The Gospel of the Early Church – 6 – Some Concluding Observations

106 Early Church pic

This is the last post in my series on the Gospel of the Early Church. Hopefully you have found the quotes from the early church fathers interesting.

  1. The Gospel the Apostles Preached
  2. The Gospel is a Historical Narrative
  3. Brief description of the Gospel
  4. Applications of the Gospel
  5. The Gospel and the Law of Moses
  6. Some Concluding Observations (Current)

Years of the Early Church

All in all my quotes come from the following people;

  • Ignatius of Antioch (c.e. 45–105)
  • Papias (c.e. 100)
  • Justin Martyr (c.e. 100–165)
  • Irenaeus of Lyons (c.e. 130-202)
  • Theophilus of Antioch (c.e. 169)
  • Clement of Alexandria (c.e. 150-215)
  • Tertullian (c.e. 160-225)
  • Origen (c.e. 185-254)
  • Augustine (c.e. 354-430)

Roughly then we are looking from the time of the apostles to mid fifth century c.e.

Broad Agreement on the Gospel

From my readings I would say over this time and among these people what I’ve written is the consensus view on what the apostles handed down as the gospel. They all believed the gospel was a historical narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus. They all believed what they handed down became Holy Writ. They all regarded the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the foundational documents for Christianity. The only people they seemed to disagree in part with on this were heretics, and even they basically agreed with them.

From the post I wrote describing the gospel its easy to recognise the whole gospel is big and would take a long time to go through. That probably happened, but that wasn’t the only way they preached and taught from the gospel.

The way they used the gospel suggests they were fairly flexible in its use. They applied it in different ways. As Papias said, Peter used short stories from the gospel to match the specific needs of his audiences. Quite often we looked at quotes where the early church fathers would use a snippet from the gospel to argue a point.

The gospel was used to combat various heresies in their day. Some heresies were created by the change effected by the gospel. Gentile Christians were not required to observe the law of Moses. But as we have seen from their use of Galatians, the early church did not waver in their understanding of the gospel even though they dealt with issues concerning justification and the ceremonies (‘works of law’).

Early Church Growth

This is the gospel they preached to convert people. It brought salvation and through it God created his church.

"Mapspreadofxity" by Agur - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Mapspreadofxity” by Agur – Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Louis Wilken, emeritus professor of history at the University of Virginia once wrote:

At the end of the first century there were fewer than ten thousand Christians in the Roman Empire. The population at the time numbered some sixty million, which meant that Christians made up one hundredth of one percent or 0.0017 percent according to the figures of a contemporary sociologist.

By the year 200, the number may have increased to a little more than two hundred thousand, still a tiny minority, under one percent (0.36).

By the year 250, however, the number had risen to more than a million, almost two percent of the population.

The most striking figure, however, comes two generations later. By the year 300 Christians made up 10 percent of the population, approximately 6 million.

All of these figures are estimates. Because there are no hard demographic data, they can be used only with other evidence. The show that in absolute numbers, Christianity grew slowly at first, but the pace picked up in the third century, and if one were to draw a graph for the fourth century the line would mount in a steep upward curve. Christians could be found in all the major cities of the empire and in many smaller cities, and it was becoming apparent that Christian was not a passing phenomenon. What is more, the Church attracted people from all walks of life and from all social classes, and its leaders were well educated, culture, resourceful, and articulate.

—Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2012), 65-66.

The gospel of the early church produced amazing growth.

Well this finishes this series on the Gospel of the Early Church. I hope you enjoyed reading from them and you learned a few things as well. I may modify parts of it in time and I will probably refer to it in later posts.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.