The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries

by Adolph (von) Harnack
translated and edited by James Moffatt
Second, enlarged and revised English edition;
London: Williams and Norgate / New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1908 (from the 2nd German edition)..
Theological Translation Library, volumes 19-20

From the German, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (1902, revised 1906, 1915, and finally 1924)

[[being updated (also consulting the 4th German edition) and adapted by RAK for use in 2004 America;
Greek needs to be inserted, using side by side format?]]




1. BEFORE his last journey to Jerusalem Paul wrote from Corinth to Rome (Rom. xv. 19 f.): "From Jerusalem and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ; yea, making it my aim so to preach the gospel not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation. Wherefore also I was hindered these many times from coming to you; but now, having no more any place in these regions, and having these many years a longing to come unto you, I will come whenever I go to Spain. For I hope to see you on my journey and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first in some measure I shall have been satisfied with your company."

The preaching of the gospel within the Greek world is now complete (for this is what the words " even unto Illyria " imply); the Latin world now begins.\1/ Paul thus identifies his own missionary preaching along a narrow line from Jerusalem to Illyria with the preaching of the gospel to the entire Eastern hemisphere-a conception which is only intelligible upon the supposition that the certainty of the world's near end made no other kind of mission possible than one which thus hastily covered the world's area. The fundamental idea is that the gospel has to be preached everywhere during the short remaining space of [[74]] the present world-age, \2/ while at the same time this is only feasible by means of mission-tours across the world. The fire it is assumed, will spread right and left spontaneously from the line of flame.\3/

\1/Egypt could not be passed over, for the Greek world without Egypt would hive been incomplete. But Paul never alludes to Egypt either here or elsewhere. He must have known that other missionaries were labouring there ; or, did he regard Egypt, like John (Afoc. xi. 8), as a land which was so hateful to God that nothing could be hoped from it ?

\2/ The idea recurs in the gospels (Mark xiii. 10). Was Paul the first to conceive it and to give it currency?

\3/ Cp. I Thess. i. 8 ; Rom. i. 8 ; Co), i. 6.

This idea, that the world must be traversed, was apparently conceived by the apostle on his so-called " second'" missionary tour. \4/ Naturally he viewed it as a divine injunction, for it is in this sense that we must interpret the difficult passage in Acts xvi. 6-8. If Paul had undertaken this second tour with the aim of reaching the Hellenistic districts on the coast of Asia Minor, and if he had become conscious in the course of his work that he was also called to be an apostle to the Greeks, then on the western border of Phrygia this consciousness passed into the sense of a still higher duty. He is not merely the apostle of the barbarians (Syrians, Cilicians, Lycaonians), not merely the apostle even of barbarians and Greeks, but the apostle of the world. He is commissioned to bear the gospel right to the western limits of the Roman empire; that is, he must fill up the gaps left by the missionaries in their efforts to cover the whole ground. Hence he turns aside on the frontier of Phrygia, neither westwards (to Asia) nor northward (to Bithynia), as one might expect and as he originally planned to do, but northwest. Even Mysia he only hurries through. The decision to pass by Asia and Bithynia meant that he was undertaking a mission to Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond that to the West.

\4/ Not earlier. The whole of the so-called " first" mission-tour is inexplicable if Paul already had this idea in his mind. Wendt is quite right in saying (on Acts xiii. 13) that Paul at this period was merely conscious of being an apostle to the barbarians; not to the Greeks. Otherwise, the choice of a mission-field in S.W. Asia Minor is unintelligible.

Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens, Corinth-or, to put it more accurately, from Paul's standpoint, Macedonia and Achaia-heard the gospel. But why did he remain for eighteen months in Corinth? Why did he not travel on at once to Rome, and thence to the far West? Why did he interpolate a fresh tour, at this point, to Asia Minor, residing no less than [[75]] three years at Ephesus ? The answer is obvious. While he had Rome and the West in his mind, the first time he reached Corinth (Rom. i. 13), circumstances fortunately proved too strong for any attempt to realize this ambitious scheme. If I understand the situation aright, there were three considerations which had to be borne in mind. First of all, Paul neither would nor could lose touch with the two mother-churches in Jerusalem and Antioch. This made him return upon his tracks on two occasions. In the second place, he felt irresistibly bound to build up the churches which he had founded, instead of leaving them in the lurch after a few weeks. The duty of organizing and of working on a small scale prevailed over the visionary and alleged duty of hurrying over the world with the gospel; the latter duty might well have lurking in it a grain of personal ambition. Finally, it was plain that no one had raised the standard of the gospel in the great province which he had been obliged to pass by, i.e., in Western Asia Minor, the kernel of the Hellenic world. Paul had certainly assumed that other agents would preach the word of God here. But his hope was disappointed. On his first return journey (from Corinth to Jerusalem) he was content to leave behind him at Ephesus the distinguished missionary Prisca with her husband Aquila; but when he came back on his so-called " third'" journey, he found not only the small beginnings of a Christian community, but disciples of John, whose mission he could not afford to ignore. The local sphere proved so rich and fertile that he felt obliged to take up residence at Ephesus. Here it was that he pursued the task of that spiritual settlement between Hellenism and Christianity which he had begun at Corinth. The first epistle to the Corinthians is evidence of this relationship. At Antioch no such adjustment was possible, for Antioch was simply a large Greek colony; it was Greek only in the sense in which Calcutta is English.

Paul, however, had not abandoned his scheme for covering the world with the gospel. The realization of it was only deferred in the sense in which the return of Christ was deferred. Probably he would have remained still longer at Ephesus (in the neighborhood of which, as well as throughout the district, new [[76]] churches had sprung up) and come into closer touch with Hellenism, had he not been disturbed by news from Corinth and finally driven out of the city by a small riot.

Paul's labours made Ephesus the third capital of Christianity, its distinctively Greek capital. For a while it looked as if Ephesus was actually destined to be the final headquarters of the faith. But already a rival was emerging in the far West, which was to eclipse the Asiatic metropolis. This was Rome, the fourth city of Christianity, destined ere long to be the first.

When he left Ephesus to journey through Macedonia and Achaia, he again became the itinerant apostle, and once more the unforgotten idea of traversing the wide world got possession of his mind. From Corinth he wrote to Rome the words with which this chapter opened-words which lose something of their hyperbolic air when we think of the extraordinary success already won by the apostle in Macedonia and Achaia, in Asia and Phrygia. He had the feeling that, despite the poor results in Athens, he had conquered the Hellenic world. Conscious of this religious and intellectual triumph, he deemed his task within that sphere already done.

Nor did God need him now in Rome or throughout Italy. There the gospel had been already preached, and a great church had been organized by unknown missionaries. The faith of this church was " heard of through the whole world." Spain alone remained, for the adjacent Gaul and Africa could be reached along this line of work. Spain is selected, instead of Gaul or Africa, because the apostle's idea was to run a transversal line right across the empire. So Clement of Rome rightly understood him (i. 5), in words which almost sound like those of the apostle himself: " Seven times imprisoned, exiled, stoned, having preached in the east and in the west, a teacher of righteousness to the whole world even to the furthest limit of the west."

Did he manage this ? Not in the first instance, at any rate. He had again to return to the far East, and the gloomy forebodings with which he travelled to Jerusalem were realized. When he did reach Rome, a year or two later, it was as a prisoner. But if he could no longer work as he desired to do, his activities were undiminished, in the shape of preaching at Rome, writing [[77]] letters to churches far away, and holding intercourse with friends from the East.

When he was beheaded in the summer of 64 A.D., he had fully discharged his obligations to the peoples of the world. He was the apostle <g> Kar e^o^v- </g> To barbarians, Greeks, and Latins he had brought the gospel. But his greatness does not lie in the mere fact that he penetrated as a missionary to Illyria, Rome, and probably Spain as well; it "lies in the manner in which he trained his fellow-workers and organized, as well as created, his churches. Though all that was profoundly Hellenic remained obscure to him, yet he rooted Christianity permanently in Hellenic soil. He was not the only one to do so, but it was his ideas alone which proved anew ferment within Hellenism, as the gnostics, Irenaeus, Origen, and Augustine especially show. So far as there ever was an original Christian Hellenism, it was under Pauline influences. Paul lived on in his epistles. They are not merely records of his personality and work-though even in this light few writings in the world are to be compared to them-but, as the profound outcome of a vital personal religion and an unheard-of inner conflict, they are also perennial springs of religious power. Every age has understood them in its own way. None has yet exhausted them. Even in their periods of depreciation they have been singularly influential.

Of the four centres of Christianity during the first century- Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome-one alone was the work of Paul, and even Ephesus did not remain as loyal to its founder as might have been expected. As the "father'" of his churches he fell into the background everywhere; in fact he was displaced, and displaced by the development of mediocrity, of that "natural" piety which gets on quite well by itself. Neither his strength nor his weakness was transmitted to his churches. In this sense Paul remained an isolated personality, but he always was the teacher of Christendom, and this he became more than ever as the years went by.

2. His legacy, apart from his epistles, was his churches. He designated them indeed as his "epistles." Neither his vocation (as a restless, pioneering missionary), nor his temperament, nor his religious genius (as an ecstatic enthusiast and a somewhat exclusive [[78]] theologian) seemed to fit him for the work of organization ; nevertheless he knew better than anyone else how to found and build up churches (cp. Weinel, Paulus als kirchlicher Organisator, 1899). Recognizing the supreme fruits of the Spirit in faith, love, hope, and all the allied virtues, bringing the outbursts of enthusiasm into the service of edification, subordinating the individual to the larger organism, claiming the natural conditions of social life, for all their defects and worldliness, as divine arrangements, he overcame the dangers of fanaticism and created churches which could live in the world without being of the world. But organization never became for Paul an end in itself or a means to worldly aggrandizement. Such was by no means his intention. "The aims of his ecclesiastical labours were unity in brotherly love and the reign of God in the heart of man, not the rule of savants or priests over the laity." In his theology and in his controversy with the Judaists he seems often to be like an inquisitor or a fanatical scribe, and he has been accused of inoculating the church with the virus of theological narrowness and heresy-mongering. But in reality the only confession he recognised, besides that of the living God, was the confession of " Christ the Lord," and towards the close of his life he testified that he would tolerate any doctrine which occupied that ground. The spirit of Christ, liberty, love-to these supreme levels, in spite of his temperament and education, he won his own way, and it was on these high levels that he sought to place his churches.

3. There was a great disparity between him and his coadjutors. Among the more independent, Barnabas, Silas (Silvanus), Prisca and Aquila, and Apollos deserve mention. Of Barnabas we have already spoken (pp. 52 {.). Silas, the prophet of the Jerusalemite church, took his place beside Paul, and held a position during the so-called "second" missionary tour like that of Barnabas during the " first." Perhaps the fact that Paul took him as a companion was a fresh assurance for the church of Jerusalem. But, so far as we can see (cp. 2 Cor. i. ] 9), no discord marred their intercourse. Silas shared with him the work of founding the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. There after he disappears entirely from the life of Paul and the Acts [[79]] of the Apostles, to reappear, we are surprised to find, as an author at the conclusion of the epistle to Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, which was inspired by Peter (for such is in all probability the meaning of v. 12: <g> Sia 'SiXovavov VfJilv TOV iriffTov aSe\<pov, &>? Xoyl^ofJLai, Si' oXi'ywi/ 6'ypa'^a) </g> . This abrupt reference to him, which stands quite by itself, must remain an enigma. Prisca and Aquila, the wife and husband (or rather, Prisca the missionary, with her husband Aquila), who were exiled from Rome to Corinth during the reign of Claudius, had the closest relation to Paul of all the independent workers in the mission. They co-operated with him at Corinth; they prepared the way for him at Ephesus, where Prisca showed her Christian intelligence by winning over Apollos, the Alexandrian disciple of John, to Christ; they once saved the apostle's life; and, on returning to Rome, they carried on the work upon Paul's lines (cp. my study in the Sitzungsberichte der Berliner AJfademie, Jan. 11, 1900). There is much to be said for the hypothesis that Hebrews was their composition, whether from the pen of Prisca or of Aquila (cp. my essay in the Zeitschrift fur die neutest. Wissenschqft, vol. i. pp. 1 f.. 1900). Apollos, the Alexandrian, worked independently in the field which Paul had planted at Corinth. Paul only refers to him in First Corinthians, but invariably with respect and affection; he was well aware that the Corinthians attributed a certain rivalry and coolness to himself and Apollos. At the same time it may be questioned whether the work of this able colleague, whom he had not personally chosen, was thoroughly congenial to him. The abrupt reference in Tit. iii. 18 unfortunately does not tell us anything beyond the fact that their subsequent intercourse was unimpaired.

Among the missionaries whom Paul himself secured or trained, Timothy occupies the foremost place. We learn a good deal about him, and his personality was so important even to the author of Acts that his origin and selection for this office are described (xvi. 1). Still, we cannot form any clear idea of this, the most loyal of Paul's younger coadjutors, probably because he leant so heavily on the apostle. After Paul's death at Rome he carried on his work there, having been with him in the capital, and thus came into touch with the local church. He [[80]] was for a time in prison, and survived to the reign of Domitian (Heb. xiii. 23).-Mark, who belonged to the primitive church of Jerusalem, Titus, and Luke the physician, are to be singled out among the other missionaries of the second class. With regard to Mark, whom Paul did not take with him on his so- called " second'" tour, but who later on is found in his company (Philemon 24, Col. iv. 10, 2 Tim. iv. 11), it is just possible (though, in my judgment, it is not likely) that tradition has made one figure out of two. He it is who, according to the presbyter John, made notes of the gospel story. Titus, of whom little is known, was a full-blooded pagan (Gal. ii. 1 f.), and laboured for some time in Crete. Luke, who came across Paul at Troas on the latter's second tour, belonged to the church of Antioch. Like Titus, he was a Gentile Christian. He furnished primitive Christianity with its most intelligent, though not its greatest, author. Paul does not appear, however, to have fully recognised the importance of this "beloved physician " (Col. iv. 15), his "fellow-worker'11 (Philemon 24). The last reference to his fellow-workers indeed is not enthusiastic. The epistle to the Philippians breathes an air of isolation, and in 2 Tim. iv. 9 f. we read : " Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me ; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is gone to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me [rather a mediocre consolation, it would seem !]. Take Mark and bring him with thee; for he is useful to me for ministering. Tychicus I sent to Ephesus. Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil. At my first defence no one took my part, but all forsook me." It would be unfair, however, to judge Paul's coadjutors by these expressions of dissatisfaction. Evidently they had not done as Paul wished, but we are quite in the dark upon the reasons for their action.

4. The first epistle of Peter is a very dubious piece of evidence for the idea that Peter, either with or after Paul, took part in the mission to Asia Minor; but there is no doubt that some prominent Palestinian Christians came to Asia and Phrygia, perhaps after the destruction of Jerusalem, and that they displayed remarkable activity in the district. At their head was a man who came to Ephesus and died there, at a ripe age, during [[81]] the first year of the reign of Trajan. This was John "the Presbyter," as he called himself, and as he was called by his own circle. He worked in the Pauline churches of Asia, both in person and by means of letters ; he added to their number, organized them internally, and maintained an extraordinarily sharp opposition to heretics. He retained the oversight of the churches, and exercised it by means of itinerant emissaries. His influence was apostolic or equivalent to that of an apostolic authority, but towards the end of his life several churches, conscious of their independence, endeavoured, in conjunction with their bishops, to throw off his supervision. When he died, there was an end of the mission organisation, which had latterly survived in his own person: the independent, local authority came to the front on all hands. When Ignatius reached Asia, twelve or fifteen years afterwards, the former had entirely disappeared, and even the memory of this John had given place to that of Paul. The Johannine circle must therefore have been rather limited during its latter phase. Even John must have been pretty isolated. \5/ The second and third epistles of John certainly belong to him, and we may therefore ascribe to him, with much probability, the Fourth gospel and the first epistle of John also-in fact, we may go a step further and claim for him the Apocalypse with its seven letters and its Christian revision of one or more Jewish apocalypses. This hypothesis is the simplest which can be framed: it meets the data of tradition better than any other, and it encounters no fatal objections. All that can be said of the personality of this John within the limits of reasonable probability, is that he was not the son of Zebedee, but a Jerusalemite of priestly origin, otherwise unknown to us, and a disciple of the Lord; \6/ furthermore, as the gospel indicates, [[82]] he must at one time have been specially connected with John the son of Zebedee. \7/ If his authority collapsed towards the end of his life, or was confined to a small circle, that circle (" of presbyters") certainly succeeded in restoring and extending his authority by editing his writings and disseminating them throughout the churches. In all likelihood, too, they purposely identified the "apostle,'" presbyter, and disciple of the Lord with the son of Zebedee; or, at least, they did not oppose this erroneous tendency.

\5/ The same fate apparently overtook him which he had prepared for Paul. Of course we are all in a mist here, but the entire silence of the seven letters in the Apocalypse with regard to Paul is a problem which is not to be waved aside as insignificant. Even the same silence in the gospel of John, where so many other indications of recent history are to be heard, is extremely surprising. Those who wanted to refer the mission of the Paraclete to Paul (Origen mentions them ; cp. addenda) were certainly wrong, but they were right in looking out for some allusion to Paul in the gospel, and they could not find any other.

\6/ This title suggests, but does not prove, that he was a personal disciple of Jesus, since it occurs not in Jerusalem but in Asia.

\7/ The most likely conjecture is that the beloved disciple was the son of Zebedee. Everything follows naturally from this view. The Presbyter need not have gained his special relationship to John in Asia Minor : it may go back quite well to Jerusalem. The formal difficulty of the two Johns has to be faced, but after all "John" was a common name. If it would at all simplify the critical problem to assume that the son of Zebedee was also in Asia Minor, one might credit this tradition, which is vouched for as early as Justin Martyr. But this would not affect the problem of the authorship of the Johannine writings, though it might explain how the author of those writings came to be identified, at a comparatively early time, with the apostle John.

Apart from this John we can name the evangelist Philip and his four prophetic daughters, Aristion the disciple of the Lord, and probably the apostle Andrew as among those who came to Asia Minor. As for Philip (already confused in the second century with his namesake the apostle) and his daughters, we have clear evidence for his activity in Phrygian Hierapolis. Papias mentions Aristion together with John as primitive witnesses, and an Armenian manuscript ascribes the unauthentic ending of Mark's gospel to him-an ending which is connected with Luke and the Fourth gospel, and perhaps originated in Asia Minor. We may conjecture, from the old legends preserved in the Muratorian fragment, that Andrew came to Asia Minor, and this is confirmed by the tradition (late, but not entirely worthless) that he died in Greece. \8/

\8/ We may refer here to Ignat., ad Ephes,, xi.: <g> Iva. iv\ ic\'fipa 'E<fo(v'wv eviuSSTWV XpicrriwSiv, of Kal rols a.iroa'TiShots wciyroTC frvvyvfaav (v._ I, avv^aav) cv Svvduet'I))iroB xpio-roS </g>("That I may be found in the company of those Ephesian Christians who moreover were ever of one mind with the apostles in the power of Jesus Christ"). The reading <g> avvipvevav </g> does not necessarily prove the personal residence of the apostle in Ephesus, however.

At the close of the first century Asia and Phrygia were the only two provinces in which Palestinian traditions survived in [[83]] the person of individual representatives. At the same time, probably, in no other part of the empire were there so many closely allied churches as here and in Pontus and Bithynia. This must have lent them, and especially the church at Ephesus, a high repute. When Clement of Alexandria was in search of early traditions, he turned to Asia; and even in Rome people were well aware of the significance with which the Asiatic churches were invested owing to their traditions, though Rome was never willing to take the second place. About 50 A.D. Christianity was an ellipse whose foci were Jerusalem and Antioch; fifty years later these foci were Ephesus and Rome. The change implied in this proves the greatness of Paul's work and of the work done by the first Christian missionaries.

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