{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 the leader in the Jerusalem Church. He probably moved to Rome and suffered martyrdom [AD67] during the persecution of Nero, as agreed by several writers. A famous legend is that he requested to be crucified up-side-down, for feeling unworthy of dying in the same way as his Lord.

·         Paul: Rumour claimed that he had travelled to other regions not recorded in Acts, such as Spain. He was probably martyred by beheading in Rome [AD67] during the persecution of Nero.

·         John: It was hard to be definite about his life because there were many famous “John’s” in that era. Tradition associates him with the city of Ephesus. He was banished by Domitian to the island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation [AD95]. After the death of Domitian [AD96], he ministered in Asia Minor and died naturally at an advanced age.

·         James, the brother of Christ (James the Just, not one of the 12): He was a leader in the Jerusalem Church. He was martyred by being clubbed to death after he had been thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple but did not die [AD62].

·         James, son of Zebedee: He might have been in Spain or had sent his envoy to Spain [c.AD40]. This may be a legend, but the story about his influence in Spain had been important to Spain’s history as St. James (Santiago in Spanish) became the patron saint of the nation. He was the first apostle to be martyred, being beheaded by King Herod Agrippa [AD44].

·         Andrew: He preached in the Near East and Scythia. Tradition says that he was martyred on an X-shaped cross.

·         Philip: He might have preached in Greece, Phrygia, and Syria and died naturally in Hierapolis.

·         Bartholomew (Nathanael): He might have been in Armenia. Tradition says that he was martyred in Azerbaijan, being flayed and then crucified head down. Another tradition puts him in India.

·         Matthew: He was supposed to have preached in Ethiopia.

·         Thaddeus: He might have been in Persia where he was martyred.

·         Simon the Zealot: Different traditions put him in Ethiopia, Persia, or Spain. He was likely martyred.

·         Thomas: He might have been in India where he was martyred.

·         James the Less, son of Alphaeus: Nothing is known.

        2.1.2  Legends of Apostles

·         Used for claims: There were many stories about the fate of the Apostles. Most stories are legendary or fictitious. There were 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.

·         Nameless Christians: Even though the Apostles might have travelled to different places or have founded some churches, it is most likely that the churches are founded by many nameless Christians who travelled because of various reasons: persecution, trading, missionary calling, etc.


2.2  Church in Jerusalem

        2.2.1  The Jewish Christian church

·         Leaders: Apostle Peter was probably the leader of the Jerusalem church, while James, the brother of Christ, probably ranked next to Peter as his prominence was shown in his leadership position at the Jerusalem Council [AD50]. The early church focused on the leadership of the Apostles. Later, churches gained authority by claiming apostolic lineage.

·         Worship services: Besides worshipping on the Sabbath day (Saturday), they added the observance of the first day of the week (Sunday) in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Those early communion services centred on the Lord’s victory so the breaking of bread took place “with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46), unlike the solemn atmosphere in today’s communion.

·         Fasting: The church took from the Jewish practice two weekly days of fasting. While the Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, probably in commemoration of the betrayal and the crucifixion.

·         Cultural influence: Among the Jewish Christians, there were some conservative ones, who still followed their Jewish traditions. There were also a group of Jews who were more open to Hellenistic influence (see Acts 6:1). Early Christians did not view Christianity as different from Judaism. Their difference from other Jews was that the Messianic age had been fulfilled as foretold by the Old Testament.

·         Persecution: Persecution began against the group of Jewish Christians who were more open to Hellenism. Apparently, the Apostles in Jerusalem were not affected or needed to escape at the beginning of persecution as described in Acts 8. The persecuted Jewish Christians escaped from Jerusalem and spread to various regions, bringing with them the gospel to other Jews.

        2.2.2  The waning of the Jewish church

·         Suppression: Persecution and destruction of Jerusalem forced the members to scatter. Many leaders were executed. James, the brother of Jesus and the head of the Jerusalem church was killed [AD62] by the order of the high priest. Simeon became the leader but was later killed by the Romans.

·         Exodus: Soon after, the remaining leaders led the people to Pella, a city beyond Jordan. This allowed them to escape from the disaster in Jerusalem [AD70]. Later, some Jewish Christians returned to Jerusalem [AD135], but they were isolated from other Christians.

·         End: The church beyond Jordan eventually was isolated from the Jews and the Gentiles and faded out in 5th-c.


        2.3.1  The Christian mission

·         To the Jews: After the first persecution as described in 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 the meeting of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10) [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) so that Gentiles only needed “to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”

        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 on his journeys. The missionary task had been undertaken by many other Christians. Most of the time when Paul visited a city, a church had already been founded. Besides Paul, there were many others preaching in various regions. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus. The Alexandrine Jew Apollos preached in Ephesus and Corinth.

·         Writings of Paul: Paul’s importance can be attributed mostly to his letters written to various churches and individuals. They later would become part of the NT Scripture. They had significant and continuing impact on the thoughts of Christian church.

·         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

·         Content: They usually dealt with very specific issues and there was a decided emphasis on Christian living. Some writings were regarded as authoritative as writings of Church Fathers, such as Didache and Shepherd of Hermas. They are important in being a witness to the canonicity and integrity of the NT books.

·         Epistle to the Corinthians [AD95] was written by Clement of Rome (30–100). It dealt with the same problems that Paul dealt with in First Corinthians. The Corinthian church had sacked all its leaders; Clement wrote in response to the division. There was a great emphasis on the importance of due order in the church. It urged the Christians who were in revolt against the elders to end their disturbance and to be in subjection to these elders. The letter stressed that obedience to the bishop is to be the practical guarantee of Christian unity, and that clergy are separated from the laity. It also stressed the need for orderly succession in church. God sent Christ, who sent the Apostles, who in turn appointed bishops and deacons. Here, bishop and presbyter (elder) referred to the same person.

·         Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles [c.AD100] was written by an unknown Christian. It 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. It reflected the transition from a mobile ministry of Apostles and prophets to a settled ministry of bishops (including presbyters) and deacons.

·         Seven letters [AD110] was written by Ignatius of Antioch (35–110) to 5 churches in Asia Minor, to the church in Rome, and to Polycarp. He welcomed his impending martyrdom as the seal for his discipleship. The letter warned about the heresies that threatened the peace and unity of churches, particularly Gnostic and Docetic tendencies. He defended the 3 types of officials in ministry: one bishop in a church with his presbyters and deacons. He also stressed the subjection to the bishop as the way to achieve unity and to avoid the growth of heresy, revealing the probability of the development of a monarchical bishop.

o        Docetism: The Docetists sought to keep Christ a purely spiritual being so they denied the reality of Christ’s material body and stated that only a phantom suffered on the cross.

·         Letter to the Philippians [AD110] was written by Polycarp (70–156), bishop of Smyrna, and a disciple of Apostle John. The letter exhorted the Philippians to virtuous living, good works, and steadfastness even to death. It quoted many passages from various books from the eventual NT canon.

·         Epistle of Barnabas [c.AD130] was written by an unknown author in Alexandria. It showed that the life and death of Christ are completely adequate for salvation and that Christians are not bound to observe the law. However, it used allegorical method to derive meaning he wanted from the OT Scripture.

·         Shepherd of Hermas [c.AD140] was written by a brother of the bishop of Rome. It dealt with holy living and the repentance of sins after baptism. It contained 12 mandates or commandments depicting the code of ethics that the repentant one should follow in order to please God. It was written after the model of Revelation, containing many allegorical symbols and visions.

·         Second Epistle to the Corinthians [c.AD150] was a sermon, allegedly written by Clement, but was actually not by Clement. The themes were a sound view of Christ, a belief in the resurrection of the body, and purity of Christian life. The author urged Christians to enter the conflict against the world by practicing Christian virtues.

·         Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord [c.AD150] was written by Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia region of Asia Minor, possibly a disciple of Apostle John. It dealt with the life and words of Christ. Papias stated that Mark was the interpreter of Peter and that Matthew wrote his work in the Hebrew language.

·         Epistle to Diognetus [c.AD200] was written by an anonymous author. The document was a rational defense of Christianity by showing the folly of idolatry, the inadequacy of Judaism, and the superiority of Christianity. It also showed how Christianity built the character and offered benefits to the convert.

        2.4.2  Christian worship

·         Worship services: From the beginning, 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, and prayers. The evening service was a love feast followed by the communion. Believers brought what they could, and after the common meal, there were special prayers over the bread and wine. 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 services. 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. It was opened with the kiss of peace. The bread and the cup were passed. The meeting ended with a benediction. Only those who had been baptized could attend the communion. Sometimes, communion was held at the tombs of the faithful, especially the martyrs—the catacombs. [The popular belief that Christians used the catacombs to hide from authorities was perhaps exaggerated.] Many gathered in private homes.

·         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. By 3rd-c, the period lasted 2 to 3 years. Baptism was administered once a year at Easter. Immersion in running water was generally used. Where water was scarce, or where the climate was cold (such as in Europe), pouring water 3 times over the head was used. The practice of infant baptism began no later than 3rd-c.

·         Feast days: Sunday was a day of joy while Friday was a day of penance, fasting, and sorrow. Later, Wednesday also became a day of fasting. Easter was the day with the greatest celebrations. Later, Lent was added before Easter, involving a period of 40 days of fasting and penitence. The celebration of Pentecost was then added. In 4th-c, new feast days added included Ascension, Christmas, and Epiphany. Christmas was set for December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ; it was originally a pagan festival which celebrated the lengthening of the sun’s rays. Epiphany was January 6 which was a celebration of the visitation of Christ by the wise men. January 6 was also the Christmas day in the Julian calendar, a calendar used since 45 BC. It is equal to December 25 in the Gregorian calendar which Pope Gregory XIII decreed in 1582 and which we now use. The Eastern church celebrated Christmas on January 6 while the Western church celebrated on December 25. This continues even today.

·         Language: The early church was divided into the Greek-speaking East and the Latin-speaking West. The earliest Gentile Christianity was Greek. Even in the West, the earliest churches were Greek-speaking. The first Latin Christianity were in north Africa. Tertullian (160–225) was the first important Latin Christian writer. The two languages coexisted happily in the first few centuries. They later drifted apart and became the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church [RCC].

        2.4.3  Church government

·         Church as organism: The church exists on 2 levels. [1] It is an eternal, visible, Biblical organism that is welded into one body by the Holy Spirit. [2] It is the temporal, historical, visible, human, institutional organization. The first is the end, the second is the means.

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

·         Non-hierarchical: The Apostles helped develop other offices in the church. It was not a pyramidal hierarchy like the RCC. There was no special class of priests as both the officials and the members of the church were spiritual priests with the right of direct access to God through Christ (Ephesians 2:18).

·         Ordination: The selection of a clergy began with an inward call by the Holy Spirit to the office. Then there was an external call by the democratic vote of the church following a prayer for guidance of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the clergy would be appointed by the Apostles. No official, formal ordination procedure for church leaders is prescribed in the Scripture. Perhaps the closest approach to a formality was the laying on of hands (First Timothy 5:22) which was a visible recognition of their appointment to the office.

·         Classes of officials: There were 2 classes: [1] charismatic officials with an inspirational function—Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and/or teachers; and [2] administrative officials with an administrative function. There were originally two positions: elder (presbyter), and deacon. Deacons were those who 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 (Acts 20:17,28; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5,7). The separate office of bishop with monarchical powers did not appear until the end of the apostolic age in 2nd-c. [2] Early churches were governed by a group of bishops or elders, not by a single bishop or elder. Whenever a church of the NT is mentioned as having elders, the plural noun is always used. [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. The women also aided in this charitable work by making clothes for those in need (Acts 9:36-39).

·         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, stadiums, games, or temples.

·         Civil obligations: Paul urged Christians to fulfil their obligation as a citizen by obeying and respecting civil authority, paying taxes, praying for those in authority. Christians were excellent citizens as long as they were not asked to violate the teachings in the Scripture.

·         Missionary methods: Early church did not have systematic evangelistic activities. 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, apart from its connection with the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, 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” (Iesous CHristos THeou Uios Soter).



[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 leave Jerusalem in order to escape from its destruction and 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 and government in the early church may contribute to our present practices.

[5] follow past saints

The strong faith of the Apostles, even unto death, is an excellent model for us.



        After Acts 11, the focus switches to Gentiles and missions. What happened to the original church in Jerusalem?

o        The Jerusalem church decided to move out to Pella to disengage from the Jewish-Roman conflict. They were gradually isolated and eventually disappeared in the 5th-c.

        Should a present-day Jewish Christian follow the Jewish tradition like keeping the Sabbath? Why?

o        Salvation does not require the keeping of Jewish tradition and customs. Therefore it is not a compulsory requirement. However, if such cultural tradition is not against Biblical principles, it can be followed in order to get the opportunity to evangelize one’s own cultural group.

        In what way was the gospel spread in the 1st-c?

o        The gospel was spread by Christians who travelled to various parts of the Roman Empire as a result of persecution, trading, or missionary calling.

        Should Christians who are not full-time pastors go to missions? Why?

o        Yes, everyone has the responsibility to help spreading the gospel. Every Christian must respond the God’s call. There are also advantages for lay Christians, such as less resistance by non-believers.

        In the first two centuries, when newly formed churches taught people about the gospel, where did their authority come from, that is, how did the people know the teaching in the church was correct? What about the churches today?

o        The authority came from the teachings of the Apostles. Individuals with legitimate spiritual authority were recognized widely in the church, such as Paul, Apollos, Barnabas, and Timothy.

o        Today, the spiritual authority came from teaching the Bible, the Word of God. Individuals with spiritual authority can similarly be recognized by most Christians. However, there could also be the possibility of deceptions, as can be seen from cases of fallen TV evangelists.

        Which practices in early church are still found in the church today?

o        meeting on Sundays, first day of the week

o        holding communions

o        only those who were baptized can participate in the communion

o        baptism by immersion or pouring

o        government by bishops or elders

        Which practices in early church were different from the practice of today? Are these differences important? Should we follow the ancient ways?

o        Practices different from early church:

          emphasis of preaching over communion in worship services

          baptism immediately after conversion (1st-c) or after 3 years (3rd-c)

          infant baptism (still practiced by some churches today)

          Christmas on January 6 (still practiced by Eastern churches)

o        These are non-essential points of faith. The differences are not important so each church has liberty to adopt one way or another. However, the importance of the communion should perhaps be emphasized more.