Epaphroditus was a messenger sent by the church at Philippi with a gift for the apostle Paul, who was under house arrest in Rome. While in Rome Epaphroditus became ill and word of his sickness spread to Philippi. As soon as he was well enough, Paul sent him back home to relieve the church's anxiety and to deliver Paul's letter to the Philippians.
The name name Epaphroditus (Greek: Ἐπαφρόδιτος) means "of, or from" Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. This would indicate that he grew up among pagans who revered the goddess.
Early Life and Background
Assuming that Epaphroditus grew up in and around Philippi, a few things can be determined about his early life. Since he is a leader in the assembly at the Macedonian city of Philippi, he probably had reached an age of at least 40 in the year AD 50 when Paul came to the city.
Philippi was a port city in the Roman province of Macedonia. The city had been occupied and named after Philip of Macedonia soon after it had been established as a mining town. Later, when the Romans conquered the Greeks, the town maintained local sovereignty though it was ruled by Roman governors.
In the days of Augustus Caesar, perhaps about the time Jesus amazed the teachers in Jerusalem on his visit, it can be supposed that a child was born in Philippi after a time of uncertainty. The goddess Aphrodite seemed to have smiled, so the parents named him "Ep-Aphroditus" ("from Aphrodite"). Steeped in a syncretic religion that idolized beings of mythology, the city had not been friendly to the Jewish religion. Forty years later, Paul would find a group of Jewish women praying at the river near town (there not being enough men for a synagogue).
Conversion and Ministry
One spring day in AD 50, a group of Jewish women had begun meeting in the house of Lydia, a merchant from the neighboring province of Asia, to hear the Jewish teacher Paul. This became known because a local slave girl known for her fortune-telling called him and his team out. There was such a ruckus that the Roman officials jailed the preachers. That night, an earthquake had shook the city. The jailor had released them after having become a Christian, adding a second "household" to what became the first assembly of believers in Europe. This small band of believers grew over the next decade to include Epaphroditus.
Years later, Epaphroditus became a lay minister (Greek: λειτουργός, an official of the church working "-ergon" for the good of the people "laos"). Since he is also called a "fellow worker" (Greek: συνεργὸν) and "fellow solder (Greek: συστρατιώτην), it may be that Paul had picked him up on his return trip through Philippi on the third missionary journey. If so, he served as a missionary out of Philippi to Ephesus for two years.
Having returned to his home church, Epaphroditus probably brought word from Jerusalem that Paul was being taken to Rome as a prisoner. Having taken an offering, he traveled to the capitol to be with his friend. Along the way, he became very sick. However, he got well and carried a letter from the Apostle to Philippi.