Collecting Bible Coins

Richard Strout, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Sometimes Christians feel they would like to have a hobby to enjoy in their spare time. Some pursuits may militate against spiritual things or have the potential to do so, but there are some which complement spiritual interests: here is one such.

I returned from a visit to Turkey and Greece following an ‘In the Footsteps of the Apostle Paul’ tour in 2003, and was disappointed not to be able to bring back with me some artefacts that might prove helpful in the teaching situations I was facing. Like many others, I had returned earlier from Israel with water samples from the Lake of Galilee and other sources, a few stones from the Valley of Elah, and bits of pottery from the ruins here and there. Having long been intrigued by the Bible’s talents, pennies, denarri, shekels, staters and mites, as well as tithes, offerings and moneychangers, my interest turned to the collecting of ancient coins, such as this bronze one from Thessalonica where Paul would have visited several times. It bears the images of the emperor Tiberius, 14-37 AD, and his mother. (See A+B).

It did not take long to begin finding such coins with the help of the internet. Ebay.com has proved to be a good source although one must be sufficiently knowledgeable in order not to be overcharged or to end up with something which is other than it was advertised to be. Another, and better, source is Vcoins.com, a website which hosts a significant number of reputable coin dealers. As I was to learn, one can find coins that were minted in almost every town and village visited by the apostle, so my collection began to grow rapidly. Some of these were struck long before Paul’s day while others did not appear until after his decease. My collection has since become more focused, thanks to a volume by Peter Lewis and Ron Bolden, The Pocket Guide to Saint Paul: Coins Encountered by the Apostle on His Travels. This volume, and the beautifully illustrated Money of the Bible by Kenneth Bressett, are indispensable to collectors.

The teaching value of such coin artefacts is gratifying, first to the collector, whose knowledge of the culture in which Paul travelled and its potential impact upon his thinking is increased and, ultimately, to students in the classroom or believers in the assembly. One’s understanding of the word and particularly of the Acts of the Apostles is enriched through a study of these coins. One or two examples will suffice. (See D+E).

While Paul was at Ephesus in 53-54 AD, the city had recently been authorized to strike a coin bearing the image of Claudius, one of five Roman emperors whose coins Paul would have seen. The obverse of the coin, as can be seen, displayed the head of both the Emperor and his bride, Agrippina II. On the reverse is the image of Diana of the Ephesians. (See C+D).

Without doubt the apostle would have seen and handled these shiny new bronze pieces as he went about his tent-making business in the public marketplace. A few years later he was to pen his Epistle to the Ephesians and one cannot help but wonder if perchance that particular coin might have come to mind as, in chapter 5, he addresses the subject of husbands and wives.

One of the most intriguing questions has to do with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem. For well over a year Paul had encouraged giving on the part of believers throughout Asia Minor as well as in Macedonia and Achaia, 2 Cor. 8 and 9. Homeward bound from his third missionary journey, the apostle was carrying this collection with him. Exactly what coins might have been sewn into the folds of his garments? It is to be assumed that he was carrying silver coins and, perhaps, even gold ones. The greater value of such would mean he would have to carry fewer coins, thus decreasing the overall weight. We are left to speculate. The silver coin pictured here with the head of Emperor Claudius, 41-54 AD, was struck in Cappadocia and circulated in Asia Minor; could it have been possibly part of that collection as it is of mine. (See E+F).

Coins served as the newspapers of their day, carrying images of emperors and events, gods and goddesses of the Roman world. Recognizing Paul’s ability in his teaching to refer to the known in order to build a bridge to the unknown, e.g., Acts 17. 22-31, one cannot escape the impression that, from time to time, he followed his Lord’s example, Matt. 22. 20, drawing lessons from the very coins his hearers held in their hands. Holding these same coins in our hands is one of the joys of collecting them, a joy not altogether unlike that of an actual visit to the lands of the Bible.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Is an elder and teacher in assembly fellowship in Sherbrooke, Québec. He is editor of the trimestrial missionary news publication of assemblies of Christians in Quebec known as News of Quebec. He is married and has four children and ten grandchildren.