What was the primary cause of New Testament churches forming soon after the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Which cities were they located in? Who started these fellowships and what made each of them unique? Did they meet in Jewish synagogues, or in buildings specifically erected for believers to gather and worship God, or in some other place? This map series will explore the first century fellowships which existed in a variety of locations around the Roman Empire.
In Eastern Asia Minor, we will study the New Testament churches in the cities of Antioch (in Pisidian), Derbe, Iconium, Lystra and Tarsus (Apostle Paul's hometown). In Western Asia Minor, we will look at Colosse, Ephesus, Hierapolis, Laodicea, Pergamos, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna, Thyatira and Troas. Grecian cities we will explore include Athens, Berea, Cenchrea, Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica. In Italy and Africa, we will research into Alexandria, Cyrene, Puteoli and Rome. Palestine Coastal cities this series will review are Caesarea, Joppa, Ptolemais, Sidon and Tyre. Places in Palestine and Syria explored include Antioch (in Syria), Capernaum, Damascus, Jerusalem, Lydda and Pella. Lastly, we will take a look at the churches found in the Mediterranean Sea Islands of Crete and Cyprus as well as the city of Babylon.
The New Testament reveals to us one of the primary reasons Jesus came to earth was to start building his church, his ekklesia (Strong's Concordance #G1577), a spiritual community of believers built on faith in Him that He would directly lead (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 5:23). The means by which God would achieve this goal of starting churches would be through His spirit in believers who were to tell others or "witness" about Christ and what he taught (Acts 1:7 - 8).
The birth of the New Testament church Christ spoke about began on the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D. God first gave His spirit to 120 disciples who had heard Jesus speak during his ministry, then he inspired Peter to give a powerful message that led to the conversion of at least 3,000 others (Acts 1:15, 2:41). Who were the 3,000 people who repented of their sins and became Christians?
Scripture states that on this special Feast day there were people in Jerusalem visiting who lived in Asia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Persia (Elamites), Media, Egypt, Libya, Judea, Arabia and Crete, as well as the Roman provinces of Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia and Pamphylia (Acts 2:9 - 11). There were even Jews and proselytes from Rome who came to keep this Holy Day and were among the first to hear the gospel not directly from Christ but from his followers (verse 10).
These converted people took God's truth back to their homelands and became the seeds from which a new fellowship could sprout. It did not take long before Christian churches began to spring up like wildfire around the known world.
"After Jesus' death and resurrection, the Gospel exploded out of little Palestine and swept the known world like a quickly spreading flame . . . In a few brief decades, between the A.D. 30s and 60s, churches were established in most of the major population centers of the Roman Empire, including Rome itself" (Bible Reader's Companion, comments on John 21).
Do only religious leaders start fellowships?
Not only did well-known New Testament leaders like the apostles or Paul begin churches but also those who the Bible does not individually name. In fact, the first MASS conversion of Gentiles (non-Jews) delineated in Scripture did NOT occur through any apostle but through zealous believers from Africa and the island of Cyprus!
20. But certain men among them who were Cypriots and Cyrenians came to Antioch and spoke to the Greeks, preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus. 21. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:20 - 21).
It was only AFTER a body of believers existed in Syrian Antioch that the "mother" church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to find out what was happening! He then sought out Paul to help teach the new believers who were gathering BEFORE they arrived (verses 25 - 26).
Where did they meet?
Buildings, built for the express purpose of being a gathering place for Christians to meet and worship the Eternal, were non-existent in New Testament times. Synagogue attending Jews and proselytes, upon their acceptance of Christ as the promised Messiah, were usually expelled from their congregation sometime after their beliefs became known (John 9:22, 16:2). Richard Krautheimer writes the following (with comments added in parenthesis) regarding believers not meeting in churches but in each others' homes.
"These early believers had neither the means, the organization, nor the slightest interest in evolving an ecclesiastical architecture (constructing buildings in which to worship) . . . regular gatherings would of necessity be held in private, in the house of one or the other of the brethren . . . Until A.D. 200, then, a Christian architecture did not and could not exist. Only the state religion (Christianity became the Empire's state religion in 380 A.D.) erected temples . . .
"Christians congregations prior to 200 were limited to the realm of domestic architecture (homes), and further, to inconspicuous dwellings of the lower classes" (Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture by Richard Krautheimer, Page 24).
It should be noted that the maps used in this series do not show all possible cities where early Christians lived or where all fellowships existed in the first century. This is because the Bible sometimes records believers living in general areas of the Roman world and does not specify an exact location. For example, although Scripture states churches existed in the areas of Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31) it does not provide a detailed city list.
While researching this series it was discovered that Parsons Bible Maps lists Appollonia, the island of Malta (referred to as Melita in the KJV), Memphis (in Egypt), Miletus, Myra, Nicopolis, Perga, Seleucia and Tripolis as possessing New Testament Christian fellowships. Because, however, evidence supporting Parsons' claims could not be found in other sources, these cities were not included in this series. Lastly, although the Apostle Paul preached the gospel in Spain (Hispania) and England (Britannia), our research has yet to determine the location of any churches he may have established.