When we read the story of the phenomenal expansion of the early Church, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, we are tempted to assume that somehow conditions were easier then than now. This is a comfortable assumption, for it helps to excuse our complacency and failure, but it will not stand up to historical scrutiny. The world of the first and second centuries was as full of rivals to Christianity as is the world of the twentieth century; this we can prove, both from the pages of the New Testament and from the writings of contemporary historians. Not only so, but many of the rivals were surprisingly similar to their modern counterparts, especially in Asia today. This disposes of a second error—the error of thinking that, though conditions may not have been easier in the first century, they were so different from ours that any comparison is useless. Differences there certainly are, especially in communication and travel; but in both these areas the changes greatly facilitate the spread of the Gospel in our day.

The major obstacles that the early Christians faced as they preached the good news were various religions, philosophies, and currents of thought that competed with their message. Some of the following information on these is drawn from non-biblical writers; yet the careful reader of the Bible will be able to see clear evidence for most of them in Scripture itself.

First of the rivals to Christianity was Judaism, a noble monotheism with a high ethical system, a sacred book, a dignified worship, and a long and proud history. Judaism as a religious system had almost everything—except a Saviour, and a faith that justified. Whatever might be said of Judaism in the high flowering of Old Testament days, by New Testament times ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.