01First Century Church History

Church History…


Examining the second century we must soon give our attention to extra-biblical literature. In one sense, we observe that the New Testament Church was divinely hurtling towards a decentralised style of leadership structure. We have seen the rise of limited apostolic networks narrated within the New Testament Canon. Beyond the bounds of the New Testament we will observe that this was becoming widespread. Yet, in the next chapter we will note that the Church’s leadership structure changed direction toward a more centralised government under Rome.



Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

(Acts 14:23  NIV)

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

(Titus 1:5  NIV)

The appointment of elders in each local church gave each church a degree of autonomy. In this sense, the Church’s leadership was becoming decentralised. Initially where problems arose within a church or churches, an appeal for a resolution or verdict, could be made to Jerusalem where the apostles and elders considered the matter.

This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question… The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

(Acts 15:2, 6  NIV)

But eventually these types of matters, faith and conduct, were dealt with by the apostle that each local church related to. Examples of this saturate much of Paul’s epistles to his network churches. For example, much of his epistle to the Corinthians deals with matters that they raised with him.

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
(1Corinthians 7:1  NIV)



Thus Nero publicly announcing himself as the chief enemy of God, was led on his fury to slaughter the Apostles. Paul is therefore said to have been beheaded at Rome, and Peter to have been crucified under him. [1] 

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History

All of the apostles died within the first century of the Christian era. Apart from John (who died of old age in Ephesus in 96AD), all were martyred. From an initially reluctant launch into world evangelisation, they did remarkably well. Not only did they establish churches throughout the Empire, they extended into regions far beyond the grip of Rome. According to Professor McBirnie (The Search For The Twelve Apostles): Peter evangelised Babylon; Andrew evangelised Scythia (Russia) and was martyred in Greece by crucifixion in 69AD; Philip preached in Scythia for twenty years, then in Hierapolis, Phrygia, where he was martyred (crucified and stoned while bound to the cross) aged 87; Bartholomew preached in India, travelled to Armenia and was martyred in 68 AD in Albanus (flayed to death while crucified upside down); Thomas established churches in the Middle East, and India, and was martyred there (lanced by servants of King Mizdi); Matthew evangelised Asiatic (not African) Ethiopia and was martyred by decree of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Babylonian Talmud, 43a); James, the Less, evangelised Syria and was martyred in Jerusalem (stoned); Thaddaeus went eastward to Persia, and was martyred in Syria; and Simon evangelised northern Africa, and possibly Britain as well eventually being crucified in Persia.

The fate of the Twelve is mentioned so that we can bring the New Testament early Church’s leadership commitment into sharp focus. It is one thing to state that the marks of an apostle are signs, wonders, and miracles (2Cor. 12:12), but can not overlook the two most obvious marks of an apostolic leader: endurance and martyrdom. These leaders were not quitters. They were prepared to die for their cause, and most of them did.

[1] McBirnie, 1979:69

Andrew Corbett

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