Get the CD Now!

The Birth of the Christian Religion

Chapter IV


AN ardent, regulated and almost methodical propaganda was now to be launched which, in less than thirty years, would carry the Christian religion to all the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and as far as Rome, but under conditions which only permit us to catch glimpses of the chief stages in a mighty movement and to follow a few of its protagonists. As far as we can judge, this was not achieved by the proper and direct initiative of the Aramaic-speaking group of believers gathered in Jerusalem. The propulsive force that carried the new religion into the Mediterranean world was the force of the blow that had struck Stephen. Up to that moment the effort to make converts, in the conditions we have just studied, had been confined to Jerusalem. It is not certain, as some would have it, that small groups of believers existed in Galilee at that time, to which we might attribute the spread of the Gospel to Damascus. The invective against the Galilean towns (Matthew xi, 20-24; Luke x, 12-15) and the symbolic check to the preaching of Jesus at Nazareth (Mark vi, 1-6; Matthew xiii, 53-58; Luke iv, 15-30) would rather invite the conclusion that there were no groups of believers in Galilee in apostolic times. It may well be that the Jewish-Christian propaganda was roused into activity only by the Hellenistic-Christian, and did not become effective in North Palestine, Transjordania and Syria until after the migration thitherward of the Jerusalem community at the beginning of the Jewish war.

If the Christian religion which spoke in Aramaic was not without a future, if it was even destined to exert indirectly a profound influence on Christianity as a universal religion, that religion could not exist, and had in fact no existence, so long as the pagan world was unreached by its message. And the pagan world was not even touched so long as propagandist activity was confined to Jewish circles in Jerusalem, or even in Palestine. By the action of the Sanhedrim, the most active among the new believers, the most open minded, or if it be preferred, the least


imprisoned within Judaism were driven abroad into various provinces of the Roman Empire where, in a very short time, they did a work remarkable in its results and astonishing in its success.

On evidence derived from the Epistles preserved under his name, the foundation of hellenistic Christianity, that is of the Christian Church, of the historic Christian religion, is still generally attributed to Paul. But, if his role was of such capital importance, how comes it that ancient Christian documents, the Didache and the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, seem to ignore him, and that the Apocalypse of John, though more judaizing in style than in spirit, makes his school, if not his memory, the object of attack? It is the Paul of the Epistles who is aimed at in the letters to tile Asiatic Churches in Revelation ii, 2, 9, 14-15,20-24; iii, 9.

Notwithstanding that he was a contributor to founding the churches of Asia, they did not claim him, in the second century, as their founder, while the silence of the apologist Justin in regard to him is outstandingly significant. In the course of the second century, circumstances furnished him with an important collection of epistles, now gathered into the New Testament, and these, together with the combinations worked up in Acts, which give a considerable place to his missions, have made it possible to construct a scheme of Christian Origins partly false and too simple in relation to the complicated reality. Paul, for us, is the best known of the first Christian missionaries to the pagan world; but he was not the one and only missionary, nor even quite the first; he was simply the most active. The influence which his epistles came, ultimately, to acquire ought not to be credited entirely to his apostolic career; for the problem which now presents itself is just that of finding out whether the elaborate gnosis developed in the Epistles really belonged to their presumed author, to Paul. Even if that problem be set aside, it seems beyond doubt that the diffusion of the Christian religion in the pagan world had begun before Paul became a partner in the work, and that, notwithstanding his large contribution, it went on its course to a great extent independently of him. [1]

In order that our departure may be taken from a point of utmost certainty, let us fix attention on the following incomplete but trustworthy account in the Book of Acts (xi, 19-21): "They that were scattered abroad by the persecution in the time of


Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia" that is, to the hellenized towns of the Phoenician coast, including Caesarea, which, though the residence of the procurator of Judea, was not a Jewish town "and to Cyprus and to Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, when they were come to Antioch, spake to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number" of uncircumcised as well as Jews "believed and turned unto the Lord. And it was at Antioch that the disciples" the believers in Jesus "were first called Christians." In the pagan world the name of the sect is the name here indicated by Acts, and the foundation of the first hellenist-Christian community was the occasion of its adoption. In the Jewish, aramaic-speaking world, on the other hand, the adherents of the new faith, according to the same book of Acts, were called Nazoreans, following the title given to Jesus himself. "For we have found this man (Paul) a pestilent fellow ... and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans" (xxiv, 5). [2]

The text previously cited (xi, 19-21) comes from the same source as the account of the hellenistic group at Jerusalem and of the martyrdom of Stephen, to which it forms the natural sequel, but is here converted into a brief introduction to what the author is intent on telling about the foundation of the first community to be recruited, at least in part, from among the uncircumcised pagans. Phoenicia and Cyprus are quickly passed over, but the author's meaning is, clearly, that in these two countries, as in the first place at Antioch, the word was carried to the Jews, but "to Jews only." If the source has nothing to say about the results of this preaching, it is because its author was in haste to get on to the mission at Antioch and the exploits of Paul. The editor of Acts, for his part, presupposes, in what he has to tell of Phoenicia, the existence there of groups of Christian recruits from the Jewish population, and contents himself with a few legends about the ministry of Philip, one of the Seven, in Samaria, before his settlement at Caesarea. It is probable that some of the fugitives found their way also to Alexandria, whence Apollos was later to come, but Acts knew nothing of them, or preferred to say nothing.

Believers in Jesus also came early to Rome, but we are left equally in the dark as to the conditions. Let us not overlook the fact that


the missionaries who "spoke to the Greeks" were strangers to the country, this one from Cyprus, the other from Cyrene. (We shall learn their names a little later.) From this it would seem that the hellenistic believers who fled from Jerusalem after the death of Stephen did not seek refuge in the countries of their birth, and were not merely bent on saving their lives, but concerned also to carry on elsewhere a propaganda to which Jerusalem gave no support. Beyond that we cannot say what considerations and what circumstances suggested to these propagandists the choice of their destination. But it seems clear that the desire to proclaim their message held priority over personal interest. Without this ardour of apostleship it is indeed impossible to explain the prompt diffusion of the sect. To make known to the Jews of the Dispersion that Jesus was about to return as the Christ was to them a mission of extreme urgency. Nevertheless, however urgent they deemed their message to be, they believed they had time to deliver it, and that belief brought some enlargement of perspective to the hope which had caused the Galilean disciples to return to Jerusalem.

What these passages tell us about the foundation of the Antioch community contradicts the traditional legend presented elsewhere in Acts, which gives Peter the initiative in the conversion of the Gentiles; and it contradicts the legend, also traditional, but scientifically exaggerated in recent times, which makes out that Paul was the first apostle, and the universal apostle, of the Gentile world and indeed the veritable founder of the hellenistic-Christian Church.

According to the first legend, Peter, during the interval between the death of Stephen and the foundation of the mixed community at Antioch, and after the propagators of the Gospel had made some converts in Samaria and the coast towns of Phoenicia, undertook a sort of pastoral visit to the new groups there recruited by evangelists who were not apostles. In Samaria, accompanied by John, who remains a dumb figure, we find him bestowing the Holy Spirit on Philip's converts, which Philip had been unable to bestow upon them, and confounding one of the converts, the famous magician, Simon, who had offered for cash down to buy the power to confer the Spirit, so that he, Simon, might bestow the gift himself. [3] After which, we are given to


understand that Peter, making a similar tour of the coast towns, where he at once performed some miracles, [4] travelling this time alone, was guided to carry the Gospel to the centurion, Cornelius, a man of substance friendly to the Jews the guidance being furnished by a paraphernalia of revelations constructed on the same model as those by which the Book of Acts prepared the baptism of Saul-Paul by Ananias, and also to be met with in the mysteries of Isis. [5] The interview of Peter and Cornelius, their reciprocal explanations and the subsequent discourse of Peter are somewhat lacking in interest. The object of the discourse is to exhibit Peter as the very first to proclaim before a pagan audience the principle of universal salvation by faith in the Christ, the principle which this legend of conversion is designed throughout to illustrate and figuratively to set forth.

The third act of the pious drama is the baptism of Cornelius and his household under a kind of mandate from the Holy Spirit, who descends on the catechumens before the sacrament is administered. This legend, somewhat abbreviated, is repeated in the account of his conduct which Peter is represented as rendering to the community at Jerusalem. As the conversion of Cornelius symbolizes the conversion of the Gentiles, so the misgivings of the Jerusalem community symbolize the opposition of the Judaizing party, while Peter's answer to their complaint is designed to show that the little Pentecost of Caesarea puts the pagans on the same footing as the believers of Israel baptized in the Spirit at the great Pentecost in Jerusalem. Thus the question of the salvation of the uncircumcised, by faith alone and baptism, is answered, always symbolically, before it arose in reality. But there is matter for a smile when, after hearing Peter, under reprimand for eating with Gentiles, prove so solidly that he has done well, one goes on to read in the Epistle to the Galatians (li, 11-14) how Paul fell foul of this same Peter for refusing to sit at the same table with the uncircumcised.

Simon Peter may well have been the leading spirit in the genesis of the faith, but his role in reality was always little more than that of an apostle to the circumcision. No doubt it was impossible for him to be anything else, although, when the time for it came, he did not oppose the admission of pagans into the community by baptism without circumcision so much may be


retained from Galatians ii, 9, 12. There is no evidence of his going far away from Jerusalem before the year 44. Peter, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and "James, the brother of the Lord" [6] were the chief figures of the Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem during the first twelve or fifteen years of its existence. The legend of Cornelius is the creation of a time considerably later when an effort was made to give Peter prominence in relation to Paul, to exhibit him as representing the authentic and primitive apostolic tradition, the founder and first appointed leader of the universal church embracing both Jewish and pagan elements. [7]

The legend of Paul has undergone a parallel amplification to that of Peter, but on two different lines: first, by his own statements or by the tradition of his Epistles designed to make him the possessor of the true Gospel and of a strictly personal mission for the conversion of the Gentile world; and then by the common tradition for the purpose of subordinating his role and activity to the work of the Twelve, and especially of Peter regarded as the chief instrument of the apostolate instituted by Jesus.

Relying on the Epistles and disregarding their apologetic and tendentious character, even in much that concerns the person of Paul, though this perhaps is secondary, criticism is apt to conclude that Paul from his conversion onwards had full consciousness of an exceptional calling as apostle to the pagans, and that he set to work, resolutely and alone, to conquer the world, drawing in his wake the leaders of Judaic Christianity, whether willing or not. And this, indeed, is how things happened if we take the indications of the Galatian Epistle at their face value. There we encounter an apostle who holds his commission from God only, who has a gospel peculiar to himself given him by immediate revelation, and has already begun the conquest of the whole Gentile world. No small claim! (Galatians i, 11-12, 15-17, 21-24; ii, 7-8).

But. things did not really happen in that way, and could not have so happened. Paul did not arrive in Syria and Antioch in order to preside at the foundation of the first community of hellenizing Christians and to place himself at the head of missionaries who had come there before him, as Galatians ii, 1-10 might very naturally lead us to infer. Not only does the quite trust-


worthy account in Acts xi, 20-21 make it clear that the first conversions of the non-circumcised were made by believers from Cyprus and Cyrene, while a supplement, otherwise needing caution (xi, 22-26), sends Barnabas to seek out Paul at Tarsus [8] not till after their conversion had taken place not only this, but another notice entirely consistent (xiii, 1-3) which enumerates the prophets and teachers in Antioch at the moment when it was determined to carry the missions abroad, heads the list with the name of Barnabas. [9] Him we may identify without hesitation as the Cypriote who had a preponderant part in the evangelization of Antioch; while the fifth and last name on the list is Saul-Paul, whom nobody would suspect of choosing the last place for himself, but who filled it quite naturally after the others who belonged to the group of founders. Barnabas, moreover, takes precedence of Paul in the mission entrusted to them jointly by the community (xiii, 3).

Interpret how we may the over-statements in the Epistle to the Galatians, [10] it is certain that Saul-Paul did not make his entry on the Christian stage as the absolute innovator, the autonomous and independent missionary exhibited by this Epistle. The believers in Damascus to whom Paul joined himself were zealous propagandists imbued with the spirit of Stephen, and there is nothing whatever to suggest that he was out of his element among them. Equally, lie was quite unaware at that time of possessing a peculiar Gospel or a vocation on a different level from that of all the other Christian missionaries. That idea he certainly did not bring with him to Antioch, where he found a community which others had built up and which recruited non-Jews without imposing circumcision. For long years [11] he remained there as the helper of Barnabas rather than his chief. When the Jerusalem community took offence at what was going on at Antioch, it was Barnabas and Paul, with Barnabas in front, who went to plead the cause of liberty before the elders. Paul's only initiation into the apostolate to the Gentiles was the initiation he received at Antioch by the side of Barnabas. That apostolate was established before Paul appeared on the scene and continued to be exercised by others at the same time as by him. Paul was simply one of the greatest missionaries of the earliest period. In the conventional histories of primitive


Christianity he has eclipsed the true founders of the hellenizing movement, as well as eclipsing Barnabas, who has almost been turned into a modest companion of his missionary labours, like Timothy and Titus at a later stage. But he owes this eminence far more to the exploitation of his memory by one part of the Christian tradition, and to the writings that were assigned to his name, than to any first-hand evidence of his apostolic activity and its successes. The legend in Acts on the other hand, while magnifying him in its own way, has unduly subordinated him, along with Barnabas, to the founders of the first Christian community. Although edited Acts tell the story of his conversion in detail [12] and has it twice told by Paul himself in speeches put in his mouth, all that we can retain from this as certain is that Paul came from Tarsus in Galicia and that suddenly, in consequence of a vision, he was converted at Damascus to faith in the Christ whom he had previously opposed. Paul's native country is not mentioned in the Epistles, but Tarsus is no invention of the editor of Acts; it is even the most certain piece of information he has left us concerning the antecedents of the great apostle.

We may believe in like manner that the apostle's Semitic name was Saul and that the name Paul, always used in the Epistles, is a surname; as it is probable that Paul was a Roman citizen the surname may be a cognomen. Nothing is known of his family. Perhaps the trade of tentmaker, which we shall find him following at Corinth in the house of Aquila, was learnt from his father. There were flourishing schools at Tarsus, but there is nothing to prove that Paul frequented them in his youth. By education he was a Pharisee, but the editor of Acts is responsible for making him a disciple of Gamaliel, which he never was; his culture was Jewish; he read the Scriptures in the Septuagint and may have known Aramaic as the traditional speech of his family as well as from his later travels. Needless to say our assessment of the influences to be recognized as having moulded his thought depends on die credit we attach to the Epistles. The gnostic ways of salvation to be met with in the great Epistles and in Colossians and Philippians not to speak of Ephesians suggest many and varied contacts with the mystical thought of the period. Retaining only what is most probable, it seems that Paul was of Jewish culture and a Jew of strict observance, but, with


experience of life in a pagan environment, rendered capable by that experience of embracing without repugnance the programme of evangelization adopted by the missionaries of Antioch.

The Book of Acts gives us the romance, not the psychology, of his conversion. There is every reason to believe that Paul himself never examined the process that led up to it and never analysed its motives; nor has he described the vision which seems to have suddenly changed the orientation of his being. [13]

The event took place at Damascus, but we have no knowledge of what brought him to that city, nor do we know whether he had previously been a zealous opponent of Christian groups elsewhere. He was never the general commissioner in charge of an official persecution. He must have been a Messianist, bewildered at first but afterwards gained over by what the followers of Jesus had to tell of their Christ. The inner process which issued in his conversion is not to be discerned either in the Epistles or in Acts. The Epistles say nothing about it, although commentators have pretended, and often still pretend, to discover it there. The editor of Acts has run the story of his conversion into the conventional mould of miracle and interpreted it according to the notion he is bent on giving of the providential mission to be assigned to Paul. [14] That he stirred up the Jews in Damascus by preaching immediately after his conversion, the Christ he had come to oppose is contradicted by Galatians (cf. Acts ix, 20-22; Galatians i, 15-17) [15] which equally contradicts the story of his setting out at once to Jerusalem to join the old disciples and of his preaching there in the synagogues only to provoke a plot from which he escapes again by flight. [16] As to the story of Barnabas, departing under orders from the apostolic community, to meet Paul at Tarsus and to bring him to Antioch, this is only another effort to exhibit Paul as an auxiliary of considerable importance recruited and patronized by the Jerusalem apostles. All these fictions must be set aside if the movement of primitive evangelization is to recover its true physiognomy.


The author of Acts in its original form seems to have had before him fairly precise information concerning the Jerusalem


community, the foundation of the Antioch community and the missions of Paul. The editor of our canonical book has not enlarged the framework of the story; he has merely modified the contents, drowning them in his legends about Peter and Paul, and arranging them to suit the needs of his apologetic or to edify the Church. But missionary activity and the expansion of the Christian religion vastly exceeded in reality the scope assigned to it in Acts. In this respect the wholly fictitious scene of Pentecost, in its catalogue of the Mediterranean peoples, may give us a truer idea of the work accomplished during the first forty years of evangelization than can be gathered from the subsequent narratives in the book.

It is true that Acts gives summary information that the Phoenician towns and Cyprus were evangelized before Antioch (xi, 19), but tells us nothing whatever of how the preaching of the Christ came to Damascus so early in the day. The most probable conjecture is that some of Stephen's companions were able to reach that city; there is, however, the possibility that, when the Hebrew group also finally embarked on propaganda outside Jerusalem, Jewish Christianity may at once have thrown out casts in Palestine and found its way into the neighbouring countries of Transjordania and Syria. Both Egypt and "the regions of Libya round about Cyrene" are mentioned in the story of Pentecost (ii, 10). Ought we not also to recall that a Cyrenian is said to have carried the cross of Jesus to Golgotha? It is at least significant that Jews of Cyrene figure at the side of Barnabas among the founders and teachers of the Antioch community Lucius of Cyrene and probably "Simeon called the Black" (xiii, i).

It is a reasonable conjecture that some believer in Cyrene evangelized his own country. But the probability is very high that the faith of Jesus, having once left Jerusalem and crossed the frontiers of Palestine, quickly penetrated Egypt and found its way to Alexandria. Christian propaganda does not seem to be aimed at in express terms in a letter addressed by Claudius to the Alexandrians shortly after his accession, although many have thought the letter condemns it; [17] but it is virtually impossible that Christian propaganda was not active at that time, or soon afterwards, in Alexandrian Jewry, and the more so in view of


the contact of Stephen and his group with Jews of Alexandria. [18]

It is not until near the end of the second century, at the time of the pascal controversy, that the Christian community of Alexandria makes its appearance in history. But by then it had become of considerable importance and fully formed; it had a great teacher, Clement, a profound and learned mystic; it had behind it a long and, for us, extremely obscure past, of which our chief knowledge is that it supplied the Christianity of that time with many notable heretics. Although its origin must date back to the dawn of the Christian religion, we are completely ignorant of how, when or by whom the Gospel was carried into Egypt [19] and of the conditions under which it lived and spread in that country. We have already indicated all that is known about the Gospel of the Egyptians. In the highly syncretist atmosphere of Alexandria Christianity seems to have taken a strong turn towards gnosticism. It is a misfortune, doubtless attributable to that atmosphere, that the writings of the Alexandrian gnostics of the second century have not come down to us, any more than the Gospel of the Egyptians. The consequence is that Alexandrian Christianity eludes the grasp of the historian until the time when it was caught up in the general current of the catholic movement, into which the gnostic crisis was later canalized and compressed.

Similar observations apply to the Roman community. "When Paul wrote to it about the year 56 this community was not a thing of yesterday; yet a quarter of a century earlier the Gospel propaganda had hardly begun and must therefore have been carried to Rome in the earliest period of its activity. An edict of Claudius against the Jews, issued under conditions obscure to the historian, may have been occasioned by agitation provoked in Roman Jewry by the preachers of the Christ. It seems that the edict came out in the early years of his reign and was caused by the Christian propaganda; this it chiefly aimed at repressing, but without restricting the liberty of the Jewish cult. [20] Perhaps we may consider as probable the hypothesis that the Christian propaganda was not of the inoffensive political character it affects in tht writings of the New Testament, and that it led to serious messianic agitation in the great Jewries, like that of Rome and especially that of Alexandria.


Who were the first and real founders of the Roman community? Certainly no important person from the first community in Jerusalem; certainly not Peter; otherwise Paul in his letter to the Romans would have had to pay regard to such notables and would not have been able to claim the field as freely open to him. They must have been Christian Jews from Palestine, hellenistic rather than Hebrew, who had not come to Rome for the sole purpose of propaganda, but had none the less exercised it there both among the Roman Jews and among the pagan frequenters of their synagogues; and with rapid success, since the community  or, more exactly, the Christian groups in Rome had attained considerable importance, though as yet unable to claim that importance under any apostolic name.

The time is long past when critics ought to have recognized, or at least more deeply understood, that Christian propaganda was not at first, and was not to become until more than one generation had passed, a methodically conducted enterprise for the foundation of communities planned on a model predetermined by the first missionaries, or even determined after the lapse of several years. It was the kind of agitation that arises from personal communication, one might call it a contagion, and remained so from the time when Jesus began to preach till that of the Apocalypse. The promptitude with which the propaganda was begun and its almost staggering success would be inexplicable, though without being more miraculous than a world-epidemic, unless we took into consideration the free outburst of enthusiasm which started the first migration of the Gospel on its way, together with the whole assemblage of conditions under which the preaching of the Gospel was born. As the fever of extravagant hope cooled down, system and rule came in to the same measure.

Let us never forget that the message which fired this hope was at once urgent and easy to deliver; God and His Christ were on the point of coming. Every Jew had an interest in knowing that. Is it likely that any Jew would not be eager to hear of it? And those who carried the message, with a simple-minded conviction of its truth, never doubted for a moment that multitudes would be ready to believe them. Their faith gave them assurance of success. Moreover the utmost alacrity was imperative for the sake


of every man whom the message might reach; the Great Event was bound to come suddenly and without warning: let every man then be ready. It must be admitted, however, that some groups of Hebrew believers refused to treat the message as an article for export, and represented Jesus as commanding his missionaries not to go to the Samaritans nor to the pagans, because the Son of Man would come before they had time to make the round of the cities of Israel (Matt. x, 5, 23). Superfluous orders for propaganda already on the wing and which nothing thereafter could stop!

There is, however, no need to exaggerate the meaning of the texts just quoted. They reflect the programme of the Judaizing party. They are easily explained by saying that their authors were resolved to keep their propaganda within the regions to which Jesus had confined his own activity. But, from the fact that this programme is here turned into a precept of the Christ, it does not follow that it was intended to make the example of Jesus into a binding rule for all. We must first consider how the Great Event was understood. Certain it is that the Judaizers were not bent on excluding all the Jews of the Dispersion from the coming Kingdom of God; they believed that the accession of the Dispersed to the Kingdom would be effectively brought about after, and as a consequence of, the Event, which the original believers feverishly awaited from day to day. On the other hand, the hellenistic believers, who proclaimed Jesus as "Lord" had begun to preach the religion of the Christ also, and not merely his imminent advent, and were early convinced that the message of this religion ought to be carried at once to the Gentiles, and to all nations, since faith in the Christ was, for all, an indispensable condition of entry into the Kingdom. "This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. xxiv, 14). As the Second Coming did not take place the delay was explained by the necessity of completing the world-wide proclamation of the Gospel. In any case, what was now more and more aimed at was the gathering, in hope of his coming, of recruits to the faith of the Christ who was acclaimed "as a god." Thus understood, the Kingdom of God was something very different from the enthronement of the Messiah-King at Jerusalem, and came more


and more to be felt as already realized in the Christian community.

In this way the evangelical message was continually passed on from one locality to the next in the Jewish colonies of all countries, where it naturally gained a hearing and then came under discussion. It was not accepted by all who heard it how could it be? but a certain number received it as a hope imparted by contagion. To all appearance the Jewish authorities were not as prompt in discrediting the propaganda as the Christian missionaries were in spreading it. These authorities could not measure in advance the harm which the propaganda was about to inflict upon Judaism. At first they must have thought that the execution of Jesus would suffice to break down the agitation which the Galilean preacher had started. The formation of the Jewish-Christian community took them, so to speak, off their guard; they scented no great peril in that. Disquieted, later, by the formation of the hellenistic group and the preaching of Stephen, they reassured themselves by executing the new preacher and by dispersing his associates. But this dispersion of the hellenistic believers had also the effect of spreading their belief, and when information came to the authorities of the growing success which the propagation of it everywhere was achieving, they found themselves powerless to stop it. It was doubtless at their instigation that King Agrippa I resolved to strike down the leaders of the community holding on at Jerusalem. But Peter escaped. To set the law in motion against the whole group of Hebrew believers would have been too risky, while the hellenistic preaching was beyond the reach of violent repression. Before the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 it seems improbable that the faith of Jesus was considered in any of the Jewries as altogether incompatible with the profession of Judaism.

Considered in itself the Gospel message appealed in the main to simple souls, who awaited the day of the Lord in good faith, and to the poor, who had need of its coming. Although the Christian movement was not, strictly speaking, socialism coloured by religion, it had from the very beginning and long continued to have, indeed has never altogether lost, die character of a popular association which offered a promising asylum to the disinherited classes of contemporary society, to the Jewish plebs,


to the pagan plebs and to the pagan slaves. The participation of the more fortunate classes was for a long time on a small scale, but this favoured rather than hindered the organization of the new religion as a vast mutual aid society, in which the unfortunate of all classes found moral support and material help. In short, Christianity brought to its adepts something more than an unrealizable hope continually frustrated. It brought solace to great miseries, and led on to the founding of an equalitarian society less crushing for the oppressed victims of the old civilizations.

The expansion of the constituency of the new cult was effected from the side where the synagogues themselves recruited proselytes more or less complete but fairly numerous, that is, from the pagans. That Christianity was able to make such remarkable progress in so short a time is due to the fact that Judaism had previously spread itself over the entire Mediterranean world, and that the synagogues had everywhere throughout the Roman Empire, and even beyond, become centres of active propaganda. The missionaries of Jesus made all haste to carry their message to the synagogues. Gaining them, they came, almost without premeditation, into contact with the pagan proselytes, and when the missionaries, after drawing away a large part of these, were driven out of the synagogues, they addressed themselves directly to the pagans. This first happened at Antioch and it must have repeated itself everywhere.

Although Acts (xi, 19-21) give a highly summarized version of the doings at Antioch, it leaves us with the certainty that the believers in Jesus began by addressing themselves to Jews in the synagogues; that thereby they made an impression on a few pagans friendly to Judaism, and were thus led to recruit uncircumcised persons who were willing to hear their message. But, in all this, there was no question of a rupture with the synagogue, doubtless because the preachers had done nothing to provoke it, and also because the spirit of the Antioch Jewry was not bigoted. (The protest against preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles without requiring circumcision did not come from the Jews of Antioch but from Judaizing believers sent there by Jerusalem.) No official repudiation of the Christian propaganda was issued by the Jewish authorities till long after the year 44;


for we find that Paul, to all appearances, had been everywhere able to present himself in the synagogues of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia without any ban being imposed from the outset on the reception of his message, which was obstructed only by local reactions. When he was taken prisoner in Jerusalem, his person was the object of attack. The Judaizing Christians of the earliest community continued to be tolerated and to frequent the temple, perhaps also the synagogues, without constituting a group separate from traditional Judaism, as the hellenistic-Christians organized by Paul in Asia Minor had by this time become.

It may therefore be taken as certain that the Gospel would have found no easy way out of Palestine if Judaism had not established colonies in almost every part of the Roman Empire, and beyond it. Christian propaganda would have taken no hold on the pagan world had not Judaism begun the conquest of it in advance and initiated the pagans, to some extent, in the hope of the Jews. But, Judaism being there, Christianity a Jewish heresy was enabled to make its appearance at every centre of the ancient world where Judaism was firmly rooted. In the environment where Judaism had won victories Christianity won them also, and more easily. For the Gospel seemed to bring, and did bring, the same hope, even a better hope, for it was on the way to fulfilment; at the same time it dispensed adherents from Jewish observances repugnant to the habits of the Greco-Roman world. With the way into pagan territory thus opened, Christianity found there an immense clientele of the disinherited, to whom it offered substantial help in their present misery, moral in the first instance but material also, with the expectation of felicity in the coming age.


The texts before us make it possible to see how, when once the Antioch community had been constituted, the propagation of the Gospel was organized for the countries of Syria and Cilicia. Although the members, at least the Jewish-Christian part of them, still frequented the synagogue, the community had nevertheless a life of its own, but without breaking away from


Judaism. Private meetings of believing groups for instruction and for the Eucharist had, in Antioch, a greater importance than in Jerusalem, because in the former there was no temple to serve as a common meeting place for the pious Jews and followers of Jesus.

Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians, speaks of having preached in Syria and Cilicia for at least ten years. [21] The following notice in Acts (xiii, 1-2) concerning the initiative, taken by the Antioch community for the preaching work in question, refers to the beginning of this period.

Now there were at Antioch,
in the community of that place,
prophets and preachers:
(Joseph called) Barnabas (of Cyprus) [22]
Simeon called the Black
and Lucius of Cyrene
Manaen, friend of Herod the tetrarch,
and Saul (called Paul, of Tarsus). . . .
And as they worshipped the Lord and fasted,
The Holy Spirit said:
"Separate me Barnabas and Saul
to the work whereto I have called them."

In the edited or canonical book of Acts this preamble introduces a common and prolonged mission of Barnabas and Paul to Cyprus and Asia Minor (xiii, 4-xiv) which is represented as taking place before the meeting at Jerusalem which settled the question of the legal observances. But this arrangement is contradicted both by the Epistle to the Galatians (cf. Gal. i, 21-ii, 1), which puts the Jerusalem meeting immediately after the mission into Syria-Cilicia, and by Acts themselves (xv, 23) to which, in their account of the meeting, the only hellenistic-Christian communities known are those of Syria-Cilicia. Moreover, it seems impossible to place this mission, with E. Meyer (iii, 421) and others, between the Jerusalem meeting and the subsequent conflict between Peter and Paul at Antioch, after which Paul, now separated from BarnaLas, followed his personal inspirations only. Far more probably the Cyprus mission was undertaken by Barnabas alone after this separation, and the mission to Lycaonia and Galatia by Paul alone on the same occasion; the editor of Acts having


thought well to combine these two missions into one, and to anticipate certain events in each of the two in the common mission he proceeds to imagine. [23]

The text just cited, then, concerns a mission of which the story is not told in canonical Acts. It can only be that of which the whole credit seems to be attributed to Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians. In fact our text supposes the mission to have been carried out under conditions very different from those implied by the Epistle. Following the latter, one might think that Paul set forth entirely alone in order to carry out a programme laid down by himself at the time of his conversion. We here see that he did nothing of the kind. At a meeting of the congregation, assembled, we must suppose, in the name of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit, doubtless with one of the prophets for spokesman, commands the congregation to make provision for the support of two missionaries, whose whole time is to be devoted to making converts, both in Antioch itself and especially in the neighbouring regions of Syria and Cilicia. The two missionaries selected were evidently the two judged to be most gifted for this kind of service, the first being Barnabas who heads the list of prophet-teachers as chief founders of the Antioch congregation, the second being Paul, the last on the list as having been admitted to the congregation when it was already founded, but whose zeal and gifts as a maker of converts had speedily won recognition.

It is not very difficult to see how the decision to undertake the mission came about. When the community had grown, through the adhesion of new recruits, to fairly large proportions, though the apostolic office had as yet no definite form, it became obvious that the time was ripe to organize teaching, for the furtherance of propaganda, by delegating it to those best fitted for that employment. Now the Antioch congregation was well furnished in this respect, having five "prophets and teachers."

To support the home propaganda, in the conditions under which this had been carried on hitherto, half of the total force would be enough, while the most active, enterprising and may we guess? the youngest could then be more usefully employed on outside work. For various reasons Barnabas and Paul were the likely candidates for a travelling mission. Both of them, moreover, and Paul especially, were acquainted with the region


in which their zeal was to be exercised; the purpose being to radiate outwards from Antioch and as far as Cilicia Paul's country of origin.

We can only conjecture how the Antioch community attained the degree of development at which we find it when the apostolic expedition of Barnabas and Paul was set on foot. To begin with, a few Jews would be won over by the fugitives from Jerusalem; then the Cypriots and the Cyrenians Barnabas, Simeon the Black and Lucius would recruit a certain number of uncircumcised proselytes to Judaism, whom they found attached to the synagogues. Since the synagogues had accepted them without demanding circumcision our new preachers would do the same, and would have little scruple in doing so if they thought, as Stephen did, that in the Reign of the Christ the non-moral observances of the Law would be swept away. So they confined themselves to baptizing their uncircumcised converts before admitting them to fellowship, just as they also baptized the circumcised Jews. For the rest, we may conjecture that at Antioch, as at Jerusalem, the new believers, while perhaps continuing to frequent the synagogues, would in addition have meetings of their own, especially in the form of meals for the solemn breaking of bread in memory of Jesus, and in celebration of his approaching advent. Assuming that complete separation from the synagogue was not soon effected and it is probable that the bond was not broken for a considerable time the final result is that the new community would have a life of its own and, we may add, its own meetings for worship, as we are in effect told it had.

In these meetings at Antioch strange phenomena were produced which can hardly have been forthcoming at Jerusalem in the same degree or in the same form. For the scene at Pentecost described in Acts is entirely fictitious; so too is what the same book has to tell us elsewhere about "speaking with tongues" (ii, 1-13; x, 46; xix, 6). Moreover there is no evidence of prophets or inspired teachers appearing in Jerusalem, except casually in stories of secondary origin and poor credibility (xi, 27-30). [24]

At Antioch instructors in doctrine were regarded as endowed by the Spirit with the gift of Knowledge, and as able, on occasion, to deliver true oracles under the Spirit's dictation, as happened


in the case of the mission entrusted to Barnabas and Paul. There seems to be no ground for dividing the list of the five "prophets and teachers" into two parts, as if the first two or three had been "prophets" and the others "teachers." A prophet does not prophesy without intermission. The same individual who at exceptional times seemed to be speaking to the direct dictation of the Spirit would, in ordinary times, deliver his teaching with its help and presence, that is, under the simple inspiration of his faith, but without emotional transports. Conversely, there were few teachers at this time who had not, at certain conjunctions, their moments of trance and prophetic revelation. In the case before us the suggestion which pointed to Barnabas and Paul was obviously the outcome of circumstances, and it matters little to know by the mouth of which prophet it was uttered, though we may be sure it did not come from either of the two persons interested.

It would no doubt be somewhat risky to assume that the spiritual gifts, which play so large a part in the history of primitive Christianity, were not first manifested at Jerusalem but had their beginning at Antioch. Mystical and visionary exaltation infectiously communicated is contemporary with faith in Christ risen from the dead, and helped to fortify it, the disposition to yield to it being strengthened by anxious expectation of the parousia. But Antioch may well have marked a stage onwards in the evolution of this mysticism, the stage of prophetical teaching, which is not said to have accompanied the delirious "speaking with tongues." Incomplete as our documentary evidence may be, it is an important fact that the Antioch community was organized under the direction of teaching prophecy.

Not less important to note at this point is the way in which the apostolate was instituted under the form of a delegation. Barnabas and Paul are teaching prophets at Antioch whom the community, at the suggestion of the Spirit the Christ-Spirit delegates for a mission abroad. This delegation clearly makes them "apostles," that is to say envoys of the community which had given them the mission at the bidding of the Spirit of Christ. "The work" referred to is a real or genuine apostolic mission, its significance as such being underlined for the sole reason that it was, at least in the writer's thought, the first of its kind;


an enterprise declared to be necessary in the name of Christ at a meeting of believers, and entrusted to delegates whom the community, while accompanying them with its prayers, provides with letters of recommendation, with money, and all else needful for the journey. Otherwise such expeditions would not have been possible. The passage before us, then (xiii, 1-2), is an account of the first institution of the travelling apostolate, the narrator being fully aware of it as such, as well as of the close collaboration of Barnabas and Paul for several years, a collaboration which the Epistle to the Galatians tends to disguise. A commission from the community to which the traveller belonged, with a contribution to the expenses of his journey, leaving the rest of his entertainment to his prospective converts, was a normal feature in the constitution of the primitive apostolate.

We lack the details of the preaching tours made by Barnabas and Paul in the regions of Syria and Cilicia. [25] All we know of it are the results. Several Christian groups were formed in these countries under the same conditions as those at Antioch. They were partly recruited from the pagans, so that now there were many communities, using the name of Jesus and sharing the Jewish hope, in which adherents were to be found who had not submitted to the obligations of the Jewish cult.

One may well ask whether the Antioch missionaries had weighed the consequences of what may perhaps be called their liberalism. No doubt the two envoys conformed to the broader tendencies of Judaism as observed in the Dispersion, putting the essentials of religion in a belief in the One God and in the salvation promised by him to Israel subject to observance of the Jewish moral law. These tendencies would be in agreement with the opinion attributed to Stephen regarding the abrogation, in the final economy of the Kingdom, of the material observances required by the Mosaic ritual. We may believe further that they had some sense, perhaps confused, of the great opportunities which the abandonment of these practices could not fail to bring for their propaganda. But neither could they disguise from themselves that these easy-going ways would give rise to opposition, and they would need to have their answer ready. What they probably did not suspect nor aim to bring about was that, in reality, they were laying the foundation of a new religion


and that soon, in consequence of their exertions, the faith of Christ, the religion of Jesus would be separated for ever, and immediately, from Judaism.


Between the new community at Antioch, with its offshoots, and the community at Jerusalem, the first and chief centre of the faith, there existed relations, just as there were relations between the Judaism of the Dispersion and the metropolis of all the Jews. It was not very long before the saints in Jerusalem began to be alarmed by the news that groups were being formed in Syria and Cilicia of persons more or less strangers to Judaism inasmuch as they were outside its ritual economy. The problem which the liberalism of the Antioch missionaries had found so easy of solution did not seem so simple to the Hebrew believers of the original community. How, they asked, could the promises be inherited by those who bore not the mark of the chosen people, by those who were not partners in the holy covenant with its ritual conditions fixed by revelation direct from God? Perhaps the chiefs of the community hesitated to pronounce judgment in the matter, the teaching of Jesus, so far as there was any to refer to, having never touched this problem, nor furnished a principle for its solution. At an early hour in the development of primitive Christianity, Jesus was represented as having predicted the accession of the Gentiles to the Kingdom, and even as having realized it symbolically by miracles performed at the request of the Canaanite woman and of the centurion at Capernaum. But he was not made to declare that circumcision and the other observances were of no value for salvation. The Judaizers made him say the flat contrary and openly declare that he had not come to abrogate the Law (Matthew v, 17-19).

There were, however, some zealous individuals, more or less imbued with the pharisaic spirit, who pronounced against the practice of the Antioch missionaries and took upon themselves the duty of travelling to that city and catechizing the proselytes, explaining to them that salvation was impossible unless the Law of Moses was observed. [26] Perhaps the Jewish believers in Antiocli were easily shaken; but the hellenistic


believers resisted, and their chiefs refused to yield to the injunctions of Judaizing extremists. By way of putting an end to the trouble the community resolved to send a delegation which would go into the matter with the elders in Jerusalem. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians gives us to understand that this step was taken under orders from the Spirit (ii, 2), [27] the text describing it, however, as a private revelation in consequence of which Paul decided to betake himself to Jerusalem. But the thing happened quite differently. There was no question either of the affairs or of the doctrines peculiar to this apostle. Either Paul, after the event, immensely exaggerated his own importance in it, making the whole negotiation centre on himself, and claiming as his personal inspiration the step taken by the community, under injunction of the Spirit, in delegating, not Paul alone, but Barnabas first and Paul second either this, or the text, written in eulogy of Paul, is apocryphal. The Epistle also mentions a certain Titus, an uncircumcised believer, as having been chosen by Paul himself as his companion. If Titus really accompanied the delegates, he too may have been appointed by the community.

The journey probably took place towards the end of the year 43. Agrippa I died in the course of 44; Peter fled from Jerusalem in the spring of that year; the apostolic meeting took place some time previously.

The problem was not settled without a clash of argument. Reading the Epistle to the Galatians one might think that Paul and his doctrines were the sole matters in the debate. In fact the whole work of the Antioch missionaries, which had not been started by Paul himself, was in question. At the general meetings of the community little was spoken of beyond the results obtained by the missionaries. But Barnabas and Paul had long private audiences with the chiefs, of whom the Epistle mentions Peter, John and James according to the context not the brother of John, but James the brother of the Lord. [28] To them the Antioch apostles gave their reasons and defended their practice. The elders of Jerusalem were at last convinced. If we could believe what the Epistle to the Galatians has to say of the matter (ii, 7-9) it would seem that the "pillars" recognized in Paul a unique and universal vocation as apostle to the Gentiles and a parallel vocation for Peter as apostle to the circumcision.


Nothing could be less probable than such a convention. The book of Acts has no suspicion of its having ever existed. Either, then, Paul immensely overstates his own importance in describing his providential mission, or the text is not authentic. The elders of Jerusalem were hardly more capable of claiming for themselves alone the evangelization of all the Jews in the world than they were of confiding to Paul alone the evangelization of all the Gentiles. Such a division would have been an outrage upon common sense. To render it more acceptable Edouard Meyer arbitrarily supposes that the Jerusalem believers, not knowing Greek, confined themselves to the evangelization of the Jews in Palestine and left all the other countries in the world to the hellenists. This in fact is what happened, but is not what the text of the Epistle means. [29] The debate was not aimed at the theoretical object of determining the vocation of the chief apostles and their respective spheres of influence, a problem both abstract and retrospective. From beginning to end the one question at issue was whether or no salvation could be assured to the uncircumcised by virtue alone of faith in God and His Christ Jesus, along with a change of heart and observance of the Jewish moral law, but without circumcision and the ritual practices obligatory for Jews by birth. This was the only question examined and it was so important in itself that to seek another theme for the debate in the personalities that were parties to it is a gratuitous expenditure of effort. On this, the only point at issue, the Jerusalem elders finally came to terms with the Antioch missionaries. This, doubtless, was done the more easily because Jewish opinion on the necessity of circumcision for the salvation of proselytes had not been at that time determined. The Galilean believers, moreover, cannot have been very deeply versed in the problems of theology. At this period they seem to have had no thought of leaving Palestine, nor even Jerusalem, and to have willingly given consent that others should carry the Gospel to the outside world, whether Jewish or Gentile, and under the conditions which the Antioch missionaries had adopted. Their sole request was the preachers to the countries of the Dispersion should not forget "the poor" that is, the Jerusalem community, where material poverty was common enough. The help thus to be given was doubtless understood as a sign of


communion, not to say as a kind of allegiance. Notwithstanding the story in Acts (xv, 13-20) [30] it may be doubted whether the arrangement carried other conditions, such as the interdiction of blood and of "things strangled." But it is morally certain that the general picture in Acts reflects the real practice, that of a compromise adopted in mixed congregations to allay the scruples of Jewish believers, and sanctioned from the outset by apostolic authority. What the chiefs had decided the Jerusalem community accepted, and letters were written disavowing the disturbers of the peace at Antioch; they were carried by two notables of Jerusalem, Judas Barsabbas and Silas who accompanied the Antioch delegation on the return journey. Thus the danger of division at the moment when the Christian religion was in process of being born was averted, and the continuation of the propaganda on pagan soil assured. But the external peace enjoyed by the Jerusalem congregation was about to pass through a time of trouble; while the agreement reached by the missionaries was soon, by the action of Paul, to be shattered also.

In the years when these things were happening the old Kingdom of Herod the Great was provisionally reconstituted for the benefit of Herod Agrippa the First, a dependant of the Emperor Claudius, and previously the friend of Caligula. This prince, after a life of many adventures and of mediocre edification, thought to win the favour of his subjects by putting on grand airs of piety. [31] Like the procurators, he resided by preference at Caesarea, but coming to Jerusalem for the Passover in the year 44 he made it his duty to persecute the heads of the Christian congregation. It is possible that the decision to do this was not entirely his own, but was made in response to solicitation from the Jewish ecclesiastical authorities. Since his reign began in 41 it may, however, be asked why had not the priests and the Sanhedrim made an earlier appeal to him? Perhaps the success of the Christian propaganda outside Palestine was beginning at last to alarm them, and it may even be that the Antioch affair, and the solution in which it resulted, had come to their knowledge and caused them particular irritation. [32] There is also the further possibility that the attitude of Agrippa may have been determined by that of Claudius towards Jewish agitation. For the rest, it is to be noted that action was not taken against the congregation


as a whole, nor against James the brother of Jesus, who enjoyed a great reputation for fidelity to the Law. To begin with, the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, were arrested and put to death, probably after trial by the Sanhedrim. [33]

Peter was the next to be seized and, the time of the Passover having come, was thrown into prison to await his trial at the conclusion of the solemnities; but he made his escape under conditions which the book of Acts represents as wholly miraculous, and of which the least to be said is that the romancer and the dramatist have been hard at work (xii, 3-19). The alternatives seem to be that either he took to flight under the menace of arrest and that pains have been taken to cover up his inglorious retreat, or else some influential person found means to get him out of prison, and the incident became dramatized as a miracle. In either event he left Jerusalem in haste and in all probability never returned. But whither did he go? The editor of Acts is deliberately silent about the locality to which he betook himself, and for a twofold reason; first, because his purpose was to ignore the conflict between Peter and Paul; and, second, because by postponing the discussion about legal observances till after the events just related, he made it impossible to bring Peter, whom he supposes to have reached the solution of the problems at the conversion of Cornelius, on to the ground where the discussion had its birth. It may be that Peter left the city accompanied by John-Mark [34] and by Silas.[35] Palestine, now almost entirely under the rule of Herod Agrippa, being no safe place for him, he betook himself to Antioch.

Then arose the conflict which was to lead Paul on a road all his own and to wholly new fields for the proclamation of his Gospel. If we are to believe the Epistle to the Galatians (ii, 11-13) Peter found the Antioch community at peace under the recent decision of Jerusalem, and lived in the city for some time, participating without scruple, among the uncircumcised believers, in the meals where bread was broken in memory of the Lord Jesus. But soon there arrived certain emissaries from James who were scandalized by this promiscuous association of the circumcised and the uncircumcised. Save for indications in the Epistle to the Galatians, which are open to suspicion, there is no evidence that these emissaries attempted to cancel the Jerusalem decision


and force circumcision on pagan converts. Their intention was to make it clear that the Jewish believers ought not to evade the obligations of the Jewish Law as interpreted in Pharisaic tradition. As they had on their side a little logic and a good deal of hereditary fanaticism, Peter gave way to their reproaches; so did the other circumcised believers; so, too, even Barnabas seems to have done, thinking no doubt that separation of circumcised and uncircumcised at meal times was preferable to schism between Antioch and Jerusalem on a matter of secondary importance.

Paul judged otherwise, and, if we may believe the Epistle to the Galatians, [36] lost his temper, denouncing Peter and the other Jewish believers as hypocrites, Barnabas included. He accused them roundly of being false to the Gospel, charging Peter in particular with attempting, in contravention of the Jerusalem agreement, to force circumcision on the Gentiles. The accusation, if it was ever made, seems to have had no foundation in fact. Barnabas, who had no thought of betraying the principle he had followed in evangelizing the pagans, did not change. Christian propaganda went on as before without imposition of the legal observances. It was largely owing to the absence of any such condition that it continued to succeed on the one hand and, on the other, that official Judaism was finally brought to the point of condemning it. We do not know whether Peter and Barnabas submitted indefinitely to the pressure of the Judaizers in governing their relations with the pagan converts. It is improbable. We may suppose that a compromise was soon effected the very compromise in fact which the editor of Acts puts into the discourse of James and the apostolic decree for allaying the scruples of the Judaizers (xv, 20, 28-29).

The Epistle to the Galatians does not inform us what the sequel was to the controversy raised by Paul. [37] But it may be conjectured from the situation of which the Epistles, that to the Galatians to begin with, give us a glimpse. In that Epistle we see Paul isolated, proud of his isolation, and glorying in the consciousness of a unique vocation for which his isolation is, as it were, the natural price he has to pay. He sees himself, and describes himself, as pursued by unrelenting hostility, which he takes pains to discredit by attributing it to a difference of opinion about the essential principles of salvation and to certain


unworthy intentions, but which we may suspect was mainly personal, caused by the way in which Paul had created solely for himself a schism from the other missionaries. But the question still remains for us of how far the view of the matter thus disclosed corresponds to the reality. If account be taken of the Epistle only, Paul is never again to be found in the relations of fraternal communion, existing up to the time of the Antioch quarrel, with Barnabas, with Peter or with other leading figures of the Christian propaganda, whoever they may have been. But, though Paul's independent turn of mind made him seek a field for his apostleship where he would have no competitors, there is no evidence that the communities founded by him formed a dissenting group, or even that there was a final breach between him and the authentic representatives of Judaizing Christianity. Just as he went to Jerusalem with Barnabas to obtain guarantees for the communities in Syria and Cilicia on the principle of freedom from circumcision, so later on we find him a second time in presence of the mother-community this time with a collection taken up from his converts, as though with object of obtaining recognition from the Jerusalem leaders of the work he had accomplished all alone. But it may well be that confidence was not complete on either side, though matters were not yet at the pitch of anathema and excommunication.

Our canonical book of Acts is deliberately circumspect about the whole of this affair and firmly resolved to say nothing of the difficulties Paul had to encounter later in consequence of his separation from the other Christian missionaries. It confines itself to falsifying the true motive which prevented Barnabas and Paul, returned to Antioch after their journey to Jerusalem, from continuing to preach together as hitherto they had been doing. Barnabas is made to express a wish that Paul and he should be accompanied by John-Mark on a projected mission to the South of Asia Minor. Paul not wanting this companion, a lively contention then arises between the two which comes to such a pass that Barnabas goes off to Cyprus with John-Mark, and Paul to Asia Minor with Silas. The two departures, which we must suppose to have been almost simultaneous, belong, no doubt, to history. But the circumstances which led to them were not those indicated by the book of Acts. [38]


For different reasons the two missionaries judged it best to abandon the Antioch community which for many years had been the centre of their apostolic activity. Barnabas, certainly, might have stayed there. But perhaps, after the quarrel that had just arisen, he preferred to deliver the Gospel message in Cyprus, his native country, whither he had probably fled after the dispersion of Stephen's followers, but where he did not remain very long (xi, 19-20). If one may believe the Epistle to the Colossians, John-Mark was his nephew (Col. iv, 10); while according to Acts the house of Mary, John-Mark's mother, was a place of rendezvous for the Jerusalem believers. [39]

It was to this house that Peter came, after his escape from prison, to bid them farewell on departing for Antioch. Of what Barnabas accomplished in Cyprus we know nothing, and can only presume that this true apostle, whose action was so decisive in carrying the Gospel to the pagan world, continued to labour fruitfully in the work he had been the first to set on foot. Tradition has pitched upon him as author of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas. But his real work was of greater value than Epistles or any treatise in theology. As to John-Mark, he was an evangelical worker of the second rank whose relations with Peter [40] made his name useful as a commendatory title for the oldest of the canonical Gospels.

Return to the Table of Contents of Alfred Loisy's The Birth of the Christian Religion

Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!

Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

Get the CD Now!

Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.