I must approach this inquiry with uneasiness when I find [Paul] affirmed to be an apostle of whom in the list of apostles in the gospel I find no trace. Tertullian


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Paul or James’ Church: Who Was The Most Successful Evangelist?

Paul’s Mystery Period

Most people assume without any study of church history or careful examination of the Book of Acts that Paul was the key evangelist who spread Christianity outside Palestine to the Gentiles. Is this picture realistic? No. It is a complete myth.


First, after God used Cornelius and a message from the Holy Spirit, Peter took on the mission to the Gentles. (Acts 10.) Thereafter, Peter was the choice of the “Holy Spirit” to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Who says so? Apostle Peter. (Acts 15:7.) See also “Christian Evangelism of Gentiles Before Paul” below.


Peter founded in 45 A.D. a church in Antioch, Syria.1 It eventually had 66 local congregations functioning underneath its authority.


Incidentally, prior to Paul’s involvement and missionary journeys, Peter mentions in Acts this Gentile outpost in Antioch began with “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” who brought the gospel to Gentiles at Antioch even before Peter did so. (Acts 11:19-20.)  Carl Weizsacker in his The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church (Williams & Norgate, 1897) Vol. 1 at page 106 comments on this passage and its implication about whether Paul was the first to convert Gentiles or the first to dispense with circumcision to join them to the church:


Hence Gentiles had been received in the church without Paul's intervention, and before his days of activity at Antioch. And it is quite clearly the meaning of the narrative that these Greeks did not first become Jews, but were admitted without having to [be circumcised].


Second, to fulfill the commission of the Holy Spirit that Peter was the Apostle to the Gentiles, Peter in the 40s A.D. founded a church at Rome. Paul did not visit that church until after 58 A.D., and it was already flourishing. (Acts 28:14-15.) See “Christian Evangelism of Gentiles Before Paul” below.


Paul meanwhile had a mysterious period where we know nothing going on for many years. Paul says for fourteen to seventeen years after his conversion, he stayed in Arabia. After that time, in about 47 A.D., Paul comes to Antioch where a church is already in operation. (Acts 11:27-30; Gal.2:1.)2 Scholars all acknowledge this huge gap in Paul’s activities, negating him having any demonstrable role in the Christian movement for as much as seventeen years after what is commonly refered to as Paul's  conversion. After Saul goes to Tarsus in Cilicia, we learn:


His first years as a Christian, spent in Arabia are a mystery. Three years after his call Paul went to Jerusalem to visit; he saw Peter and James. Later (after fourteen years), he returned to Jerusalem for a meeting often referred to as the ‘Jerusalem Conference’[Gal. 2:1 2]....(Watson E. Mills, Acts and Pauline Writings (Mercer University Press, 1987) at lvii.)


Paul’s First Missionary Journey in 48 A.D. Then Paul has his first missionary journey — to Seleucia and Cyprus. (Acts 13:4.) Scholars put this first missionary journey as taking place in early 48 A.D.4


To repeat, rarely is it ever emphasized that if this is Paul’s first missionary journey, this means that Paul was inactive as a Christian missionary for fourteen to seventeen years. During that entire mystery period, Peter and the twelve are all over the earth in various missionary activities. Peter in particular is reaching out to Gentiles all that time. Paul is doing nothing so far as anyone knows.


Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem in 48-49 A.D. We will discuss Paul’s success (or lack therefore) in a moment.


After this journey, Paul will then return to the church at Antioch (Acts 14:27). Thereupon, some unidentified persons raised at Antioch the question about circumcision. It was the elders at Antioch who then sent Barnabas and Paul to Jerusalem to ask the twelve apostles about the question whether the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. (Acts 14:26; 15:2.) Using Paul’s chronology, this Jerusalem conference had to be no earlier than 47 A.D. — fourteen years after his conversion. Scholars put the Jerusalem Council at 48-49 A.D.5


The Key Question


Other Apostles Long Time Abroad. Meanwhile, Apostle Thomas was spreading Christianity to Gentiles in India. This is mentioned in many ancient Christian texts, including by Ephraem Syrus, Ambrose, Paulinus, and Jerome. (“St. Thomas The Apostle,” Catholic Encyclopedia.) At Mylapore, not far from Madras, “tradition has it that it was here that St. Thomas laid down his life [in 72 A.D. which] is locally very strong.” Id. (See “India” on page 6.)


And Apostle James, son of Zebedee, was travelling to Spain in 40 A.D., evangelizing there, before returning to Jerusalem in 44 A.D. where he was beheaded. (See “Spain” below.)


It is also interesting to note that there were multiple traditions that overlapped on one theme. The tongues on Pentecost was to bestow the language on each apostle which represented the nation to which God would send them. Based on that, the twelve divided up their responsibility of what nations they should evangelize. There were multiple text traditions that supported this was the true nature of the gift of tongues (better called the gift of 'other languages,' as Luke himself describes it), as we shall discuss below.


With that background, we have a broader understanding of the intersection of Paul with an expansionist apostolic church that predates Paul. Several of the apostles are already evangelizing Gentiles. The apostolic church is in Rome, Cyprus, Antioch, Spain and India for many many years prior to Paul’s emergence from the mysterious period when he was in Arabia for fourteen to seventeen years post-conversion.


By looking at the Book of Acts, we now must ask carefully this question: was Paul a highly successful evangelist? A successful planter of new churches in Gentile lands?


If you only look at maps of Paul’s travels which are called “Missionary Journeys,” you would assume this to be the case. However, Luke in Acts hardly mentions any significant success in evangelism by Paul. This shocks most people, because they do not critically tally what Paul’s successes are as they review Acts. However, when you focus carefully, Paul’s missions depicted in Acts are largely failures with minor successes.


See “Paul’s First Recorded Conversion” below; “Lydia & The Jailer and His Family” below; “Athens” below; “Ephesus” beliow; “Felix, Festus and Agrippa” below; “Paul’s Evangelism is Rather Ineffective” below; and “The Numbers Converted?” below.


In fairness to Paul, Luke’s focus is on the problems Paul encountered repeatedly wherever he went. So Paul’s success might be understated somewhat. Yet, what is indisputable is that in Acts, relatively few people are described as having been converted by Paul.


By contrast, Acts portrays the church under James as leading “many tens of thousands” of Jews to Christ. Acts 21:20 (a myriad in Greek is the number 10,000 - see "Myriads" Wikipedia but the NIV mistranslates it as only "thousands") This was by the time Paul meets James in Acts 21. 


This was thanks in no small part to Peter, of course, at the very beginning. In the first evangelical sermon in church history to non-believers -- by Peter -- 5,000 accepted / believed Christ was "the Prophet" of Deuteronomy 18 and Messiah -- Peter's evangelical message, repenting thereby of their wrongful encouragement of Christ's crucifixion. Acts 3:21-23; Acts 4:4.


See “Proof James’s Church (Not Paul) Was The Most Effective” below.


Thus, who was the most successful evangelist in the early period of Christianity if we rely solely on Luke’s book of Acts? The church run by James whose chief evangelist was Peter.


If this credit certainly belongs to James and Peter prior to Paul’s emergence, even as Luke depicts the church’s early history, why do you think a modern myth was created making it appear Paul was the most successful evangelist?


Could Doctrinal Bias Explain The Exaggeration?


Could doctrinal bias have something to do with taking the lustre away from James and Peter and giving it to Paul?


After all, Luther said it was obvious James’ emphasis on faith and works in James 2:14-17 contradicts Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9. See Luther Says Put the Dunce Cap on Me If You Can Reconcile This.


It is evident too that Peter’s sermons in chapter two of Acts emphasized repentance from sin as the means of the blood of Christ washing the audience and imparting eternal life. This was at odds with Paul’s view that Abraham was saved by belief alone in Romans 4:3-5 while yet an (unrepentant) sinner.


Hence, could it be Paul’s efforts are exaggerated to overshadow the work of Peter and James, and thus marginalize their doctrine, and the importance of it on the success of Christianity?


Let’s examine Luke’s accounts in Acts in detail to assess Paul’s success in evangelism. Then let’s compare it to the work of the twelve apostles.


Christian Evangelism of Gentiles Before Paul


Peter explained at the Jerusalem Council that he was appointed by the Holy Spirit “a good time ago” to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was at Peter’s feet as Peter said this. Paul raised no objection. Peter’s exact words were:


And when there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. (Act 15:7 ASV.)


Antioch. Peter founded also in 45 A.D. a church in Antioch, Syria.6 It eventually had 66 local congregations functioning underneath its authority.


Italy. Peter then sent many emissaries from Antioch to evangelize Italy.


First, Peter in what can only be approximated as 42 A.D. (but which was obviously after 45 A.D.) founded a Church at Rome.7


Then Peter sent emissaries from Rome and Antioch to found other churches throughout Italy. For example, Priscus was the first Bishop of Capua in Italy, where he was sent by the Apostle Peter.


By tradition he was martyred under Nero.8 Likewise, Peter sent out Paulinus of Antioch to Lucca, Italy.9 Also, Birillus came from Antioch with Peter, and became first bishop of Catania in Sicily.10


So too Pancras came from Antioch, and was tasked by Peter to go to Taormina, Sicily.11 Peter went to Naples, and converted Aspren (or Aspronas), and later made him bishop.12 Ptolemy was a disciple of Peter and became a Bishop of Nepi in Tuscany.13


Paul first arrives in Rome sometime after 58 A.D., and finds a flourishing church. (Acts 28:14-15.)


Corinth. Aquila and Priscilla had a Christian church in their home at Corinth. (1 Cor. 16:19.) They arrive in Corinth in 49 A.D. because they left Rome that year due to the Roman decree exiling Jews in 49 A.D. While one cannot be sure, it is a reasonable inference they were Christians prior to leaving Rome. Paul never mentions converting them to Christ. It was this couple who received Paul into their home upon his arrival in Corinth. (Acts 18:1.)14


India. Meanwhile, in 46 A.D., Apostle Thomas was preaching Christianity to Gentiles in India, converting 3,000 Brahman in his first major sermon. Apostle Thomas’ mission to India is mentioned in many ancient Christian texts, including by Ephraem Syrus, Ambrose, Paulinus, and Jerome. (“St. Thomas The Apostle,” Catholic Encyclopedia.)


At Mylapore, not far from Madras, “tradition has it that it was here that St. Thomas laid down his life [in 72 A.D. which] is locally very strong.”15 According to the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, the other eleven apostles were each allotted other nations to evangelize. India fell to Thomas.16 The legends of Apostle Thomas’ arrival line up chronologically with events in India that date to 46 A.D.17


Spain. It should then not suprise us that Apostle James, the son of Zebedee and brother of Apostle John, is traditionally viewed as the first evangelist to Spain in 40 A.D. The town of Compostella keeps alive his memory there in a chapel, and he is the patron saint of Spain.18


Since Apostle James died in 44 A.D. in Jerusalem, he must have been one of the earliest international evangelists among the apostles. Tradition has it that Apostle James was in Spain in 40 A.D., but then returned to Jerusalem for some reason whereupon he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D.19


Is this history of Apostle James true?


The Pentecost Gift of Languages Is not Paul's Gift of Tongues.


It is said often that the apostles divided up their ministry based upon what language they were given at Antioch the ability to speak without prior knowledge of that tongue. Often mixed up with Paul's gift of tongues, Luke in Acts calls it the gift of "other tongues" or languages. See Acts 2:4.  Each person miraculously heard in their "proper dialect." Acts 2:6.


 As Dawson Walker explains in The Gift of Tongues and other Essays (1906) at pages 3 to 4:


It is admitted that what St. Luke describes in Acts 2 is a divinely bestowed power of speaking in foreign languages; whereas the glossalia of 1 Corinthians 12-14 seems to have been rapt ecstatic utterance, unintelligible and needing interpretation -- but not necessarily including the use of foreign language.


On what is likely the true nature of Paul's gift of tongues, and the convulsions that accompanied it, see this link.

 Thus, based upon the true nature of the apostolic gift of languages / tongues, Apostle James -- the son of Zebedee -- was given Latin. This would imply his destination was West — into Roman territories such as Spain. (See "St. James in Spain," as topic at this link.)20


Thus, this corroborated the legend that “when the apostles divided the known world into missionary zones, the Iberian peninsula fell to [Apostle] James.” [Formerly online at Confraternity of St. James at this link.]21


The second proof that Apostle James preached in Spain is that documents dating to the late 500’s likewise state this. In what is called the Breviary of the Apostles, it says Apostle James preached in Hispania.22


Conclusion. Thus, contrary to common presupposition, the Gospel of Jesus would not have died out in Palestine without Paul. Long before Paul’s first missionary journey in 47 - 48 A.D., Peter was in Antioch, Syria, and from there springboarding to Italy, including Sicily. Apostle James (son of Zebedee) was in Spain in 40 A.D. And Apostle Thomas was in India, evangelizing from 46 A.D. to 75 A.D.


Paul’s First Recorded Convert


Now let’s turn to Paul and his evangelical record. Let’s see if it compares at all to the widespread work of the twelve apostles.


Paul’s first postconversion appearance is in Acts 13:9 at Salamis. He casts out a demon. Luke then records Paul’s message at a synagogue. Paul leaves without any mention of success. (Acts 13:42.)


Then Paul in Acts 14:9-11 heals a lame man. The audience thinks Paul is a god. (Acts 14:11-12.) Paul tries to restrain them by rebuking them. (Acts 14:15.) No converts are noted thus far.


Paul is then dragged out to be stoned by Jews. (Acts 14:19.) Paul passes to Derbe where it cryptically says “he made many disciples.” (Acts 14:21.) These are the very first converts Luke records made by Paul! These are the only converts mentioned prior to the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15. This is important because according to Paul’s account, this is fourteen years after Paul’s own conversion! (Gal. 2:1.)


Paul’s next success is with Lydia of Thyatira at Philippi. (Acts 16:14.) This leads to Paul’s imprisonment there. Then the earthquake is mentioned which leads to the conversion of the jailer and his household. (Acts 16:33.)


So far Paul’s converts are the unnumbered ‘many’ at Derbe along with Lydia, plus the jailer and his family at Philippi. If Luke is trying to emphasize Paul’s success at evangelism after about 17 years of service, the numbers are meager.


Next Paul goes to a synagogue in Thessalonica and preaches on three Sabbaths. “Some of them believed,” mostly Godfearing Gentiles and some women. (Acts 17:4.)


Athens. Friends of Paul then whisk him away from angry Jews by taking him to Athens. (Acts 17:15.) Paul there preaches at the Areopagus. The only response was that some mocked him, while others said: “We will hear you again concerning this.” Paul leaves with no record of success. (Acts 17:32.)


Corinth. Next, in Corinth, things improve. It says Paul was preaching and “persuading Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4.) But the text then says the Jews rejected him. As a result, Paul vowed from that day forth to go only to Gentiles. (Acts 18:6.) Then presumably by Paul’s preaching, Crispus, the synagogue leader at Corinth and “many Corinthians” believed. (Acts 18:8.) Then Paul settles there for a year-and-a-half. No mention is made of how many more come to the Lord.


Ephesus. Then Paul goes to Ephesus. (Acts 18:21.) There Paul baptizes a group of twelve men who already were semi-converts, but they only had the baptism of John. (Acts 19:17.) Then Paul spoke three months at the local Ephesus’ synagogue, “reasoning and persuading concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8.) Some presumably were persuaded to faith. Some, however, were “hardened” and rejected the Way (as taught by Paul). Paul then took his disciples from that synagogue and met in a schoolhouse. (Acts 19:9.) This went on for two years. No mention is made of how many were converted. Yet, possibly by Paul’s influence, a “considerable number” of magic-arts practioners later converted. (Acts 19:19.)


Various events follow at Ephesus. Paul’s next evangelistic speech is at Acts 21:40. But before he finished, the crowd erupted against him. (Acts 22:22.) No converts are noted. This event led to a court proceeding by the Roman authorities.

Felix, Festa & Agrippa. Next we turn to Paul’s imprisonment in Felix’ custody. First, Felix for two years kept asking Paul to come out from his cell at Caesarea to talk, in hopes Paul would pay a bribe. (Acts 24:2228.) Felix never is mentioned as being converted.


Then Festus took over the case. He asks Paul if he wants him to decide the case. Paul responds that he wants Caesar to make the decision, and he appeals. (Acts 25:11.)


King Agrippa then came to Caesarea and for some reason wanted to hear what Paul had to say. (Acts 25:13,22.) During the talk of Paul, Agrippa jokes that Paul is trying to convert him, but he doesn’t convert. (Acts 26:28.)


En route to Rome for a hearing, Paul is shipwrecked on Malta. (Acts 28:1.) No mention is made of any crewmember accepting Christ.


On the island, Paul is then bitten by a viper but does not die, which makes the Maltese think he is a god. (Acts 28:6.) Paul heals the father of Publius. (Acts 28:8.) No mention is made of the conversion of anyone at Malta. Instead, Luke mentions the Maltese were very grateful for healings by Paul. They give gifts of food to the soldiers and Paul for their trip to Rome. (Acts 28:10.)


Then in Rome, Paul found Christians already there, greeting them. (Acts 28:15.) At Paul’s lodging, “some indeed were being persuaded,” and some not. (Acts 28:24.) This concludes the accounts of Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts.


Paul’s own letters do not note any successful conversions except Timothy when he claims he is Timothy's spiritual father.


Paul's Evangelism Is Rather Ineffective. Hence the converts of Paul that Luke mentioned are few and far between. This does not mean it is impossible there were more. Again, in fairness to Paul, Luke’s focus in Acts is not on Paul’s success in evangelism. Yet, one has to do a lot of presupposing to think Paul was very successful. To recap, his converts mentioned in Acts were:


1 Derbe: “he made many disciples.” (Acts 14:21.)


2 Philippi: Lydia and the Jailer and his family. (Acts 16:14, 33.)


3 Thessalonica : “Some of them believed.” (Acts 17:4.)


4 Athens: none recorded.


5 Corinth: “many Corinthians” believed. (Acts 18:8.)


6 Ephesus: Paul was “persuading [some] concerning the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8.)


7 Caesarea none.


8 Rome: “some” were persuaded. (Acts 28:24.)


The Numbers Converted?


The number of people Paul led to Christ, based on Luke’s account, would approximate 41 people, if we used fair assumptions. The description ‘many’ would appear to signify a handful. If the numbers were greater than ten people each time ‘many’ were used, Luke surely would note them so as to make Paul look good.


This can be deduced also from the one time Luke gives a number. Luke says twelve quasi-Christians who had the baptism of John were rebaptized into Christ. Thus, if Luke elsewhere doesn’t use a number and instead uses the word many, the reasonable inference is that it is less than twelve. Luke’s mention of the twelve quasi-Christians needing rebaptism means that number is more significant than the numbers which ‘many’ represented. This is why Luke mentions twelve—representing a higher number than when many is used.


Accordingly, if you reasonably assume ‘many’ means ten persons each time, and ‘some’ means five persons each time Luke uses it, and you assume the jailer’s family were five people, then Luke records a total of 41 people led to Jesus by Paul. Not an amazing number, but still a worthy accomplishment that the angels rejoice over.


Compare this to James second encounter with Paul when he tells Paul that “many” myriades, i.e., “tens of thousands”23 of Jews have come to Christ at Jerusalem alone where James is bishop. (Acts 21:20.) James must mean a minimum of 30,000 (“many myriades”) at Jerusalem had come to Christ. Two myriades would not be many. Thus, the number must at minimum be 30,000. It could be much greater.


This is a realistic number too. Peter’s very first  sermon to believers with non-believers present led 3,000 to accept Christ. Acts 2:41. His next evangelical sermon to exclusively non-believers, 5,000 accepted Jesus as "the Prophet" in Acts 3:21-23; 4:4.


Thus, a 30,000 figure achieved by over a dozen years later (i.e., the date of the second encounter with Paul in Acts 21) makes sense. While there are no end of claims that Paul was the “most successful evangelist,” the evidence is to the contrary. James and James’ church (including Peter) alone has the right to such a title.


Prior to Paul’s Damascus Road experience, this church under James was expansive, and not limited to Jerusalem. When Paul became a Christian, there was already a church far from Jerusalem at Damascas in Syria, where Paul first joined the church. (Acts 22:12.) Paul later joins a Church at Antioch. This church was  founded by Peter. When Paul goes to Rome, there are already Christians there even though Paul never before set foot in Rome. (Acts 28:15.) This church too was founded by Peter. These are the prior fruits of James’ church without any assistance from Paul.


Why The Exaggeration about Paul?


Thus, it is pure myth that Paul was highly successful in evangelism. It is not based on any provable facts from the Book of Acts. His success was certainly nothing compared to that of James and the church James ran at Jerusalem.


More important, there is little reason to believe that Peter and the other eleven apostles were not more successful than Paul. The history we do have outside Scripture further supports that indeed they were far more successful than Paul. Thomas alone is said to have converted 3,000 in his first speech in India. Again, using Acts as our guide, Paul at best appears to have led 41 people to Christ!


We often hear “Paul was the world’s most successful evangelist in the early Church.” (St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.)25 But we saw above that Paul had scant success and Luke records Paul perhaps led 41 people to Christ. By contrast, James and James’ church led “many tens of thousands” to Christ in Jerusalem alone, and had spread the church far and wide long before Paul appeared on the scene. In the first few weeks, 8000 came to Christ.


What do you think explains the exaggeration of Paul’s success and the complete forgetting of the success of James and his church (including Peter) before Paul appeared on the scene? Do you think it has to do with one’s preference for Paul’s doctrine over James’ teachings? Do you think it also might have a desire to downplay Peter to elevate Paul?


Proof that James's Church (Not Paul's) Was The Most Effective


Next we will prove that the church universally was led between 125 A.D. and 325 A.D. by persons who shared James’ view of Jesus. They rejected all of the uniquely Pauline doctrines that we hear about today. This proves once more who was the leader of the most successful evangelist movement of its time: James and those who shared his doctrines.


East and West, the church leaders from 125 AD to 325 AD— known as the Ante-Nicene period26—all echo the teachings of James and reject those of Paul. This proves that the churches were established by the evangelism that James (along with Peter) ushered in at Jerusalem rather than what Paul later tried to inject.


This disproves the other myth popular today that Paul was the true founder of Christianity. Paulinists delight in this designation which anti-Christian scholars try to affix to Christianity. The anti-Christian scholars’ purpose is to marginalize Jesus. They know if Christianity has always been Paulinism, and not following Jesus, then the question arises: ‘How can anyone say Jesus was an important historical figure?’ Instead, the true founder of the Church after Jesus was his brother—James along with Peter as a key evangelist. They were tightly wedded to Jesus’ doctrine. For Pauline Christians to accept the ‘Paul was the true founder of Christianity’ thesis is dishonest conniving to help bolster Paulinism at the expense of Christ.


Let’s prove this by reviewing the doctrines in that Ante-Nicene period. We turn now to the leading church figures of that period:

  • Clement of Rome
  • Clement of Alexandria,
  • Tertullian
  • Irenaeus
  • Origen
  • Justin Martyr
  • Polycarp
  • Archelaus, and
  • Papias.


They all send one clear universal message: they accept all of Jesus’ teachings (which coincide with James’ doctrines).They reject all of those doctrines that are uniquely Pauline. They reject loud and clear that man has no freewill, total depravity, eternal security, predestination, and most important of all, salvation by faith without works.


Bercot, a Protestant attorney like myself, has done a comprehensive survey of the doctrines of the early Church, in his Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up (1999). It is backed up by an exhaustive 705 page Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (1998).


Bercot admits he discovered that the early church, in “contradiction to many of my own theological views,” taught doctrines that universally (i.e., with no dissent) rejected doctrines which we all recognize as part of Pauline teaching.


Paul's Doctrine of Total Depravity Contradicted


Bercot, for example, explains:


“[T]he early church never taught that humans are incapable of doing or overcoming sin in their lives. They believed that we do have the ability to serve and obey God.” (Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up, at page 53, quoting Origen, Clement and Lactantius.) “The early Christians didn’t believe man is totally depraved and incapable of doing any good.” Id., at 64.


Paul's Doctrine of Eternal Security Contradicted


“The early Christians universally believed that works or obedience play an essential role in our salvation.” (Id., at 57, quoting Clement of Rome, Polycarp, the letter of Barnabas, Hermas, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus, Cyprian, and Lanctatius.)

“[E]arly Christians...believed that a ‘saved’ person could still end up being lost.” (Id., at 65, quoting Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian.)


I would add quotes from Scorpion’s Bite by Tertullian to the list. Hence, the early church rejected eternal security.


Rejection of Grace Alone Doctrine of Paul


“As surprising as all of this may be to you, what I’m about to tell you is even more bizarre. There was a religious group labelled as heretics by the early Christians, who strongly disputed the church’s stance on salvation and works. Instead, they [i.e., the heretics] taught man is totally depraved. That we are saved solely by grace. That works play no role in salvation. And that we cannot lose our salvation once we obtain it....” Id., at 66.


Bercot is discussing Marcion who founded a Paulinist system of doctrine in 144 A.D. He said the twelve apostles were intended for a different dispensation, and the Jesus the 12 apostles present does not speak to us. Our only apostle to follow is supposedly Paul. Marcion was the first person to promote the doctrine of faith alone. As a result, the early church universally regarded him as a heretic.  See our article Marcionism for more background.


Bercot cites the works by Tertullian and Irenaeus against Marcion and the Gnostics heretics. 


Paul's Doctrine of Predestination Regarded As False


“The early Christians were strong believers in freewill [citations and discussion omitted.] Originally, it was the pagan world, not the Christian, who believed in predestination. Yet, in one of the strange quirks of history, Martin Luther took the side of the pagan Romans against the early Christians....[I]t was once again some of the Gnostic teachers who taught that humans are arbitrarily predestined for salvation and punishment....Although not believing in predestination, the early Christians believed in God’s sovereignty and in His ability to foresee the future.” (Id., at 70, 72, 73, 76, quoting Justin Martyr, Clement, Archelaus, Methodius, and Origen.)




If Paul were truly the successful evangelist we are told that he was, then what explains the early church between 125 A.D. and 325 A.D. rejecting almost every uniquely Pauline doctrine? Why were those holding to modern Paulinist ideas on salvation, predestination, and grace regarded as heretics?


What makes more sense than believing Paul was the second founder of Christianity is instead to accept that the approximately 41 people identified in Acts as having been led to Jesus by Paul is close to the true total number. This is one of the reasons why Paul had so little impact in the early church.


By contrast, Acts records that James and James’ church at Jerusalem were responsible for many tens of thousands of Jews coming to Christ. James and James’ church (including Peter) prior to Paul’s entrance is truly the greatest evangelical movement of all time—starting from nothing and growing internationally and at Jerusalem at a phenomenal rate. This explains why James’ doctrines permeated the early church right up through 325 A.D.


Post-Script: What Changed Things?


Had it not been for the Emperor of Rome, Constantine, in 325-329 A.D. changing the direction of the church in Roman territories, there would never have been any notion that Paul had any influence. Thus, by the Roman church’s actions under Constantine’s influence, it gave an illusion that Paul had greater influence all along, and thereby created a myth of Paul’s influence which he previously never had.


This is because the Roman Catholic Church post 325 A.D. treated two unique teachings of Paul for the first time as officially valid:


1 The doctrine of Original Sin. This in turn spawned the Marian heresy that she had to be sinless27 to prevent original sin tainting Jesus;28 and


2 The abolition of Sabbath on Saturday as heretically legalistic, relying upon Paul’s principle that the Law of Moses’ was abrogated.29


These same two doctrines — Original Sin doctrine and Abolition of Sabbath as Saturday — were rejected by the remaining Christian bishops who lived outside the Roman empire.30 These same Orthodox reject these two doctrines then as they still do today. These bishops trace their origin to James’ church at Jerusalem by unbroken historical records of succession. They are known to us today as the Eastern Orthodox Church (with 250 million members). They are primarily located in Israel, the Middle East, Ethiopia, Russia, Armenia, and Turkey. They always have kept the true Sabbath for the past 2,000 years while worshipping on Sunday. "For Orthodox Christians, Saturday is still the Sabbath." (Greek Orthodox - link.) They are extraordinarily non-Pauline in all their teachings. (See my book Jesus’ Words on Salvation, Chapter Sixteen, viz., at page 422.) 


Incidentally, the American Orthodox Church caved in on Sabbath being legitimately changed to Sun-Day. See link. Thus, I am strictly talking about the Eastern Orthodox, and not the Orthodox church in America.


The pattern is clear. Paul had virtually no influence in the early church’s doctrine apart from his influence to raise the issue over circumcision which then turned on a decision by James, not by Paul. See Acts chapter fifteen. This historically explains why Paul’s doctrines are rejected in the original church.


The only change in that pattern arose by the fortuity of Emperor Constantine’s influence beginning in 325 A.D. He coerced the Roman church to unholy changes.  See Damage of Constantine.


1. The Greek Orthodox church that traces itself to this church (the Melkite church) says tradition is that Peter founded the church at Antioch in 45 A.D. See link

2. Paul’s dates lead to incongruities that put his conversion to 30 A.D. Some arbitrarily solve this problem, and simply put Paul’s conversion to 34 A.D. See link. Paul writes apparently about the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15 as taking place fourteen years after his conversion: “Then after the space of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. (2) And I went up by revelation; and I laid before them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles but privately before themwho were of repute, lest by any means I should be running, or had run, in vain.” (Gal 2:12 ASV.) Prior to that time, Paul says he never met any other apostles at Jerusaelm than Peter and James. Thus, Galatians 2 must be discussing the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15. If one assumes Paul was converted in 34 A.D., then the Jerusalem council would have to be in 4748 A.D.

3. Watson E. Mills, Acts and Pauline Writings (Mercer University Press, 1987) at lvii.

4. “This journey would need to have been finished and Paul returned to Antioch by the fall of 48 A.D. in order to leave time for the council and related events. The length of his lst Missionary Journey would have been anywhere from 4 to 10 months. This would put his departure for the lst Missionary Journey no sooner than early spring 48 A.D.” link 

5. Link

6. As mentioned earlier, the Greek Orthodox church that traces itself to this church (the Melkite church) says tradition is that Peter founded the church at Antioch in 45 A.D. See link. .

7. Peter was crucified in Rome in 67 A.D. during the reign of Nero. Eusebius says that this was after coming to Rome twentyfive years earlier. (Eusebius, The Chronicle.) Peter thus arrived at Rome about 42 A.D.

8. See link.

9. Id.

10. Id. 

12. Id. 

12. Id.

13. Id. orthodox England page.

14. “(a) After these things he departed from Athens, and came to Corinth. (2) And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a man of Pontus by race, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome: and he came unto them; (3) and because he was of the same trade, he abode with them, and they wrought, for by their trade they were tentmakers.” Act 18:13 ASV.

15. “Unfortunately, Portuguese adventurers destroyed precious documents that might have shed light on Thomas' history. The Portuguese thought that the Christians of Malabar were heretics. And so the writings of Christians who have an ancient church named for Thomas and who can point to a tomb where he was buried, are lost forever.”. Link. See also, Cardinal Eugène, Cardinal Tisserant, Eastern Christianity in India; a history of the SyroMalabar Church from the earliest time to the present day. (Authorized adaptation from the French by E.R. Hambye. (Westminster, Md., Newman Press, 1957).

16. Prof. M. M. Ninan in STORY OF ST. THOMAS THE APOSTLE AND THE ST.THOMAS CHURHES OF INDIA explains: “Acta Thomae, the apocryphal book is historically dated around end of first century soon after the martyrdom of St. Thomas. There are several ancients texts in existence in various languages such as Syriac, Greek, Latin, Armenian and Ethiopic. The original manuscripts are found in the British Museum. This book gives a detailed account of Apostle Thomas’ labors in nine parts. The gist of the book is as follows: After the ascension of Jesus Christ, the Apostles met in Jerusalem and portioned all the countries of the world among themselves. India which at that time included all Middle East to the present India fell to the lot of St. Thomas.” Link to Acns. 


19. Orthodox England supra at link.

20. Link Wikipedia. Some dispute this is historical, but others defend it. See “St. James the Greater,” New Catholic Encylcopedia at link.

21. Tradition link


22. Tradition link

23. Inexplicably, most translations render this “thousands.” The Greek word has a very specific meaning: a myriad means 10,000. It comes from myrios that means “numberless, countless, 10,000” as an adjective. As a noun, it means specifically ten thousand. See “Myriad,” Dictionary.

24. Peter was the apostolic member of James’ church who founded the church at both Rome and Antioch. (Eusebius, The Chronicle (303 A.D.)

25. “Evangelism,” St. Paul Lutheran Church reprinted online at St. Paul org page.


26. The Ante-Nicene period (125 A.D. to 325 A.D.) represents thepost-apostolic  period when the bishop of Rome, while influential, still was just one of many bishops. Other than James as the superior bishop over those of other churches, once he died there was no recognized shift of the superior bishop to the one at Rome in that Ante-Nicene period. See index entry on ‘Roman Catholicism: origins.’

27. This is heretical because if sinless from birth, Mary needed no savior. Yet, Mary affirms God is “My Savior.” (Luke 1:47.)

28. Mary-worship had already entered the church earlier. However,Mary-worship  was later made respectable as a solution to the problem of original sin uniquely taught by Paul in Romans ch. 5. Roman Catholicism taught Mary’s alleged sinless nature explained how Jesus did not suffer original sin in his flesh. Marcion resolved this dilemma differently in 144 A.D. He said Jesus only appeared to have human flesh. This was the heresy of docetism that Apostle John condemns. Both the RC and Marcion heresies derive from Paul’s teaching on original sin in Romans ch. 5.

29. At the Council of Laodicea of 363 A.D.—one of the first church councils controlled primarily by the Roman Bishop—it was decided to deem heretical and anathema (cursed) the practice of keeping Sabbath. (Canon 29.) The Council claimed Sabbath-keeping was “judaizing.” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (1990), supra, XII at 92.) This council ruling was never accepted outside of Roman territories. The Eastern Orthodox have always maintained Christians must keep the Sabbath while worshipping on Sunday. The Ante-Nicene church records from 125 A.D. to 325 A.D. likewise show that keeping Sabbath on our Saturday. Then the Orthodox had Sunday worship. This was the clear practice of universal Christianity pre-363 A.D. See the Constitution of the Apostles (ca. 200 A.D.) Book 7, ch. XXIII & XXX, Book 2, ch. LX, and Book 5, ch. XX, reprinted in Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to a.d. 325 (Ed. The Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D.) (Reprint of Edinburgh Edition of T&T Clark)(Grand Rapids: Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans). A reprint of Book 7 is at this link. A reprint of Book 2 and 5 are at the same webpage, except identified as ANF02 or ANF05.

30. Tertullian, a leading church member at Carthage (N. Africa) in Against Marcion around 207 A.D., possibly does concur that Paul abrogated ceremonial laws from the Law. I think this is a later corruption of Tertullian inconsistent with other portions in the same work. That means in the same work that Jesus continued the Law.  


Further Studies

Ichthus has an article entitled "what happened to the 12 Apostles"

  • Sources on what happened to Jesus' disciples

    • Hippolytus of Rome:

      • Birth unknown, died around 236 AD
      • See his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia: click here
      • Here is a page on the Internet containing his writings: click here


      • Was the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, known as the "Father of Church History" because he wrote about the church history.
      • Lived around 260-341 AD
      • See his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia: click here
    ....And now... what ever happened to the disciples of Jesus....

  • Judas
      We all know what happened to him...
  • Andrew

    • According to Hippolytus:
    • Andrew preached to the Scythians [modern day Georgia] and Thracians [modern day Bulgaria], and was crucified, suspended on an olive tree, at Patrae, a town of Achaia [Greece]; and there too he was buried.
  • Bartholomew

    • According to Hippolytus, Bartholomew preached in India:
          Bartholomew, again, preached to the Indians, to whom he also gave the Gospel according to Matthew, and was 
        with his head downward, and was buried in Allanum, a town of the great Armenia [modern day southern Georgia].

      Eusebius, in his Church History, confirms the ministry of Bartholomew in India, and adds an eye witness account:

      • About that time, Pantaenus, a man highly distinguished for his learning, had charge of the school of the faithful in Alexandria... Pantaenus...is said to have gone to India. It is reported that among persons there who knew of Christ, he found the Gospel according to Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left with them the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language, which they had preserved till that time. ---- (Book 5, Chapter 10)
  • James, Son of Alphaeus
    • Hippolytus identifies that James was stoned to death in Jerusalem:
          And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem, was 
      stoned to death
        by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple.


  • James, Son of Zebedee

    James was the brother of John, the disciple "that Jesus loved".

    • According to the Book of Acts in the New Testament, James was killed by Herod:
          Act 12:1 And at that time Herod the king threw on his hands to oppress some of those of the church. 

        Act 12:2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

      This is confirmed by Hippolytus:

      James, his brother, when preaching in Judea, was cut off with the sword by Herod the tetrarch, and was buried there.

    • Eusebius descibed more precisely what was cut off of James:

      • First Stephen was stoned to death by them, and after him James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, was beheaded... (Book 3, Chapter 5)

      Yep... James' head was cut...

  • John, brother of James and son of Zebedee

    John was one of the few disciples that did not die a cruel death, but of "old age".

    • Eusebius discusses the reason that John wrote his Gospel:
          "Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity...And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that 
      there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry
        ." (Book 3, Chapter 24)

      According to Hippolytus, John was banished by Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, and later died in Ephesus:

        • John, again, in Asia, was banished by Domitian the king to the isle of Patmos, in which also he wrote his Gospel and saw the apocalyptic vision; and 
      in Trajan's time he fell asleep at Ephesus
        , where his remains were sought for, but could not be found.
  • Matthew/Levi

    • Eusebius referenced to Bishop Papias of Hierapolis, as early as c. 110 A.D., bearing witness to Matthew's authorship of his gospel:
        ....Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could." (Eusebius, Book 3, Chapter 39)
    • According to Hippolytus:
          Matthew wrote the Gospel in the Hebrew tongue, and published it at Jerusalem, and 
      fell asleep
        at Hierees, a town of Parthia.\224 [Parthia is near modern day Tehran]
  • Simon/Peter

    • Eusebius, quoting Papias of Hierapolis (c. 110 A.D.), records a tradition that the Gospel of Mark preserved the Gospel as preached by Peter:
        "Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered.... he accompanied Peter..." ---- (Book 3, Chapter 39)
    • Irenaeus (c. 180 A.D.) records a similar tradition, and mentions that Peter and Paul founded the Church in Rome:
        "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter..." ---- (Irenaeus, "Against Heresies", Book 3, Chapter 1)

      Eusebius records that Peter was put to death under Nero in Rome:

        • It is, therefore, recorded that 
      Paul was beheaded in Rome
          itself, and that 
      Peter likewise was crucified under Nero
        . This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day. ---- (Book 2, Chapter 25)

      (Paul was a Roman citizen can cannot be crucified but got an "easier" death sentence)

      Hippolytus confirmed the fact that Peter was crucified by Nero in Rome:

        • Peter preached the Gospel in Pontus, and Galatia, and Cappadocia, and Betania, and Italy, and Asia, and 
      was afterwards crucified by Nero in Rome with his head downward, as he had himself desired to suffer in that manner
  • Philip

    • According to Hippolytus, Philip preached and was executed in what today is eastern Turkey:
          Philip preached in Phrygia, and 
      was crucified
        in Hierapolis with his head downward in the time of Domitian, and was buried there.
  • Simon the Zealot [sic: Canaanite]

    • According to Hippolytus, Simon the Zealot was the second Bishop of Jerusalem:
          Simon the Zealot, the son of Clopas, who is also called Jude, became bishop of Jerusalem after James the Just, and fell asleep and 
      was buried there at the age of 120 years
  • Thaddaeus/Judas son of James

    According to Mat 10:3 (KJV): Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus.... Thaddaeus is also known as Lebbaeus.

    • Hippolytus records:
          Jude, who is also called Lebbaeus, preached to the people of Edessa, and to all Mesopotamia, and 
      fell asleep
        at Berytus, and was buried there.
Hippolytus records that Thomas was an active missionary, and that he met his fate in India
And Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and Margians, and was thrust through in the four members of his body with a pine spear at Calamene, the city of India, and was buried there.

See also "How the Apostles Died," Prayer Foundation (2012) which states:


Traveling to what is now modern-day Russia, to the "land of the man-eaters," Andrew preached Jesus to its inhabitants.  Christians there claim that he was the first to bring them the gospel.  It is also said that he preached in the Roman province of Asia (modern-day Turkey).  Tradition also has him preaching in Greece, and says that he was crucified there.


Tradition says that he went on missionary journeys to Southern Arabia and Ethiopia.  That with Thomas he traveled to India, and also that he preached in Armenia.  Accounts of his death vary, but all agree that he was martyred for the faith.


James, the Son of Alpheus, is  said to have proclaimed Jesus in Syria. Josephus (a Jewish historian writing for Romans; see also our page:Josephus On Jesus) reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.


The only Apostle for certain never said to have been martyred, is the Apostle John.  John became Bishop of Ephesus (a Greek City located in what is now modern-day Turkey).  He was exiled to the Island of Patmos. There John was inspired by God to write the Book of Revelation.  Tradition holds that this happened in a particular cave which you can still go and visit.  Greek Orthodox Monks long ago built a Church and monastery over it.


Matthew (Levi) was the tax collector who followed Jesus and later wrote the Gospel of Matthew.  He preached in Persia and Ethiopia. There is disagreement as to whether or not he was martyred.  According to some of the oldest sources, he was not martyred.  Other sources hold that Ethiopia was the place where he died; and that he was stabbed to death there.


The other Apostles by casting of lots chose Matthias to take the place of Judas in an attempt to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy "...let another take his office" -Psalm 109:8, quoted in Acts 1:20 (however, some feel that the Lord Himself fulfilled this prophecy by replacing Judas with the Apostle Paul).  [My Note: see how contradictions are resolved in favor of Paul.] Matthias is never mentioned again in Scripture.  Tradition says that Matthias traveled to Syria with Andrew and was burned to death.


It is said that Peter asked to be crucified upside down in Rome, saying that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.  He was executed  ca. 66 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Nero.


To the northern African city of Carthage, Philip is said to have brought the Gospel.  It is also said that he led the wife of a Roman proconsul to the Lord, and that the proconsul was not pleased with this.  It is said that he had Philip arrested, and executed with great cruelty.

SIMON THE ZEALOT [i.e., Canaanite]

Simon, it is held, traveled to Persia.  Tradition says that he refused to sacrifice to the Persian's sun god, and was killed because of it.


It is held that Thomas preached east of Syria.  Tradition says that he proclaimed Christ in India, and founded the church of Mar Thoma.  This church is still in existence today, and claims Thomas as its founder.  In India they say that he then traveled to China and also preached the Gospel there, later returning again to India.  Thomas is said to have died in India, killed by four soldiers armed with spears.