The rise of Christianity and the spread of the Church in Syria was startling in its rapidity.
IN CONTRAST with the four hundred years of silence between Malachi and Matthew, the coming of the great Redeemer brought to the world a powerful, stimulating message and introduced a marvelous new era. Noneof the prophets before Him had been permitted to change the bases of thedispensation introduced by Moses. Jesus Christ, however, was that Prophet predicted by Moses who was to usher in a new dispensation. Hegave to man a new revelation from Jehovah. The twelve apostles, goingforth to promulgate the teachings of Jesus, formed the charter membershipof the apostolic church which flourished for about five hundred years. Then gradually the combined heretical sects seized the power of thenations and drove the true church into the wilderness. These apostolic origins will be the theme of this chapter. Previous to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Roman army, at which time the apostles were dispersed, the gospel had gone to Samaria, Ethiopia, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and India. The religion of Christ was enriched in all utterance. As a bright and shining light, it evangelized Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Greek philosophers, and Confucianists, laying strong foundations for the future. As the apostolic church advanced, the gospel was planted not only indiverse
Therefore, in this volume Syrian or Syriac Christianity will refer to all churches which are indebted to Syrian origins; that is, to Syrian missionaries and authors to whom later churches looked as pioneers of the Syriac language in their services; as, for example, in Syria, Assyria, Persia, India, and China. Similarly, the term Celtic Christianity will apply to all churches and nations which used the Celtic language in their divine worship, such as Galatia and France, as well as Ireland, Scotland, and England before England was overrun by the pagan19Anglo-Saxons. Greek Christianity will refer to the churches throughout the world where the Greek language was used in their literature and worship. Latin Christianity refers particularly to the homeland of the Romans, Italy, and to certain other nations. No hard and fast rule of designation can be laid down for the overlapping of these different designations and terms. All that can be given is a general guiding description.
CHRISTIANITY AMONG THE JEWS
The gospel first went to the Jews. It is easy to forget that almost every hero of the Bible was a Jew and that every book of the Sacred Scriptures was written by a Hebrew. Jesus Christ Himself was an Israelite.It was to those having the blood of Abraham in their veins that the Redeemer first directed His message. His apostles were sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Tens of thousands received the word gladly,and among them were many priests. Even to the uttermost parts of the earth, where the Jews had
been scattered and their descendants were counted by the millions, did the message penetrate. For a long time, as will be shown in later chapters, the bulk of the early church members had been won from among the descendants of Israel. The first people other than the Jews to accept the gospel were the Samaritans. Christ had predicted that His disciples should witness for Him in Judea, Samaria, and in the uttermost parts of the earth. Philip, the newly elected deacon, was the one who determined to tell the good news to the Samaritans. (Acts 8:5.) Samaria was the only place where men were presumptuous enough to build a temple to rival the one at Jerusalem. It was claimed that it was the successor to Solomon’s temple. Here only could be found another Pentateuch
THE BEGINNINGS OF SYRIAN CHRISTIANITY
Christianity was to enter a new field through the leadership of Paul, strong herald of the cross. In Antioch, the capital of the Roman province of
Paul at Antioch, the name of“Christian” was there first given to the followers of Jesus. The providence of God was looking to the future of the gospel. Soon Jerusalem would be destroyed, and tens of thousands of Christian Jews would be driven northward, rejected by the rabbinical Jews. It would now be greatly to their advantage as followers of Jesus to be called Christians. They would no longer be classed with the Jews, and the new name would help them to escape the wrath of the Gentile world against the Hebrew race. As will be shown later, these exiles were to populate with beautiful cities, and with institutions of unsurpassed scholarship, a section of country northward beyond the bounds of Canaan
as in Syria, the cities were full of Jews. Paul was proud that he was a son of
“Edessa had also a celebrated School of Medical Research which was removed to Nisibis. Many famous physicians were numbered in the Nestorian ranks who graduated there.”See footnote 8
At Edessa, the purest Syriac (Aramaean) was spoken.22Tertullian, who wrote about seventy-five years after the death of the apostle John, speaks of the spread of Christianity in the following language: For upon whom else have the universal nations believed, but upon the Christ who has already come? For whom have the nations believed, — Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and they who inhabit Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Cappadocia, and they who dwell in Pontus, and Asia, and Pamphylia, tamers in Egypt, and inhabiters of the region of Africa which is beyond Cyrene, Romans and sojourners, yes, and in Jerusalem Jews, and all other nations;as, for instance,…varied races of the Gaetulians, and manifold confines of the Moors, all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britains (inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ) In all which places the name of the Christ who is already come reigns.9By
transcendentalism and promoting the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures; Antioch insisting on the
“The Church of the second century rang with alarm, and the consequence was that all the Christian writers of that period except Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, shrank with horror from the name of philosophy.”See Footnote 11
Shortly after the death of the apostles, the New Testament was translated into Syriac. This noble version, called the Peshitta, meaning “simple,” had for centuries a wide circulation in the East
THE BEGINNINGS OF CELTIC CHRISTIANITY
The apostle to the Gentiles, after founding Syrian Christianity, was called to plant the gospel among the Galatians, in the heart of the large Celtic branch of the human family. The Celts of Galatia were of the same
this success, they broke into Asia Minor, and, settling there, became the founders of the province of Galatia. Paul prepared to pass them by as he journeyed west, but the Holy Spirit
“The Christianity which first reached France and England (i.e., Gaul and Britain)was of the school of the apostle John, who ruled the churches in Asia Minor, and therefore of a Greek, not Latin, type.See Footnote 16
There is abundant evidence of intercommunication between Ireland, France, and Galatia in the three hundred years between Paul and Patrick
Thus Ireland received the gospel from Asia Minor, by way of the sea and by way of the Celtic believers in southern France; and they, in turn, obtained the light from the Galatians to whom Paul had ministered. The facts given by Douglas Hyde show how powerful and how widely spread over Europe was the Celtic race centuries before Christ. Alexander the Great would not embark upon his campaigns into Asia without having first assured himself of the friendship of the Celts. (20) Within the generation following the apostles, if not even before the death of John, the New Testament had been translated into that most beautiful of all Latin texts, the Italic version, often called Itala. For centuries scholars of the Celtic church quoted from the Itala. (21)
THE BEGINNINGS OF GREEK CHRISTIANITY
After Paul had labored in Galatia he was instructed by the Lord in a vision by night to go into Greece. He might have spent the rest of his days profitably in Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit purposed otherwise. By his celebrated labors in the Greek centers of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and later in Ephesus, the apostle founded Greek Christianity. At Athens, he entered the world’s intellectual center of paganism. Greece was still palpitating with the glorious memories of her victories over Persia’s millions, and the nation was reveling in the rich stores of her golden literature. Paul planted the gospel in the midst of the people who spoke the Greek language, that medium through which God was pleased to transmit to the world the most exalted of all literature, the Greek New Testament. The first revelations given to the gospel church were written in Greek. (22) In later days a deep hatred sprang up between Greek and Latin churches, and Greek and Latin ecclesiastics hurled bitter words at one another. These theological controversies arose because both churches had grown ambitious and had allied themselves with kings and emperors. At length, in 1054, the Greek and Latin churches separated. Long before
THE BEGINNINGS OF LATIN CHRISTIANITY
Sometimes the Lord calls, sometimes He impels men to great tasks, not because they are disobedient, but because their interest in near-by labors makes them oblivious to distant opportunities. Paul was directed by a vision to go to Greece, but he went as a prisoner to Rome. Intent on anchoring his great work among the Gentiles to Jewish Christianity, he complied with a dangerous request of the leaders at Jerusalem. The other apostles wished to disarm the prejudices of Jewish authorities against Paul by having him unwisely appear in the temple of Jerusalem in fulfillment of a vow. Paul was willing to risk his life by performing the required ceremonies in the central sanctuary of Israel if only he might avert a rupture between Gentile and Jewish Christianity. He knew that the Gentile believers had received only a meager training in the profound truths of the gospel. Is it for this reason that practically all his epistles are written to the young, inexperienced Gentile churches? Moreover, in vision he foresaw the crushing opposition which would grow into an apostate church and which would pursue the true church for 1260 years, and therefore, he yearned to link the new Gentile churches to an experienced Judaism which had turned to Christ. In His ministry to the Jews, Jesus was sacrificed at Jerusalem; in his ministry to the Gentiles, Paul was sacrificed at Jerusalem. Only a sacrifice can open the eyes of tardy believers to the greatest spiritual advances. Nothing short of the sacrifice of Jesus could break hard hearts and inspire consecration. Although Paul knew full well the burning hatred of the rabbis against him, he followed the plan of the other apostles, and entered the temple. The temple throngs rushed on him with rage. If the tumult had not reached the ears of the Roman guard, who barely succeeded in snatching him from the hands of his enemies, he would have been torn limb from limb. When he appeared before the Roman tribunal, Paul felt he could not locally obtain justice, therefore he said, “I appeal unto Caesar.” The Roman magistrate replied, “Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.”As a prisoner, Paul was carried to Rome, the capital of the Latin-speaking nations, the mistress of the world. Christianity did not come to Rome first through Paul; he found it there already when he arrived. Whether it preceded Paul by means of merchants, converted soldiers, or humble missionaries, is not known
PETER’S EPISTLE TO THE CHURCHES
This epistle opens with greetings from the apostle to the believers“scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,”and closes with a salutation from Babylon. All these first five provinces are found in Asia Minor. The significant results of Peter’s labors in Bithynia lead the student to glean awhile in that field. Paul was to evangelize Galatia but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go into Bithynia. In Galatia, Paul planted but Peter watered.(1 Peter 1:1; Galatians 1:2, 21.) In Bithynia, Peter both planted and watered. Many learned writers have given valuable time to
“The word of God is(Hebrews 4:12.)
quick,and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,”
and by that word, they conquered. This chapter has traced the origins of Christianity in its various branches (Syrian, Celtic, Greek, Latin) and has revealed how the apostles and their immediate successors delivered its truths to these different peoples. Succeeding chapters will follow up the further history of these origins indifferent lands and show how and where the primitive New Testament faith with its apostolic origins survived. Then the reader will be better able to see how present-day Christianity compares with primitive Christianity.
Burgon and Miller, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospel, p. 123.
2 Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, p. 396.
3 The writer, in examining this Samaritan manuscript when he visitedSamaria, was surprised to find it in so good a condition, considering itsgreat age.
4 Geddes, The Church History of Ethiopia, p. 9.
5 O’Leary, The Syriac Church and Fathers, p. 21.418
6 Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, p. 74. AlsoSchurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, 2d div.,vol. 2, p. 271.
7 See the author’s discussion in Chapter 4, entitled, “The Silent Cities ofSyria.”
8 Gordon, “World Healers,” p. 450, note 2.
9 Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, ch. 7, found in Ante-Nicene Fathers,vol. 3, pp. 157, 158.
10 Newman, A Manual of Church History, vol. 1, p. 297.
11 Bigg, The Origins of Christianity, pp. 143, 144.
12 Burgon, The Revision Revised, p. 9; Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity,p. 41.
13 Menzies, Saint Columba of Iona, pp 11-13, see ch. 11, note 5;Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 160.
14 Ridgeway, The Early Age of Greece, vol. 1, p. 356.
15 Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the Making of Britain, p. 30.
16 Gordon, “World Healers,” p. 78.
17 O’Leary, The Syriac Church and Fathers, p. 32. 20.
18 Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church, p. 3.
19 Warner, The Albigensian Heresy, vol. 1, p. 19.
20 Hyde, A Literary History of Ireland, pp. 6, 7.
21 Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church, pp. 27, 28; Gilly, Vigilantius andHis Times, p. 116; Smith and Wace, A Dictionary of ChristianBiography, art. Patricius”; Nolan, The Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, p.17; Warner, The Albigensian Heresy, vol. 1, p. 12; Betham, IrishAntiquarian Researches.
22 Milman, History of Latin Christianity, vol. 1, p. 1, Introduction.
23 Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, vol. 2, p.142.
24 Cubberley, The History of Education, p. 138.
25 Jones, The History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, p. 294.419
26 Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, vol. 2, p. 142.
27 Burgon and Miller, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, p. 145.
28 This can be read in the last chapter of Acts and in the second epistle toTimothy.
29 Michael the Syrian, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, vol. 1, pp. 247-253.
30 To sum it up, Dr. Adam Clarke says: “After considering all that hasbeen said by learned men and critics on this place, I am quite of theopinion that the apostle does not mean Babylon in Egypt, norJerusalem, nor Rome as figurative Babylon, but the ancient celebratedBabylon in Assyria, which was, as Dr. Benson observes, themetropolis of the eastern dispersion of the Jews; but as I have said somuch on this subject in the preface, I beg leave to refer the reader tothat place.” — Commentary, on 1 Peter 5:13.
31 Abul Faraj, Chronography, vol. 1, p. 50.
32 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, b. 3, ch. 1, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.
33 Adeney, The Greek and Eastern Churches, pp. 297, 298.
34 Fisher, History of the Christian Church, p. 45; Gordon, “WorldHealers,” p. 243.
35 Rawlinson, The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World(Sixth Monarchy), vol. 3, p. 225.
36 This conclusion has its opponents, but many scholarly and dependablewriters have ceased to be in doubt about this and have settled it totheir own satisfaction that the apostle Thomas laid the foundation ofChristianity in India. See the author’s discussion in Chapter 14, “TheSt. Thomas Christians of India.”
37 Adeney, The Greek and Eastern Churches, p. 296.
38 Burgon, The Revision Revised, p. 27.39 Yohannan, The Death of a Nation, p. 39