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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

The Early Church

After the crucifixion, Jesus' followers did not disband. To the contrary, they began to teach that after three days in the tomb he had been raised from the dead. Since the idea of resurrection was current in Judea and Galilee, in part because of Pharisaic teaching, the message was not entirely anomalous. Luke's second volume, the writings of Paul of Tarsus, and various non-Christian sources provide some indication of the church's organization in Palestine in the years prior to and during the First Revolt against Rome.

According to Luke, Paul, and Josephus, the leader of the Jerusalem church was James, the brother of Jesus. How he attained this prominent position is unclear. He is not depicted in the Gospels as one of his brother's disciples. Both Paul, who disagrees with James (see Gal. 2.12 ), and Josephus, who appears to have respected him, suggest that James was interested in preserving the practices enjoined upon Jews by the Torah—as, apparently, was the predominantly Jewish group of Jesus' earliest followers. Thus, for example, they participated in Temple worship and retained Levitical dietary practices. In Acts 15 , Luke presents a mediating position, assigning a speech to James in which he successfully proposes that Gentiles in the church need not conform to such practices; they need only behave much like the “resident aliens” of Leviticus 17–18 : avoid unchastity in any form, not consume animals that had been strangled, not eat meat that had been offered to an idol, and not eat anything with blood in it.

Acts records that the leaders of this early Jerusalem-based movement included, along with James, also Peter and John. Acts 6.1 also mentions groups to which Luke refers as Hebrews (local, Aramaic-speaking Jews) and Hellenists (probably Diaspora Jews who spoke Greek). The comments on the local leadership are confirmed in Paul's letter to the Galatians, but apart from a reference to the “poor” there he does not describe the social situation of the Jerusalem church.

Acts of the Apostles also provides the most detailed evidence for the organization of this group of Jesus' followers. But as with the story of Jesus itself, the evangelist's presentation of the early church has historical gaps. For example, although Acts describes the persecution and dispersion of the Hellenists, it does not explain why the Hebrews were left in peace. Luke has particular emphases, demonstrated already in the Gospel, that continue in this depiction of church history. For Luke's Jesus, the possession of riches is not conducive to entry into the kingdom of God. This model holds as well for Acts, where Luke depicts the Jerusalem community as sharing property.

Others among Jesus' followers may not have been based in Jerusalem. The Synoptic Gospels suggest that some took to the road as wandering preachers. Jesus tells his twelve disciples: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money” (Luke 9.3 ), and he exhorts seventy more followers (Luke 10.1 ; only Luke recounts this mission) to bring neither sandals, nor bag for provisions, nor purse. These missionaries are to leave their families and travel from town to town, finding welcome and support where they can.

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