asia Minor and Greece3, 1817; W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, 1904; Murray’s Handbook to Asia Minor, 1895.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Philadelphia'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/philadelphia.html. 1906-1918.

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