The History of Christianity #18
Our Scripture verse today is 2 Corinthians 12:12 which reads: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”
Our quote today is from Ray Ortlund. He said, “When the early believers converted to Christ, it never occurred to them to fit Him into the margins of their busy lives. They redefined themselves around a new, immovable center. He was not an optional weekend activity, along with the kids’ soccer practices. They put Him and His church and His cause first in their hearts, first in their schedules, first in their budgets, first in their reputations, first in their very lives. They devoted themselves. [This was] unmistakable evidence that the Holy Spirit was being poured out.”
Today, we are discussing “Mission to the Gentiles” (Part 3) from Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Let’s look at The Apostles: Facts and Legends
The New Testament gives no indication as to the career of most of the apostles. Acts tells of the death of James, the brother of John. But that very book, after following Paul’s career for a number of years, abruptly leaves him while preaching in Rome, awaiting trial. What became of Paul, Peter, and the other apostles? From an early date, traditions began to appear claiming that one or another of them had preached in a particular region, or had suffered martyrdom in one way or another. Most of these traditions are no more than the result of the desire of a church in a particular city to claim an apostolic origin. Others are more worthy of credit.
Of all these traditions, the most trustworthy is the one that affirms that Peter was in Rome, and that he suffered martyrdom in that city during Nero’s persecution. On these points, several writers of the first and second centuries seem to agree. We are also told that he was crucified – according to one version, upside-down – and this seems to be implied by the otherwise obscure words in John 21:18-19.
The case of Paul is somewhat more complex. The book of Acts leaves him while preaching in Rome. Ancient writers agree that he died in Rome – probably beheaded, as befitted a Roman citizen – at the time of Nero. But others say that he undertook some journeys that are not mentioned in Acts, including one trip to Spain. Some have tried to join these two traditions by supposing that Paul went to Spain between the end of Acts and the Neronian persecution. But this explanation encounters chronological difficulties. At best, all that can be said is that nothing is known for certain between the end of the book of Acts and Paul’s death during the reign of Nero.
The task of reconstructing John’s later career is complicated by the frequency with which the name of John appears in early records. There is an ancient tradition that claims that John was killed in a pot of boiling oil. But the book of Revelation places John, at about the same time, in exile on the island of Patmos. Another very trustworthy tradition speaks of John as a teacher at Ephesus, where he died around the year 100. All this indicates that there were at least two people with the same name, and that later tradition confused them. A second-century Christian writer – Papias of Hierapolis – affirms that there were indeed two persons by the name of John in the early church: one the apostle, and another an elder at Ephesus, who received the visions on Patmos. It is clear, from the enormous difference in their use of the Greek language, that the John of Revelation did not write the Fourth Gospel – commonly known as the Gospel of John. In any case, there was indeed toward the end of the first century, in the city of Ephesus, a Christian teacher named John, whose authority was great in all of the churches of Asia Minor.