🔼The name Crispus: Summary
- Curly, Bent
- From crispus, curled, curly.
🔼The name Crispus in the Bible
The name Crispus occurs twice in the New Testament and presumably describes the same man: Crispus the chief of the synagogue in Corinth who accepted the gospel (Acts 18:8) and was even baptized by Paul himself (1 Corinthians 1:14). Paul was staying in the house of Titius Justus, whose relationship to the synagogue Luke describes with the verb συνομορεω (sunomoreo), to jointly have a shared border (from συν, sun, together, plus the adverb ομου, omou, together as one, and ορος, oros, boundary, particularly of vision). Even in antiquity, cities consisted largely of faculties with shared walls or even entrances or halls with multiple doors and such, so authors had a slew of words available to describe such arrangements. The verb Luke uses isn't used anywhere else in the whole of extant Greek literature. This suggests that the relationship between the house of Titius Justus and the synagogue of Crispus did not relate in any way that is common to buildings.
It needs to be remembered that in the first century, a συναγωγη (sunagoge) was literally a place of joint-leading; not a religious center as we know them today but a center of republican government, where men came to debate any and all sorts of goings on in the community at large. The Romans were totalitarian, who believed in a pyramidal power structure with the emperor as its divine summit and everybody else as the emperor's slaves, doing as they were told. Free discussions and debates between men of all social strata were precisely that kind of republican liberalism that the imperialists abhorred. And this is among the primary reasons that they didn't like Jews and soon outlawed the Way.
Luke opens the story of Paul and Crispus and Justus with the statement that emperor Claudius had ordered all the Jews (and that would include the People of the Way) to leave Rome (Acts 18:2). This alone would make it highly unlikely that Luke would record the real names and actual physical addresses of any followers of Christ. Instead, Luke's compositions are most likely synthetic and his use of familiar names designed to cater to the literary tastes of his Greco-Roman audience (see for a closer look at this our articles on Aeneas, Pyrrhus and Adramyttium).
In the first century, the name Crispus most likely reminded of the famous Roman historian Gaius Sallustius Crispus — and whether deliberate or not, Paul's statement: "I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius" must have sounded as recognizable to his Corinthian audience the way "...except Hemmingway and Ernest" would to us moderns.
Gaius Sallustius Crispus, a.k.a. Sallust was a well-educated Roman noble, who knew Julius Caesar personally (and dined with him the night he crossed the Rubicon). Soon after, he came to command a legion in Illyricum, and after that served Ceasar as governor in northern Africa. He also served himself, and amassed a fortune through corruption and extortion. In the 40s BC, mere years before the beginning of the Empire, Sallust retired and took to writing history. And this is where he made his lasting mark.
Sallust meditated on decline, and particularly the decline of the Roman Republic upon the destruction of Carthage, which are themes not unlike those of the Jewish authors. He wrote against decadence and excess and favored discipline, and all in a uniquely realistic and succinct style, with great reservoirs of learning in an obvious background but with blatant hostility toward the prosaic embellishments of authors like Cisero.
Jerome (who wrote the Vulgate) loved him and so did Augustine of Hippo, which makes it safe to say that Sallust, perhaps somewhat by accident, was among the prime tributaries of the mind of the early church. Sallust continued to influence key figures in the Italian Renaissance and later in Britain and even moved Nietzsche into his signature writing style. The motto of the NATO, namely animus in consulendo liber, or "a mind free in counsel" is by Sallust.
🔼Etymology of the name Crispus
The name Crispus is identical to the Latin adjective crispus, curled (of hair), or uneven and wrinkled. From this adjective comes the verb crispo, to curl or to cause to swing — hence our English word crisp for curly potato slices; a crispy leaf is not a leaf that crunches and crackles but a leaf that's curled up on the edges. Our adjective in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European root "(s)ker-", to bend or turn, from which also stems the verb κειρω (keiro), to shear or shave off (as ostensibly used in Acts 18:18).