In Acts 10 it states:

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. (NIV)

My understanding is that Roman soldiers of this period (Augustus through to Septimus Severus [193-211 CE]) were prohibited from marrying ["The men serving in the army, since they could not legally have wives, were granted the privileges of married men." Cassius Dio 60.24.3]

This raises the question who are the οἴκῳ of verse 2? Are these an illicit family, thus raising questions of "devout and God-fearing;" or are they merely servants and retainers? If the former does indicate that since such non-married living and family arrangements were unofficially sanctioned by Rome, that Cornelius' situation was an application of Acts 17:30 being in play, that his ignorance was overlooked until his repentance?

  • 2
    "My understanding is that Roman soldiers of this period (Augustus through to Septimus Severus [193-211 CE])were prohibited from marrying." Is there a historical source for this?
    – user15733
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 21:13
  • @TheNonTheologian OP has reflected the ruling of the time, especially in the Italian Regiment. Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 21:23
  • Here is where I am seeking advice as I have seen Cattaoui papyrus cited, but would like to know how best to see the context of the Italian Regiment and thus the passage.
    – r m
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 21:30
  • Who is recongnised as head of a household when a man's father dies?
    – enegue
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 22:28
  • I understood the same, but I was wondering if there was any ancient histories that affirmed centurions or other soldiers could not marry or travel with their families.
    – user15733
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 23:20

2 Answers 2


We seem to have fallen victim to a loose translation here.

The word that the NIV chose to render as "family" is the Greek οἶκος - oikos. It is the word that is at the root of our English word "economy" and it does not strictly speaking mean "family" in our modern sense.

It is used to mean home, house in the sense of a building, house in the sense of lineage ("house of"), or household. Examples:

And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house (Luke 10:5).

And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house (Luke 9:61).

And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves (Mark 11:17).

And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:33).

Salute Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 4:19).

In the above verses, all taken from the King James Version, the words in bold translate the same Greek word, οἶκος.

Those living in the Centurion's house could very well have been servants and not immediate family. (In the Orthodox Christian Synaxaria - e.g. Simonas Petra volumes, Prologue of Ohrid, Lives of Sergius of Radonezh - there is no account of his having been married).


According to ancient Roman laws of inheritance (1):

When a man died, a certain person or certain persons succeeded to all his property, under the name of heres or heredes ... (a)

If a man had a son in his power, he was bound either to make him heres, or to exheredate (exheredare) him expressly (nominatim) ... (b)

Given this, the οἴκῳ of verse 2 may simply have been the estate that came into Cornelius' possession by inheritance, and of which he was then the recognised head.


There really is no reason to jump to the conclusion that the οἴκῳ represented an illicit family, since there are other possibilities. The Roman laws of inheritance were quite complex, and the estate could have come to Cornelius in a number of ways.

(1) A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875. - William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.
(a) p 598 (first paragraph)
(b) p 600 (last paragraph)

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