THE CHURCH AMONG THE GENTILES
FROM THE COUNCIL AT JERUSALEM, ca. 48 A.D. TO THE MARTYRDOM OF St.PAUL, 68 A.D
By the decision of the Council at Jerusalem, the church was free to enter upon a large work for the bringing of all people, of every race, and in every land under the realm of Jesus Christ. Jewish members of the church were expected to continue in their obedience to the Jewish law, though the regulations were interpreted broadly by such leaders as St. Paul. But Gentiles could enter the Christian fold by simple faith in Christ and a righteous-life, without submission to legal requirements. For our information of the events in the twenty years following the Council we are dependent upon the Book of Acts, the letters of the apostle Paul, and perhaps the opening verse of St. Peter‘s First Epistle, which may refer to lands visited by that apostle. To these authorities may be added a few traditions, seeming to be authentic, from the period immediately following the apostolic age. The field of the church is now the entire Roman Empire, consisting of all the provinces bordering upon the Mediterranean Sea, and also some lands outside its boundaries, especially upon the east. Its membership we shall find increasingly Gentile and decreasingly Jewish; for as the gospel gained a following in the heathen world the Jews drew away from it and grew more and more bitter in their hatred. Almost everywhere during this epoch it was the Jews who instigated persecutions against the Christians. Three leaders and prominently before the church during those years; first, and easily chief, St. Paul, the tireless traveler, the indomitable worker, the church-founder and theologian; next to Paul, St. Peter, whose name scarcely appears upon the record, but who was recognized by St. Paul as one of the “pillars”. We are inclined to accept the tradition that Peter was for some time at Rome, supervised the church in that city, and died there as a martyr about 67 A.D. The third of the great names in this period is that of St. James, a younger brother of our Lord, and head of the church in Jerusalem. He was a loyal supporter of the Jewish usages and recognized as a leader among Jewish Christians, though not to the extent of opposing the gospel to the Gentiles. The Epistle of James was written by this apostle. He was slain in the Temple about 62 A.D. Thus all the three leaders in this period, besides many of less prominence, gave up their lives as martyrs to the faith.
The record of these years as contained in the last thirteen chapters of the Book of Acts reports only the work of the Apostle Paul; yet there must have been many other missionaries, for soon after the close of this epoch, churches are named in lands which Paul had never visited. Paul’s first journey through some of the interior provinces of Asia Minor has been already mentioned. After the Council at Jerusalem he set out on a second missionary journey. With Silas or Silvanus as his companion, he went forth from Syrian Antioch, visited again for the third time the churches on the mainland founded on his first journey, reached the coast of the Aegean Sea at Troas, the site of ancient Troy, and crossed over into Europe, bringing the gospel to that continent. They established churches at Philippi, Thesslonica, and Berea in the province of Macedonia; a small one in the cultured city of Athens, and a strong one at Corinth, the commercial metropolis of Greece. From Corinth Paul wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica, his earliest extant epistles. Then he sailed eastward across the Aegean Sea for a brief visit to Ephesus in Asia Minor; then over the Mediterranean to Caesarea; went up to salute the mother church at a Jerusalem; and returned to his starting point at Syrian Antioch. In his journey of three years by land and sea he had covered more than two thousand miles, had planted the church in at least seven important cities- probably in many more- and had opened the imperial continent of Europe to the gospel. After a brief period of rest, Paul entered upon his third missionary journey, again from Antioch, but destined to end in Jerusalem, with himself a prisoner in the hands of the Roman government. His only companion in the beginning was Timothy, who had joined him on his second journey, and remained to the end his faithful helper and “son in the gospel”; but quite a number of fellow-travelers were with him before the close of his journey. He began by visiting the churches in Syria and Cilia, doubtless including his birthplace, Tarsus; then passed over his old route, calling for the fourth time upon the churches of his first journey. But after crossing the province of Phrygia, instead of turning northward to Troas, he went southward to Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia Minor. Here he stayed more than two years, the longest at any place in all his journeys. His ministry won great success, resulting, not only in the church at Ephesus, but also in planting the gospel throughout the province. “The seven churches of Asia” were formed either directly or indirectly by St.Paul. Following his method of revisiting his churches, from Ephesus he sailed to Macedonia, called upon the disciples in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, also those in Greece. He was lead to return by the same route for a final visit to those churches; sailed to Troas, and thence along the coast of Asia Minor. At Miletus, the seaport of Ephesus, he sent for the elders of that church, and gave to them a touching farewell address; then went on his voyage again to Caesarea, and climed up the mountains to Jerusalem. At that city his third missionary journey ended; for while worshiping in the Temple, Paul was attacked by a Jewish mob, rescued by Roman soldiers, and, for his own safety, placed in the castle named after Mark Antony. The third missionary journey was as long as the second, except for the three hundred miles between Jerusalem and Antioch. Its greatest outstanding results were the commanding church at Ephesus, and two of the most important epistles of St.Paul, one to the church at Rome setting forth the principles of the gospel as preached by himself; and the other, the Epistle to the Galatians, addressed to the churches of his first journey, wherein Judaizing teachers had perverted many of the disciples.
For more than five years after his arrest, Paul was a prisoner, for a short time in Jerusalem, then for three years in Caesarea, and for at least two years at Rome. We may look upon that perilous voyage from Caesarea to Rome as St.Paul’s fouth journey, for even his bonds Paul was still a missionary, employing every opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ. The immediate cause of the voyage was his appeal as Roman citizen from the trial by the persecutor of Judea to the emperor’s court at Rome. His companions were Luke and Aristarchus, who may have sailed as his servants. There was also on board a group of convicted criminals taken to Rome for slaughter in the gladiatorial games, soldiers to guard them, and sailors tho work the ship. We may be sure that on that long and perilous voyage, all these fellow-travelers with the apostle heard the gospel; also that at Sidon, and Myra, and Crete, where know the vessel paused, Paul was able to proclaim Christ. We know that he won to the faith many in the islands of Melita(Malta), where, after the storm, they tarried three months.
At last Paul arrived at Rome, the goal of his hopes for many years. A prisoner awaiting trial, he yet had his own hired house, wherein he lived, chained to a soldier. His first effort was, as always, to reach the Jews, and he held an all day meeting with them. But finding that only a few of them were willing to accept the gospel, he turned to the Gentiles. For two years his house was a church wherein many found Christ, especially among the soldiers of the Pretorian Guard. But his greatest work in Rome was the writing of four epistle, which are among the treasures of the church-Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. There is good reason to believe that after two years in prison, Paul was acquitted and set at liberty.
We might look upon Paul’s three or four years of liberty as continuing his fourth missionary journey. We find hints or expectations of visits to Colosse and Miletus. If he was so near to Ephesus, as were these two places, we might be almost certain that he visited that city. He visited also the island of Crete, where he left Titus in charge of the churches; and Nicopolis on the Adriatic Sea, north of Greece. Tradition states that at this place he was arrested, and sent again to Rome, where he was martyred 68 A.D. Three epistles may belong to this period: First Timothy, Titus, and Second Timothy, his last letter, written from his prison at Rome.
In the year 64 A.D. a large part of the city of Rome was destroyed in a great conflagration. It has been said that the fire was started by Nero worst of all the Roman emperors, but this is disputed. It is certain that Nero was charged with the crime by common report. In order to clear himself, Nero declared that the Christians had set fire to the city, and began a terrible persecution. Thousands were tortured and put to death, among them St. Peter by crucifixion, in the year 67; and St. Paul by being beheaded, in the year 68. These dates are not certain, and the apostles may have suffered martyrdom a year, or two years, earlier. It is one of “the revenge of history,” that the gardens of Nero, where multitudes of Christians were burned as “living torches,” while the emperor drove his chariot among them, are now the seat of the Vatican palace, the home of the Roman Catholic pontiff, and of St.Peter’s Church, the largest edifice of the Christian faith.
At the time of the Council at Jerusalem, 50 A.D., none of the New Testament books had been written, and the church was dependent for its knowledge of the Saviour’s life and teaching upon the memory of the earlier disciples. But before the close of this period, 68 A.D., a large part of the New Testament was in circulation, including the gospel by Matthew, Mark and Luke, the epistle of St. Paul and James, I Peter and perhaps II Peter, although the authorship of the last named has been questioned.It is to be remembered that the Epistle to the Hebrews was not of Pauline authorship, and was probably written after St.Paul’s death.
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