The purpose of the articles listed below is to describe the context within which Paul’s letters were written. For this purpose these articles describe four major turning points and the four major phases in the first 30 years of the church, which transformed the church from a movement within Judaism to a separate entity, including uncircumcised Gentiles.
These articles are mostly based on the Bible Book of Acts. This book left an immense amount of apostolic activity is unrecorded, and focuses only on the major transitional events. Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible verses quoted are from the NASB version of Acts.
The Jerusalem Phase (Acts 1 to 5) starts with Christ’s resurrection. Just before His ascension, 40 days later, He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. They received this power on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), ten days later. Over the following 2 to 4 years the church grew exponentially, from the initial 120 followers to thousands, but the church was limited to Jerusalem only and consisted of Jews and proselytes only. They worshiped daily in the temple, functioned as a part of Judaism and observed the Law of Moses and the Jewish customs.
The Judea and Samaria Phase (Acts 6 to 9) starts with the stoning of Stephen and persecuted the church (8:1). The church was limited to Jerusalem and the persecution was also limited to Jerusalem, and forced the believers out of Jerusalem to other cities in Judea and Samaria, preaching the gospel where-ever they went. Paul intended to persecute the believers also outside of Jerusalem, but God stopped him immediately, allowing the church to grow in Judea and Samaria for a period of about 5 or 6 years. During this phase all Christians still observed the Law of Moses.
The Gentile Dispute Phase starts when Gentiles for the first time received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10) and for the first time were allowed to join the church. Before this event the church viewed Gentiles as unclean, and avoided them. The events in Acts 10 convinced the church that Gentiles are allowed to join the church, but a dispute arose afterwards as particularly the Christian Pharisees maintained that these Gentiles must still be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. These Christian Pharisees therefore still thought of the church as a part of Judaism—the true Jewish religion—and sought to convert these Gentiles to Judaism.
The Separation Phase started with the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, nearly 20 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, where it was decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses. This decision created separation between Gentile and Jewish Christians; one group observing the Law of Moses, the other not.
A fifth article explains the theological implications. The history explained in these articles is important context for Paul’s letters, for Paul’s arguments that Jewish and Gentile Christians are united under the same law, that the Law of Moses is no longer relevant, that man is not justified by the works of the Law and for Paul’s teaching, or lack of it, with respect to the Seventh Day Sabbath.
A page is also available with estimated dates for significant events in the history of the early church.