Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Lesson 2: When the Time was Ripe (Part 1)

(Note: much of this material is from The Spreading Flame by F. F. Bruce, The Paternoster Press, 1958.)

A case study: The Church at Corinth
4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Gal. 4:4-5)

If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation,
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

(Jesus Christ Superstar, Andre Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice)

In 146 B.C, the seaport city of Corinth took an ill advised leading role in a failed rebellion against Roman rule. As punishment, the Roman general Mummius razed the city. It lay in ruins for 100 years until 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar established a Roman colony at the site, and named it Laus Iulia Corinthus, or "Corinth, the praise of Julius". The designation of a "Roman colony" was used for those cities earmarked for cultural importance: they were to be mini Romes—oases in barbarian wastelands--for the enjoyment of Roman citizens living in occupied territories and for the safety and protection of the empire.

Some nineteen years later Corinth had grown to the extent that it was designated the capital city of the province of Achaia.

Once a seaport, always a seaport. The new Corinth, like the old, was a city so identified with debauchery that the Greeks had made a verb out of its name. From the fifth century B.C., to "corinthianize" meant to be sexually immoral.

Between the years A.D. 50 and A.D. 54, an eclectic group of travelers made their way, independently, to Corinth.

The first to arrive was a Jewish couple from Rome. They were tent makers. The wife seems to have enjoyed higher social status than her husband. The couple came to Corinth after the Roman emperor Claudius effectively expelled the Jews from Rome.

Shortly thereafter came a learned Rabbi and, oddly enough, a Roman citizen. He was from Tarsus, a city in present-day Turkey. Coincidentally, he was also a tent maker. This Rabbi is often envisioned as old and wizened, but at this time he was probably only in his early forties. (In fact, he never really made it to "old age").

Less than two years later, the Jewish couple and the learned Rabbi left the city. The couple crossed paths in Ephesus with an Alexandrian Jew who was an orator and a scholar. He was on his way to Corinth, and had missed meeting the Rabbi by just a short time.

Not long after the Alexandrian made his way to Corinth, a Palestinian arrived, a fisherman who had witnessed unimaginable miracles firsthand.

While an amazingly diverse group, viz., a Jewish couple from Rome, a Rabbi, a scholar, and a fisherman, the travelers had much in common. They all were followers of a variant form of Judaism, one which taught that many of the ancients' prophesies had recently been fulfilled; that a man named Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.

This group of what we today would call "church planters" organized and instructed a local community of believers in this man Jesus. From letters written to this community by the Rabbi, within just a few years after his departure, we know that this early church struggled mightily.

In human terms, the founding of the church at Corinth is the story of these five travelers. We will now look at it a bit more closely.

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