CH101 - The First CenturyThe Primitive Church - 30 - 100 A.D.
Outreach to the Gentiles
According to Acts, a young man named Saul was present (and may have been in charge) when Stephen was stoned. Acts gives an account of this man as he travels through the region "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). Saul embodies the earliest opposition to the primitive church as a Jewish sect. The radical view that Jesus was the promised Messiah, coupled with the anti-Temple worship preached by the Hellenized Jewish believers, gave rise to a militant opposition. It appears that some of the existing Jewish leadership made an attempt to stamp out this new sect and Saul appears to have been a leader in this movement.
On the previous section I introduced the struggle of primitive Christianity to accept Hellenized Jewish Christians. Many scholars believe that the stoning of Stephen and the persecution that followed (Acts 8:1) was directed at these Greek-speaking Jewish Christians. This struggle became more acute with the leadership of a well-educated Jewish man, closely associated with the Jerusalem community who also happened to be Hellenized.
We know this man as the apostle Paul, author of 13 letters within the New Testament (NT). Saul, who later changes his name to Paul, is himself a Hellenized Jew. Paul reveals very little of his biography in his writings; it is the account in Acts where we learn that he grew up in Tarsus (northeast of Syria) and was later brought to Jerusalem for his education. Paul writes his letters in Greek, but his fluency in the language reveals that his usage is not quite as good as someone using his first language. Scholars better trained in Greek inform us that when Paul is agitated, like in his letter to the Galatians his grammar suffers. One important piece of evidence pointing to Paul being a Hellenized Jew comes from his quotations of the OT - his text is the LXX rather than the Hebrew version.
The theories on Paul's language is not without difficulty. Acts presents Paul being trained in Jerusalem where he would have learned Hebrew - this would also mean that he probably learned to speak Aramaic (the common dialect of Hebrew spoken on the streets). But if Paul grew up in a Greek-speaking environment why would his written Greek not contain solid grammar? Perhaps from the time he moved to Jerusalem he was not allowed to speak or use Greek. We cannot categorically know the answers to these questions.
The reason Paul and his Greek-speaking background becomes important is that he spearheads the outreach to the Greek-speaking Gentile world. And this crucial aspect of early Christian history is what begins to change the Greco-Roman world.