The persecution of ”the Way” that followed the stoning of Stephen spurred a large Jewish Christian diaspora. Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem spread all across the Mediterranean world. While many of them kept solely Hebraic social circles after settling into new homes, the exceptions were the inhabitants of Cyprus and Cyrene (a region in North Africa). Likely traders or Mediterranean businessmen, these men began speaking to Gentiles about Jesus. Some of these Gentiles were ”Godfearers” familiar with Judaism, and others were pagan intellectuals and their family members.
At this time in Church History, the conversion of Gentiles to ”the Way” was still a controversial issue. The quesiton of whether or not they had to become Jewish first was fiercely debated. While the inclusion of Cornelius was largely accepted (who would argue with the Holy Spirit?), he was just one Gentile; the potential inclusion of thousands of Gentiles posed a very real difficulty for many Jewish Christians who treasured their doctrine and blood-lines. Rampant racial prejudice in this region also contributed to the problem.
The largest Gentile contingent in the early Church was in Antioch. Barnabas enlists Saul of Tarsus to help catechize this large number, which was in the thousands. For an entire year, these two men teach the people. Saul has been instructing people in ”the Way” for a dozen years at this point, though this is his first ”class” of Gentiles.
By this time, he is a profoundly spiritual man, a worker of miracles.
Paul’s dynamic (at times ballistic) ministry style was a force to be reckoned with. The Judaizers, Peter, and many others were recipients of his straightforward arguing. His strategizing mind and spiritual heart are peerless among the saints. His ongoing conversion to Christ is the source of his great motivation.
By Paul’s influence, Antioch becomes a major church and the missionary spirit take off in the early Church. His catechetical ministry was simply remarkable.
Music: Boismortier’s Sonata 2 in E Minor – Allegro, from the album ‘Six Sonatas for Flute and Violin – Opus 51 – Boismortier’ performed by Duo de Bois. www.magnatune.com