Friday, December 12, 2014

Acts: a Book Report (part 3)

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary. I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

To read Acts: a Book Report (part 1) click HERE, and (part 2) click HERE.

As Christianity continues to spread, an important issue arises.  All of the earliest followers of Jesus are Jews, and they wonder: Should gentiles (non-Jews) be allowed to become Christians?  Jews had to be circumcised and to follow dietary and other laws.  Should these laws be required of gentile converts to Christianity?  This question sparks a debate among early Christian leaders like Peter, James, and Paul.  Ultimately, it is decided that gentiles need not become Jews to follow Jesus.  This is a decisive moment in church history, as it indicates a fundamental split between Christianity and Judaism--a split which deepens and widens as time goes on.

This decision is especially significant for Paul, who begins traveling all around the Mediterranean, baptizing both Jews and gentiles, converting them to Christianity.  On his first "missionary journey," Paul travels to the island of Cyprus, then throughout various cities in Asia Minor, where he preaches first to Jews, then then to polytheistic gentiles, who believe in various Greco-Roman gods like Zeus and Hermes.  His new message is met with varying degrees of acceptance and rejection.

Paul's first missionary journey.

Paul's second missionary journey is even more ambitious in scope.  He makes it all the way to Greece, and other areas of the vast Roman empire, where he and his travel companions continue to experience varying levels of acceptance and rejection.  Paul is imprisoned a few times for his strange new teachings and behavior.  However, like Peter, he tends to escape.  In Athens, the famous center of Greek culture and learning, Paul debates with Greek philosophers of the Stoic and Epicurean schools.  Some believe Paul's message, others do not, but the message continues to spread farther and wider. 

Paul's second missionary journey.

The last part of the book of Acts follows Paul's final journey from Jerusalem to Rome, a journey of both literal and symbolic significance, as it was Paul who did the most to transition a small Jewish sect in Jerusalem to a full-blown world religion that spanned the breadth of the Roman empire.  It is also significant that Paul makes this journey in chains.  He is arrested in Jerusalem for blasphemy, and is sent to various Roman governors before finally being sent before the emperor himself. 

Paul's final voyage to Rome.

On his way to Rome, Paul survives a shipwreck and other obstacles.  Ultimately, he arrives in Rome and the book ends.  Some Christian traditions suggest that Paul died in Rome for his message.  Certainly, by the end of Paul's life, as more and more Christians were converted, the churches Paul helped plant would experience waves of state persecution for their strange new beliefs and practices.

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