THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - VOLUME 1 : by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


| HOME | |< | << | Herod the Great | Chart: Descendants of Herod | Judas the Galilean | Pontius Pilate | John the Baptist | Jesus of Nazareth | The Kingdom of God | The Twelve Apostles | The Passover in Jerusalem | The Day of Pentecost | The Kerugma of the Gospel | The Jerusalem Church | Houses and families | Persecution | Stephen and his companions | The Twelve Apostles, their names and order | The Dead Sea Scrolls | Family connexions of Jesus | >> |


The Parthian empire succeeded to the dominions of the Seleucids in Mesopotamia and the East; the Roman empire to those in Asia Minor and western Syria. Palestine was annexed in 63 B.C. when Pompey the Great entered the holy city, took the Temple by force, and made his way into the holy of holies, where he was amazed to find no image or object of worship whatever. This outrage is the burden of a number of songs which were collected under the name of the' Psalms of Solomon'. Their tone is that of an elevated and simple Pharisaism; they deplore the Maccabaean priest-kings, the last of whom favoured the Sadducees; they exult over the death of Pompey, which occurred in Egypt in 48 B.C. ; and they look forward to a king of the house of David, an Anointed Lord, or Lord Christ, who will lead Israel to glory. They record, no doubt, the popular sentiment; the 'Magnificat' and other Lucan songs were composed in the same style.

The new dynasty was not destined to be Davidic, however. It came from the family of Antipater, an able general of Edomite descent, who was made governor of the new Roman province. His son Herod was placed in charge of Galilee, where he ruthlessly suppressed the bands of 'robbers' (or patriots?), and executed their leader Hezekiah without trial. He was called to answer for his actions before the high priest Hyrcanus II, and was denounced before the Sanhedrin by the two Pharisee leaders, Pollio and Sameas, who appear in the rabbinic tradition as Abtalion and Shemaiah; but he had the support of the Roman authority, and withdrew to Galilee. It is said, however, that he showed a great respect for the Pharisees; and it was |25 the Pharisees who opened the gates of the city to him and his armies in 37 B.C.

In 40 B.C. Antigonus II, the last of the Maccabaean line to reign in Jerusalem, captured Jerusalem with the help of a Parthian army, and reigned there for three years. The Roman senate decided to bestow the crown on Herod, who captured Jerusalem and became king in 37 B.C. He proved himself an efficient agent and ally of the Roman empire. The story of his reign is a mixture of splendour and horror. He was an able general and a strong administrator. He held the country down by force, he amassed wealth, he built cities. He entirely rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple in the most magnificent style, and provided it with new high priests, who claimed descent from the family of Zadok; but none of them lasted very long. He had one from Babylon, one from Egypt, and one even from Jerusalem. All were subservient to his will.



The Herods

NOTES: Each of Herod's sons (above) were by a different mother.
(1) In 4 B.C. Herod the Great died and his son Archelaus (another son of Malthace) became tetrarch of Judaea until 2 B.C. when he was banished to Gaul.
(2) Aristobulus' mother was Mariamne, a Maccabaean princess.
(3) Herod Philip's mother was another Mariamne, daughter of the high priest Simon.
(4) Herod Antipas' mother was Malthace, a Samaritan.
(5) Herodias married (a) Herod (Philip?), then (b) Herod Antipas of Galilee, who divorced the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, to marry her. They were banished to Gaul in AD.39.
(6) Herod Agrippa I in was appointed Tetrarch of Ituria in AD.37, Tetrarch of Galilee in AD.39, likng of the Jews in AD.41. He died in AD.44.
(7) Salome the dancer, was the daughter of Herodias by her first husband, Herod Philip. She married Philip the Tetrarch (see below).
(8) Herod Agrippa II was appointed king of Chalchis about AD.48/9. He died about AD.100.
(9) Herod Philip, whose mother was named Cleopatra (not identical with the Herod (Philip?) mentioned above – see Mark vi. 17), became tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis (east of the Sea of Galilee) from 4 B.C. to A.D. 37 when he died.
(10) The Herod Antipas mentioned above received his tetrarchy of Galilee in the same year, 4 B.C.

Herod had ten wives, the second of whom was a Maccabaean princess named Mariamne, whom he murdered in a fit of jealousy. As he grew older the vendettas between his various families made his life miserable. The tale of intrigue and murder is told in some detail by Josephus. Not |26 long before his death there were devious plots in which his sister Salome and his brother Pheroras were implicated; three of his sons were put to death. There was some sort of resistance at this time from six thousand armed Pharisees who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the Roman emperor and to Herod's government, and the leaders of this movement were executed. The story in Josephus is obscure, and the whole facts are not given.

It was during these last years, according to Luke, that a census was ordered by Augustus, the master of the Roman world; Joseph and Mary went up from Galilee to Judaea to be enrolled, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David.


Josephus has no reference to this 'first census' as Luke calls it, but he gives an account of a census which took place during the disturbances after the death of Herod in 4 B.C. There may be some confusion in the mind of one author or the other.

There was a rebellion in Galilee after Herod's death, led by Judas, the son of Hezekiah, who is described at one time as a Gaulonite, and at another as 'the Galilean'. He was assisted by a Pharisee named Zadduk. The two men were the founders of a new party in Israel which came to be known as the Zealots or Cananeans. The rule of Herod and the rule of Rome were clearly seen to be one and the same thing, and both were rejected. True Israelites were to call no man lord. Their only ruler or lord was Almighty God. They did not fear death of any kind, Josephus says, or even care much about the deaths of their relations or friends.

We think of the 'robber' Hezekiah, who was the father of Judas; of more than one delegation, sent to Rome, praying that the nation might be relieved of kings altogether; of the six thousand Pharisees who would not take the oath of loyalty; of the obvious liaison between the Pharisees in Jerusalem and the insurgents in Galilee; and we realize that there was a nationalist movement of considerable magnitude behind these events. There were fanatics who would stop at nothing to establish a theocratic state on the ruins of the Herodian and Roman dominion. This party grew in power until it was able to wage the war which led to the ruin of the Israelite state in A.D. 70.

|27 Strangely enough Josephus does not tell us how the rebellion of Judas was put down, though he mentions the suppression of other rebellions which broke out at the same time; but Rabbi Gamaliel, in a speech which is reported in the Acts, says that his revolt was suppressed and came to nothing. He also mentions a certain Theudas, who headed a revolt prior to Judas; but there may be some confusion here with a later Theudas. It is possible that the report of his speech in Acts is confused.

Pilate Inscription, Caesarea.


On the death of King Herod his surviving sons competed for the throne, but the Romans did not continue the kingdom. The country was partitioned. Judaea was assigned to Archelaus, Galilee and Peraea to Antipas, and the country east of the Lake of Galilee to Philip. They were given the title of 'tetrarch', a Greek word which meant originally the ruler of the quarter of a country; but what it meant by now was that they were governors of small principalities, not kings.

Archelaus mismanaged his tetrarchy, and was banished by the emperor to Vienne in Gaul. Judaea and Samaria were placed under a Roman governor, with the title of 'procurator', or agent of the emperor. His capital city was Caesarea, a northern coast town where old Herod had built a magnificent harbour. The procurator, in his turn, may have been subject to the legate in Antioch. Jerusalem, with its surrounding country, was administered by the high-priestly families, who reckoned their descent from Zadok and Aaron. It was the name of Zadok, apparently, that gave their supporters the title of Sadducees. One of their number occupied from time to time the ancient position of high priest, and was the titular head of the Jewish state; but their power was subordinate to that of the procurator, who followed the Herodian example in deposing them from time to time.

Among these shadowy figures there are two names of some importance in Christian history; the first is Annas, or Ananus, who saw five of his sons enjoy the high priesthood; the second is Caiaphas, who was his son-in-law. They were what we would call puppet rulers. They were as much agents of Rome as Herod himself had been, and their popularity was no greater than his. Their power was limited by the Sanhedrin, a council of seventy priests and elders, on which their enemies the Pharisees had a majority.

|28 In the year A.D. 26 Pontius Pilate succeeded Valerius Gratus, the fourth procurator. He owes his fame to the fact that he happened to be the minor official who had to deal with the appearance of another Galilean movement, under another Galilean leader, Jesus of Nazareth. He was a man of no particular distinction, ruthless in action on occasion, and yet afraid to provoke the Jewish people too far, in case a complaint to Caesar might result in his recall in disgrace; and that is exactly what happened to him after eleven years.


Under these unhappy conditions, a great religious revival occurred among the Jews, and laid hold upon the common people who belonged to no sect or party. It was about A.D. 26 or 27 that John the Baptist was living the life of a hermit in the desert of Judaea among the wild mountains which slope down to the Jordan River. He spoke of a judgement of God upon the nation, for which he was to prepare the way; and he administered a baptism of repentance. Another was coming after him who would baptize in fire and in the spirit. According to Matthew he announced the coming of a 'kingdom of heaven'.

Asceticism was not a new factor in Israelite life, and we have a striking example of it in the Essene community on the shores of the Dead Sea. The Pharisees had taken into their strict and holy legalism certain ideas of Babylonian and Persian origin; the Essenes appear to have been open to further influences from the religious philosophies of Syria, Persia, or even India. They practised communism, monastic discipline, holy immersions, holy meals, celibacy, and even, it would appear, sun-worship. They knew the names of angels. There was a military element in their tradition and history, and doubtless a political one too; but they abstained from the national life, and even from the Temple sacrifices; they thought their numerous ablutions were more effective spiritually. They revered the Law of Moses, but they must have interpreted it in a peculiar manner. We shall know more about them after more extended study of the 'Dead Sea Scrolls'.

John should not be confused with these sectarians. His asceticism was that of the Old Testament prophets and 'nazirites', which was still practised in Israel, though only as a rule for limited periods. It was associated, as a rule, with a special vow. Devotees of this sort drank no |29 wine, ate no flesh, and let their hair grow. They were set apart for a while for the service of the God of Israel, and received the Spirit in special strength. John came in the succession of Elijah and the old prophets of his type, who recalled Israel to her allegiance to the true God.

There is no sign, in what we are told about John, of the eschato-logical fancies which appear in some of the contemporary Jewish literature. Many creative movements in religion, and in art or literature too, are inspired by a return to a 'primitive' or less sophisticated period. Elijah's own message had been of this kind; it had protested against the corrupted civilization of the day. John and his successors in the Christian church returned to the fountains of inspiration of a simpler time. He spoke of wrath and fire, of the axe laid to the root of the tree, and of one coming to judgement stronger than he.

John was a preacher as well as a recluse. His appeal was so powerful that numbers came to his baptism from the surrounding country, and even from Jerusalem itself. His influence extended throughout the Jewish world, for we know of a group of his followers in Ephesus some twenty years later. We are told in the fourth gospel that he baptized in Transjordania and in Samaria; and there were strange sects in both regions. Hellenistic 'mystery' ideas, usually with a Syrian religious base, were popular in Samaria. Simon Magus, the reputed father of Christian heresy, flourished there, and later legend said that he was a disciple of John; and so was his partner and rival Dositheus. Doubtless the religious revival which was stirred up by John was productive of strange and varied developments throughout Palestine.

We mention these points, since it is essential to remember that Christianity, from its earliest beginnings, was accompanied and followed by strange sects which had some affinity with it and were often an embarrassment or even a danger. The Judaism of this period was not always the well-regulated Judaism of the Mishnah.


Among the disciples of John there was a group from Galilee which included Jesus of Nazareth. We are told in the gospels that when he was baptized in the Jordan River, he saw the heavens torn apart, and the Spirit descending into him, like a dove. There was a voice from the heavens which said 'Thou art my beloved Son in whom I delight'. |30 This is an example of the visionary experience and language in which the new movement expressed itself; for the gospel appeared within the old Hebrew tradition, in an atmosphere of spiritual fervour in which such experiences were perfectly natural.

Many scholars suggest that this was a' subjective' experience of Jesus alone; but the fourth Gospel asserts that John too recognized the descent of the Spirit, which designated Jesus as the one coming after him who would baptize in Holy Spirit. Furthermore the gospel, as it was preached in the Petrine School (according to Mark and Acts), took the baptism of Jesus as its historical starting-point. In Acts and John, the discipleship of the first followers is said to date from this event, which marked out Jesus as the' Anointed' and' Son of God' and bearer of the Holy Spirit.

There seems to have been a period of unknown duration, perhaps between the years 27 and 28, during which Jesus remained in Judaea, in close touch with the Baptist. Certain traditions which are preserved in the fourth Gospel refer to this period in his life; and it is clear from the evidence of all the Gospels that he was a well-known figure in Jerusalem. This period was brought to an end when the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas of Galilee, and imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. According to Josephus, Herod feared his influence with the people; according to Mark, he had reproved Herod for his marriage with his brother's wife, a fact which Josephus also records.

The imprisonment of John, and his subsequent murder, came as a great shock to the people generally, Josephus says, and forms the background of the campaign of Jesus in Galilee.


The attempt to fit the events of this Galilean campaign into a single year can hardly be regarded as successful. Two years, or at any rate parts of two years, seem to be required. If we suppose that Jesus went into Galilee early in 28, this would give the summer of this year for his announcement of the coming of God's kingdom, the call of his first five disciples, his teaching in the local synagogues, his acts of healing, his fame and popularity over a wide area, and his first controversies with the scribes and Pharisees.

|32 Jesus announced the coming of 'the Kingdom of God', one of his simple phrases which no theology can adequately expound. It cannot be dissociated, of course, from the ' eschatological' or adventist expectations of the time, which were linked with a special view of world history. The long story of Israel was coming to a climax; God's kingdom was to come; indeed it was here already in the personality and ministry of Jesus himself.

He called himself the Son of Man, a mysterious title with a long history in the tradition of Israel. In Daniel and Enoch the Son of Man is a divine figure through whom God acts or reveals himself on earth. He shares the throne of God or comes with the clouds of heaven; but in the language of Jesus he appears on this earth in poverty and humility to suffer and die and give his life a ransom for many. This dramatic picture which culminates in the cross and in the Resurrection has been discussed at length by modern scholars without adding greatly to its own inherent grandeur and pathos. It can be illuminated by relating it to various theologies, but this is not the place to discuss them. We will not attempt in this short chapter to do anything more than present some of the external historical features which gave form and shape to primitive Christianity.

The principal creative factor in the making of Christianity was the personality of the founder. The point which everybody remarked about him and his mission was that it was a conductor of spiritual power in the existent situation. He spoke of greater 'glory' in the future, but the immediate effect was one of extraordinary 'power' or 'authority' on earth now in a person-to-person relationship. The source of the power was within the personality of Jesus; in his words of course, but also in his acts of forgiveness and healing, and in his voice and hands and eyes. He had an extraordinary power over crowds. They came to him from Galilee and Judaea, Mark says, and from Decapolis and Tyre and Sidon. He became the centre of a mass movement on a large scale.

His gospel of the kingdom and his ministry of forgiveness brought him into happy intimate relations with common people; but it made for deadly conflict with the religious authorities, and especially with the more legalistic form of Pharisaism, which was beginning to direct and dominate the religious life in Israel. Delegations of learned men from Jerusalem weighed him in the balance and found him wanting. It was an evil spirit in him that cast out the devils, they said; he was a magician |33 who deceived the people, we read in the Mishnah. The antagonism was so acute as to cause a break with the synagogue, in which so far his announcing and healing had taken place. He withdrew to the Sea of Galilee; he made use of a boat for preaching and travel; he frequented the mountains; he met his followers in desert places. He built up an organization which he referred to as his household or family. He was the 'master of the house', or 'the Rabbi'. Rabbinic schools were so called; we read of the 'house' of Hillel or the 'house' of Shammai.


According to the records he selected twelve men from among his disciples to be with him and receive authority from him. They were the trusted servants in his house, as he called them in parabolic language; he sent them out to preach and to visit and to heal. They came to be called apostles; but their oldest designation was simply 'the Twelve'. The number twelve was chosen to mark the household as the nucleus of a new Israel. The part they actually played in the later history of the church, as a group of twelve, cannot be fully reconstructed now, but their names were delivered and recorded wherever the gospel took written form.

Their leader was Simon of Bethsaida, and Jesus conferred upon him the name of Kephas (or Peter) which means 'the Rock'. Next came James and John, on whom he conferred the name Boanerges which is said to mean 'Sons of Thunder'; or in some lists Andrew the brother of Simon comes second, and the Sons of Thunder come third and fourth. They were the four fishermen who were first chosen, and were therefore senior to the rest. The fifth to be called was Levi the publican (or tax-collector), who was given the name of Matthew or 'Gift of God', as we infer from the Matthaean Gospel. The lowest names were those of Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot; the Zealots were the nationalist party for which Galilee was famous; Iscariot may mean 'Sicarius', the dagger-man or assassin. « These may be later appellations. Zealots and Sicarii took the lead in the rebellion of the sixties. Another explanation is 'Man of Kerioth', a village in Judaea.

During the early stages of these developments the news came that John the Baptist had been beheaded, probably in the spring of 29. At |34 Passover time of that year there was a convocation of some five thousand followers of Jesus at' the mountain', and we are told in one gospel that disciples of John were also present. Jesus was the natural successor to John as the leader of the popular religious movement which John had initiated. It is even said in one gospel that the crowds wanted to have Jesus as their king. The scene on the mountain, with Jesus looking up into heaven and breaking the bread among the five thousand, was indelibly imprinted upon their minds at this high moment of crisis and revelation. As the Judaeans had gone out into the desert to receive from John the baptism of repentance, so the Galileans went out into the desert to receive from Jesus the broken bread.

It was the beginning of a period of more intense faith, in which the Twelve and others came to see in him something more than an ordinary prophet. He had called himself the Son of Man; they now saluted him as the Messiah or Anointed of the Lord; and even under the conditions of his earthly life, they came to have a vision of his more-than-earthly glory; for such would seem to be the significance of the mystical vision of the Transfiguration. That glory would be more fully displayed in the future, he said; he was thinking of his approaching death and Resurrection in Jerusalem, of the judgement which was to befall the city, and of his own coming in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Such was the outline of the Galilean tradition, as it came into existence at this time, and was handed down in the tradition of Peter, and recorded by Mark in his Gospel, and in other forms in other documents no doubt. The tradition has been critized and interpreted in a variety of ways in modern times; but it seems best to give it here as it appears in the evidence.

Jerusalem. AD66


The Gospels are pertectly agreed on the question of the day of the week on which Jesus was crucified; it was a Friday. They are less sure about the day of the month. We shall follow John, who places it on Nisan 14, the day when the Passover lamb was slain and eaten; the other evangelists place it on Nisan 15, thus allowing Jesus and his disciples to keep the Passover the evening before. Perhaps this divergence may be due to differences of liturgical custom in the |35 churches, « Outside Palestine the Jews kept the Passover on two successive days in case there was an error in their computation. This duplication of the day must have been very confusing. for the story of the Passion seems to have been repeated or recited or read or recalled on the Passover day as it came round each year. As Paul says:

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore let us keep the Feast.

Scholars regard 29 or 30 as the most probable year for the Passion; and the indications are rather in favour of 30. Accepting 30 for the Passion, we place in the autumn of 29 the visit of Jesus to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. This allows about six months for teaching in the Temple courts, and in and round Jerusalem.

It was not until the Passover of 30, according to this computation, that he came to Jerusalem, with his Galilean followers, to make his final appeal. On Sunday Nisan 9 (possibly April 3), according to John, who dates the day precisely, he was saluted by crowds of enthusiastic followers with palms and branches of trees and refrains from the Psalms. Their acclamations implied that they accepted him as the Messiah or king of David's line. It was on the following day, according to the arrangement of Mark, that he assumed command of the Temple enclosure and made his protest against the commercialization of the religious life of the nation by clearing out the merchants and the moneychangers; but John places this episode as much as two years earlier. On such points we cannot have certainty. The evangelists were indifferent to them.

Jesus spoke daily in the Temple courts, and the popular support was so strong that the authorities did not dare interfere. He did not spare the rulers of the people. Scholars debate what the significance of his words and actions may have been, and especially what his attitude was to the Temple worship, with its ceaseless succession of animal sacrifices. It is enough to realize that his message was in line with that of the older prophets who warned the people of judgement to come. The Temple itself would not escape destruction; its place would be taken by a structure 'not made with hands', his enemies accused him of saying. Interwoven with this was his consciousness of his personal mission as Messiah or Son of God, though he did not support his public message |36 by using these words. He came to them in the name of the Lord, in succession to John the Baptist, and his message was one of coming judgement.

On the Wednesday night, Nisan 12, Judas Iscariot went to the Temple authorities, and agreed to betray him in such a way that they could arrest him apart from the crowd.

On Thursday, Nisan 13, the day before the Passover (if John is correct), Jesus found his way unobtrusively into the city by night. He sat down with the Twelve at the Last Supper, and gave them the sacrament of the broken bread, adding the cup of blessing, as a covenant of love which would be stronger than death. He went out into the garden of Gethsemane, where he was betrayed by Judas, arrested by an armed force from the high priest, and deserted by his disciples.

During the preliminary inquiry, which was held at a conference of sanhedrin members, the question of his attitude to the Temple was brought up, but the evidence was conflicting. He made no reply to these accusations. Then the high priest addressed him: 'Are you the Messiah', he said,' the Son of the Blessed?' Jesus answered by saying, 'I am [or 'Thou sayest']; and from now you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven.' These words are taken from the language of vision and psalmody. They imply that the Kingdom or Judgement or Glory of God would be revealed for all men to see in his own person; indeed they imply that this revelation was beginning as he spoke; his reign on earth began with his suffering and crucifixion. They were all horrified, and he was condemned to death. It was during this inquiry that Peter, who had followed him into the palace where the inquiry was held, denied having any knowledge of him.

Passion of Christ. Crucifixion.

The sanhedrin had no power to order the death sentence; and at dawn on Friday, Nisan 14, which was the Passover day, they brought him before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, after holding a brief official meeting to confirm their action of the previous night. They now accused him of attempting to make himself king, and there had been grounds for this accusation, in his actions during the week, and in the words which he had spoken to the high priest. Pilate vacillated a little. The great festivals with their excited crowds had often produced similar problems. He listened to the priests; he temporized with the mob; he thought upon the emperor, Tiberius Caesar, who would |37 expect rebellions to be promptly suppressed; and he condemned Jesus to be crucified.

The story of the Crucifixion is shortly told. That evening the body lay in the tomb, with the stone rolled to the door. The twenty-four-hour period which began with the Last Supper was over. The burial of Jesus seems to have concluded the Passion narrative as it was recited or told in the church.


No doubt the authorities thought that the popular movement, which was now deprived of its great leader, would crumble; but the organization which had been framed in Galilee held together. Judas had proved a traitor; but Simon Peter, in spite of his denial, rallied the other men, and stood firm. We must credit him with considerable powers of leadership and organization. John the son of Zebedee was closely associated with him. An unexpected accession was James, the brother of Jesus, who was not one of the Twelve. There is no connected account of this critical period, and the reconstructions of learned theologians, whether they believe in the Resurrection or otherwise, all suffer from the disconnected nature of the evidence. It is conceded, however, that the devoted men, who preserved the tradition of Jesus and organized the church and launched the gospel upon the world, were convinced that they had seen him risen from the dead. It is not just a question of so much verbal evidence, oral or written, though this is more than sufficient in itself; it is a question of lives laid down and testimony sealed in blood. It gave a new word to the vocabulary of the world, the word 'martyr', whose original meaning was simply 'a witness'.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, it was fifty days later, at the Feast of Pentecost, on Sunday Siwan 6, perhaps May 22, that the apostles attracted attention in Jerusalem by affirming that they had seen their master risen from the dead; that he was even now exalted to the right hand of God, and that he had sent upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit of which John the Baptist had spoken, so that the Baptist was vindicated too.

We depend entirely upon the second chapter of the Acts for this narrative; but the reception of the Holy Spirit as a personal gift after the Resurrection was another of the primary facts of Christian |38 experience. The central article in the creed of the first Christians was the death and Resurrection of Jesus, followed by the exaltation into heaven, and the hope of his coming again in glory; and this faith was associated with the reception of the Holy Spirit as a fact of evangelical experience. From this encounter with the risen Lord with the gift of the Holy Spirit came the gospel, the apostolate, the sacraments, the observance of Sunday as the Lord s day, and the whole world-wide expansion which is the subject of our study.


The Greek word kerussein, which is translated as 'preach', means literally to proclaim like a herald, kerux. The word kerugma means 'a proclamation'. The 'preaching' of the apostles was of this kind. They were the heralds or ambassadors of Jesus to the Jewish people, and after that to the whole world. Their proclamations were delivered under intense spiritual tension, and often fell into rhythmical or poetic form; they were preserved in the church as customary oral forms. We find a number of them in the first chapters of the Acts, as speeches of Peter, and there seems to be no good reason to doubt that the author received them from excellent Palestinian sources. They proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, or Anointed of the Lord, who was foretold in the prophets and the Psalms of David, but greater than David, as is proved by his resurrection and exaltation. The word 'king' is carefully avoided.

Similar formulas of a shorter character may be traced in the remaining New Testament literature. The most interesting of these is the gospel formula which was delivered by Paul to the Corinthians about twenty years after the crucifixion. He had received it himself in the same manner, presumably at his baptism;' I also received it', he says.

That the Anointed died for our sins according to the scriptures,
And that he was buried,
And that he rose again according to the scriptures ...
(1 Corinthians xv. 3)

The references to the scriptures, which mean the Old Testament of course, will be dealt with in the next chapter; it suffices to say here that the preachings of Peter in the Acts are supported by many references to the prophets and the Psalms.

|39 This primitive creed-form is followed by a list of witnesses, which is a part of the formula as a whole. The witnesses seem to divide into three classes. First there was Peter, then the Twelve, and then a group of five hundred brethren of whom the majority were still living when Paul wrote. Secondly there was James, who seems to be associated somehow with 'all the apostles'. Thirdly there was Paul himself, who received his appearance of the Lord' like one born out of due order'.

Since there were only eleven of the Galilean apostles left, the use of the word Twelve at this point shows how securely established this designation was. The reference to 'all the apostles' seems to show that the word 'apostle' could include others.


The importance of this list of witnesses is obvious. It proves the existence of a variety of traditions in the church from the beginning. First, of course, there was the Galilean apostolate of Peter and the Twelve, which had been built up by Jesus; then there was the family of Jesus, whose leading figure was Jacob (or James, as we say in English). Then there was Paul himself, whose position, in some way, was different from that of the others. He was conscious that there were differences of opinion in these groups, and that is why he emphasizes the fact that there was no difference with regard to the gospel which they proclaimed; ' Whether it be I or they,' he says, 'so we proclaim, and so you believed.' We shall find that the inner relations of this triple tradition are the key to our study of church history for the first century or even longer. It is a significant fact that these names had to be solemnly delivered to the Corinthian converts twenty years later, just as the names of the twelve Galilean apostles and of the brothers of Jesus were delivered to the Romans in the tradition which Mark drew upon.

We need not, for our purposes, enter into the discussion whether these brothers were sons of Mary or not; « It is believed by many that they were sons of Joseph by a previous wife; or even cousins. it is sufficient for our purposes to accept them as sons of Joseph the carpenter, who was Mary's husband, so that the descent from David could be claimed for them too. It is only in the second century that it is claimed for her. There were four of these brothers, James, Joses, Judah and Simon, as well as a |40 number of sisters. It seems that Joseph the carpenter had died before the commencement of the gospel story; but he left a brother named Clopas, who had a son named Symeon who was therefore a first cousin of Jesus; the identification of this Clopas with Cleopas, or even with Alphaeus, is a very reasonable conjecture. The importance of the family of Jesus in the tradition is proved by the fact that James became the first bishop of the Jerusalem church, and that he was succeeded by Symeon, who is said to have presided over the fortunes of the original Jerusalem community till after A.D. 100.

James may have been the head of a distinct group from the beginning; he is said to have belonged to the ascetic tradition like John the Baptist. It may be that men of this type, who were dubious during the Galilean period, came into the fold at this point.

Paul, or Saul as he was then called, was not yet a believer; but he was almost certainly in Jerusalem, where he attended the school of the Pharisee Rabbi Gamaliel, and then rose to a position of some responsibility under the high-priestly government. He was well known in Pharisee circles, or, as he said himself, 'far advanced in Judaism'. We should also include among the conversions of this quite early period the names of Andronicus and Junia (or Junias) who were 'kinsmen' of Paul, and may have ranked as apostles; where they were converted, we do not know, but their conversion preceded that of Paul. They worked as evangelists, and resided in Rome at a later date.

The recital of these names, and the perusal of the stories related by Luke, and even the enumeration of the credal points of crucifixion, resurrection, advent, and Holy Spirit, are quite inadequate to give any idea of the power and purpose which was pent up in the original Church of Christ. We can only judge it by its effects, and those communicated themselves to every part of the known world, and have never ceased to vibrate in the human heart. Every student of primitive Christian history has to make his own valuation of this incommensurable factor.

The personality of Peter must have been the decisive factor in those early days. According to the narrative of Acts, the Jerusalem church accepted the leadership of Peter and the Twelve, who made up their number by the inclusion of Matthias, who had been closely associated with them since the 'baptism of John', which was regarded as the starting point for the preaching of the Gospel. The believers continued in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, and in the breaking of the |41 bread, and in the prayers. Their numbers soon rose from about three thousand to about five thousand. They held public meetings in the Temple courts as Jesus had done, and met in houses for the breaking of the bread. Such is the picture given by Luke in Acts.


The family was an important constituent unit in Judaism and in the primitive church order. Family relationships are carefully indicated, and references to houses and families occur with great frequency in the Gospels. When the apostles were sent out on tour by Jesus, they selected the house of a prominent believer, and made it their permanent residence when they were in that city; they were not to change from house to house. We may see in these references, perhaps, an anticipation of the part played by the house of the prominent believer in the expansion of the gospel – in Corinth for instance, twenty years later.

There was a house in Jerusalem which had an upper room available for Jesus at the Passover, and its owner knew him as 'the Rabbi', the name he was called by in his lifetime. The account of the day of Pentecost in Acts shows that the apostles had the use of a house in which they resided; it had an upper room spacious enough for an assembly of a hundred and twenty persons. Whether it was the same house we do not know, though the supposed site has been pointed out in Jerusalem for many centuries under the name of the Cenaculum. As the numbers grow, however, the picture becomes rather clearer and we read that the sacrament of the breaking of the bread was carried on ' by houses'. The 'house-church' comes into view.

Two wealthy believers of the Jerusalem church are mentioned in Acts, one for praise and the other for reprobation. The first was Joseph called Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus, who later on ranked as an apostle; the other was Ananias. The name Barnabas was given to Joseph by the apostles, and is explained as meaning ' Son of Consolation', though this seems only to be a rough equivalent. It reminds one of the names given by Jesus to some of the Twelve. We are told that Joseph Barnabas sold his property, and laid the proceeds of the sale at the feet of the apostles; and it may be that this splendid gift, with others of the same sort, did much to help the young church through its early financial difficulties. We are not told, however, that he placed his house |42 at the disposal of the church, if he had one in the city; but this seems to have been done by Mary, who was the mother of his cousin Mark. He was considerably older than Mark.

We have now introduced most of the leaders of the church in the first generation, and it is interesting to find them all within the confines of one city at the same time, and in some cases members of a family or family group; for Peter and Andrew were brothers, and so were James and John, whose mother Salome would appear to have been a sister of the Virgin Mary. She too was living in Jerusalem, as we learn from the Acts; the fourth Gospel informs us that she resided in the house of her nephew John. James and his brothers formed another group of the same sort.

The fellowship within the church was thus very closely knit. It even presented the appearance of communism; but that was only on the surface. There was a common fund, but there was no compulsion to pay into it, as plainly appears in the story of Ananias; and we are not told that Barnabas parted with everything he had. Contributions were voluntary, but they were so spontaneous and generous as to justify the saying that no one looked on anything he possessed as his own. It would appear that the apostles had to support themselves out of this common fund, and also do what we call social service, especially among the widows, who constitute a serious problem in countries where divorce is easy and child-marriage common. ' They divided out to all according to their need', we are told. They also looked after the sick, if we may presume that the healing miracles recorded in Acts are evidences of a practical concern for the sick.


Luke preserves two stories about persecution, which some scholars regard as independent accounts of one persecution. Attempts were made by the Sadducee priesthood to suppress the preaching and healing that went on in the new sect, which came to be called the Nazarenes, or Nazareans; but the Pharisees, who were strongly represented on the sanhedrin, used their influence to discourage this policy. This seems a strange reversal of the picture which is given us in the Gospels; but the narrow-minded self-important observant of the Law who is portrayed there was not the only type of Pharisee. The best of the Pharisees were |43 great men, and it is possible that such leaders as Gamaliel I had not approved of the crucifixion of Jesus, or had come to regret it. They also had some traditional sympathy with popular movements in Galilee, as we have seen. They were still the popular party, Josephus says, and were likely to oppose the Sadducees, whom they hated.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a liberal-minded Pharisee like Gamaliel should use his influence on the sanhedrin against a policy of persecution, which seemed to be fruitless and unnecessary. He was the grandson of Hillel, and the recognized head of his 'house' or academy. The apostle Paul had received some training in this institution, and his leading pupil, Johanan ben Zakkai, was a broad-minded man like himself. His policy of toleration was enunciated by him in a speech before the sanhedrin, which is included in the narrative of the Acts; but, like other speeches in that book, it may owe its present literary form to the art of the author.


In this way matters went on for a year or two, the energies of the church being concentrated on the maintenance of its existence in Jerusalem and Judaea, and no doubt in Galilee too, though we get no more information about the fortunes of the gospel there. The narratives given by Luke in Acts are lacking in chronological data. They are excellent narratives, but he has not got sufficient first-hand information to weld them together into a connected history.

A different note appears in the story of Stephen, which opens up a new chapter. There were numbers of Jews living in Jerusalem, such as Barnabas and Saul, who had been born and grown up overseas, in the 'Diaspora', as it was called. They spoke the Greek language and had some degree of Hellenistic culture. As the church grew, it made progress among these Hellenists. Presently the task of administering the common fund became too much for the Twelve, and it was among the Hellenistic brethren that complaints were heard; their widows were being overlooked in the daily ministrations, they said. The solution of the problem was a simple one, though it must have added to the overhead cost. Seven men were nominated by the church to take over this kind of work, and so set the Twelve free for the ministry of preaching and prayer. They were ordained for this work by the Twelve with the |44 laying on of hands, an old Hebrew rite called the semikah, which was used in conferring authority for a sacred office or in blessing.

The Seven are not given any specific title in the Acts, but they are usually called the 'Seven Deacons', since the work they did was similar to that which was done by the deacons not very much later; and the verbal form diakonein, meaning' to serve' or' minister', is actually used of them. They seem to have done the work which was later on done by a bishop and a staff of deacons. They all had Greek names, and one of them, Nicholas of Antioch, was a convert from paganism. The first two names on the list are those of Stephen and Philip. It is interesting that this new departure in church order, within the primitive Jerusalem church, should have been formed on a Hellenist basis.

The Greek-speaking Jews had a synagogue of their own in Jerusalem – or it might be synagogues, for the meaning of the passage is not perfectly clear. It was the synagogue of the 'freed-men', that is ex-slaves, « Or possibly Libyans, reading 'libustikon' for libertinon. of the Cyrenians (from North Africa), of the Alexandrians (from Egypt), of the Cilicians (from Paul's country) and of the Asians (from the neighbourhood of Ephesus). Luke does not give these names accidentally; they establish connexions of which we hear more later on. They take back the basis of Gentile expansion into the very earliest period. In this synagogue, Stephen argued with great brilliance, and nobody could stand up to him. He was a radical, and the cry went round that he was speaking ' words of blasphemy against Moses and against God'. He was brought before the sanhedrin, we are told, where he was accused by 'false witnesses' of speaking 'against this holy place and against the Law'; he was also charged with saying that' this Jesus of Nazareth' would destroy 'this place' and change the customs which Moses delivered.

There is a clear connexion here with the charges which were framed against Jesus himself. They border on sedition and blasphemy. Stephen made a strong defence, but it was defiant in tone, and only served to enrage those who heard it. As the hostility of the crowd became more apparent, he passed into a state of spiritual exaltation in which the sense of vision came to him. 'I see heaven opened', he cried out, 'and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.' The scene ends in uproar and confusion; they rush upon him and stone him to death, crushing his body, that is, under great stones which they piled upon |45 him. When this began, he knelt down and said, 'Lord Jesus, lay not this sin to their charge'; and when he had said this, he fell asleep.
So ends the earliest example of what is known as the Acts of a martyr.

THE TWELVE APOSTLES (their names and order)

(1) Simon who was called Kephas or Petros (the stone); and his brother Andrew, who is fourth on the list in Mark but second in Matthew and Luke. They were sons of Jonah or John.
(2) Jacob (the English James) and John. They were the sons of Zebedee, a master fisherman, and his wife Salome who may have been a sister of the Virgin Mary.

The word publican means a person engaged in the collection of taxes. The publican is called Levi the son of Alphaeus in Mark and Luke; but no Levi occurs in their lists of the Twelve. In Matthew he is called Matthew and identified with the apostle of that name, who comes seventh in the lists of the Twelve.

1-4. The four fishermen who were first called.
5-9. Five more names which are the same in all our sources: Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas and James the son of Alphaeus, so called no doubt to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee. The name Thomas means a twin; and the fourth gospel calls him Didymus which is the Greek word for twin.
10-11. A little uncertainty meets us in the tenth and eleventh places. In Mark the tenth place goes to Thaddaeus (Theudas), a name which is simply another form of the name Judas; he seems to be the' Judas not Iscariot' of the fourth Gospel and the 'Judas of James' who occupies the eleventh place in Luke.
The eleventh place in Mark and Matthew goes to Simon the Zealot (or Cananean) who occupies the tenth place in Luke.
12. Judas Iscariot, 'who also betrayed him'. Iscariot is often explained as Ish Keriot or Kariot, the 'man' or leading person of Kerioth, a village in Judaea; others connect it with the Latin word Sicarius meaning an assassin, the name of a revolutionary party closely allied with the Zealots.

The title of apostle is given to a few others in apparently the same manner as it is given to the Twelve; to Matthias who was co-opted into the number of the Twelve to fill the place of Judas; to Paul who received a special appearance of the risen Lord; and apparently to Barnabas and Silas, companions of Paul.

NOTE: In some manuscripts belonging to what is called the Western text of the Gospels, the name Lebbaeus occurs in the place of Thaddaeus in Matthew and Mark; Origen speaks of Lebes; some scholars think that this was an attempt to work in the name Levi.

Isaiah Scroll, Qumran


Since the writing of this book, the manuscripts discovered at Qumran have attracted a good deal of attention, and a note on their historical value seems desirable.

They will greatly enrich our knowledge of Judaism and its political and religious divisions, illuminating such literature as Enoch and Patriarchs and Jubilees on the one hand, and such sects as the Essenes on the other. They will shed light on the text of the Old Testament, and will help us to understand the Jewish background of Christianity, which originated as a Jewish sect. In so doing, they confirm the principle of Judaeo-Christian continuity which is emphasized in this history; for the Qumran sect expressed itself in the same liturgical media; the Hebrew scriptures, prophecies, apocalyptic, covenant language, catechism, baptisms, eucharistic meals and so forth. Even the ministry and order were not unlike. Now this is exactly what we would expect; the same Jewish liturgical tradition is reproduced in both.

The holy meal of the Qumran community was associated with a 'messiah' (or two messiahs?); that is to say, an 'anointed', who in their case, was an anointed high priest; but the significance of this association is not clear at all.

The frame is very much the same; it is the picture in the frame that is different. Mishnaic Judaism provides another example of the same pattern.
<< | top | >>