January 10th, 2018
Contributions of the Roman Empire to the spread of Christianity during the Early Christianity era
The spread of Christianity was facilitated by various factors among them the structures that were present in the Roman Empire. Gascoigne (2008) for instance notes that “though the early Roman Empire may not have embraced Christianity, and may even have persecuted it … it nonetheless provided a network of communications which greatly facilitated its dissemination” (p. 160). Among the critical contributions of the Empire to the spread was the provision of infrastructure (seaways, roads and trade routes) that the early missionaries such as Paul used to move from one place to another, which enabled them to spread the gospel in different places. The primary concern of this paper is thus to highlight why the roman road system was a facilitating factor for the spread of Christianity. Secondly the emphasis of hospitality as practiced in the early church is considered.
The road system in the Roman Empire was a major form of infrastructure that supported the movement of early missionaries. Although important routes to Christianity that travelers used, such as the great central route that transited through towns such as Ephesus and Corinth, offered sailing alternative, sailing was a relatively dangerous feat (Fergusson, 2003, p. 87). Nevertheless, the early missionaries used such modes as evident from Paul’s travel escapades to and from Ephesus (e.g. King James Version, Acts. 18:21). The effect of land travel were however more positive. Road tracts that spanned from Scotland to the Euphrates, though mainly of a strategic and communication value to the Roman Empire, had further cultural effects through interactions they enabled among individuals from different cultures (Fergusson, 2003, p. 88; Spalding, 2006). Of these roads, two had specific positive influence on the spread of Christianity. Firstly, the Via Appia road that extended “south from Rome to Capua, and angled across Italy to Tarentum and Brundisium on the Adriatic coast” was the one that Paul and his converts used to enter Rome from Puteoli (Fergusson, 2003, p. 88; Acts 28:15-16). This road thus served to facilitate the spread of Christianity around the villages that were adjacent.
The second important road to Christianity was the Via Egnatia that “ran from Dyyachium on the West coast of Greece … to Neapolis on the northeast coast and eventually to Byzantium” (Fergusson, 2003, p. 88). The importance of this road is evident from its usage by Paul while travelling from Neapolis to Philippi, Thessalonica, Appollonia and Amphipolis (Fergusson, 2003, p. 88; Acts 16:12; 17:1). This importance is buttressed by the communications that resulted into the epistles of Paul such as Ephesians, Philipians and Thessalonians that were addressed to the churches in these regions. Another critical road that helped the spread the gospel of Christianity was the main Roman road that for instance was used by Paul on his mission to such places as Syria and Tarsus (Fergusson, 2003, p. 88; Acts, 15:41; 11:25). Accordingly, though the roads also bore their fair share of challenges such as bad weather and robbers (2 Cor. 11:26), they were major facilitators of movement of early missionaries (Paul and his converts), and thus helped spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire and subsequently into other regions (Spalding, 2006).
A second factor that influenced the early church effectiveness was how hospitality was practiced then. From the time of Mosaic Laws, aspects such as expounding law were not subject to the individual doing such service receiving any payment (Harvey, 1982). Perhaps, Paul’s personal decision never to receive payment for his preaching, was based on such Mosaic Law background (Harvey, 1982). Paul in this respect either paid for his own expenses or, when necessitated, received contributions from other churches to preach in different regions, but never accepted contributions for teachings meant for the same region (2 Cor. 11:9; 12:13).
In contrast, various teachings recorded in the Gospels (e.g. Luke 9:3-5) imply that the individual’s who received teachings from the apostles had a duty to take care of the apostles. Such was associated with rewards that would result to those who offered care to the followers of Jesus who visited them (Matthew 9:37; Luke 10:2). Additionally, since spreading the Gospel during the early church era involved substantive travel, and places of accommodation such as inns were associated with immoral practices, providing hospitality to the apostles was a prominent practice by the followers (Fergusson, 2003, p. 89). Accordingly, churches in the time offered such facilities as lodging with facilities such as guest rooms present in synagogues, and assistance for the travel (Fergusson, 2003, p. 89). Such practice of rendering hospitality to the apostles is also evident where Paul and Silas are invited to the households of various converts and provided with meals and places to sleep (Acts 16:14-15; 16:34). Through the hospitality provided by the early church adherents, the apostles were enabled to spread the gospel even with minimal resources.
Various aspects contributed to the spread of Christianity during the early church. This paper focuses on two aspects – the Roman Empire road system and the practice of hospitality. The road system in the Roman Empire enabled apostles such as Paul to move from one place to another spreading the gospel, thus were a facilitator of the expansion of the early church. Although receiving payment for teachings was perceived immoral in the early church as evident from Paul’s teaching, provision of such services as meals and places for sleep was one of the ways the early church practiced hospitality, thus helping apostles to continue their mission even with minimal resources.
Fergusson, E (2003). Backgrounds of early Christianity (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Gascoigne, J. (2008) Introduction: religion and empire, an historiographical perspective. Journal of Religious History, 32(2), 159 – 178.
Harvey, A.E. (1982). The workman is worthy of his hire: fortunes of a proverb in the early church. Novum Testamentuum, 24(3), 209-221.
Spalding, J.D. (2006). Spreading the word. Science & Spirit, 17(2), 81-81.