Faulkner University


Introduction Following the post-resurrection of appearances of Christ to His disciples, the small circle of dedicated followers known later as apostles returned to Jerusalem. They abandoned the ideas of John the Baptist, the Qumran community, and the growing cults of revolutionary messianism that the kingdom of God would be found in the wilderness for the more orthodox tradition that Jerusalem would be the scene of the gathering of the tribes of Israel. It made sense to a group determined to spread a message to fellow Jews, since on feast days the city would be filled with Jews from every part of the Dispersion. It also meant a reorientation from the ministry of Jesus, who had visited the city on feast days and even taught there but never made it the center of His efforts. Instead, He had concentrated on rural Jewish folk, preaching and healing in the small towns and villages of Galilee. Furthermore, He had left alone the Greco-Jewish cities of Palestine. All of this was to change radically. With the move to Jerusalem almost at once Greek-speaking synagogues became interested in the teachings of Jesus. Within a short time after Pentecost, Samaria and the coastal towns of Palestine were areas of missionary activity as far as Damascus. Not more than five years after the death of Christ a new dimension had been added to His mission. With the conversion of the Cypriot Levite--Barnabas--and then Saul of Tarsus, Christianity started to penetrate the vast fields of Dispersion-Judaism.

The Jerusalem Community According to Luke the Jerusalem community of Christians was a family, worshipping in the Temple, meeting in homes for prayer and breaking bread (Acts 2:46). In many respects these Christians living in the wake of the death and resurrection of Christ resembled other pietistic and messianic Jewish sects, especially that of Qumran, except that the Christians were in Jerusalem, not the desert, and did not oppose the Temple cults. In fact, the Christians were "assiduous in the Temple." Luke mentions that Peter and John were on their way to the Temple to pray in Acts 3:1. The apostles preached in the temple as well as in private houses (Acts 5:42). The sectarian character of the believers is shown in Acts 5:12-13 where it is noted that the apostles met in Solomon's Portico (a Temple area) and that no one joined them but those who held them in high esteem. Like their Qumran contemporaries the Christians saw their life as the Way; they were the true congregation of Israel, looking forward to the speedy return of the Lord. Significantly, we are told in Acts 6:7 that a number of priests had believed. Reminiscent of the three priests who presided at Qumran there were during Paul's visit to Jerusalem in 48 A.D. three leaders--Peter, James and John ("pillars" Gal. 2:9). While in 39 A.D. Paul had reported only to James and Peter, by the time Paul returned James had emerged as the leader of the church assisted by a cohort of sub-ordinate elders and disciples. In one major respect, however, under the leadership of James the Christians were very different than Qumran. They were mission-minded, where as the Qumran sectaries had an obligation to "cut themselves off from the sons of destruction" (1QS8:12-13). Psalm 98:2 had declared a duty to proclaim God's salvation to the heathen, and the primitive community at Jerusalem took this tradition quite seriously. They preached the news of the risen Messiah with urgency claiming that He would soon return to earth and restore all things as had been announced by the OT prophets (Acts 2:22ff; 3:12-26).

Tensions Not surprisingly this fervency spread to the network of Greek-speaking synagogues in Jerusalem. The choice noted in Acts 6:1-6 of seven "deacons" from among the Hellenistic Jews to serve at common meals points to a growing Christian influence among this segment of Judaism. Further, Christians were caught up in a controversy over the Temple and its cult, which they had done nothing to cause. Stephen emphasized in a public speech the pedigree of Israel's salvation to Moses and the tabernacle rather than to Solomon's Temple "made with hands" (Acts 7:47-48), and unleashed latent hostilities against the Temple. He was murdered by ritual stoning, and one of the participants was a young Pharisee from Tarsus, perhaps at this point affiliated with the synagogue of the Cilicians in Jerusalem.

Characteristics of Early Christian Mission Saul would not become prominent in the faith for another eleven years. From the death of Stephen to the emergence of Paul the basic marks of early Christian mission became apparent. The adherence of Greeks or Hellenists to the faith provided an all important urban base for mission and organization. Christianity rapidly spread beyond Palestine to Damascus, probably by moving through a network of Hellenistic synagogues radiating from Jerusalem. Christianity quickly became an urban movement and lost ties with the rural Galilee based procedures of Jesus. Further, the death of Stephen scattered Christian leaders and spread the faith into Samaria and Judea (Acts 8:1). Philip the Evangelist went to Gaza and baptized the first recorded non-Jewish convert--the Ethiopian eunuch--and then into Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. Peter worked his way through Samaria, then to Lydda where there already was a Christian community and finally to Joppa near Caesarea. There he met Cornelius, a semi proselyte ("devout") and centurion in the Italian cohort at the garrison. Peter baptized him and ate with him despite the fact that from a strictly Jewish perspective Cornelius was an Gentile and unclean. This far exceeded the apparent scope of Jesus's earthly ministry, since as He had noted "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." By 40 A.D. Christianity had spread throughout Palestine, and beyond its borders a second important center was developing at Antioch. There Christians were not known as "Nazarenes" as in Palestine (further indicating their sectarian reputation), but as "men of Christ." Obviously, as the Hellenistic church emerged, its members had no direct experience with or knowledge of the earthly Jesus ("historical Jesus"??). Instead, their faith was in the resurrected Savior as the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant motif of Isaiah 53. There would, then, be no reason to brand these Hellenistic believers with a tag applicable only to the context of Christianity as a Jewish sect.

Breakdown of Jewish/Roman Relations While the Church expanded beyond Palestine a series of events took place foreshadowing a breakdown in Jewish/Roman relations that would reach a climax 25 years later. In the winter of 39-40 A.D. Jews in Jamnia destroyed an altar erected by the pagan Greek minority. News reached the Emperor Caligula who ordered that a statute of himself be set up in the Temple as punishment. This was reminiscent of a similar intolerable move by Seleucid Antiochus IV Epiphanies. Philo claimed that "thousands" of Jews were prepared to die rather than give in to this "abomination of desolation." Publius Petronius, the legate of Syria, managed to postpone the order at considerable personal risk. In Rome Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod I, who in 37 A.D. had been appointed tetrarch of Upper Galilee, Abilene and part of Lebanon), got the order rescinded. Caligula was murdered 24 January 41 A.D. forestalling immediate trouble. Agrippa returned to Palestine determined to represent the Jews fully. Jerusalem and Judea were now within his dominions, and the Sadducean high priesthood was his ally. He appointed a new high priest, ordered those who had taken a Nazarite vow to shave their heads to display their commitment and then turned on the Christians as a bothersome sect. He executed James, the brother of John, which pleased his Jewish allies, and then arrested Peter also (Acts 12:2-3), thus starting the first organized persecution of the Christian community. Unfortunately, Agrippa died in 44 A.D. and the persecution was not pressed. Peter escaped from prison, and John apparently survived. Perhaps, that while Christians found the Sadducees to be uncompromising enemies, and the Hellenists among their community who attacked the Temple and proclaimed Jesus to be greater than Moses brought trouble on the community, the Christians had not entirely alienated the Pharisees. Gamaliel in Acts 5:38 dissuaded the Sanhedrin from punishing the apostles severely. Later we find Pharisees among the active members of the church, representing the Jewish party at an apostolic council in Acts 15:5. At this stage there was some common ground between them and the Christians. Both believed in the resurrection of the dead and in angels, in opposition to the Sadducees. Paul even in 58 A.D. appealed successfully for Pharisaic support against the Sadducees on these same grounds when brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-7). Perhaps the twenty years of peace for the church from 42-62 A.D. was due to James good relations with the Pharisees and other Jews "zealous for the law." Perhaps, many Jewish Christians could believe in Jesus as Messiah and still support the national ideal of a Pharisaic brotherhood. For Paul, one-time Pharisaic zealot, the two were incompatible, a dilemma well illustrated by his traumatic encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He could not shake the alternative direction for Judaism fearlessly outlined by Stephen, a Greek speaking Jew, in whose murder Paul had been complicit.

The Emergence of Saul of Tarsus The significance of Paul was that he shifted the orientation of Christianity away from Palestine to the centers of Greek and Hellenistic-Jewish culture in Asia Minor and the European mainland. Around 48 A.D. in a meeting between Jewish elements of the church and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:19-20), it was decided that new converts to Christianity did not have to be circumcised. If the church had decided to require circumcision, this would have confirmed that Christianity was merely a reform movement within Judaism, attractive to both Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews, but whose membership could be attained only through the same processes as conversion to orthodox Judaism. It would have made legitimate the claim that the church was the true Israel but at the expense of permanent inroads among Gentiles. It was finally decided that converts had to observe Mosaic prescriptions about diet and sexual behavior, the terms of the Noachian covenant traditionally binding on any "stranger with the gate" in Judaism.

Paul's version of the meeting in Gal. 2:1-10 is less conciliatory. He viewed it as a struggle against sham-Christians who would have prevailed had it not been for his iron determination to uphold the truth and freedom of the gospel. Further, Paul got into a public row with Peter over the right to eat public meals with Gentiles, and even Barnabas had gone over to the pro-Jewish party. Actually, the meeting paved the way for a new body in which there would be neither Jew nor Gentile, in which Gentiles would be offered citizenship even if it was "by adoption." This opened the door to recruit men and women throughout the Mediterranean world who had rejected polytheism but were not happy with the narrow confines of Judaism. Now the religion of Jesus could become the religion of the nations.

The Ministry of Paul Paul's ministry differed from that of the earthly Jesus, about whom Paul says very little. Instead, he emphasizes the post-resurrection Christ, the God-man to be known by faith (cf II Cor. 5:16), whose miraculous resurrection appearances confirmed that Jesus was truly the crucified and risen Messiah, soon-to-be-judge of all men. While Jesus had taught masses of people in rural Palestine, Paul preached in towns where people spoke and read Greek, knew their Septuagint, and sought to interpret the mysteries of God's purposes, for the relative few who could comprehend such concepts. Paul lived in provincial capitals--Corinth, Ephesus--and chose them as centers from which Christianity could spread. Paul's strength lay in his dictated letters. He was less effective in person as a speaker, as his Corinthian critics were quick to point out (II Cor. 10:10).

Pauline Letters From his letters it seems Paul was a vigorous, direct, confidant, almost self-centered, man who wrote for the occasion and not in a carefully studied literary style. He could switch effectively from humility and pleading to sarcasm and biting wit, but always with the framework of a genuine and sincere love for his readers and a devotion to the task at hand which Paul claimed had been entrusted to him personally by the risen Christ. His Corinthian letters show Paul ranging from indignation and angry denunciation to personal reminiscence and judicial pronouncements. His anger could blaze up in a moment as in Phil. 3:2ff when he denounced the Jewish party in the strongest possible language. To contemporaries Paul's life probably seemed to be a failure though in the long run he exerted an enormous influence on the world. His younger contemporary, Epictetus the Stoic, who was from a much lower part of society than Paul, exercised much more influence on his contemporaries than did Paul and in the second century was viewed as one of the great guides of humankind.

Early Life and Religious Outlook Paul was born into a strict Jewish Dispersion household at Tarsus, was bilingual in Greek and Hebrew, but seemingly Hebrew-thinking. Pride of race and his vocation as a Pharisee remained a fixed part of his identity through much of his life. Paul went to Palestine for an education, probably after age fourteen. He had a married sister in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16). Paul trained in the Mosaic law with Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder and became a Pharisee with a reputation for precision and enthusiasm beyond his years (Gal. 1:14, Phil. 3:5-6). How he became so concerned with the Gentiles is somewhat of a mystery since his extant writings show his reading to be concentrated in the Septuagint and the OT Wisdom literature. Nor does Paul show any interest in harmonizing Jewish scripture with Greek philosophy. He often interpreted Scripture from a Pharisaic perspective. His view of the pagan world in Romans 1 accords with standard Pharisee views. The pagans deserted God's natural order, had fallen into idolatry, from which they moved on to a long list of vices, per-version and wickedness to be "without excuse" since they knew God "but did not honor him as God" (Rom. 1:20-21). Paul was simply shocked by the prospective fate of the Gentiles under God's judgment, as he was of his own people (Rom 9:1-5).

The Pauline Mission By 46 A.D. when Paul set off with Barnabas on their first missionary journey Paul had been a Christian for about eleven years. After conversion he went to Damascus, the wilderness of southeastern Judea, and then back to Damascus as part of a Hellenistic church. Despite preaching that Jesus was the Son of God and the Christ in synagogues, the Jerusalem church remained skeptical of his faith. Only after three years did Paul go to Jerusalem and was not accepted by James and Peter until Barnabas gave a recommendation. He was packed off via Caesarea to distant Tarsus where he remained until 43-44 A.D. He disdain expressed in the Galatians letter (Gal. 2:2, 6) for "those who seemed to be leaders" or "those who seemed to be important" may stem from this snub. He preached in Cilicia and Syria, came in contact with Barnabus who operated out of Antioch and perhaps accompanied Barnabus to Jerusalem with famine relief. Since elders in Jerusalem distributed the donations, apparently the primitive community had broken down and now a hierarchy of sorts was in the works (Acts 11:27-30). Upon returning to Antioch, Paul was designated with Barnabus to go on a mission trip beyond the borders of Syria in a levitical ritual of separation by laying on of hands (Acts 13:2-3). Success on this trip led to several others, culminating in Paul's execution in Rome sometime after 62 A.D. It was a record of astonishing activity and endurance, numerous public beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, constant danger, betrayal, deprivation, hunger and fatigue. All were a remarkable tribute to Paul's determination and enterprise.

Behind Paul's Zeal One motivation for Paul was demonstrate his apostolic status. He was accepted in Jerusalem as a missionary and reporter in charge of the Gentile mission but not as an eyewitness to the death and resurrection of Christ (Gal. 2:8; need some other references). Only such witnesses could claim apostolicity. Further, Paul was not trusted. He was suspect because of his former zeal for persecution, and ironically near his death he was accused of having given away too much of his Jewish heritage to win over the Gentiles. Yet, Paul insisted he too had apostolic authority like Peter and James because he had seen the risen Christ on the road to Damascus that compensated for the personal experiences in the earthly ministry of Jesus that Peter and others could invoke (I Cor. 9:1-6, 15:7-9; Gal. 1:12).

Second, Paul was an apocalyptist who believed that the end of history was imminent. Shortly, the Messianic age would usher in the final judgment of all souls. Paul did not believe that humanity possessed some spark of divinity that would save them from the coming judgment. To the contrary disasters and tribulations were in the works for most of mankind. Jesus would be revealed in flaming fire (II Thess. 1:7-9) to punish those who had failed to obey the Gospel. For Christians enduring persecution and even unjust death there was consolation that this return would mean the resurrection of the dead and a new body for living believers (I Cor. 11:32; 15:51; I Thess. 5:9), who would escape the horrors of God's judgment.

What Paul Hoped to Achieve Paul had some success. He refers to Corinthians (I Cor. 12:2) as former "heathens," and the believers at Colosse as people who once were "alienated from God and . . . enemies in your mind" (Col. 1:21), which meant pagans. The Thessalonians specifically had turned to God from idols (I Thess. 1:9-10). Despite Paul's insistence that the Gospel had "destroyed the . . . dividing wall of hostility" (Eph. 2:14), his letters and actions show little concern for or insight into the workings of the non-Jewish mind. The bizarre situation at Lystra (Acts 14:8ff) seems to have stumped Paul. Assertions in this instance about the OT prophecies or Jesus' messianic claims seemed at best premature and at worst inappropriate. They would have meant little to the Lycaonians caught up in the fervor of traditional Olympic piety. The groundwork was not there, so Paul had to attack idols, as any Jewish missionary might, which would not make the priests happy who were about to honor him with a sacrifice. Further, at Athens Paul does not seem successful. He argued with people both in a synagogue and in the Agora. He presented a coherent case at the Court of Areopagus, probably to a crowd of Epicureans and Stoics. His opening reference to the "unknown God" was promising, and Paul's claim to be able to reveal His nature would claim the attention of those searching for proofs of God's existence from the observable world. God as universal giver of life, fixer of the epochs of history and territories of men, would have interested the Stoics in the audience. Then Paul used a quotation from Aratus "We are also his offspring"--a blend of Stoic and Jewish universalism. Once Paul turned to specifically Christian themes his audience left him. Repentance, a coming judgment and the resurrection brought mockery and disbelief, so Paul simply left (Acts 17:33).

Paul's Impact Paul's major impact was on the Hellenistic-Jewish and "God-fearing" communities that existed in the places where he preached. In a sermon at Antioch Pisidia Paul's remarks presuppose a thorough acquaintance among his hearers with the Septuagint, with Messianic prophecies and even the preaching of John the Baptist. This pattern was repeated throughout Paul's missionary trips. Usually, upon arrival he went straight to a synagogue or to where the Jewish community met for prayer. His debates and disputes were with local Jews or rival groups of Jewish Christians. Often converts are women, such as Lydia at Phillip and Damaris at Athens. At Thessalonica he won over some Jews but most "a great many of the devout Greeks" and "leading women" (Acts 17:4). Except for the riot at Ephesus, where Paul stayed three years, over the decline in business connected with the city's patron goddess Artemis-Cybele, there is little recorded pagan reaction. Further, once a Christian community had been established, Paul's letters seem to presuppose a synagogue background. Using normal Jewish salutations, Paul's letters breath Septuagint and synagogue society. The Corinthians, Paul reminded them, had fathers "who were all under the cloud (I Cor. 10:1)--what would this have meant to a pagan? Paul chided the Colossians about new moons, fasting and angel-worship, typical Jewish problems (Col. 2:16-18). His discussions in Romans about ethics, worship and administration make sense only against the background of the synagogue.

Paul and the Dispersion Paul transformed the dispersion. Morality, mysticism, a promise of salvation without the Law were themes appealing to members of the Diaspora. Within a decade (47-57 A.D.) a large part of the Dispersion community in Asia Minor and Greece had been shaken to their foundation. A growing list of Christian communities surfaced in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Phillipi and Berea, in addition to the provincial capitals of Paphos, Ephesus, Thessalonica and Corinth. Wherever Paul went he left communities behind, with the exception of Athens. Three years at Ephesus left disciples brimming with enthusiasm and making their way up the Maeander valley as far as Colossae and Laodicea. His success, of course, stirred up opposition among Jews and the pro-Jewish party. The latter were, after all, Christian missionaries themselves who worked in Asia Minor and Greek cities on the mainland. They did not oppose conversion of the Gentiles. They just insisted that the church was Israel and to enter it one must become an Israelite. To this must be added the inevitable misunderstandings with Jews as happened at Corinth. Paul was a disaster for them, for he exposed many of the tensions inherent in the Dispersion. They accused Paul in Acts 24:1-8 of being an agitator among Jews throughout the world. This was really the climax of their concern, for Jews had frequently given Paul a fair hearing in local synagogues. Once, however, the significance of his message became clear, the results could be violence. The bitter hostility (stoning) at Lystra was repeated at Thessalonica and Berea when Jews tried to prevent Paul from preaching (note his complaints in I Thess. 2:15-16).

The Pauline Christ Most of the Jews of the Dispersion agreed with Simeon the Just that the world stood on the Torah, the worship of the temple and acts of love (Pirke Aboth 1.2). Paul retained the last but replaced the Torah and the temple cults with Jesus Christ and faith in him. Through faith in Christ one entered into the sphere of God's grace (Rom. 5:1-2). Pauline Christianity, then, was a religion centered on the personality and love of Jesus, which could not be expressed in terms of the Law.

Many of the intermediate steps to this fundamental proposition could be taken within the framework of Judaism. Proclaiming the coming of the Messiah in the 50s would not have stirred up opposition. That the Messiah would suffer, as the prophets had suffered, and that this should atone for Israel's collective guilt was also possibly acceptable (cf. Isa. 53 on the Suffering Servant). Two things, however, in Paul's presentation of Jesus as Messiah caused trouble: first, Jesus had been executed as a criminal at the instigation of the high priests in Jerusalem; second, Paul associated Jesus with the 'Logos' (Word) or 'sophia' (Wisdom) of Hellenistic-Jewish speculation, and proclaimed him to be the redeemer of mankind. Further, Paul told his audiences that the Law had been superseded by the new law of Christ and was useless for salvation. Instead, it was the occasion of sin!

The Davidic Messiah and the Divine Word The concepts of the Davidic Messiah and the divine creative power personified in God's Word or Wisdom ran a parallel course in Judaism for more than a century. Probably, they could not be brought together without infringing upon Jewish monotheism. Paul's concept of the "Son of God" transcends the limits of Jewish messianism. By the time Paul wrote Corinthians he equated Christ with the divine Wisdom incarnate (I Cor. 1:24). When he wrote Colossians from prison in Rome about 60 A.D., he spoke of Jesus unequivocally as divine--"in Him all things were created." Like Wisdom in Prov. 8:22 Christ was "before all things," "the first-born of all creation," "the image of the invisible God," in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt, and therefore supreme over all creation (Col. 1:15-19). In his letter to the Philippians Paul described Christ as coming to earth "in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7). Bethlehem, confused inconsistent camp followers and hostile kinfolk were far away.

Christ as the Second Adam Paul also viewed Christ as the second Adam, reversing the damage caused to humanity by the disobedience of the first Adam. To the Jews of Paul's day Adam was looked upon as the embodiment of all the attributes of man in his perfection. His fall dragged all humanity into sin and death, which would only be undone in the Messianic age. Paul accepted this teaching, but transferred it to Christ. Death came through Adam, while divine grace and righteousness came through Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:21; Rom. 5:17). Further, Christ's resurrection overthrew death, and He was the sole means wherein God had reconciled the world to Himself. And since Christ was the second Adam, so believers were participants in this new creation. The Christian, then, belonged to a new and restored humanity--the Jews first by birthright, Gentiles now by adoption (Rom. 11:17ff). Rhetorical dualism, "flesh" and "spirit," "old man" versus "new man" underscored the break with the past whether one was Jew or Gentile. Just as the three steps of circumcision, baptism and offering in the Temple united the proselyte to Israel and freed him or her from the blindness of paganism, so baptism was the sign of the Christian's sharing in Christ's death and resurrection and entrance into a heritage of salvation. Once baptized, a believer entered a brotherhood (I Thess. 4:9). All were members of one another (I Cor. 12:25-26), and like Paul sealed and committed to Christ, mystically nailed to the Cross, "in Christ." The believer was a new creation, justified by the grace of Christ, delivered from the Law, from world rulers, planetary deities and from death.

The Novelty of Pauline Theology There was a certain urgency to Paul's universalism and his conviction that God's hidden purposes were now being revealed through Paul (Col. 1:26). In the process of formulating his coherent system of thought centered around Christ Paul touched upon themes familiar to and well developed in other religions. His insistence on man's innate natural belief in God, the natural equality of all men, comparisons between the church and the human body and the athletic terminology, point, for example, to Stoic interests rather than Jewish origins. Phrases such as "become slaves of God" (Rom. 6:22) also came near to the language of contemporary mystery cults, as did concepts such as salvation mystically achieved through baptism that identified the believer with the fate of the Savior who died and rose again (Gal. 3:27; Rom 6:2ff; Col. 2:12). This approximated concepts instilled in converts to the mysteries such as Isis-worship. And the idiom of a Savior who arouses the believer from deep slumber, the heavy sleep of drunkenness (Eph. 5:14), seems more connected with the idioms of Persian religion than Judaism--a concept that grows and develops more fully in Gnosticism. Yet, the rhetorical and idiomatic familiarities aside, it is obvious that Paul taught a revolutionary religion of conversion and commitment to Christ, a new exodus based on a new Torah. While much of the particulars of Paul's preaching originated in Judaism and rhetorically was familiar to Paul's Hellenistic-Jewish audience, the total effect was quite new. To be "in Christ" was to share in the age to come, which was quite different from being "in Israel" as proclaimed by Jewish teachers. Further, this new remnant was "chosen by grace . . . no longer by works" (Rom. 11:5-6). It was open to all, not just a single nation.

Paul and James Paul's success and energy put severe strains on the unity of the church. He foresaw personal rivalries and schisms, explained in a discussion with the elders at Miletus (Acts 20:30). Corinth quickly acquired rival groups, and in his second Corinthian letter the church is actually in rebellion against Paul (II Cor. 2:5-7:12). Further, Paul's letters show there were quarrels between Paul and his colleagues. He parted with Barnabas and does not seem to have like Cephas. His interpretation of his encounters with James is similarly equivocal. Paul was devoted to Judean churches (I Thess. 2:14), took gifts to believers in Jerusalem, the mother church, and insisted on going there despite warnings from Agabus of personal danger (Acts 21:11). Yet, Paul disagreed with James, who had opposed table-fellowship with Gentiles (Gal. 2:12) but gave way at the 48 A.D. council meeting on the fundamental issue of circumcision. And his welcome to Paul in 58 A.D. to report on his mission to the Gentiles was under a cloud. While James and the Jerusalem elders "praised God" for news of Gentile conversions, James' was concerned about the "thousands of Jews" who had believed "all of them . . . zealous for the law." He wanted assurance from Paul that he would join in a purification rite to confirm that Paul still lived in obedience to the law and to dispel rumors that Paul had been telling people to forget circumcision and Jewish customs. Obviously, the issue of whether or not Christianity would move completely out from under Judaism was quite sensitive as a result of Paul's forays into the Gentile world (Acts 21:17-25).

The Pauline Ministry The tensions between Jerusalem and Paul's Gentile mission can also be seen in the organization of the church. The Hellenistic churches seemed to have been moving away from the Jerusalem model. In Jerusalem, James appears to have been at the head of a sort of Christian Sanhedrin. Performing Nazarite vows in the Temple did not seem to be unusual according to Acts 21:23. In the Pauline churches, however, there was no high priestly succession as James seems to have become. Instead, there were a number of office holders based on spiritual gifts--apostles, prophets, teachers (I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11) who moved from one town to another. Everyone baptized in the Lord was equal. Yet, as the faith moved through a network of families a fairly elaborate structure arose (Philemon 1-3; Rom. 16:23). The early officials we hear of in Acts 13:1 were "prophets and teachers." This continues throughout Paul's early ministry and mission trips. Paul and Barnabas left congregations in their first trip with elders as leaders. At Phillip there were deacons who seemed to be subordinate to the elders. So, outwardly the Pauline church was based on synagogue organization, though underneath there seems to be a strong sense that the offices were merely temporary to serve the needs of the believers and were a recognition spiritual gifts of individual believers, all of which would soon disappear as Christ returned to judge the earth. Of course, as that imminent return failed to materialize the offices soon settled in more fixed molds of organization.

Paul's Arrest and Death Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, and after a series of appearances before regional rulers he was taken to Rome as a prisoner to appeal to the emperor. Probably, he was alive in Rome from 60-62 A.D. In fact he may have been there during the Neronian persecution in 64 A.D. There was disastrous fire that year which destroyed many parts of the city. Some claimed that Jews were responsible for similar fires in other communities. Officials also had in mind the Bacchanalian conspiracy of 186 B.C. In that case, according to Livy, a large number of female worshippers of Bacchus had developed into a vast political-religious conspiracy among the Plebeians that aimed at setting fire to Rome. This was what could happen if a foreign cult got out of control. The Romans feared divine outrage if such a cult like Christianity defamed the gods of the cities. Perhaps, this is why Nero in 64 A.D. tried to calm the angry and suspicious Roman population by blaming the fire on the Christians and their newfangled God. Whether Peter and Paul were among the martyrs cannot be determined. Traditionally, they were among 977 other Christian martyrs. Sixty years later Tacitus had not forgotten the incident that still showed scant sympathy for Christians. Suetonius called Christians "a class of men given to a new and wicked superstition."

Christianity in the Empire Henceforth, Christianity was considered an "evil religion" in the eyes of the ruling elements of the empire. Despite their disdain, Paul's work had been successful. His churches took root. Even though he had not been with the earthly Jesus, Paul's preaching of Him as the risen Lord and Christ gave Jesus' message a new dimension in the Gentile world. Paul transformed the message "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24) into a worldwide movement of universal salvation that broke down traditional Jewish distinctions among men. Paul judged the prevailing mood of the Hellenistic world quite well. The Galatians received him with joy (Gal. 4:14). Believers at Philippi were devoted to him. Basically, Paul offered them a stripped down version of Judaism, minus the Mosaic Law and its encumbrances and narrow provincial association with a single nation. Paul's message had enough in common at least rhetorically with the mystery cults and Stoic ethics to attract adherents on the outer fringes of the synagogue and even beyond. Through faith in the risen Christ one could join an international brotherhood in which there were neither bond nor free, Jew nor Greek, only brothers and sisters united in love for the Savior and one another (Gal. 5:6) and thereby freed from the Law, the power of Fate, and the malevolent astral lords of time. This was an incredibly powerful ideal in the Greco-Roman world. Paul offered in fulfillment of this ideal, not a savior god of current pagan myth, but an historical figure invested with deity. In short, Paul had brought together some of the most powerful religious forces in the Empire. He was opposed by Jewish orthodoxy and nationalism on one hand, and forces of provincial loyalty on the other focused on the imperial cult and traditional native religion. Not until social and economic life in the empire, of which this paganism was a part, came under intolerable strain in the third century did the Pauline mission reap its full harvest.


Cohen, Shaye J.D. From the Maccabees to the Mishna. Library of Early Christianity. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987.

Frend, W.H.C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Hamerton-Kelly, Robert, and Scroggs, Robin, eds. Jews, Greeks and Christians: Religious Cultures in Late Antiquity. Essays in Honor of William David Davies. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976.

Jones, A.H.M. The Decline of the Ancient World. A General History of Europe. New York: Longman, 1966.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. A History of Medieval Christianity: Prophecy and Order. Arlington Heights, Ill.: Harlan Davidson Inc., 1968.

My Faulkner
Nichols Library
Academic Calendar
Faulkner Events
WebMail - Eagle Alert - Library - Give Online - Faculty & Staff Directory - Employment - Faculty Web Sites
Ask Us - Map & Directions | 5345 Atlanta Highway, Montgomery, AL 36109 334.272.5820 or 800.879.9816
©2012 all right reserved.