The Early Church and the Development of the New
The Church-Its Beginning (Acts 1-7)
The church had its beginning on the first Day of Pentecost following the death,
burial and resurrection of Jesus (about 30 A.D.). The Book of Acts deals with
the early church in its infancy. It was at Jerusalem that the promise Jesus had
made to His disciples was fulfilled as the Holy Spirit descended upon the twelve
and they began to teach as the Spirit was giving them utterance (Acts 2:4). Thus
the gospel age was born as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ
was publicly proclaimed for the very first time as an accomplished fact.
The Church in Transition (Acts 8-12)
The death of the first martyr, Stephen (32 A.D.), brought this period to a
close. A great persecution arose against the church at Jerusalem and many
disciples were forced to flee. But far from being a crushing defeat, they went
throughout the region preaching the word (Acts 8:4). There came to be disciples
in such places as Samaria, Damascus and Caesarea.
The Lord saw great zeal in one of the primary persecutors, a man named Saul, and
revealed Himself to him. Saul became a convert (33 A.D.). This enemy of Jesus
would become a great servant of His cause. But first, Saul returned to his
hometown of Tarsus where he lived for about fourteen years.
Another pivotal event took place soon after Saul's conversion. Peter was
instructed to take the gospel to the first Gentiles, a Roman Centurion named
Cornelius and his household (34 A.D.). Also, about this time, a strong Gentile
church was established in Antioch.
The Gospel Goes Into The World (Acts 13-21:17)
This period begins with Saul beginning his ministry to take the gospel to the
Gentiles. He did much traveling, taking the gospel to cities in Asia Minor and
then Europe. While he would almost always begin by preaching to the Jews in
their synagogues, he would also reach out to the Gentiles.
Paul undertook three well defined missionary journeys. The first, undertaken
with Barnabas, went into Asia Minor (Acts 13,14).
It was between this first missionary journey and the following one that the
first epistle is written, thus beginning the New Testament Scriptures. We read
about a controversy that began when some of the Jewish believers thought that
the Gentile converts should be required to keep the law of Moses, or at least
portions of it. The apostles at Jerusalem dealt with the matter, and James, the
brother of Jesus, wrote the first epistle about this time. The Epistle of James
was written about 45 A.D. which was about fifteen years after the church began.
It dealt with the need for both faith and works.
It was very soon after that Paul wrote his first epistle to the churches of
Galatia. He and Barnabas had planted these churches during his first journey and
they were chiefly made up of Gentile converts. The Book of
Galatians deals mainly with freedom in Christ and that disciples are not
justified by keeping the Old Law now that faith has come. This was in accordance
with what the apostles had determined at Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15.
Paul's second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-18:23) was taken with Silas, and
Luke, the writer of Acts, was also in the group much of the time as well (49-52
A.D.). In addition to revisiting the churches of Galatia, Paul was told to leave
Asia Minor and take the gospel to Europe. He first traveled to Macedonia where
he preached the gospel for the first time in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea.
After this, he traveled south to Achaia (both Macedonia and Achaia are in
Greece) and preached in Athens (even discussing matters with the Greek
philosophers on Mar's Hill) and also established the church at Corinth. Here
Paul wrote First and Second
Thessalonians. Then Paul made his way back to Palestine via Ephesus and
Paul's third missionary journey (Acts 18:24-21:17) involved a return to Asia
Minor and continuing his work among the churches there (53-56 A.D.). He was at
Ephesus when he wrote the First and Second Epistles to the
Corinthians. After he was forced by persecution to leave Ephesus, he
visited Corinth and other churches in Greece. They had collections ready for
Paul to receive to take to the needy disciples in drought stricken Judea. It was
during this time that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans.
Paul traveled to Jerusalem with the gifts for the needy saints there, stopping
at Miletus and having a tearful farewell with the elders from the church at
Ephesus and also stopping at Troas, preaching there and partaking of the Lord's
Supper on the first day of the week.
Paul's Imprisonment (Acts 21:18-28:31)
A crises was caused at Jerusalem by those opposed to Paul and the gospel of
Christ. Paul was arrested after being falsely accused of violating the sanctity
of the temple. He was transferred as a prisoner to Caesarea where he remained
for two years (57-59 A.D.). It was here that Paul preached about Jesus to King
Agrippa as well as to the Roman proconsuls Felix, and later, Festus.
Paul was sent as a prisoner by Festus to Rome where he remained a prisoner for
about two more years (59-61 A.D.). Luke wrote the Gospel
of Luke and after that he also finished writing the
Book of Acts, ending it by recording this imprisonment at Rome.
Matthew probably wrote his gospel about this time
Paul was also writing as well as teaching, even as a prisoner, kept under house
arrest but permitted to receive visitors. During this time of imprisonment at
Caesarea and Rome he wrote the Epistles to the Ephesians,
Colossians, Philemon and the Philippians.
Also, Mark seems to have written his gospel about
Paul was apparently released from prison and continued traveling and preaching
for a couple more years. During this time he may have preached in Spain and he
wrote First Timothy and Titus.
Finally, after being arrested at Rome again, he wrote
Second Timothy and shortly thereafter was executed by order of Nero,
about 65 A.D.
The Closing of the Apostolic Era
Peter also was doing a great deal of traveling during this time. We know he was
at Galatia before Paul wrote to the churches there. He is mentioned as being at
Corinth as well. Tradition tells us he was martyred at Rome about the same time
as Paul was. Peter wrote two epistles, probably
very shortly before his death. Jude was probably
written soon after Peter's epistles.
The date of writing of Hebrews is uncertain, but
most think it before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Finally,
John's Gospel, Three Epistles and the
Book of Revelation close out the era, the latest
date of writing being assigned to about 96 A.D., about fifty years after the
first epistle, had been written. Now, we reverently use these Scriptures to
prepare ourselves for Christ's return and eternity.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 15.8; August 2008