At Antioch, for the first time, Jesus’ followers were called “Christians.”

Originally, opponents of the church used the term as a derogatory label for the “devotees

of the Anointed One” (in Greek Christiania). But the Nazarenes soon adopted it gladly.

Thus, Antioch grew in Christian influence. In time it succeeded Jerusalem as the center of missionary outreach. This was due in large part to the work of Saul of Tarsus, who joined Barnabas there about. A.D 44.


No man – other than Jesus, of course – has shaped Christianity more than Saul (or, as Christian came to say, Paul, a name more familiar to the ear of Greek speaking people). No one did more for the faith, but no one seemed less likely.

When Stephen had crumpled to the ground, bleeding from the stones thrown by his enraged accusers, Saul had stood nearby, as leader of the attack upon the Nazarenes. How, he asked, could anyone profess to follow a crucified Messiah? Almost by definition the Messiah is one upon whom the blessing of God rests in a unique way. What fool can believe that crucifixion is a blessing from God?

Saul found the answer to that question when he confronted the Lord one day outside Damascus.

He dropped blinded by a light and he heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?

Suddenly Stephen’s argument fell into place, and Saul became a believer.

He later explained: The law pronounces a curse on everyone who fails to keep it in its entirety, so all who hope to gain God’s favor by keeping the law are exposed to a curse. Fortunately, God provided a way of escape.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” By hanging on a cross (Gal. 3:10-14, NIV).

Stephen, then, was right. The law of God was given for a time to convince men of their inability to fulfill the will of God and to leave them with no option except to embrace the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

That was strong medicine for Judaism. The authorities wanted no part of it. So persecutor of Christians became the persecuted among Christians. He was, however, a leader uniquely qualified to bridge the gap between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. He was a man of three worlds: Jewish, Greek, and Roman.

Though he had been educated in the strictest Jewish tradition and had studied under famous rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem, Paul spoke Greek fluently and was familiar with Greek thought and literature.

This meant based on Old Testament beliefs and completely foreign to the Gentiles, in ways which gave him special freedom of movement, protection in his travels and access to the higher levels of society.

The title apostle or “send me” was never more appropriate. Paul made a series of trips throughout

Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) and Greece preaching Jesus as the Christ and planting churches of Gentile Believers.

Paul’s converts were a mixed lot. A few of them were from honourable backgrounds, but the majority of them were pagans with sordid pasts. In one of his many letters, Paul remind his readers of their formal life: sexual immorality, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. But, say Paul, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11, NIV).

What was the way to instill Christian principles of morality in these churches? That question was at the heart of the continuing tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers in first century Christianity.

The Palestinian Christians, stepped in traditional Judaism, said, “Tell them that unless they submit to the Jewish law, in addition to believing in Jesus, there is no hope for their faith.”

Paul, however, found this impossible. His own experience pointed another way. If a person could gain the righteousness of God by obeying the law, said Paul, I would have been the greatest in the kingdom. But righteousness by personal effort can only lead to failure. Man can be accepted as righteous only through God’s undeserved mercy. This is grace. And grace always arises from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Many Christians thought Paul was impossibly optimistic. They were deeply troubled by the decline in Christian morality they felt sure would come in the gentile churches. If you teach justification by faith alone, they argued, people will imagine that once they have accepted Christ by faith it does not really matter how they live.

To be continued

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