Nero is synonymous with the negative aspects of the Roman Emperors and ordered widespread persecution of Christians. Is Nero mentioned in the Bible?
There are two mentions of “Caesar” in the Bible that refer to Nero, though his personal name does not appear. The first of these came when Paul the Apostle was arrested and invoked his right to appeal to Caesar as a citizen of Rome. The second came in Philippians, when Paul wrote a greeting, including the followers of Caesar.
For more on Emperor Nero and possible mentions of him in the Bible, read on.
Nero was born Lucius Ahenobarbus on December 15, 37 CE in Antium, Rome. He was the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and his wife, Agrippina the Younger.
Agrippina was dangerously ambitious and had her second husband killed in order to marry the Roman emperor, Claudius. She convinced Claudius to adopt Nero as his son. Nero married Octavia, his step-sister, further cementing his place in the family.
Claudius already had a son, Britannicus, who was considered as his heir. However, Agrippina was determined that Nero would become emperor, having Britannicus’ tutors replaced to stifle his education and removing Praetorian guards who might have supported his claim.
When Claudius died in 54 CE, Nero became Emperor of Rome. Ancient historians often attributed his death to being poisoned by Agrippina but modern scholars question the truthfulness of these accounts.
Emperor of Rome
Nero’s first five years as Roman Emperor cast him in a favorable light. He granted more power to the Senate, much of which had been stripped away when the Republic became the Empire.
Nero preferred to indulge in his passions, such as music while letting the Prefect Burrus, the renowned philosopher Seneca and his mother, Agrippina, handle the daily tasks of ruling Rome.
At Seneca’s urging, Nero resolved to make his own name independently of his mother. Agrippina was furious and publicly stated that Britannicus was Claudius’ true heir.
Nero responded with force. Britannicus died under suspicious circumstances, Agrippina was stabbed to death and Nero’s wife, Octavia, was executed. Nero no longer had any family ties to Claudius and stood alone as the Emperor of Rome.
When a great fire ravaged Rome in July, 64 CE, a large area of Rome was destroyed. Rumors quickly pointed an accusing finger at Nero, which only grew louder when Nero built a new palace on the site of the fire, as well as a 100-foot tall bronze statue of himself.
Nero responded to the accusations by blaming Rome’s growing Christian community. He ordered the persecution of Christians and executed them in various brutal ways. Christians were often scapegoats for disasters and misfortune during the early years of the religion, but Nero’s persecution was the most widespread at that point.
Nero’s name is not written in the Bible but he was reigning during certain events in the New Testament. There are references to the Roman emperor in the Book of Acts and Philippians, during a period when this would have referred to Nero.
In Acts 25, Paul the Apostle has been arrested and asked if he is willing to face trial in Jerusalem. Paul, as a Roman citizen, invokes his legal right to appeal to the Roman emperor and is sent to Rome. This emperor would have been Nero, who is also mentioned in Acts 26 as “Caesar”.
Philippians is believed to have been written by Saint Paul while he was in Roman captivity. He ends the epistle by sending greetings to all of God’s people, mentioning “those who belong to Caesar’s household”. As in Acts, this would have referred to Nero.
Paul is said to have died after the Great Fire of Rome but before the end of Nero’s reign, so it was likely part of the persecution ordered following the fire. Christian history states that Nero ordered Paul’s death and he was beheaded.
Following over-expenditure and rebellions in the Empire, public opinion again turned against Nero. When the Praetorian Guard declared their allegiance to Galba, a political rival of Nero’s, Nero attempted to flee Rome.
When it became apparent that Nero would not be able to escape and would be executed, he committed suicide. This ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty that began with the first Roman Emperor, Augustus.
The death of Nero led to a period of turmoil in Rome, with the Year of the Four Emperors and civil war.