The Twelve Apostles

After Christ's death, his followers attested to his resurrection from the dead. The Twelve Apostles had always held an important place in Christ's ministry, and this remained true in the early movement.

Christianity was envisioned as the fulfillment of the prophets, a continuation of the Jewish revelation and not a break with the law of Moses. Christians were members of a Jewish sect, referred to at the time as Nazarenes.

As a Jewish sect, it attracted adherents quickly, both among regular Jews and the Pharisees. Christianity spread to nearby cities, like Damascus and then northward to Antioch, the capital of Syria. It was here that pagans began referring to them as Christians.

Despite Christ's frequent criticism of the Pharisees, many of them did convert, but by no means all.

Saul of Tarsus was a Cilician Jew who found the concept of additions or replacements in the Mosaic law to be reprehensible. He took part in persecutions of Christians, including that of Stephen, the first martyr.

On the way to Damascus, he had a vision of Christ, who spoke to him. Taking the name Paul, he became a Christian. He saw himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, whose mission was to spread the Gospel among non-Jews.

By working through synagogues in cities like Ephesus, Paul was able to bring some Jews and many Gentiles—presumably many were god-fearers—into Christianity.

Christianity provided the aspects of Judaism that these Gentiles admired. It was a revealed truth, a moral code, and brotherhood of the faithful. Christians believed in their own election and salvation.

However, these converts were unwilling to accept circumcision, nor to keep Jewish dietary and other regulations. There was also some resistance to the Jewish prohibition of consuming foods offered to idols. Often, banquets were arranged in temples, where the food was first offered to the god.

Paul preached that strict adherence to the Law was no longer necessary, for Christ brought salvation in himself. The Law was a way to approaching God, but Christ was the sure way to salvation.

Paul's preaching led to a major dispute in the early Church. Could Gentiles become Christian without obeying Jewish law?

Because the Church was instituted by Christ, it was crucial that it remain one: one body of Christ, one truth.

A council was held in Jerusalem (Acts 15). This would become the model for the Church as the way to discern the truth and the will of God.

The apostles met, prayed, and decided the issue after some debate.

In the end, they settled on a compromise of sorts. Gentiles could be accepted into the faith, provided they refrained from eating foods sacrificed to idols and kept to other moral requirements, like avoiding adultery.

Peter seems to have been instrumental in making this decision and convincing the other apostles to accept it. Jewish Christians, however, did not disappear.

With the exception of a few, most of the apostles are difficult to trace after those early days. Traditions among believers were preserved for all of them, yet it is difficult to gage their veracity.

James, son of Zebedee, was martyred in Jerusalem in 44 A.D. (Acts 12:2). Medieval reports of James's mission to Spain are highly dubious.

There is good reason to believe that his brother, John, son of Zebedee, moved to Ephesus and probably brought with him Mary, the mother of Christ. He died there of natural causes.

The Conversion of St. Paul by Parmigianino, 1526

The Conversion of St. Paul by Parmigianino, 1526

Peter eventually left Jerusalem for Antioch, where he appears to have remained for some time. He then settled in Rome, where he was martyred around 64 A.D.

Philip took his four daughters (who were prophets) to Phrygia.

James (the brother of the Lord) remained in Jerusalem, presiding over the Church there until his martyrdom around 62 A.D.

Later and less reliable traditions place other apostles elsewhere: Andrew in Asia Minor and Greece, including the Greek city of Byzantium, later Constantinople; Thomas in Persia and India; Simon in

Persia or Spain; Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot in Ethiopia; and Matthew in Parthia and Macedonia.

Crucifixion of Apostle Peter, Rome, A.D. 64

by Jan Luiken From etchings in the Martyrs Mirror, 1685 edition

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The Apostle Philip by Albrecht Dürer, 1516

The Apostle Philip by Albrecht Dürer, 1516

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