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The Resurgence of the Gospel, Part One: The Medieval Prologue and the Remapping of the World

By the time Gregory of Tours (circa A.D. 538-594) was describing the conversion of the Franks in his time, Christian tradesmen as Elijah and Theodore, natives of Amida in eastern Syria were somewhere along the Afghanistan-Persian borderlands giving witness of their faith in Christ Jesus beside their testimony according to the great missionary preacher John of Ephesus (A.D. 507-588) who chronicled the advance of the gospel across the silk roads of Asia.

The story of that advance which eventually reached the court of Toi-tsung at Chang’an in what is now known as China about A.D. 635 constitutes the next stage of the gospel’s resurgence, a resurgence which went first went east toward the Pacific, the Bay of Bengal, and the South China Sea before crossing the Atlantic in 1492.

 

Re-Mapping the Christian World

In his record of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke records Peter’s message under the power of the Holy Spirit. It happened on the day of the celebration of the harvest of the First Fruits, known as Pentecost. Luke commented “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Notice two adjectives. These were devout men, not just any group of men. Second, they were devout men from every nation “under heaven.” These two words “under heaven” are significant. He is not describing men from every nation on earth under the atmosphere and tropo-sphere of space. These were the diasporan Jews, those who lived outside of the homeland of Judaea and were the descendants of those who did not return to the homeland after the liberation from Babylonian captivity and the end of the persecutions described by the writer of the book of Esther. These were those whose forefathers initiated the synagogue where the Book of the Law, the Torah, was read every Sabbath The synagogue initially began soon after the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians. Synagogues sprang up everywhere even after the Temple was rebuilt. This was an important occasion. Verses 9-11 describes countries stretching from Lybia in northern Africa, and some islands in the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea and a little beyond. He mentioned Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, whose lands included what is modern Iran, northern Iraq, eastern Syria, and the whole of the Persian Gulf areas and the whole Arabian peninsula.

These devout Jews were also descendants of those who experienced the second dispersion first initiated by Alexander the Great and broadened by Pompey the Roman general when Rome replaced the Hellenistic rulers of Western Asia and Northern Africa.

Most of us are familiar with the Babylonian exile and the return to the homeland under Nehemiah and Ezra and the rebuilding of the Temple. We have read the story of Esther and of the plot against the Jews during the Persian period initiated by Haman during the reign of Ahasuerus at which time the Persian Empire was at its greatest extent from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Indus river. A few years later the Persian rulers sought to extend their borders to the west coast of what is now known as Turkey. The end came in the 300’s when Darius III sought to extend Persian power into southeastern Europe and take control of the Balkans. A young ambitious general, the son of the Macedonian general Philip, started pushing the invaders back. His name was Alexander the Great. He chased the Persian general Darius III back into the area of what is now Azerbaijan and defeated the Persians at the battle of Issus in 334 B.C. Darius’ armies fled eastward. Alexander pursued the combined armies of Darius toward Hecatompylus southeast of the Caspian Sea where Darius was killed by his own troops. Alexander swooped south toward the Persian Gulf, destroyed the city of Persepolis, and then turned northward toward what is now Kabul, Afghanistan, then toward Balkh, before turning back south to face an Indian army along the Indus river. The combined Macedonian-Greek armies were exhausted by this time and urged Alexander to turn back by following the Indus to where it flows into the Arabian sea and returning along the northern shoreline of the Persian Gulf to the mouth of the Tigris river. Alexander followed the Tigris-Euphrates valley to Babylon. There he rested and died in 323 at the age of 33. He left the lands he and his troops conquered into the hands of his general: Northeast Africa to Ptolemy, Syria and Persia to Seleucus, Bactria (now Sogdiana and Afghanistan), to Demetrios, and the whole of what is now Turkey to his general Antigonus, and the homelands of Macedonia and Greece, to his own son by his Persian wife. Until his maturity, Alexander’s son was under the tutelage of the general Lysimachus. The point of all this information is Alexander, for all his faults, showed favor to all the peoples enslaved or under bondage to their former rulers. As a result, the Jews were favored, even those who lived in Judaea. Met earlier outside the gates of Jerusalem by the High Priest, the Jews had freedom to move anywhere they chose and were not to be bothered.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2018

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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