Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why the Church in Philippi was Definitely Not the First European Church

It is time to get something off my mind. It is something I keep coming across that gets under my skin. It is the claim that is found often in New Testament literature, even among some Philippians’ specialists that the church in Philippi was the first European church (e.g. Hendriksen, 15; Hawthorne and Martin, xxxix; Vincent, xix, cf. Bockmuehl, 1). It is time to put this idea to bed for good. It is plainly wrong! The church in Philippi was definitely the first church Paul planted in Europe. But there were Christians and churches in Europe before Paul got there. How do we know?

We know because there is clearly a church in Rome from early on. There were Romans at Pentecost who came to the Lord and were baptised (Acts 2:10). There were enough Christians in Rome in a.d. 49 for the Emperor Claudius to expel the Jews from Rome (Suetonius, Claud. 25.4). The expulsion was based around contention among Jews concerned a certain Chrestus, who is almost certainly Christ. If so, there were enough Jewish Christians in Rome to cause conflict among Jews which caught the attention of the Emperor. This indicates a significant number of Christians among the 50,000 or so Jews in Rome. Interestingly , two of these were Priscilla and Aquila who had come from Rome to Corinth because of the expulsion and with whom Paul worked (Acts 18:2). The expulsion happened several years before Paul ever entered Europe. It shows that there were a significant number of Christians in Rome before Paul even got to Europe. We have no idea whether the church had spread from Rome into other areas in Italy and perhaps other regions, but it may well have done.  

Anyway, the upshot is that we have to put to bed finally and thoroughly that the gospel reached Europe with Paul in a.d. 50-51 when he preached among the Macedonians. What we can say is that the church in Philippi was the first Pauline church in Europe. It was the first almost exclusively Gentile church (Bockmuehl, 1). But it was not the first church in Europe. 


Chris Northcott said...

Nice work Mark

Tim said...

Nice one Doc. Hadn't really thought about it but it seems o obvious. I love learning about early Christian history, especially when it involves travels of key people.

I find it fascinating what we can glean about writers such as Paul, Luke, John etc from internal and external sources.

max palmer said...

Mark these comments are from a kiwi scholar friend from Sydney.
Do you have the link to the apparent source of your Philippi comments from Bockmuehl, 1?
Love to hear from you

Yes what he is saying is basically true. Paul’s letter to the church in Roman is his letter of introduction because he wants to come and make his base there to reach out into Western Europe. The only point I would bring out is that the church in Rome was not just Jewish because when the Jews were expelled the Gentiles stayed and the church in Roman then was made up of the non Jewish people who had become believers. Paul’s letter is trying to address the issues the church was having with the reentry of the Jews into a church which now had firmly establish non Jewish leadership. His comment that Philippi was predominantly a non Jewish church is an assumption that he does not backup with any facts



Mark Keown said...

Hi. Thanks all. Bockmuehl, 1, is from his commentary on Philippians.I agree with your assessment of the Roman church which definitely included Gentiles. There is good reason to question whether there were Jews in the Philippian church.

1) There is no synagogue, unless you think "place of prayer" means a synagogue. This is unlikely as Luke uses "synagogue" regularly and unashamedly. Why suddenly not use it?

2) There are no men mentioned, only a group of women. Perhaps one or two of them were Jewish, there is no indication. Lydia is not. She is a Jewish sympathiser. We know there are less than ten males if there is no synagogue.

3) When Paul is charged, he is charged on two counts. First, for being Jewish. Secondly, for advocating non-Roman customs. This adds up to an abhorrence of Jews in Philippi. I ponder whether this means that the Philippians took the edict seriously, and too threw out the Jews. They were so self-consciously Roman. The gathering of the women for prayer is also outside the city gates, which may indicate that they were repudiated.

4) There is no evidence of a Jewish member of the church in Acts of Philippians. Philippians has almost no reference to the OT directly, although there are echoes and allusions.

So, all in all, I would turn your comment around Max and ask, what evidence is there that there were Jews in the Philippian Church. I wonder if it is the only one of Paul's churches that is truly fully Gentile. This may be Bockmuehl's thrust.

All this of course is unprovable, and I hold it very lightly.


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