The Twelve Disciples and the Jerusalem Movement

Aggregated from J.D. Crossan, F. F. Bruce, J. Paget, M. Casey, B. Wilson, & J. Meier

One aspect of the authentic and historic ministry of Jesus is the community which formed around Jesus. The followers of Jesus were a Jewish group that existed alongside the other tendencies present in the Judaism of the time. In fact just as Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew, so the disciples and first many generations of followers of Jesus were also not Christians, but Jews. J.D. Crossan, for example, has written, When most people see the term Christianity, they think about a religion quite separate from Judaism. That is an accurate description of the present situation, but it is hopelessly wrong for the early first century. Christianity (separate from Judaism) did not yet exist in that period except as a (still Jewish) sect within Judaism. For this reason, Crossan continues, I refer to the religion of the disciples just as I might refer to Pharisaic Judaism, Sadducean Judaism, Essene Judaism, apocalyptic Judaism, or any other of the manifold sects and factions in that first-century Jewish homeland. It may even seem to be an almost obvious position. The first Christians in fact were nothing more than Jews who had recognized Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for.

The twelve disciples were at the center of this group. Their number corresponds to the twelve tribes, and one saying declares that they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28/Lk 22:30). Mark gives their purpose on earth as "to be with him, and so that he might send them out to preach and to have power to cast out demons" (Mk 3:14-15). He records just one such mission (Mk 6:7-13). The longer accounts of Matthew and Luke specify the preaching of the kingdom (Mt 10:7; Lk 10:9). When Jesus gave them their mission it was the same that had been bestowed upon him. The Restoration of the Kingdom was imminent and therefore the disciples were to bring the message of repentance to the “lost sheep of Israel” i.e. the Jews whom had turned away from the righteousness of God’s Law.

The community also remembered the sudden calling of some of the Twelve, including Simon Peter, and Jacob and John, the sons of Zebedee (Mk 1:16-20). The circumstances of these calls have been lost in the transmission of the narratives, but all our evidence coheres with the inference that Jesus called the inner circle of disciples to leave their regular occupations and follow him in a migratory ministry of preaching and exorcism. For example, Mark follows the opening incidents in Capernaum with a summary account of such a ministry throughout the towns and villages of Galilee (Mk 1.38-39). A group of women played a significant role in supporting the ministry. Mary Magdalene was one of them. She went up to Jerusalem for his final Passover, and was among the witnesses of his crucifixion (Lk 8:2-3; Mk 15:40-41,47). We are also told that Jesus preached to large crowds, and that he was at times so popular in Galilee that it was difficult for him to move about normally (Mk 2:2; 3:7-10; 4:1).

The social bonding of the inner group of disciples was very tight. Their acceptance of harsh conditions of existence is a straightforward indication of this. There is ample evidence that the ministry was migratory, and that Jesus took his disciples with him. This could mean sleeping rough. As one saying puts it,
"Jackals have holes, and the birds of the air have roosts, and a son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Mt 8:20/Lk 9:58).

The Twelve functioned in a number of ways during Jesus’ public ministry. They embodied in a fairly permanent fashion what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. More importantly, they formed a corporate, prophetic symbol that both prophesied and began to realize the regathering of the twelve tribes in the end time. The realization of this future regathering of the tribes was further symbolized and initiated by a brief mission to Israel with which Jesus entrusted the Twelve. When the Twelve, were sent on their own mission, they were not to take any food or money, nor a second tunic (Mt 10:9-10; Lk 9:3). Existence in these circumstances could be precarious. The intensity and urgency of commitment required is also shown by Jesus' reaction to a potential disciple who wanted to go and bury his father: "Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead" (Mt 8:21-22, Lk 9:59-60). The burial of the dead was a religious duty as well as a social custom: this saying declares that it should be set aside by the immediate needs of the mission. The migratory ministry could also mean long absences from home. Peter is recorded as telling Jesus, "
Look, we have left everything and followed you" (Mk 10:28). Jesus' reply accepts that people leave brothers, sisters, mother, father, children and fields: he promises that they will receive one hundredfold in this age, and eternal life in the age to come. Thus the community could itself be presented as a reward for leaving conventional life to join it (Mk 3:31-35), and the promise of future reward was closely related to the social bonding of the community in the present.

Some sayings effectively call for complete self-sacrifice (Mk 8:34-5). One saying ties end-times vindication directly to a person's attitude to Jesus' ministry (Lk 12:8-9/Mt 10:32-3, Mk 8:38). Those who left everything, followed him and listened to his preaching, will have been particularly confident that they had fulfilled the conditions necessary for entering the kingdom. Exorcisms and healings will have reinforced their conviction that Jesus' ministry was wholly in accordance with the will of God.

As a 1st century 2nd Temple Jewish sect, belief in a Messianic figure was certainly not out of the bounds of normalcy for the community of followers of Jesus. Some of the Essenes openly looked for two Messiahs, one political and one religious, and other groups were receptive to the view that one day, a messianic leader would come to bring about a changed world. Nor was an anti-Roman stance unusual. The Essenes, Zealots, and Pharisees all expressed this view, in one way or another. Only the Jesus Movement, however, had a king and royal court-in-waiting. This political orientation had considerable popular appeal. It envisaged the day when the dreaded Romans would be gone, with their alien customs, temples, philosophies, and practices. The land would revert back to the true observers of Judaism. The big payoff was this: the righteous who kept the Law against tremendous odds in a multicultural world would be rewarded.

Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is not some vague statement about eternal life, it is a prophet's proclamation that God is about to fulfill his promises to Israel by recreating his chosen people as they were meant to be. The kingdom of God is from start to finish a people-centered, Israel-centered message addressed to Jesus' fellow Jews. As with healings and exorcisms, so with his formation of the Twelve, Jesus embodies this message in the present moment in a dramatic action that not only portends but also begins to realize the future promise. The twelve Israelites chosen by Jesus evoke the twelve patriarchs (the sons of Jacob) and the twelve tribes—Israel as it was in the beginning and shall be at the end, only better.

Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
J.D. Crossan,
The Birth of Christianity. Discovering what happened in the Years immediately after the Execution of Jesus, San Francisco. 1998
F.F. Bruce,
Men and Movements in the Primitive Church, The Paternoster Press 1979
James Paget,
Jews, Christians and Jewish Christians in Antiquity, Mohr Siebeck 2010
Maurice Casey,
From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. Westminster/John Knox Press 1991
Barrie Wilson,
How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press 2008
John P. Meier “Jesus, the Twelve, and the Restoration of Israel” in
Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives. Leiden:Brill, 2001.
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Aggregated from F. F. Bruce, M. Casey, B. Wilson, & J. Meier

We must consider next the identity factors of the Jesus movement. These eight factors were generally the same as those of most any other sect of Judaism. Of the eight identity factors (ethnicity, scripture, monotheism, circumcision, sabbath observance, dietary laws, purity laws, and major biblical festivals), seven were clearly and emphatically maintained.

Ethnicity was taken for granted: there was no mission to the Gentiles during the historic ministry of Jesus or his Disciples, and Gentile faith was regarded as out of the ordinary, heathenistic even (e.g. Matt 8:10/Luke 7:9; Mark 7:24-30). The authority of the Hebrew Scriptures was beyond question (e.g. Mark 2:25-6; 12:26-7), being put forward as decisive evidence even at a point where a Mosaic enactment was held to permit an unsatisfactory attitude to God and to people (Mark 10:2-9, citing Gen 1:27 and 2:24).

Monotheism was unquestioned. When a scribe asked him which is the most important commandment of all, Jesus cited the Shema (Deut 6:4-5, slightly expanded at Mark 12:29-30). Conventional monotheism was intensified by Jesus' teaching on the fatherhood and kingship of God. He put the distance between himself and God with especial clarity when he was addressed as "good rabbi": "Why do you call me good? No-one is good except the one God" (Mark 10:18).

Circumcision, dietary laws and the major biblical festivals were so taken for granted that they do not emerge for serious discussion. The importance of Jesus' final Passover is especially clear, since he went up to Jerusalem for it with his disciples, and used the occasion of the Passover meal to explain something of the significance of his forthcoming death. Sabbath and purity are the only two identity factors which led to disputes, and of these two, there is no doubt that sabbath observance was emphatically and obviously upheld by Jesus and his followers.

One dispute concerns the right of poor and hungry disciples to pluck grain (Mark 2:23-28), and all the others concern Jesus' right to heal on the sabbath. In all these cases, Jesus disagreed with orthodox Jews as to how the sabbath should be observed, but he did so within a framework in which observance itself was beyond question. Jesus himself attended the synagogue on the sabbath (e.g. Mark 1:21), and had he infringed the sabbath limit or carried burdens on the sabbath, the inevitable disputes would certainly have been transmitted to us. His disciples likewise observed the sabbath. After his first sabbath healing, other sick people were brought to him. Mark's note of time is very careful: "
When evening came, when the sun had set" (Mark 1:32), that is, when the sabbath was clearly over. This makes sense only if Mark's source made the standard Jewish assumption that we do not carry people on the sabbath under the rubric of not carrying burdens (Jer 5:21-2). Neither healing nor plucking the grain left for the poor on the sabbath was in this category: there was no known regulation against doing either.

Details of this kind were generally established by analogical arguments from existing tradition, and Jesus' position inside Judaism is well illustrated by his use of similar arguments (though, naturally enough, they do not always correspond to later rabbinical rules). For example, at Mark 3:4 he defends his healing by analogy from the general principle of doing good and the specific halakhah of saving life overriding the sabbath. Similarly, at Mark 2:25-28 he defends his disciples plucking grain by arguing from the scriptural example of David, and with reference to the divine purpose in creating the sabbath as known to everyone from the opening of the book of Genesis. There would have been no need for any of these arguments if Jesus believed he was breaking the sabbath. His actions were however wholly within a reasonable understanding of biblical law. They were disputed only by the orthodox, who were committed to the observance of expanding halakhah. We must conclude that Jesus and his followers upheld the observance of the sabbath.

The purity laws are the only identity factor of Judaism which Jesus might be thought not to have wholly maintained. It is not historically nor theologically conducive to follow here the general trend of exaggerating Mark 7:15 "
There is nothing outside a man going into him that can defile him, but the things going out of a man defile him." It is understandable that Gentile Christians have perceived this as undermining the whole of Jewish purity and dietary laws, especially as Mark's editorial comment "cleansing all foods" (Mark 7:19) is part of the sacred text. Jesus however did not mean or intend that it was all right to eat pork and other forbidden food, because this would have caused disputes which would have been preserved. We must therefore understand this saying as a vigorous rejection of the orthodox view that people should wash their hands before meals (Mark 7:2). In a normal Jewish environment, everything going into a man was kosher food touched by unwashed hands, as Matthew evidently realized (Matt 15:20).

Moreover, Jesus' teaching nowhere suggests that, for example, people do not become unclean by touching a corpse, or that they should not cleanse themselves before going into the inner courts of the Temple. He is also reported to have told a leper whom he had healed to follow the legal procedure for becoming clean (Mark 1:44). On the other hand, Jesus' comments on purity testify to consistent and thoroughgoing opposition to contemporary developments of purity law. The vigor of Mark 7:15 could come only from someone whose rejection of the orthodox expansion of purity regulations was very committed. The Q source contains equally vigorous attacks on scribes and Pharisees, which assume that their view of purity is in itself reprehensible (Matt 23:25-27/Luke 11:39-41,44). I have noted the similar thrust of the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-37). We have also seen that Jesus' behavior conformed to his teaching, for he had to breach the orthodox view of purity in order to preach the good news to sinners (Mark 2:15-17; Luke 7:36-50; 11:38).

We must draw two straightforward conclusions from the attitude of the Jesus movement to the identity factors of Judaism. Firstly, the Jesus movement was thoroughly Jewish, taking most of the identity factors for granted and intensifying some of them. Secondly, the Jesus movement was on the opposite end of a spectrum from Jewish orthodoxy (modern and ancient). Sabbath and purity are two areas of halakhah where we can document a large increase in enactments in the Second Temple period, and these are the two identity factors which occur repeatedly in the disputes between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. In other words, the majority of arguments were caused by Jesus' opposition to the orthodox expansion of the halakhah: he was not opposed to what he and the majority of Jews perceived the law to be. Virtually all the other conflict material is on the same trajectory. Jesus objected to the Korban regulations (Mark 7:9-13), and to the neglect of central matters brought about by too much stress on the tithing of herbs (Matt 23:23-4/ Luke 11:42). Hence also the general criticism of the scribes and Pharisees for laying burdens on people and doing nothing to help them (Matt 23:4/Luke 11:46). The fact that the Jesus movement was on the opposite end of a spectrum from orthodoxy means that conflict with orthodox Jews was functional, because it reinforced a different view of Judaism. This different view of Judaism was conditioned by the positive center of the movement in the prophetic tradition.

Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Maurice Casey,
From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. Westminster/John Knox Press 1991
Barrie Wilson,
How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press 2008
F.F. Bruce,
Men and Movements in the Primitive Church, The Paternoster Press 1979
John P Meier. “Jesus, the Twelve, and the Restoration of Israel” in
Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives. Leiden:Brill, 2001.
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Aggregated from C. Evans, D. Flusser, K. Huat Tan, M. Casey, B. Wilson, & J. Meier

The Twelve disciples emerged in the lifetime of Jesus as special companions and men who were sent out on a mission to extend the ministry of Jesus. As is such, with their identity being the same as that of Jesus, their mission was also the same. The mission of the Twelve was an attempt to spread the message throughout the land and, if any vision was involved on the part of Jesus, then the hope was to gain the land and its people for the Kingdom of God. This evocational context emerged from the Jewish hope to restore the land, to reunify the tribes, and to reestablish the covenant.

  • The disciples were concerned for the fulfillment of the restorative promises of YHWH to Israel, and the constitution of a restored relationship between YHWH and his Chosen People.
  • The disciples were to live according to the will of YHWH, of which the Law with the Prophets formed the chief revelation. Their viewpoints were of ordinary Judaism, they behaved as pious Jews of that time would have been expected.
  • Their mission was a proclamation of the coming of YHWH’s kingly rule, a regathering or reconstituting of the tribes of Israel at the End-of-the-Age. They were to take this message to Jews who were not faithful. Jesus taught that the 'lost' Jews should return to YHWH’s true way. Jesus described Jews who had fallen away from YHWH and did not observe the Mosaic Law as they should as "sinners" and "Lost Sheep”.
  • The disciples were to be better than than the Pharisees. Outdo them in righteousness. Live the Covenant with YHWH to the fullest, following the Law carefully, paying attention not only to the required conduct but also the corresponding right attitude. Plan for the kingdom of Yahweh.
  • Their mission was directed to all Israel both geographically and socially, it covered all regions and included all classes of Jews. It went beyond the borders of geographical Israel to Jews of the neighboring countries, and was addressed to notorious ‘sinners’, whom the national elite had ostracized and excommunicated.
  • The disciples understood that YHWH was seeking to gather Jerusalem. Hence, the restoration of Jerusalem to be the city of YHWH’s kingship was the goal of Jesus and his disciples.
  • Jesus understood himself and his followers to be the new vanguard of the restored Israel, who would appropriate for themselves the role of Israel and the temple, in being a light to the corrupted world. Thus, a gentile mission has its germinal roots in the aims and intentions of Jesus and his disciples. Jesus conceived of the restoration of Israel as resulting in the salvation of the gentiles from their heathen beliefs. Since this restoration was already being partially realized in Jesus' ministry, it was becoming possible for gentiles to begin sharing in Israel's salvation in the present, by aligning themselves with the ways commanded by YHWH.

Evans, Craig A. The Historical Jesus: Jesus’ mission, death, and Resurrection. London New York: Routledge, 2004.
Flusser, David.
The Sage from Galilee : Rediscovering Jesus' genius. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007.
Huat Tan, Kim.
The Zion traditions and the aims of Jesus. Cambridge England New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Wilson, Barrie.
How Jesus became Christian. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009.
Casey, Maurice.
From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. Westminster John Knox, 1992.
Meier, John P. “Jesus, the Twelve, and the Restoration of Israel” in
Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives. Leiden:Brill, 2001.

The Mission to the Gentiles Was Initiated by Neither Paul nor the Disciples
The author of Acts ascribes the origin of the preaching to the Gentiles to neither Paul nor Peter but assigns the initiation of the Gentile Mission to the Hellenists who fled from Jerusalem after Stephen’s execution:
  • Now those who had been scattered by the persecution IN CONNECTION WITH Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them (the Hellenists), however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Gentiles also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. (Acts 11:19-20)

Almost from the earliest days of the Jerusalem community of the Jesus Movement, it comprised two groups, described by Luke as Hebrews and Hellenists. He introduces them abruptly in Acts 6:1, without explaining who they were. It is plain that in the section of his narrative beginning with Acts 6:1 Luke is drawing on a fresh source; he moves from the preceding section to this by means of a transitional formula: "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing".

The Hebrews and Hellenists in the Jerusalem community, says Luke, began to quarrel over the daily distribution that was made to their widows (and other needy persons) from the common fund. Accordingly, at the instance of the apostles, seven men were appointed to take charge of the distribution and see fair play of whom Stephen was one. But it is clear that this was not their only role, perhaps not even their most important role. Their names are all Greek, and they were probably leaders of the Hellenistic group in the early Jesus Movement. This group was foremost in propagating the Christian-style message throughout Judaea and the neighboring regions; it eventually launched the Gentile mission, and in particular was responsible for founding the church of Syrian Antioch.

Luke provides better information when he states that the Hellenists who traveled to Antioch seemingly abandoned the Jewish mission and began to speak to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20). This momentous act marked the beginning of the Christian mission to the Gentiles, and would change forever the nature of the Jesus' original teachings. The abandonment of the Jewish mission by the Hellenists in Antioch was the result of the failure of that particular missionary endeavor. This is not surprising, given that the gospel of these Hellenists married faith in the Christ with a relaxed emphasis on the necessity of Law-observance, a combination that had led directly to their persecution in Jerusalem. There is no need to suppose that the Jews of the Diaspora responded any more positively to this message than their counterparts in the Jewish homeland. We need to remember that the Hebrews within the Jerusalem Jesus Movement did not share this Hellenist interpretation of the significance of Jesus’ ministry.

But who were these Hellenists?
The term is most probably to be understood in a cultural and especially in a linguistic sense: that is to say, Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews. The Jews of Antioch and Alexandria and other parts of the western diaspora had been Greek-speaking for generations, as early as the reign of the second Ptolemy (285-246 BC), as attested to in the Zenon papyri.

In Palestine many Jews would be bilingual, speaking both Aramaic and Greek. What then determined whether a Jew was designated a Hebrew or a Hellenist? C. F. D. Moule states that the:
Hellenists were Jews who spoke Greek only; the Hebrews would be Jews who either spoke Aramaic only or spoke both Aramaic and Greek. (in the New Testament "Hebrew" is used in a linguistic sense to include Aramaic.) Perhaps the decisive criterion was membership of a synagogue where the service was conducted in Hebrew or of one in which the scriptures were read, the prayers and blessings recited, and the sermon preached, in Greek. Such a synagogue would be the one in Jerusalem described in Acts 6:9 as the "Synagogue of the Freedmen both Cyrenians and Alexandrians and those from Cilicia and Asia". This was the synagogue attended by Stephen, whose interventions there sounded so subversive that they led to his conviction before the supreme court on a charge of blasphemy and to the dispersal of his fellow Hellenists who were believed to share his views. Stephen and Philip are the only two of the seven Hellenistic participants of whom we have some detailed knowledge.

Stephen and his teaching
In the Hellenistic synagogue which he attended in Jerusalem, Stephen propounded an interpretation of Jesus’ teachings much more radical than that maintained and taught by the twelve, especially with regard to the temple and all that it stood for. A public debate was arranged in which Stephen defended his position with powerful arguments. But, powerful as his arguments were, they appeared to threaten the sanctity of the temple as well as the permanent validity of the whole ancestral law of Israel. The coming of Jesus, Stephen maintained, involved the abrogation of the Mosaic customs and the cessation of sacrificial worship. This was construed as blasphemy against Moses and against God himself, and on this grave charge Stephen was arraigned before the Sanhedrin.

It is historically certain, first of all, that Stephen's proclamation led to a conflict, which ended in his death and the expulsion of his group from Jerusalem. The essence of this conflict can be gleaned from the accusations made by his opponents: blasphemy against Moses and God (Acts 6:11) or "against this holy place and the law" (6:13).

Stephen's argument takes the form of a retrospect of the history of the people of God. Throughout their history, the divine presence was never confined to one spot or even to one country: God revealed himself to Abraham in Mesopotamia, was with Joseph in Egypt, gave "living oracles" to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai (Acts 7:2, 9, 38). The nation of Israel had always shown hostility to God's messengers - to Joseph, to Moses, to the prophets, and most recently to "the Righteous One" whose coming the prophets had foretold (Acts 7:52). The charge of blasphemy against Moses and against God came ill from the descendants of those who during the wilderness wanderings repudiated the leadership of Moses and abandoned the worship of the true God for idolatry.

As for the temple, Stephen implies that a fixed building of stone was no suitable shrine for a pilgrim people, as Israel was intended to be. The movable tabernacle of wilderness days was much more suitable; indeed, everything necessary for pure worship was available to the people in the wilderness, before ever they entered the holy land. Even when they did enter the land, the "tent of witness", made according to divine pattern, continued to serve their requirements in worshipping the God of their fathers until "Solomon built a house for him" (Acts 7:44-47). Solomon's action is deprecated: "the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands" (Acts 7:48). Therefore, to announce the supersession or destruction of the temple was not to commit blasphemy or sacrilege against God, because God was independent of any temple. Stephen's arguments were not accepted; his "defense" served only to confirm the charges brought against him and so, in accordance with the Jewish law against blasphemy, he was executed by stoning.

We meet nothing quite so radical elsewhere in the New Testament. It was common ground to most of the early Christians (for which indeed they could adduce words of Jesus as a precedent) that the temple-order had now been superseded by something better - a spiritual temple with spiritual priesthood and spiritual sacrifices - but the idea that the temple was a mistake from the beginning is unparalleled in the New Testament. The nearest we come to Stephen's approach, so far as the New Testament writings are concerned, is in the Letter to the Hebrews; but the writer to the Hebrews simply ignores the temple and draws his analogies from the literary description of the wilderness tabernacle and its services.

It is best to regard Stephen's speech as a manifesto of the group in which he was a leader—a group of Hellenists who were distinguished from other Hellenistic Jews by their belief in Jesus as Messiah or Son of God, and who were at the same time distinguished from other believers in Jesus by their radical stance in relation to the ancestral customs and the temple cult. This radical stance, did not disappear with Stephen's death: Paul’s interpretation of Jesus’ messiahship was mediated to Paul through congregations of Hellenistic Christians.

The Martyrdom of Stephen and the Beginnings of Diaspora Churches
Stephen's execution, according to Luke, was the signal for a campaign of repression against specific followers of Jesus in Judaea and the Diaspora. A careful study of Luke's record suggests that the Hellenists were singled out for more concentrated attack—not surprisingly, for regular temple-attenders like the twelve and their followers would not be closely associated in the public mind with an anti-temple party. If, at the same time, those Hellenists preached a law-free form of gospel, that would render them the more obnoxious to defenders of the law of Moses. The twelve and their followers might well have been anxious to distance themselves from such a subversive group.

One result of the campaign of repression was that the church of Jerusalem became predominantly "Hebrew" in composition, with a few exceptions like Barnabas the Cypriot and another man of Cyprus, Mnason by name, who was a foundation-member of the Jerusalem church and was still resident there nearly a quarter of a century later (Acts 21:16). Another, and even more important, result was that the dispersed Hellenists propagated the gospel much farther afield, as far north as Antioch and probably south and south-west as far as Alexandria and Cyrenaica.

Philip, who was now evidently leader of the seven in succession to Stephen, launched a mission in Samaria. The Hellenists and the Samaritans are not be equated with each other, but Philip's preaching proved attractive to many of his Samaritan hearers. He even attached to himself the Samaritan guru Simon (Simon Magus of Christian tradition) and presumably with his followers.

As for Simon Magus, while he had no difficulty in adhering to Philip, he was repudiated by Peter and John, and by the apostolic succession of later generations. In later Christian literature he figures as the father of all heresies and as a thorn in the sides of the apostles, especially of Peter. What precisely was the nature of Simon's teaching, which attracted the host of devotees who acclaimed in him "the power of God which is called Great" or possibly "the revealer of divine power" is difficult to say. He does at least seem to have taught "a syncretistic scheme with a few Christian elements grafted on" a form of incipient gnosticism, it might be said. It appears, however, that the preaching of Philip (and, we may suppose, of some of his fellow-Hellenists) was more comprehensive than that of the twelve. Primitive Christianity was more variegated than is commonly recognized.

Philip, in Luke's narrative, moved from Samaria to the neighborhood of Gaza, where he effectively "preached Jesus" to a God-fearing official from Meroe in Nubia, who was on his way home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Acts 8:26-39). He then turned north along the coastal road until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:40), and there we find him twenty years later with his four prophesying daughters (Acts 21:8). Caesarea now appears as the main Judaean centre of Hellenistic Christianity, at least until the troubles of 66 AD, when some of the leading Caesarean Christians emigrated to the province of Asia.

The church of Antioch
Luke's Antiochene source then turns its attention to Syrian Antioch, evangelized by unnamed refugees from the persecution in Judaea that followed Stephen's death. According to Luke, when they first came to Antioch they preached only to their fellow Hellenists—Greek-speaking Jews like themselves—but some of them, whose roots were in Cyprus and Cyrene, began to tell the story to Greek-speaking pagans and gentiles as well. This was the commencement of a large-scale mission to Gentiles.

In Antioch, however, several strands of primitive Christianity met. Barnabas the Cypriot, who enjoyed the confidence of the Jerusalem leaders, was sent by them to superintend and direct the Jesus Movement advance in Antioch; he was shortly afterwards joined by Paul, from Tarsus, and later Peter also visited Antioch. Antioch thus became a center from which various understandings of Christianity radiated in a number of directions through the Gentile world. There were at least three strands of Gentile Christianity which Acts helps us to distinguish: one which runs back to Stephen and his Hellenistic colleagues, one which looked to Peter for its leadership, and of course "the radical mission of Paul himself". When, with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, "Gentile Christianity had in a new way to stand on its own feet", it was necessary for the competing groups "to come to terms with one another"; and Acts, can best be understood as "a monument of this process".

Paul’s Conversion
The story of Paul's "conversion" as it is recorded in Acts (9:1-19; 26:4-23) suggests a supernatural or mystical experience on the Damascus Road, which was to instantly transform the former persecutor of the apostate Hellenists, into a proselyte and proselytizer of a reimagined religion. However, Paul’s conversion isn’t a tidy occurrence. He neither converted to the “Way” of the Jesus Movement based in Jerusalem nor did he immediately envisage the christian faith.

Paul equates this experience with that of the post-resurrection visions of Jesus granted to the official witnesses, suggesting that the only difference between his vision and theirs was that his vision took place much later (1 Cor 15:5-8). Luke claims (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:12) and Paul implies (Gal 1:17; 2 Cor 11:32-33) that the incident occurred near Damascus. Both situate the episode within the context of Paul's pursuit and persecution of Stephen's Hellenists—the members of the Jesus Movement that had gone out into the Diaspora (Gal 1:13-16; Acts 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:11-12). Therefore we must assume that it was in Damascus that he became acquainted with the Christian gospel, and more specifically with the Law-free version of the Gospel propagated by the Hellenists who had fled there following Stephen's martyrdom. Only that form of the Christian message would have incited a Law-abiding Jew like Paul to persecute the Christian community and thus, his revelation diverted him from the path of persecution of the Law-free mission onto the path of propagation.

Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Ian Elmer, Paul, Jerusalem, and the Judaisers. Morh Siebeck 2008
F.F. Bruce, Stephen and the Other Hellenists from
Men and Movements in the Primitive Church. Paternoster Press 1979
Karl Lonig, The Circle of Stephen and Its Mission from
Christian Beginnings. Westminster John Knox Press 1987
Geza Vermes,
The Changing Faces of Jesus. Viking Compass 2001
Barrie Wilson,
How Jesus Became Christian. St. Martins Press 2008
Joseph Klausner,
From Jesus to Paul. Macmillan 1943
--all rights reserved the respective authors