Bible Q&A: How Could The Early Church Stay Faithful Under The Reigns of Roman Emperors?

What are some ways you could have stayed faithful had you been a Christian during the reign of the Roman emperors? Since they did not have the written Word, I can’t say they could have continued to study God’s promises. How would you answer this question?

This is an excellent question.  In answering it, the first thing I would point out is that the early church did in fact have the written Word of God.  They had the Old Testament, as we see when we read of Jesus speaking of “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk. 24:44).  “The Law of Moses” refers to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis through Deuteronomy) which were authored by Moses and contain the laws given to Israel by God through Moses during their wilderness wanderings.  “The Prophets” refer to what was known as the Nebhiim, the category in which were found the Old Testament books known as “the former prophets” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings [the latter two would later be divided up into 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings]) and “the latter prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and a scroll containing the 12 books which we categorize today as “the minor prophets” of Hosea through Malachi).  “The Psalms” refer to what was known as the Kethubhim, the category in which were found three poetical books (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), five rolls (the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes), and several historical books (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Chronicles [again, the latter would later be divided up into 1 and 2 Chronicles]).  The New Testament writers quoted from the Old Testament and alluded to it repeatedly (cf. Rom. 15:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 Pet. 1:23-25).

Additionally, we know that the early church had the gospel accounts and Paul’s letters as they were being written.  Paul quoted from the gospels of Matthew and Luke in his first letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:18; cf. Matt. 10:10; Lk. 10:7), and directed that his letter to the Colossians be read to other congregations (Col. 4:16).  Peter referred to Paul’s writings in a way that shows he clearly assumed his Christian readers would have read them, and referred to them as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16).  Thus, it’s pretty clear that the New Testament writings were accessible immediately after they had been written to the church as a whole.

John’s writings (his gospel account, 1-3 John, and Revelation) were the last New Testament books to be written.  They were written in the 90’s AD, a few decades after the other writers of the New Testament had perished.  By the time Revelation was written to the seven churches of Asia Minor who were undergoing persecution from the Roman government under Domitian, those congregations would have already received the rest of the New Testament.

Additionally, remember that during this time period there were Christians who had been given the miraculous spiritual gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 12:4-11).  These were men and women who were directly given revelation by God to then share with their fellow Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29-32).

Therefore, we know that the early church would have had the Word of God – both Testaments – to prayerfully go to for strength and guidance during these difficult times.

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