What is the meaning of Pergamos?

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By BibleAsk Team


Pergamos, also spelled Pergamum, holds significant historical and biblical importance as an ancient city in Asia Minor, located in what is now modern-day Turkey. Its name and history carry rich symbolism and meaning, both in secular history and within the context of the Bible. Let’s delve into the multifaceted significance of Pergamos, exploring its etymology, historical background, and its portrayal in the New Testament.

Etymology and Historical Background

The name “Pergamos” is derived from the Greek word “pergamene,” which means parchment or parchment paper. This is because Pergamos was renowned for its production of high-quality parchment, which was used for writing. The city was situated in the region of Mysia, near the Caicus River, and it served as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Pergamon.

Pergamos rose to prominence during the Hellenistic period under the Attalid dynasty, particularly during the reign of King Attalus I (241–197 BC). The Attalids transformed Pergamos into a cultural and intellectual center, attracting renowned scholars, philosophers, and artists. The city boasted impressive architectural marvels, including temples, theaters, and libraries.

The Great Altar of Pergamon

One of the most famous landmarks of Pergamos is the Great Altar of Pergamon, also known as the Pergamon Altar. This monumental structure was built during the 2nd century BC and dedicated to Zeus, the chief deity of the Greek pantheon. Pergamum in 29 b.c. had become the place of the first cult of a living Roman emperor. The altar was adorned with intricate sculptures depicting mythological scenes, including the battle between the Olympian gods and the giants.

Pergamos in the Bible

Pergamos is mentioned in the New Testament in the book of Revelation, where it is addressed as one of the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 1:11; 2:12). The letter to the church in Pergamos is found in Revelation 2:12-17, where Jesus Christ addresses the spiritual condition of the church and offers commendation, rebuke, and exhortation.

Revelation 2:12-17 (NKJV)

“12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.

15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. 17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”’

Symbolism and Spiritual Significance

At the very time John wrote his message to the church of pergamos, the true believers were suffering persecution for refusing to worship the emperor Domitian (a.d. 81–96), who wanted to be worshiped as “lord and god.” Thus, its meaning as the place “where Satan’s seat is” (verse 13) is true. Pergamos was known for its pagan worship practices, including the cult of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, whose symbol was a serpent. Additionally, the city housed a temple dedicated to the Roman emperor, a form of imperial cult worship.

In the letter to the church in Pergamos, Jesus acknowledges the challenges and spiritual warfare faced by believers in the city. Jesus commends the church in Pergamos for their perseverance amidst persecution and martyrdom. However, he also rebukes them for tolerating false teachings and immoral practices within their midst, symbolized by the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. The reference to “Satan’s throne” underscores the spiritual darkness and opposition faced by the church in Pergamos.

Historical Context and Interpretation

The Pergamos period of church history was applied at the time of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 323 or 325 and ended in 538. Constantine tried to blend paganism and Christianity in as many points as possible in order to unite the diverse elements within his empire to give it power and stability.

It was during this time, that the papacy won the religious and political leadership in Western Europe, thus the devil confirmed his “seat” within the church. This era may be termed the Age of Popularity. The prosperous position of the church made it fall into the temptations that come with ease and popularity, which eventually led to the corruption of faith.

To the faithful who were being exposed to heathenism in the church, God sent this message “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16). Historically, the rebuke against the church in Pergamos reflects the cultural and religious challenges encountered by early Christians in the Greco-Roman world. The temptation to compromise with pagan customs and practices posed a constant threat to the integrity of the Christian faith. The exhortation to repent and overcome echoes a recurring theme in the letters to the seven churches, emphasizing the importance of faithfulness and obedience to Christ.

Conclusion: Lessons from Pergamos

In conclusion, Pergamos holds significance as both a historical city and a biblical symbol. Its name, derived from the production of parchment, reflects its cultural and intellectual heritage. In the biblical narrative, Pergamos represents a spiritual battleground where believers faced persecution, temptation, and the allure of false teachings.

The letter to the church in Pergamos serves as a timeless reminder of the challenges encountered by Christians living in a pluralistic and hostile environment. It calls believers to stand firm in their faith, resist compromise with worldly ideologies, compromising doctrines, and remain faithful to Christ, even in the face of adversity. Just as Jesus urged the church in Pergamos to repent and overcome, so too are believers today called to heed his words and live as faithful witnesses in a world that often opposes the truth.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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