The geographic expansion of the church under persecution (Acts 8)

The expansion of Christianity was a direct – if unanticipated – result of persecution. On the very day that Stephen became the first martyr, a severe persecution broke out in Jerusalem. Christians who fled the city became scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, proclaiming the gospel wherever they went (Acts 8:1-4).

Philip headed north to an unidentified city in the region of Samaria, which many scholars conjecture to have been ancient Samaria (1 Kings 20:1), then called Sebaste. Others point to Gitta, or to Sychar, which Jesus was reported in John 4 to have visited.

At any rate, so many converts were won through Philip’s evangelistic endeavours that Peter and John came to join hm. As they later returned to Jerusalem, they followed Philip’s lead, preaching in Samaritan villages along the way (Acts 8:25). Philip was then dispatched south of Jerusalem toward the ancient Philistine city of Gaza, where he experienced his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). In the Greco-Roman world, Ethiopia was considered to be the southernmost extent of civilization, so this incident may have previewed for early Christians the promise of the message going out “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Chapter 8 concludes with Philip, farther north on the Mediterranean coast, preaching from Azotus to Caesarea, where he eventually settled (Acts 21:8). His travels would have taken him through Lydda and Joppa, probably the “cities” (Acts 8:40) in which he preached. It seems that Peter again followed Philip’s path by stopping to preach in Lydda and Joppa, as well as to Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 9:32-10:48).

Christianity also spread eastward to Damascus; Saul had been en route there when he had experienced his dramatic conversion (Acts 9:1-6). In 11:19-26 Luke added additional detail about the scattering of the Jerusalem believers: Some disciples ventured north of Galilee into the region of Phoenicia and even farther to the city of Antioch, while others journeyed westward to the island og Cyprus. By the end of Acts, Paul had reached Rome, the capital of the then known world. It was from this city that the Good News eventually spread throughout the Roman Empire to provinves as far away as Africa and Europe.

%d bloggers like this: