Christianity begins to move out into the nonJewish world

The dream of universality in the teachings and life of Jesus would not down. Early there were those who believed that Jesus would render obsolete the temple and the distinctively Jewish customs. Of these we hear especially of Stephen. Stoned by the orthodox Jews for his views, views which outraged their complacent assumption that they were a people peculiarly chosen by God to the exclusion of others, Stephen became, significantly, the first Christian of whom we know to suffer death for the faith. His tragic end made it clear that his convictions, inherent as they were in the Gospel and soon to be shared by the majority of Christians, would render it impossible for Christianity to be confined within the boundaries of Judaism. The conflict was unavoidable, for some of the basic features of the Gospel made of Christianity, if it were to be true to its founder, a religion quite distinct from Judaism.

The persecution set off by the death of Stephen forced some Christians to realize as they had not done before the universalism which was of the essence of the Gospel and started a missionary wave which quickly carried Christianity permanently outside Judaism. Presumably this would have happened had Stephen not had his revolutionary views so tragically dramatized. Perhaps it was already occurring, but if so, our records are too fragmentary to tell us of its beginnings. Probably the experience which soon led Peter to see that non-Jews were "granted repentance unto life" without first becoming Jews would have come to him and to others had Stephen never lived. As it was, however, some of those who were forced to flee by the persecution in Jerusalem won converts in Samaria, and, what was even more important, still others preached to Greeks in Antioch, then the largest city in Syria and an important radiating centre of Hellenistic culture. Christianity was moving outside Judaism into that element of the Mediterranean world, Greek-speaking and Hellenistic, in which it was to have its greatest early growth. It was at An-tioch, fittingly, that the followers of Jesus were first given the distinctive designation by which they have ever since been known, Christian. The word, itself Greek, symbolized the emergence of the new faith into the wider world.

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