The Apostles (Introduction to Western Civilization 5.6)

For a few days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles and the other follows of Jesus, including his mother, gathered together to spend time praying and talking about what had happened. Finally, on the day of a Jewish holiday called Pentecost, the Bible says that God sent his Holy Spirit on them and inspired them to begin preaching. They immediately went out and began to speak about the Gospel to the people who had gathered for the festival.

After this, Jesus’s followers quickly spread out around the Mediterranean and to other places even further away to tell people everywhere about the Gospel. Christians around the world still tell stories of the travels of the apostles and other early followers of Jesus. They say that Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, travelled to Ethiopia. Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark, travelled to Egypt. Peter, the leader of the apostles, went to the capital of the Roman Empire in Rome. One apostle, Thomas, even went as far away as India. Everywhere they went, the apostles taught that Jesus had brought salvation through his Incarnation and Resurrection.

One of the most important of the early Christians who spread the word about Jesus was also one of the most unlikely. His name was Saul. Saul was a Jewish man who hated Christians. He believed that they were spreading a false message about a man who was not really the messiah. He believed, instead, that Jesus had lied and that his followers were lying about him. After witnessing the execution of Stephen, Jesus’s first follower to die for teaching people about the Gospel, Saul started down the road to the city of Damascus. Along the way, he later wrote, he saw a bright burst of light that knocked him off his horse. The light was so bright that he was blinded by it. From the light, a voice spoke to him, asking “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul said, “Who are you?” The voice responded, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” The voice then ordered him to go into the city and find a certain Christian man. Saul, still blind, did as the voice had told him to do. He found the man he had been ordered to find. The man healed him and Saul was baptized as a Christian. He then changed his name to Paul.

Paul became the most widely travelled of all of the apostles. He travelled all around the Mediterranean, including to Jerusalem, Greece, and, finally, Rome, teaching people about the Gospel everywhere he went. Paul also wrote many important letters that were read by Christians everywhere. Eventually, when the New Testament of the Bible was put together, Paul’s letters made up the majority of the New Testament. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 14 of them were Paul’s letters.

Many people greeted the message of the Gospel with happiness and excitement. This is especially true of people from the lowest classes of Roman society. Many of the earliest people to convert to Christianity were poor people, women, and slaves. In Roman society, all of these people were treated very badly. Romans believed that women and slaves were not even entirely human. Romans respected only men who were powerful and rich. The message of the apostles, however, was that Jesus had become a human being, died, and resurrected for the salvation of all people, including the poor, women, and slaves. The early Christians were among the first people in the world to believe that women are equal to men. They were also the first ones to say that slavery is morally wrong. This message was very different from what people were used to hearing in the Roman Empire. As a result, many poor people, slaves, and women became Christians. As a result, Christianity began to grow from a small group of people to a very large group very quickly.


Review Questions

  1. On what Jewish holiday did the apostles begin to preach the Gospel?
  1. Which apostle wrote most of the books of the New Testament?
  1. In a paragraph, describe the sort of people who were attracted to the message of Christianity. Explain why they were attracted to it.


Vocabulary Words

Baptism – the ritual by which a person becomes a Christian; the one who is baptized is washed with water while special prayers are said

Conversion – changing religions

Persecution – treating people badly because of their religious beliefs

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