The Penetration Of Graeco-Roman Society By Christianity -- By: E. A. Judge

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 01:1 (Summer 1956)
Article: The Penetration Of Graeco-Roman Society By Christianity
Author: E. A. Judge


The Penetration Of Graeco-Roman Society By Christianity

E. A. Judge

With all our modern statistical equipment it is difficult enough to say how widely held the Christian faith is, or from what social groups its strength is mainly drawn. For the ancient world there are not even any statistics. A few census returns supply the numbers of certain sections of the population at odd times, but leave untouched women, children, foreigners, or others without civil rights. Many attempts have been made to fill the gaps by calculating from grain consumption, built-up areas, rate of burials and so on, but the very diversity of method shows how uncertain the results are. Even if we could draw a cross-section of ancient society, we should still have trouble fitting the Church membership in. Christians may have been well enough known in their own community, but usually they either felt no need or thought it unwise to leave any lasting public record of their faith. The first overtly Christian tombs that we know were set up in public are in the isolated uplands of central Anatolia. They come from the third century, and could be a cry of defiance from a Church that held passionately to the duty of open confession in troubled times. “So and so to his sweetest wife so and so, in remembrance, one Christian to another.” They give us an intimate glimpse into the relations between one group of Christians and its neighbours, but their brief light only heightens the darkness around. Quite a plausible general picture of the numbers and standing of the members of the Church can be built up from the incidental information given by New Testament and patristic writers, but such impressions could be misleading if not subject to detailed testing.

There are, of course, plenty of ancient writers who comment expressly on the subject, but they are often more anxious to persuade than to inform. To the apostles, for instance, the universal preaching of the Gospel was not a question of fact so much as an article of faith. It was the precondition of the end. The more imminent they conceived the end to be, then, the more readily did they anticipate the completion of their mission. The

crowd at Pentecost from “every nation under heaven,” and the detailed accounts of the conversion of an Ethiopian statesman, a Jewish religious leader, and a Roman army officer, may represent the overriding of natural barriers as the Gospel is carried to “the uttermost parts of the earth.” It is to misunderstand the New Testament outlook to use statements of this kind for statistical calculations. Yet conclusions are drawn (by Harnack) about the strength of the Church in Asia Minor in Domitian’s time from the vision of “an innumerable multitude of all races,...

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