“The proconsul . . . became a believer, for he was astounded at the teaching of Jehovah.”
1-3. Jesus’ disciples faced what obstacles to preaching the good news in “all the nations”?
JESUS CHRIST gave his followers no small commission. He commanded them: “Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations.” As they did that work, eventually the “good news of the Kingdom [would] be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.”
2 The disciples loved both Jesus and the good news. Yet, they might well have wondered just how they could possibly carry out their commission. After all, they were few in number. Jesus, whom they proclaimed to be the Son of God, had been put to death. His disciples were viewed as “uneducated and ordinary.” (Acts 4:13) But they were to deliver a message that ran counter to the teachings of the prestigious religious leaders, who were schooled in traditions that dated back to ancient times. In their own homeland, the disciples were not held in esteem. And compared to the rest of the glorious Roman Empire, what was the nation of Israel?
3 Moreover, Jesus had warned his disciples that they would be hated and persecuted and that some of them would be killed. (Luke 21:16, 17) They would have to contend with betrayal, false prophets, and the increasing of lawlessness. (Matt. 24:10-12) Even if their message would be well-received everywhere, how could they possibly take it “to the most distant part of the earth”? (Acts 1:8) Such challenges must have seemed daunting!
4. How successful were the first-century disciples in their preaching activity?
4 Whatever concerns they may have had, the disciples got busy preaching the good news not only in Jerusalem and Samaria but throughout the then-known world. Although the disciples experienced difficulties, within 30 years the good news was being “preached in all creation under heaven” and was “bearing fruit and increasing in all the world.” (Col. 1:6, 23) To illustrate: Because of what the apostle Paul said and did on the island of Cyprus, the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus “became a believer, for he was astounded at the teaching of Jehovah.”
5. (a) What assurance did Jesus give his disciples? (b) In considering first-century circumstances, what have some concluded?
5 Jesus’ disciples knew that they could not accomplish the preaching work on their own. Jesus had said that he would be with them and that the holy spirit would assist them. (Matt. 28:20) In some respects, circumstances existing in the world of that day may have been favorable for Kingdom preaching. The book Evangelism in the Early Church states: “Probably no period in the history of the world was better suited to receive the infant Church than the first century AD . . . By the second century Christians . . . began to argue that it was a divine providence which had prepared the world for the advent of Christianity.”
6. What will we examine (a) in this article? (b) in the next one?
6 To what extent God maneuvered first-century developments to make extensive preaching work possible, the Bible does not say. But this much is certain: Jehovah wanted the good news to be preached, and Satan did not. In this article, we will consider some factors that may have made the preaching work easier in the first century than it might have been during other times in history. In the next article, we will examine modern-day developments that help us to proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth.
HOW THE PAX ROMANA MAY HAVE HELPED
7. What was the Pax Romana, and why was it remarkable?
7 In some ways, the first-century Roman world brought benefits to Christians. For instance, there was the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. The vast Roman Empire imposed stability on people in its realm. At times, there were “wars and reports of wars,” as Jesus had foretold. (Matt. 24:6) Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and there were skirmishes on the frontiers of the empire. For about 200 years from the time of Jesus, however, the Mediterranean world was comparatively free of strife. One reference book states: “Never in human history had there been so long a span of general tranquility, and never again was peace to be maintained so steadily among so many people.”
8. How did the climate of peace benefit the early Christians?
8 Expressing his viewpoint, third-century theologian Origen wrote: “It would have hindered Jesus’ teaching from being spread through the whole world if there had been many kingdoms . . . because men everywhere would have been compelled to do military service and to fight in defence of their own land. . . . Accordingly, how could this teaching, which preaches peace and does not even allow men to take vengeance on their enemies, have had any success unless the international situation had everywhere been changed and a milder spirit prevailed at the advent of Jesus?” Kingdom proclaimers were persecuted in the Roman world, but they were peaceable and apparently benefited from the somewhat peaceful climate of those times.
HOW RELATIVELY CONVENIENT TRAVEL PROVED HELPFUL
9, 10. Why was it relatively convenient for the disciples to travel in the Roman Empire?
9 Christians made good use of the Roman system of roads. To secure and maintain control over its subjects, Rome had a strong and efficient army. To move troops quickly, good roads were needed, and the Romans were skilled at building them. Roman engineers constructed over 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of roads that linked nearly every province. The roads cut through forests, crossed deserts, and scaled mountains.
10 In addition to their system of roads, the Romans could take advantage of some 17,000 miles (27,000 km) of navigable rivers and canals. Roman ships traveled some 900 sea routes that linked hundreds of ports. Christians could therefore travel throughout the Roman world. There were difficulties, but the apostle Paul and others could journey throughout the realm without passports and visas. There were no immigration and customs checks. Outlaws feared Roman punishment, so roads were relatively safe. Travel by sea was similarly safe because Rome’s navies kept sea lanes free of piracy. Although Paul experienced shipwreck several times and there were dangers at sea, the Scriptures do not specifically say that his voyages were troubled by pirates.
HOW LANGUAGE HELPED
11. Why did the disciples make use of the Greek language?
11 The common, or Koine, Greek language helped to promote good communication and unity among the Christian congregations. Because of the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek was widely spoken and understood. Thus, God’s servants could communicate with all kinds of people, and this contributed to the spread of the good news. Moreover, Jews living in Egypt had translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. People were familiar with this Septuagint version, and the early followers of Christ quoted freely from it. Christians also found Greek to be ideal for their writings. It had an extensive vocabulary and was rich in terms that were useful when spiritual matters had to be explained.
12. (a) What is a codex, and what advantages did it have over a scroll? (b) When did the codex become widely used by Christians?
12 How could Christians use the Scriptures in their ministry? Scrolls were cumbersome, for they had to be rolled and unrolled, and usually there was writing on only one side of the parchment. The Gospel of Matthew alone would fill an entire scroll. But then came the codex
HOW ROMAN LAW WAS HELPFUL
13, 14. (a) How did Paul make use of his Roman citizenship? (b) How did Roman law benefit Christians?
13 Roman law was in force throughout the empire, and Roman citizenship offered valuable rights and immunities. Paul made use of his Roman citizenship on several occasions. Faced with scourging in Jerusalem, the apostle asked a Roman officer: “Is it lawful for you to scourge a Roman who has not been condemned?” It was not. When Paul pointed out that he was a Roman citizen by birth, “the men who were about to interrogate him under torture backed away from him; and the military commander became afraid when he realized that [Paul] was a Roman and that he had bound him in chains.”
14 Paul’s citizenship under Roman law affected how he was treated in Philippi. (Acts 16:35-40) In Ephesus, the city recorder referred to the Roman legal system after he had calmed an angry mob. (Acts 19:35-41) Paul’s legal appeal while in Caesarea opened the way for him to make a defense of his faith before Caesar. (Acts 25:8-12) Thus, Roman law made possible “the defending and legally establishing of the good news.”
THE EFFECT OF THE JEWISH DISPERSION
15. How widespread were first-century Jewish communities?
15 In some respects, Christians may have found their evangelizing work easier because Jewish communities were scattered throughout the Roman world. Centuries earlier the Assyrians and later the Babylonians had exiled the Jews from their homeland. As early as the fifth century B.C.E., there were Jewish communities in the 127 provinces of the Persian Empire. (Esther 9:30) When Jesus was on earth, there were communities of Jews in Egypt and other parts of North Africa, as well as Greece, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia. It has been estimated that of the 60,000,000 people in the Roman Empire, about 1 in 14 was Jewish. Wherever the Jews went, they took their religion with them.
16, 17. (a) In what ways did the dispersion of the Jews benefit many non-Jews? (b) What practices of the Jews did the disciples adopt?
16 Because the Jews were so widely dispersed, many non-Jews became familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. They learned that there is only one true God and that those who serve him are held to high ethical and moral standards. Moreover, the Hebrew Scriptures were filled with prophecies concerning the Messiah. (Luke 24:44) Both Jews and Christians understood that the Hebrew Scriptures were the inspired Word of God, which made it possible for Paul to establish common ground with those whose hearts were inclined toward righteousness. Accordingly, the apostle customarily entered synagogues of the Jews and reasoned with them from the Scriptures.
17 The Jews had established a pattern of worship. They regularly met together in synagogues or at open-air meeting places. They sang songs, prayed, and discussed the Scriptures. Similar practices are followed in Christian congregations today.
POSSIBLE WITH JEHOVAH’S HELP
18, 19. (a) What did first-century circumstances make possible? (b) How does the foregoing information make you feel about Jehovah?
18 So it was that a remarkable set of circumstances contributed to the successful preaching of the good news. Pax Romana, relatively convenient travel, a universal language, Roman law, and the dispersion of the Jews helped Jesus’ disciples to carry on their God-given preaching work.
19 Four centuries earlier, the Greek philosopher Plato had one of his literary characters say: “It would be a hard task to discover the maker and father of this universe of ours, and even if we did find him, it would be impossible to speak of him to everyone.” However, Jesus said: “The things impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) The Creator of the universe wants people to find him and get to know him. Furthermore, Jesus told his followers: “Make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matt. 28:19) With Jehovah God’s help, fulfilling that commission is possible. The following article will show how that work is being done in our day.