From this epistle we may further infer that some of those learned and pious Jewish pilgrims baptised after their conversion on that first Pentecost Sunday were ordained as elders by the Apostles. For their return to their faraway homelands, perhaps they were already armed with a Hebrew St. Matthew. However they were begun, organised and led, these churches formed the Twelve Tribes of the Dispersion addressed by St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. 16
The Greek of St. James is of good quality. Close contacts have been noticed between this epistle and I St. Peter which was written in early 64. It was quickly appreciated as a useful corrective to St. Paul’s easily misunderstood and often misused teaching on the primacy of faith over works. Its formal reception in Rome seems therefore to have taken place in the period after the martyrdom of St. James in Jerusalem in 62 and before that of Saints Peter and Paul in 67. 17 In the autumn of 36 Pontius Pilate was abruptly recalled to Rome. Taking advantage of the absence of the Roman governor, the Jewish Temple authorities, on 26 December 36, inflicted the death sentence upon the deacon St. Stephen. A general persecution and scattering of the ‘Nazarenes’ followed. Protected by the popular awe at their healing miracles, the Apostles were still able to remain in Jerusalem. No doubt they began to develop security methods and perhaps, as had Jesus Himself, been regularly hosted by wealthier disciples in nearby villas or villages. Their ordinary followers were however not so protected. The likes of Saul of Tarsus were hounding them and hunting them down. These had to flee from Jerusalem. It was for their new churches that the Apostles in 37 had commissioned the formal ‘publication’ of St. Matthew’s Hebrew Gospel.* 18
In the shadow of this first Jewish persecution the Church’s first great missionary began his work: St. Philip the Deacon (called this to distinguish him from St. Philip the Apostle). This St. Philip evangelised first the town of Samaria, then the coastal towns of Gaza and Joppa and finally Caesarea where he stopped and settled. Here he could be under the protection of the Roman Procurator and could provide a base for disciples travelling between Jerusalem and overseas. St. Philip’s baptisms were followed up by St. Peter coming to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. Thus in Samaria St. Peter and St. John ‘prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet He had not come down on any of them: they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When they laid hands on them they received the Holy Spirit.’ Rebuilt and renamed Sebaste by Herod the Great, the city of Samaria was the burial place not only of the prophet Eliseus (Elisha) but also of St. John the Baptist. Here would have been living the Baptist’s most devout followers. These would have been prime subjects for hearing not only St. Matthew’s but also St. John’s Gospel. 19
In the late 30’s St. Peter came to the town of Lydda. On the coast ten miles northwest from Lydda stood the port of Joppa (modern Jaffa). In the episode of the widow named Tabitha being raised from the dead at Joppa by St. Peter we glimpse how the Church’s charities were already being
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...