Saint Paul & Seneca Letters


“While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia (c. 51, 52), the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. ‘This man,’ they charged, ‘is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, ‘If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.’

…So he drove them off. Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio (c. 5 BC—65 AD) showed no concern whatever.” Acts 18:12-18 NIV

Marble bust of Seneca the Younger, c. 200’s AD; part of double-herm (Seneca and Socrates)

The Proconsul Junius Gallio was the delegated Roman authority of that area. He was an older brother of the famous Roman Stoic philosopher and writer Seneca the Younger (4 BC—65 AD) who was, supposedly, a Christian according to Tertullian, Jerome and Augustine. Seneca’s brother Junius Gallio did not seem to be sympathetic to Christians in Corinth.

According to a long tradition, Seneca called The Younger (4 BC—65 AD) allegedly wrote 8 letters to Paul the Apostle (c. 5 BC—c. 64–67 AD) and Paul wrote 6 letters to Seneca. As can be seen, the two men were contemporaries. The copies of Seneca’s/Paul’s letters now exist only in manuscripts from the 800’s. However, Tertullian (160—220) does mention Seneca’s letters to Paul and calls Seneca “our own.” And Jerome (347—420) mentions letters from Seneca to Paul which were still extant in his day. This information, if true, is intriguing.

From a letter of Paul to the believers in Philippi: “Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. ”Philippians 4:21, 22

Paul and Silas first visited Philippi in Greece during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, which occurred between approximately 49 to 51 AD. Philippi was the location of the first Christian community established in Europe. Biblical scholars are in general agreement that Philippians was written by Paul of Tarsus, although some consider that the letter was written from Ephesus in 52–55 AD or Caesarea Maritima in 57–59.

  Bust of Nero – Musei Capitolini in Rome

During the time of Paul’s letter to the new believers in Philippi, the Caesar was Nero who reigned in Rome from 54-68. Seneca known as a Stoic philosopher was Nero’s tutor and later advisor. When Paul wrote that letter, “those who belong to Caesar’s (Nero’s) household” were with him and sent their greetings to the Philippians.

It is established that Paul knew people who were members of Nero’s household. The Apostle to the Gentiles would have known what was going on in Nero’s palace and could have known Nero’s confidant Seneca.

Saint Jerome in Desert — Bernardino Pinturicchio (1454—1513)

The ascetic-in-later-life Jerome (347—420 AD AD) completed his book On Illustrious Men in Bethlehem c. 392-394. He mentions the Epistles of Seneca and Paul were extant in his time. He includes Seneca among his “illustrious” Christian men in his book De Viris Illustribus 12:

“Lucius Annæus Seneca of Cordova, disciple of the Stoic Sotion and uncle of Lucan the Poet, was a man of most continent life, whom I should not place in the category of saints were it not that those Epistles of Paul to Seneca and Seneca to Paul, which are read by many, provoke me. In these, written when (Seneca) was tutor of Nero and the most powerful man of that time, he says that he would like to hold such a place among his countrymen as Paul held among Christians. He was put to death by Nero two years before Peter and Paul were crowned with martyrdom.”

Claudio Moreschini (born 1938), an Italian expert in philology and Patristics writes:

“Seneca’s renown among Christians appeared quite early. Tertullian (160-220 AD) speaks of him as a writer who is ‘often one of ours.’ Lactantius (240-320) opines that ‘Seneca could have been a true devotee of God if someone had shown God to him’ (Inst. 6.24). It is not surprising, then, that during the Constantinian period one product of the typical religious syncretism of that age was this apocryphal correspondence. The letters were known as early as Jerome (Vir. ill. 12), who was thereby confirmed in his persuasion that there had been a real affinity between Seneca and Christianity, so much so that he included Seneca among the ‘famous men’ of the Christian religion.”

The letters between Seneca and Paul were extant from the Tertullian 100’s through the 200’s with Lactantius until the 300’s and 400’s with Jerome. The fact that those three ancient men who are regarded as sane and reliable all saw and read these communications between Paul and Seneca is persuasive as to their genuineness.

Many modern scholars dismiss these letters as “forgeries.” But a scholar this writer respects, J.B. Lightfoot (1828-1889), says of them: “It appears that Christian parallels in Seneca’s writings become more frequent as he advances in life.” Lightfoot cites de Providentia, de Otio, de Vita beata, de Beneficiis, and the Epistolae Morales as Seneca’s works that most closely resemble Christian belief. Nonetheless, Lightfoot is still skeptical. The reader can assess the genuineness for him/her self.

Sixtus Senensis (1520-1569), a Jewish convert to Christ, published the Letters in his Bibliotheque. The correspondence consists of 8 letters from Seneca and 6 letters from Paul. The following letters in English are from Sixtus’ translation. Sixtus divided each letter into a chapter and each line into a cardinal number. They were not so, of course, in the original.


CHAPTER I:  Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I suppose, Paul, you have been informed of that conversation which passed yesterday between me and my Lucilius, concerning hypocrisy and other subjects; for there were some of your disciples in company with us;
2. For when we were retired into the Sallustian gardens, through which they (disciples of Paul) were also passing and would have gone another way, by our persuasion they joined company with us.
3. I desire you to believe that we much wish for your conversation:
4. We were much delighted with your book of many Epistles, which you have written to some cities and chief towns of provinces, and contain wonderful instructions for moral conduct:
5. Such sentiments, as I suppose you were not the author of, but only the instrument of conveying, though sometimes both the author and the instrument.
6. For such is the sublimity of those doctrines, and their grandeur, that I suppose the age of a man is scarcely sufficient to be instructed and perfected in the knowledge of them. I wish your welfare, my brother. Farewell.

NOTES: “Lucilius Junior (fl. 1st century), was the procurator of Sicily during the reign of Nero, a friend and correspondent of Seneca….The information known about Lucilius comes from Seneca’s writings, especially his Moral Letters, which are addressed to Lucilius. Seneca also dedicated his Naturales Quaestiones and his essay De Providentia to Lucilius.” Wikipedia
The Gardens of Sallust were “pleasure gardens” that occupied a large area in the northwestern sector of Rome near the Via Salaria.

CHAPTER 2: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. I received your letter yesterday with pleasure: to which I could immediately have written an answer, had the young man (Timothy?) been at home, whom I intended to have sent to you:
2. For you know when, and by whom, at what seasons, and to whom I must deliver everything I send.
3. I desire therefore you would not charge me with negligence, if I wait for a proper person.
4. I reckon myself very happy in having the judgment of so valuable a person, that you are delighted with my Epistles:
5. For you would not be esteemed a censor, a philosopher, or be the tutor of so great a prince, and a master of everything (Nero), if you were not sincere. I wish you a lasting prosperity.

CHAPTER 3: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I have completed some volumes and divided them into their proper parts.
2. I am determined to read them to Caesar (Nero), and if any favorable opportunity happens, you also shall be present when they are read;
3. But if that cannot be, I will appoint and give you notice of a day when we will together read over the performance.
4. I had determined, if I could with safety, first to have your opinion of it before I published it to Caesar, that you might be convinced of my affection to you. Farewell, dearest Paul.

LETTER 4: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. As often as I read your letters, I imagine you present with me; nor indeed to do I think any other, than that you are always with us.
2. As soon therefore as you begin to come, we shall presently see each other. I wish you all prosperity.

CHAPTER 5: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. We are very much concerned at your too long absence from us.
2. What is it, or what affairs are they, which obstruct your coming?
3. If you fear the anger of Caesar (Nero), because you have abandoned your former religion (Judaism), and made proselytes also of others, you have this to plead, that your acting thus proceeded not from inconstancy, but judgment. Farewell.

CHAPTER 6: Paul to Seneca and Lucilius, Greeting.

1. Concerning those things about which you wrote to me, it is not proper for me to mention anything with pen and ink: the one of which leaves marks, and the other evidently declares things.
2. Especially since I know that there are near you, as well as me, those who will understand my meaning.
3. Deference is to be paid to all men, and so much the more, as they are more likely to take occasions of quarreling.
4. And if we show a submissive temper, we shall overcome effectually in all points, if so be they are capable of seeing and acknowledging themselves to have been in the wrong. Farewell.

CHAPTER 7: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I profess myself extremely pleased with the reading your letters to the Galatians, Corinthians, and the people of Achaia (part of Greece).
2. For the Holy Spirit has in them by you delivered those sentiments which are very lofty, sublime, deserving of all respect, and beyond your own invention.
3. I could wish therefore, that when you are writing things so extraordinary, there might not be lacking an elegancy of speech agreeable to their majesty.
4. And I must admit, my brother, so that I may not at once dishonestly conceal anything from you and be unfaithful to my own conscience, that the emperor (Nero) is extremely pleased with the sentiments of your Epistles;
5. For when he heard the beginning of them read, he declared that he was surprised to find such notions in a person who had not had a regular education.
6. To which I replied, that the gods sometimes made use of humble persons to speak by, and gave him an instance of this in a simple countryman, named Vatienus, who, when he was in the country of Reate, had two men appear to him, called Castor and Pollux, and received a revelation from the gods. Farewell.

NOTE: Cicero (106 BC—43 BC) in his book Nature of the Gods 2.2 mentions that Castor and Pollux alerted an ignorant countryman named Vatienus to the defeat of the Macedonian King Perseus by the Romans in 168 BC at the Battle of Pydne.

CHAPTER 8: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. Although I know the emperor (Nero) is both an admirer and favorer of our (religion), yet permit me to advise you against your suffering any injury, (by showing favor to us).
2. I think indeed you ventured upon a very dangerous attempt, when you would declare (to the emperor) that which is so very contrary to his religion and way of worship, seeing he is a worshipper of the heathen gods.
3. I know not what you particularly had in view when you told him of this, but I suppose you did it out of a too great respect for me.
4. But I desire that for the future you would not do so; for you need to be careful, for fear that by showing your affection for me, you could offend your master:
5. His anger indeed will do us no harm, if he continue a heathen; nor will his not being angry be of any service to us:

         Empress Octavia, Nero’s first wife

6. And if the empress act worthy of her character, she will not be angry, but if she acts as a woman, she will be affronted. Farewell.

NOTE: Octavia (39-62) was Nero’s first wife whom he ordered to commit suicide in 62. Paul was right to warn Seneca about Nero. He started the first Imperial persecution of Christians

CHAPTER 9: Antaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. I know that my letter, wherein I acquainted you, what I had read to the Emperor your Epistles, does not so much affect you as the nature of the things (contained in them),
2. Which do so powerfully divert men’s minds from their former manners and practices that I have always been surprised, and have been fully convinced of it by many arguments until now.
3. Let us therefore begin afresh; and if anything before has been imprudently acted, please forgive.
4. I have sent you a book de copia verborum. Farewell, dearest Paul.

CHAPTER 10: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. As often as I write to you, and place my name before yours, I do a thing both disagreeable to myself and contrary to our religion.
2. For I ought, as I have often declared, to become all things to all men (I Corinthians 9:22), and to have that regard to your quality, which the Roman law has honored all senators with; namely, to put my name last in the (inscription of the) Epistle, that I may not at length with uneasiness and shame be obliged to do that which it was always my inclination to do. Farewell, most respected master. Dated the fifth of the calends of July, in the fourth consulship of Nero, and Messala.

CHAPTER 11: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. All happiness to you, my dearest Paul.
2. If a person so great, and in every way as agreeable as you are, become not only common, but a most intimate friend to me, how happy will be the case of Seneca!
3. You therefore, who are so eminent and so far exalted above all, even the greatest, do not think yourself unfit to be first named in the inscription of an Epistle.
4. For fear that I should suspect you intend not so much to test me, as to banter me; for you know yourself to be a Roman citizen.
5. And I could wish to be in that circumstance or station which you are, and that you were in the same that I am. Farewell, dearest Paul. Dated the Xth of the calends of April, in the consulship of Apriann and Capito.

CHAPTER 12: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. All happiness to you, my dearest Paul. Do you not suppose that I am extremely concerned and grieved that your innocence should bring you into sufferings?
2. And that all the people should suppose you (Christians) so criminal, and imagine all the misfortunes that happen to the city, to be caused by you?
3. But let us bear the charge with a patient temper, appealing (for our innocence) to the court (above), which is the only one our hard fortune will allow us to address, till at length our misfortunes will end in unalterable happiness.
4. Former ages have produced (tyrants) Alexander the son of Philip, and Dionysius; ours also has produced Caius Caesar; whose inclinations were their only laws.
5. As to the frequent burnings of the city of Rome, the cause is manifest; and if a person in my mean circumstances might be allowed to speak, and one might declare those dark things without danger, everyone should see the whole of the matter.
6. The Christians and Jews are indeed commonly punished for the crime of burning the city; but that impious miscreant who delights in murders and butcheries, and disguises his villainies with lies, is appointed to, or reserved till, his proper time.
7. And as the life of every excellent person is now sacrificed instead of that one person (who is the author of the mischief), so this one shall be sacrificed for many, and he shall be devoted to be burnt with fire instead of all.
8. One hundred and thirty-two houses, and four whole squares were burnt down in six days: the seventh put an end to the burning. I wish you all happiness.
9. Dated the fifth of the calends of April, in the consulship of Frigius and Bassus.

                                                                           Nero burned Rome in 64 AD

CLICK HERE  for article on Nero the Arsonist

CHAPTER 13: Annaeus Seneca to Paul, Greeting.

1. All happiness to you, my dearest Paul.
2. You have written many volumes in an allegorical and mystical style, and therefore such mighty matters and business being committed to you, require not to be set off with any rhetorical flourishes of speech, but only with some proper elegance.
3. I remember you often say, that many by affecting such a style do injury to their subjects, and lose the force of the matters they treat of.
4. But in this I desire you to regard me, namely, to have respect to true Latin, and to choose just words, so you may the better manage the noble trust which is reposed in you.
5. Farewell. Dated Vth of the names of July, Leo and Savinus consuls.

NOTE: Paul wrote his Epistles in Koine Greek, the lingua franca of his world. But he was highly educated in Jerusalem and knew Latin, too. Seems Seneca wanted Paul “to have respect to true Latin.”

CHAPTER 14: Paul to Seneca, Greeting.

1. Your serious consideration repaid [me] with these discoveries that the Divine Being has granted but to few.
2. I am thereby assured that I sow the most strong seed in a fertile soil, not anything material, which is subject to corruption, but the durable word of God, which shall increase and bring forth fruit to eternity.
3. That which by your wisdom you have attained to, shall abide without decay forever.
4. Believe that you ought to avoid the superstitions of Jews and Gentiles.
5. The things which you have in some measure arrived to, prudently make known to the emperor, his family, and to faithful friends;
6. And though your sentiments will seem disagreeable and not be comprehended by them, seeing most of them will not regard your discourses, yet the Word of God once infused into them will at length make them become new men, aspiring towards God.
7. Farewell Seneca, who are most dear to us. Dated on the calends of August, in the consulship of Leo and Savinus.

                  Apostle Paul — circa 494–519 C.E. Mosaic, Museo arcivescovile di Ravenna, Italy

In the 1st mid-century AD Paul was the most famous person among the early Christians. During the exact same time, Seneca was the leading intellectual in his world of Rome. It is interesting to speculate whether these two important men and minds ever knew and communicated with each other. Perhaps they did?

“God is near you, he is with you, he is within you. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a holy spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian. As we treat this spirit, so are we treated by it. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of God. Can one rise superior to fortune unless God helps him to rise?” Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and rhetorician Epistle 41.

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul, the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles, Epistle to the Romans 10:8,9— Article by Sandra Sweeny Silver