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.