{2}           From the Jews to the Gentiles

ERA 1 << Early Church (1): Persecutions (AD 30–300) >> SESSION 1

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 3-4,11

        2.1.1  Records on the apostles

·         Peter: He was leading the Jerusalem Church. He probably moved to Rome and suffered martyrdom [AD67].

·         Paul: He was probably martyred by beheading in Rome [AD67] during the persecution of Nero.

·         John: Tradition associates him with the city of Ephesus. He was banished by Domitian to the island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation [AD95]. Later, he ministered in Asia Minor and died naturally at an advanced age.

        2.1.2  Legends of apostles

·         Used for claims: There were many legendary or fictitious stories about the fate of the Apostles. There were also many claims about an apostle preaching in a particular region, but these claims were probably made by churches who wanted to claim an apostolic origin, which then supported their authority.

2.2  Church in Jerusalem

        2.2.1  The Jewish Christian church

·         Leaders: Apostle Peter and James, the brother of Christ, were probably the leaders. The early church focused on the leadership of the apostles. Later, churches gained authority by claiming apostolic lineage.

        2.2.2  The waning of the Jewish church

·         Suppression & Exodus: Persecution and destruction of Jerusalem forced the members to scatter. Many leaders were executed. Soon after, the remaining leaders led the people to Pella, a city east of Jordan. This allowed them to escape from the disaster in Jerusalem [AD70]. The church faded out in 5th-c.

        2.3.1  The Christian mission

·         To the Jews: After the first persecution (Acts 8), many Christians were forced to leave Jerusalem and to fulfil the Great Commission by spreading the gospel to other parts of the Roman Empire. At first, the evangelistic work was directed almost exclusively to the Jews.

·         To the Gentiles: First indication of the church’s willingness to receive non-Jews was when Philip explained the gospel to an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-37). The issue whether Gentiles could have the salvation was eventually discussed in Acts 10 in the episode of Peter and Cornelius [AD40].

·         Jerusalem Council [AD50]: The immediate question was whether the converted Gentiles had to obey the Jewish Law or not. The council in Jerusalem was led by James, brother of Christ, and was attended by “apostles and elders” including Paul and Barnabas. The council finally relaxed the rule (Acts 15:4-29).

        2.3.2  Paul’s work

·         Many missionaries: The 3 missionary journeys of Paul [c.AD45–60] were most famous because they were recorded in the NT (Acts 13–21). But Paul was not the only missionary, and was not the first Christian to visit those cities. Most of the time when Paul visited a city, a church had already been founded.

·         Paul’s evangelistic work: Paul’s usual procedure was to go to the synagogue and to preach to the Jews first; if he was rejected, he would then preach to the Gentiles.

        2.4.1  Early Christian writings

·         Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles [c.AD150] was a manual of discipline giving guidelines for Christian life and worship, including baptism and the eucharist. It included instruction on how to distinguish false prophets from true and how to find worthy church officials.

·         Shepherd of Hermas [c.AD150] dealt with holy living and the repentance of sins after baptism. It was written after the model of Revelation, containing many allegorical symbols and visions.

·         Epistle to Diognetus [c.AD200] was a rational defense of Christianity by showing the folly of idolatry, the inadequacy of Judaism, and the superiority of Christianity.

        2.4.2  Christian worship

·         Worship services: The early church gathered on the first day of the week to worship since this was the day of resurrection of the Lord. There were 2 services. The morning service included the reading of Scripture, exhortation by the leading elder, prayers. The evening service was a love feast followed by the communion. By the end of 1st-c, the love feast was dropped and the communion celebrated during the morning service.

·         Communion: This was the focal point of worship. It was later called eucharist, from the Greek eucharisteo—to give thanks. The celebrations were in the tone of joy and gratitude, not sorrow and repentance.

·         Baptism: In the beginning, baptism was practiced as soon as one was converted. Later, a period of preparation—catechumenate was required, mainly for instruction on the main beliefs in Christianity, but also as a means to exclude unworthy members. Baptism was administered once a year at Easter. Immersion and pouring were used. The practice of infant baptism began no later than 3rd-c.

·         Language: The early church was divided into the Greek-speaking East and the Latin-speaking West. The two languages coexisted happily in the first few centuries.

        2.4.3  Church government

·         Clergy & laity: “Clergy” was derived from the Greek word kleros, meaning “lot”—the ballot cast to select someone to occupy an office. “Laity” was derived from the Greek laos—”people”. Hence, “clergy” refers to the leadership which is specially selected, trained, and elected to instruct.

·         Non-hierarchical: There was no special class of priests as both the officials and all were spiritual priests.

·         Classes of officials: There were originally two positions: elder (presbyter), and deacon. Deacons assisted the elders, especially in the work of caring for the needy. In response to the challenge of heresies, the church emphasized apostolic succession and the authority of bishops—episcopal authority. Women were part of the leadership in early church (Philip’s 4 daughters, Phoebe, etc.) but were excluded by the end of 2nd-c.

·         Monarchical bishop? The later development of the monarchical bishop had no Biblical support. [1] The NT is clear that bishop and elder are the same office. [2] Early churches were governed by a group of bishops or elders. [3] There is no Biblical support for the authority of an elder to extend beyond the local church.

        2.4.4  Christian practices

·         Benevolence: The church gave aid to the poor and the sick Christians. The offering of money was collected after the communion. The deacons would use the money to care for those who were in need.

·         Separation: Christians continued to have social relationships with their pagan neighbours as long as they did not lead to idolatry or immorality. Therefore, Christians did not attend pagan theatres, games, or temples.

·         Missionary methods: New converts came from life witness of Christians, witness of martyrs for their courage facing death (“martyr” originally meant “witness”), and demonstration of miracles (particularly healing). Other new converts were results of teachings and debates by Christian apologists.

·         Christian symbol: Fish was used as a symbol for Christians because the Greek word for fish (ichthus) could be used as an acrostic containing the initial letters of the phrase: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”.


[1] treasure our heritage

Even in ancient times, democracy was practiced in the church in the selection of church leaders.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Persecutions forced Christians to obey the Great Commission.

[3] avoid past errors

The lack of unity partly contributed to the development of unbiblical monarchical bishops. We need to keep our unity.

[4] apply our knowledge

Practices in the early church may contribute to our present practices.

[5] follow past saints

The strong faith of the apostles, even unto death, is a model for us.