Early Church History, Part 1
A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON EARLY CHURCH HISTORY You might think there is little to no reason to study any kind of church history. You could argue that things are the way they are, and they way
A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON EARLY CHURCH HISTORY
You might think there is little to no reason to study any kind of church history. You could argue that things are the way they are, and they way they use to be simply don’t matter anymore. Except that they DO! It’s true that the times constantly changed, but one thing that was never meant to be changed was the Gospel of Jesus Christ and preaching the Truth.
We are going to take a look back through the pages of history to see exactly how this Truth was recorded within the Gospel and how it proceeded to move forward, becoming changed as it went. Yes, it’s important to get back to a working knowledge of the Truth so that those breaches can be repaired, so that family altars can be repaired and so that Truth can, once again, prevail.
Birth of the Church In AD 33
After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples continued to preach and teach His message to all who would listen, whether it was to those along the way, those who called them, or even those in jail. They were often beaten for their preaching, and threatened with worse if they continued to do so.
There were even believers who were baptized a second time. In Acts chapter 19, Paul came upon a group of disciples and asked if they had received the Holy Ghost since they had believed. After finding out that they had never heard of it, he then asked what baptism they had received, and they told him, John’s baptism.
Paul went on to explain that even John had preached about the One who would come after him and as soon as they heard it, they were baptized in the Name of Jesus. Paul then laid his hands on them, at which time they received the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
So who were the key players at this time? It was primarily the Disciples and those that labored with them. So let’s take a look at this time, at some of those Disciples and the contributions that they made to the early Church.
Jesus called Peter “a rock”, and said that the Church would be built upon it (Matthew 16:18). This is reflected later, as Peter preached the first sermon on the day of Pentecost, after the Holy Ghost was received, and three thousand people were saved and added to the number of the Church. This story, along with Peter’s sermon, is recorded in Acts, Chapter 2.
It’s also where you will find a keystone verse of the Apostolic Church, specifically, verse 38: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
It was Peter who suggested that a replacement be made for Judas, after Judas hung himself (Matthew 27:5). They wound up choosing Matthias for this role. Although Peter preached primarily to the Jews, he did defend the Gentile’s right to be included in the church. While they weren’t Jews themselves, Peter had received a vision from God showing that this was permissible (Acts chapter 11).
After several stays in prison, tradition holds that Peter eventually left Jerusalem and probably went to Babylon to preach to Jews there. This is also where it is thought that he first penned his first epistle, 1 Peter. It is even believed that Mark wrote the book of Mark by writing the stories that he heard Peter tell, as Mark was a Roman interpreter for Peter, supposedly.
Also according to tradition, Nero, the Emperor of Rome, carried out an expansive slaughter of many of the Apostles after calling himself the chief enemy of God. It was at this time that Peter was crucified upside down, in roughly 67 AD, stating that he was unworthy of a crucifixion like that of Jesus.
Andrew was Peter’s brother and the son of Jonas. Having lived in both Capernaum and Bethsaida, his primarily occupation was that of a fisherman at the time Jesus called to him. In fact, it was Andrew who first brought Peter to Jesus, saying that they had found the Messias (John 1:40-42).
Andrew wasn’t nearly as well known as his brother Peter, nor did he ever take a position of leadership as his brother did. It would have been an easy thing for him to become jealous of his brother, but he chose instead to be content with his role. His sole purpose seemed to be in simply showing others the way to Jesus.
According to traditions of the time, Andrew died in a town called Patra, in Achaia, Greece. The Governor at that time, Aepeas, had a wife who was both healed as well as converted, becoming a Christian. Following this, Aepeas’ brother also converted to Christianity. Aepeas was so enraged that he had Andrew arrested and sentenced to death on a cross.
Much like his brother Peter, Andrew begged that he not be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. This request was obliged in that Andrew is said to have been crucified on a cross that was shaped like an “X”.
There were two disciples named James. First was James, son of Zebedee, who was a brother of the Apostle John. Like many of the others, he was also a fisherman by trade and preached throughout Jerusalem and Judea. His death came that the hands of Herod, in about 44 AD (Acts 12:1-2). While it doesn’t say in the Scriptures, it is believed that he was beheaded.
Very little is stated about James and in the Bible, he is never spoken about without his brother John also being mentioned. Apparently, they were very close and rarely ever separated. (Mark 1:19-20, Matthew 4:21, Luke 5:1-11).
The other James, known as James the Younger, made his home in Galilee and was a brother to Jude the Apostle. Another of the disciples of whom little is known, tradition states that he is the author of the book of James and that he preached in both Egypt and Palestine before being crucified in Egypt. Some hold to the belief that he was a brother to the tax collector, Matthew. Still another tradition states that he was sawed into bits and died as a martyr, and a saw is often used as his symbol.
It could have been that John was first one of John the Baptist’s disciples (John 1:35). Throughout his writings, he is known most for not mentioning his own name, which is a sign of the humility in which he lived. Yet, he was so close to Jesus, that he laid his head on Jesus’ chest when he asked about who would betray Him (John 13:25).
He was the only disciple to enter into the residence of the High Priest, during the trial of Jesus, because he was familiar with this priest (John 18:15). He was also with Peter when they arrived at the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, finally understanding and believing (John 20:8-9).
John took on a leading role in the book of Acts.
- He helped to preach the word at Pentecost (Acts 2:7-8)
- He went with Peter to heal a man who was lame (Acts 3:1-10)
- He was imprisoned with Peter (Acts 4:1-3)
- Both he and Peter were sent to Samaria during that revival (Acts 8:14)
We find in Acts 6:5 that Philip was one of the first seven to be ordained for special service (looking after widows who had otherwise been neglected). Some scholars have stated that they believe this is a different Philip, however. However, we go on to find that Philip was successful in Samaria, led an Ethiopian eunuch to saving faith in Jesus (Acts 8:26) after which the Ethiopian was baptized and Philip was swept away in a whirlwind.
He also spent time with Paul in Caesarea (Acts 21:8) and was a key player as a missionary for the early church. The book of John show that Philip was one of the first called by Jesus and was the one who went to Nathanael, telling him that they had found the one that Moses and the prophets had written about (John 1:45). When Nathanael expressed skepticism, instead of arguing his point, Philip only asked him to come and see (John 1:46).
Bartholomew Nathanael is believed to be the only one of the disciples that has a lineage of royal blood. He is believed to be descended from King Talmai, who was King of Geshur, and who was a Father-in-Law of King David. Talmai’s daughter, Maacah, was the mother of David’s son, Absolom.
Nathanael’s name shows up in every list of the disciples (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13). Jesus stated in John 1:47 that he was an Israelite in whom there was no guile.
While there isn’t a lot of information in Scripture on this disciple, it is thought that he was an avid student of Scriptures, and a scholar of the prophets and the law. Tradition holds that he is likely to have preached in Phrygia, Hierapolis, India and Armenia. In fact, The Armenian Church claims that he was their founder.
It is believed that he died in India after being flayed to death with knives.
Thomas is probably best known by most people by his title, “doubting Thomas”, a name that he acquired after saying that he would only believe that Jesus had been resurrected if he saw it for himself (John 20:25).
However, this wasn’t the first time his skeptical nature showed forth. It was visible as well, when Jesus started for Bethany after word came that Lazarus was sick (John 11:16). He believed that the worst was about to happen, since there were many there who wanted to kill Jesus. Everything changed for Thomas, though, when he was finally able to see him for himself (John 20:26-28), and he immediately confessed that Jesus was Lord and God.
Thomas went on to become a great missionary, preaching in Palestine, the Parthian Empire, India and more. He was a church planter and unstoppable witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He was willing to take the Gospel message as far as he had to in order for everyone to hear.
Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector who lived in Capernaum, and he is known to have written the book of Matthew. His calling to follow Jesus is recorded in Mark 2:14, Matthew 9:9 and Luke 5:27-28. This is where we can find that he was also called Levi, as it was the custom in that time in the Middle east for men to have a total of two names.
In the King James Version, he is called a publican, from the Latin, “Publicanus”. This meant to be engaged in service to the public, a gatherer of taxes or someone who handles the money of the public.
Devout Jews hated tax collectors, as they thought it only right to pay tribute to God alone. They not only hated tax collectors because of their religious beliefs, but also because most of them were well known as unjust people. In fact, many Jewish men believed them to be nothing less than criminals. They were often lumped together with Gentiles, sinners and harlots, as seen in Matthew 18:17, Matthew 21:31, Matthew chapters 9 and 10, Mark 2:15-16, and Luke 5:30.
Matthew was the first to present a written copy, in Hebrew, of the teachings of Jesus. His contribution to the early church in this way is substantial, as were his missionary efforts.
Jude is known by many names in the Bible. His name is called Thaddeus in Mark 3:18, Lebbeus in Matthew 10:3 and Judas brother of James in both Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. He is mentioned as “Judas, not Iscariot” in John 14:22, when he asked Jesus why He was showing Himself to the disciples instead of the world.
With very little mentioned about him in Scripture, tradition says that he preached throughout Persia and Assyria, later being martyred in Persia.
He was known for being intense and violent and wanted nothing more than the whole world to know Jesus. However, he didn’t want them to see him was the Savior who suffered, but rather the King who was sent to save and rule. Jesus answer to him in John 14 cast this thought away, however.
After preaching the message of Jesus near the Euphrates, healing many and bringing many to saving faith in Jesus, Jude went on to continue preaching in missionary fashion. Tradition says that he was killed with arrows in Ararat.
Another disciple that little is known about is Simon, the Zealot, who lived in Galilee. He is called a Canaanite in both Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18, and in Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13, he known as Simon Zelotes.
The New Testament offers us little into who Simon was, other than a Zealot. During those times, a Zealot was known to be a Jewish Nationalist with a heroic and fanatical disregard for the struggle and suffering that they had to go through for their faith. They were consumed with a hatred for Romans and Josephus has said that they were reckless.
Even though he was known as a fanatic with a devotion to law, hating anything associated with Rome, he became a great man of faith. He was so willing to be in subjection to Jesus that he even became close to Matthew, the well-known Roman tax collector.
Most well known for being the traitor that turned Jesus over to the Jews, we often see Judas solely in this light. The only Judean among the disciples, he was also a Jewish Nationalist and was the treasurer of Jesus and His followers.
While we often associate Judas with the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, we must remember that it was not Judas that put Jesus on that cross, it was our own sin, for which a price had to be paid. Furthermore, we see that Judas saw the great error of his ways in both his desire to return the money for betraying an innocent man, and then by killing himself.
Matthias (who replaced Judas)
In Acts 1:15-26, we see that Matthias was the one chosen to be Judas’ replacement. This was actually the result of casting lots, as they had also considered Joseph, also known as Barsabas or Justus.
While there isn’t a lot of information about Matthias, the Bible does tell us that he was with Jesus from the time of His baptism all the way up until His resurrection. Besides his mention in the book of Acts, he isn’t mentioned again in the Bible. Historically, he is said to have preached in both Caspian and Cappadocia and died around 80 AD.
Be sure to watch for Part 2 of our Early Church History Series, as we look further into the spreading of the gospel. In the next part, we will take a look at some of the earliest Apostolic Fathers and their contributions to the furthering of the Gospel.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name be the glory
Because of Your love and your faithfulness!