🔼The name Amplias (Ampliatus): Summary
- You Enlarge: i.e. Plato or the Platonic philosophic tradition
- From the verb amplio, to widen, the equivalent of πλατυνω (platuno).
- From the noun αμπελος (ampelos), vine, or αμπελων (ampelon), vineyard; perhaps akin αμφι- (amphi-), round.
🔼The name Amplias (Ampliatus) in the Bible
The name Amplias (Αμπλιας, Amplias) is generally considered the shortened version of Ampliatus, a rare Latin name, spelled in Greek as Αμπλιατον (Ampliaton). This name in either version occurs only once in the Bible, namely in Romans 16:8, and the reason why we list both variants is that it is not clear how Paul originally wrote this name: the surviving manuscripts vary. The Byzantine majority text and comparable manuscripts (and hence traditional translations such as the KJV) have Amplias, whereas some of the oldest fragments and hence the few critically reconstructed manuscripts (upon which modern translations such as the NAS and NIV are based) have Ampliaton.
The name Ampliatus has been found on at least two graves in the Catacombs of Domitilla — which were created by the family of Flavia Domitilla, the wife of general and emperor-to-be (she died prior) Vespasian, and mother of his sons and successors Titus and Domitian (and see Philippians 4:22). These catacombs contain 26,000 tombs, which indicates that our name wasn't very common. It may even be that the names on the tombs belonged to people who were named after the Amplias of Paul's letter, which would suggest that Amplias was not actually the personal name of someone living in Rome.
By the time Paul wrote, the gospel of Christ (with its emphasis on personal freedom: see Galatians 5:1) was considered high treason against the Roman state (which demanded systematic compliance, rather than personal autonomy), and followers of the Way were routinely persecuted, which is how Aquila and Priscilla had ended up in Corinth (Acts 18:2). All this makes it highly unlikely that Paul would identify his beloved friend Amplias as one of those followers, by naming him by name and by associates in a very public letter. And even if he had been so irresponsible, his copiers would have massively dropped any personal or irrelevant and even damaging details. The fact that we still have the sixteenth chapter of Pauls letter to the Romans rather demonstrates that the names mentioned in it are not the names of individuals living in Rome. Something else is going on.
Paul was not the only one writing in the first century, and the reason why his writings quickly became the most copied works in history (vastly more popular than Homer, Plato, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, Cato, Euclid or any other ancient writer) while no institution that might have benefitted from their proliferation yet existed and its sole driver was the open market, was their utterly baffling quality. Paul was a literary superstar, and back then, everybody saw it. He did with words what Mozart would do with music: he drew from depths that no one could reach, and wove countless narrative strands into a dazzling tapestry that opened like the many petals of a rose around its single heart, that turned transparent like a window upon the vast plains of history, with the spirit of mankind's waxing consciousness like a single human child playing in the care of its parent.
Paul blew everybody's mind. Nothing like it had been performed for centuries, not since Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel. That is why we still have Paul's writings in such abundance. Modern Christians like to declare that the Holy Spirit authored the Bible, and this is certainly so, but the Spirit's tool was the open and naturally functioning market (Genesis 1:2). Paul wrote hit upon hit. His letters went viral and never stopped being viral.
In the Christian era, the works of Paul are studied because they are recognized as the seeds from which Christianity grew, but long before there was Christianity, even before the gospels were written, the letters of Paul were broadly recognized as works of staggering genius.
In our article on Malta we point out that particularly the Pauline cycle of the Book of Acts is obviously designed to cater to the literary sensibilities of Luke's Greo-Roman audience (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-20 and Philippians 2:7), and also functions as a respectful commentary on Homer's Odessey and Virgil's Aeneid. Paul's letters, likewise, are hugely complex tie-ins into the considerations and literary traditions of the peoples subdued by the Roman war machine. The names that occur in Paul's letters are almost certainly not personal names of private people, but much rather references to authors, events, principles and historical figures that helped shape the world of the first century (see our articles on Onesimus and Philemon for some of the more obvious examples).
What exactly Ampliatus referred to may not be immediately clear at this remove. The phrase "beloved in the Lord" occurs only here, although the "of the Lord" part may actually refer to the way Ampliatus ought to be greeted: greet into the Lord (welcome into the Body of Christ), the beloved Ampliatus. The term αγαπητος (agapetos), beloved, is a very common Pauline term for the followers of the Way. He uses this term in his description of the originally addressed: the beloved of the Lord (Romans 1:7).
More significantly, however, is that the term αγαπητος (agapetos) was also an epithet of Jesus (Matthew 3:17), who was also the "beloved" servant mentioned by Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4), in turn cited by Matthew (Matthew 12:18-21): "Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased... In His name the gentiles will hope."
The specific aspect of bringing the gospel to the gentiles — and this is typically not done by barking one's esoteric convictions in one's own language, one's own expressions, symbolisms and literary realities onto an utterly incomprehensive crowd, but rather by learning the audience's language and literary fundaments, so as to speak to them "in their own language" (Acts 2:6) — is the particular office for which Paul was called (Acts 9:15, 22:21).
"Let me sing now for my well-beloved (ידיד, yadid), a song of my beloved (דוד, dod), concerning His vineyard (כרם, kerem; hence the name Carmel). My well-beloved (ידיד, yadid) had a vineyard (כרם, kerem) on a "horn" (קרן, qeren; hence Corinth) of a "son of fatness" (בן, ben שמן, shemen; hence Gethsemane)".
And that brings us to the meaning of the name Ampliatus:
🔼Etymology of the name Amplias / Ampliatus
The name Amplias is identical to the second person singular of the Latin verb amplio, meaning to widen, make wider, or enlarge, and thus means You Enlarge. Anybody with any knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures would have known that this describes Japheth. As Noah said: "May God enlarge (פתה, patah, to enlarge) Japheth (יפת, yapat: he enlarges), and let him dwell in the tents of Shem" (Genesis 9:27).
This Hebrew verb פתה (patah) is closely similar to the Greek verb πλατυνω (platuno), to widen or enlarge, from which comes the adjective πλατυς (platus), broad, flat or rude, from which in turn comes the name Plato (and see our article on this adjective for a look at Plato from a Biblical perspective). Jesus warned about the destructive nature of the "broad" or Platonic road (Matthew 7:13), but Paul obviously told his audience that even Plato's vapid speculations should be considered with respect and endearment, so that the followers of the Way may speak to Platonists in their own familiar terms, and lead them gently toward the narrow path onto salvation.
The Latin verb amplio comes from a Proto-Indo-European root that in Greek resulted in the noun αμπελος (ampelos), meaning vine. It's this word that Jesus applies to himself, when he says: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5). The similar noun αμπελων (ampelon) means vineyard, which in the Hebrew Scriptures always symbolized the cultivated or inspired human world; the world of art and literature. This word is somewhat on a par with the Greek idea of κοσμος (kosmos), which rather describes the governed human world, the world of capital, law enforcement and military.
Significantly, when Noah exited the ark, and just before he would bless Japhet with enlargement, he began to farm and planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). This vineyard caused him to be drunk with the same kind of drunkenness that would much later allow Plato and friends to produce their intoxicating visions, and with which the world economy will ultimately stagger onto its own collapse (Revelation 17:2).
Formally, the name Amplias means You Enlarge, but it translates the name Japheth, which belonged to the middle son of Noah, who represents the Indo-European language group. It also translates the name Plato, and as such refers to the Platonic philosophic tradition of speculation and logic deduction. Modern Christianity, unfortunately, is based on Platonic speculation, and is signified mostly by the lack of effect of which Jesus speaks (Luke 7:22). Modern science is rather based on the Jewish tradition of investigation and pragmatism and the solving of problems for the whole of mankind. This is probably why the prophet Zechariah predicted that the whole world would be Jewish (Zechariah 8:23), rather than Platonic or Christian.
And to add some nuance to that: Jesus, Paul and every follower of the Way for the first three centuries AD were Jewish, so a Jew is typically not someone who rejects Jesus as the Messiah. Christianity the way we know it didn't get going until the fourth century, when Constantine made it the state religion. Ever since its inception, Christianity has always been a reboot of Roman imperial theology, and the Reformation added to its basic premises a revived form of Platonic and Aristotelian thought that ultimately resulted in modern Evangelical and Pentecostal sects, which are entirely pagan and polytheistic in essence and have nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul preached onto the polytheistic Roman world, concerned a radical monotheistic worldview: the idea that the entire natural world runs, not on the whims of gods or human governors, but on one single law that works always the same for everybody, everywhere. That law can be learned so that the world can be mastered. That law crystalizes organically in the collective minds of men (rather like a child), when these men are free to settle naturally in their own understanding, and are free to engage others and are willing to learn from the practical knowledge of others.
The human understanding of this natural law results in useful technologies that make the world a better place for everybody. It gave the world language and script, metallurgy, medical science and statecraft (and the weekend and the holiday). And it will ultimately result in the descent of the New Jerusalem, which is a city, and therefore a technological thing. It will be the most extended version of the tabernacle, where God first met mankind, and which was also a technological complex (Exodus 31:1-11).