The Expository Files

 

 The Early Church and the Development of the New Testament




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 other places.

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 as well.

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 this time.

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

 

 

 

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