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The First Urban Christians

Joe Humpamonkey

BIB-502 New Testament Foundations

April 8, 2015
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The First Urban Christians

It is not difficult to see the hand of God himself steering the myriad of events and

circumstances that coalesced into the most influential phenomenon the world has ever known.

Throughout the Old Testament God consistently makes use of the prevailing social and political

circumstances in order to further His agenda, and the wholesale reorientation from a culturally

exclusive faith based on redemption through Law to a universal Kingdom open to all who chose

simply to believe required an environment where large groups of people were easily accessible,

and free from governmental coercion or social obligation which dictated adherence to religious

practice. The urban centers of the cities, strung together by the great roads of the Roman

Empire, provided the ideal social atmosphere for the seeds of faith to take root as new Churches

were planted throughout the empire. Under the careful cultivation of the Apostles, particularly

that of St. Paul, the fledgling faith blossomed and Christianity spread.

Jerusalem is considered to have been the home-base of the fledgling religion, and it was

the perfect choice for converting the Jewish population, since it was home of the temple.

Diaspora Jews by the thousands poured into the city on occasion of the various Jewish holidays,

and a great many were gathered into the Christian folds. Paul, on the other hand, was focused on

bringing the story of Jesus and salvation to the Gentiles, and began his journeys from nearby

Antioch. A Diaspora Jew himself, Paul was a well educated Pharisee, comfortable also with the

Hellenistic traditions and philosophies of the era, and had the added benefit of being a Roman

citizen. Having started out as a much feared nemesis of the original disciples, his miraculous

conversion resulted in producing Christianity's greatest advocate, and his instructions to the

churches he established throughout the Roman empire offer a unique glimpse into the social and
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political environment that incubated the rapidly expanding faith. Paul of course did not cease

attempting to convert the Jews he encountered in his travels, since he held that salvation was

‘first for the Jews’ (Rom 1:16), but it was the Jews that were his greatest antagonists, much to his

angst (Rom 9:2).

One of the most unique aspects of the Roman empire that contributed to it’s longevity is

its tolerance of the pre-existing social and political structures within the territories it absorbed

into the empire. Originally practiced by the Greeks, it was customary for small groups of people

to gather in the marketplace or other public area to discuss philosophy. While this tradition

allowed Paul and the other Apostles a forum on which to present their sermons outside of the

synagogues, it also exposed them to adversarial groups, most commonly Jews that took

exception to his teachings. On many occasions this resulted in Paul having to make a rather

hurried departure. This bizarre relationship between Judaism and Christianity was both a benefit

to the expanding religion, insofar as it allowed it’s growth to proceed ‘under the radar’1 since the

Roman authorities considered it merely a sub-sect of Judaism, which was tolerated, since both

Julius Caesar and Augustus had enacted laws protecting it and labelled the synagogues as

colleges.

For the most part the reason for the spread of Christianity that was taking place took

place and was substantiated, because of the vigour and steadfast faith portrayed by the early

church founders and the vitality and purpose of the faith which generated volunteer agencies,

non governmental funding, charitable donations, gifts, and other means of financial funding for

1
Rick Perhai, "Chiliasm in the Early Church until Nicea: Apostolic Fathers.," ​Journal of Ministry &
Theology​ 15, no. 2 (2011): 143, accessed April 8, 2015,
http://library.gcu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=69684313&
site=eds-live&scope=site.
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the churches. The alms and gifts the early churches received were from individuals, the vast

majority of whom had no ulterior political or economic aim, therefore Christianity flourished and

Christian propaganda was maintained.2 While at first it was customary (and expected) for

followers to contribute all of their wealth and property for equal distribution to all, in line with

Jesus’ declaration in Luke 14:33 and Mark 10:17-21. This of course cause several problems,

such as related in 5:1-10. Unequal distribution also created conflicts, wherein seven Apostles

were chosen to oversee the distribution in order that the Gentile adherents not be given less than

the Jewish widows. While the demand to contribute all of one's possessions was soon waived,

charity nonetheless remained an integral aspect of the Church, and Paul taught that true believers

should be content with merely food, shelter, and clothing. The tradition of charitable giving lives

on in the contemporary Church, with collections still taken up to fund works among the poor and

destitute of the world.

Paul dealt with many common aspects of contemporary life in his letters, including child

raising, marital relations, and treatment of slaves, as well as issues specific to the Church,

including the breaking of bread, proper worship, and administering to the sick. One of the more

troublesome aspects of Roman society that Paul had to contend with was the prevailing attitude

towards sex. The problem was perhaps most prevalent in Corinth, where the temple to the

goddess Aphrodite was to be found. The temple was attended by as many as a thousand

priestesses whose duty it was to participate in ritual prostitution, which provided income for the

temple priests. It must also be pointed out that the succession of Roman emperors at the time of

the Apostlistic mission (approximately 33 A.D. thru 70 A.D.) included Tiberius (whose wife,

2
Kenneth Scott Latourette, ​“Advance Through the Storm: A History of the Expansion of Christianity”,
Volume VII, New York. (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1945), p 64
.
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Julia, was well known for public promiscuity, including performances on the stage of the Roman

Forum.3), Nero, and Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as the worlds most

renowned sexual deviant, Caligula. ​ ​Public outcry against the Church often included charges of

sexual deviance (based falsely on the tenet to ‘love one another’), so it is not surprising,

therefore, that we find admonishments against lust, adultery, and fornication a regular theme in

Paul's epistles.

Si fueris Rōmae, Rōmānō vīvitō mōre; si fueris alibī, vīvitō sicut ibi. 4

3
​C. Velleius Paterculus, "Book II: Chapters 94‑131," in ​Roman History​, Book II (Loeb Classical Library,
1924), 259, accessed April 07, 2015,
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Velleius_Paterculus/2D*.html#100.

4
Aurelius Ambrosius, Bishop of Milan.
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Bibliography

Gibbon, Edward. “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Translated by

David Womersley. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1994.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. “A History of the Expansion of Christianity.” Vol. II. New York:

Harper & Bros., 1945.

Niswonger, Richard. New Testament History. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.

Perhai, Rick. "Chiliasm in the Early Church until Nicea: Apostolic Fathers." ​Journal of Ministry

& Theology 15, no. 2​ (2011): 132-71. Accessed April 8, 2015.

http://library.gcu.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true

&db=ofs&AN=69684313&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Velleius Paterculus, C. "Book II: Chapters 94‑131." In ​Roman History​. Book II. Loeb Classical

Library, 1924. Accessed April 07, 2015.

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Velleius_Paterculus/2D*.html#100.