The Homes of the First Christians
JUST as today the type of house varies according to what the occupier can afford, so it was nineteen centuries ago. The house of the ordinary person often consisted of one room, often rather dark, for, apart from the door, there might be only one or two small openings to serve as windows. So if the occupant lost a coin it would be necessary to get artificial light, as Jesus said of a woman in one of his parables: “If she loses one drachma coin, does [she] not light a lamp and sweep her house?”—Luke 15:8.
Built with wattle and daub, or perhaps sun-dried or baked-mud bricks, with a beaten earth floor, each house had a flat roof reached by an outside stairway. The rooftop was a pleasant place to which to retire, especially if a nearby tree cast its welcome shade over it during the heat of the day. Here one could meditate and pray, as the apostle Peter did at Joppa at the home of Simon the tanner who had a house by the sea.—Acts 10:9.
Poor people had very little furniture. For a bed, mats were placed one on top of another, while a cloak often served as a blanket at night. Many households had a table, and some had stools and chairs.
Merchants, landowners and officials lived in larger stone houses having a central courtyard and rooms opening to it. The wealthy might have a fountain in the center and a garden. It was in the courtyard of the high priest’s house that Peter sat down among those who had arrested Jesus Christ and it was here that a charcoal fire was lit. (Luke 22:54, 55) Often this type of house would have a second or third story, with large latticed windows provided with window seats, from one of which type in Troas sleepy Eutychus toppled out while the apostle Paul was talking to a group of Christians.—Acts 20:9, 10.
In the better homes, furniture was more elaborate. The bed was raised up on legs, and it was evidently to this type of bed that Jesus alluded in a parable when he spoke about ‘a lamp not being put under a bed.’—Mark 4:21.
HOMES WHERE JESUS VISITED
Into these surroundings early Christianity was born. Many of the ordinary homes and some of the better ones were the homes of the first Christians. Thus during his ministry, Jesus often found a warm welcome in these homes, as he did at the home of Peter and Andrew. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever and she promptly began to care for the needs of the assembled disciples. (Mark 1:29-31) When Jesus went with his close disciples to a home, away from the crowds that often followed him, they could ask him questions. (Matt. 13:36) Jesus waited until he had reached the quiet seclusion of a welcome home before questioning his disciples about a matter: “What were you arguing over on the road?” (Mark 9:33, 34) Inside a house was also an apt place to put a rather penetrating question on taxes to Peter.—Matt. 17:24-27.
Jesus certainly valued the restful quiet of a home in Capernaum, where he could revive his energies for further teaching tours, although as soon as he “was reported to be at home,” the crowds would gather and press so thickly around the door that others determined to reach Jesus on one occasion had to resort to going up the outside steps and removing part of the roof to get in.—Mark 2:1-5.
USED IN A HOSPITABLE WAY
The divine Record often bears witness to the way the early Christians used their homes. Jesus was always welcome at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, in Bethany, nearly two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus must have felt very much at home here, for he “loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5) Often difficult circumstances made the hospitable acts of the early Christians stand out, to be looked upon as especially precious. Take, for example, when the apostle Paul was called upon to make the long and arduous voyage to Rome to stand at Caesar’s judgment seat. They put in at Sidon on the second day, and Luke writes: “Julius [the Roman officer in charge] treated Paul with human kindness and permitted him to go to his friends and enjoy their care.” (Acts 27:3) How Paul must have appreciated this gesture, and what a welcome his friends must have given him into their homes, bestowing loving hospitality upon him!
When Paul was shipwrecked a short time later on the island of Malta, the principal man of the island showed hospitality by inviting Paul and his companions to his home, which must have been a residence of some comfort. Publius had lands; “and he received us hospitably and entertained us benevolently three days.” (Acts 28:7) But how glad Paul must have been when the travelers reached Puteoli on the mainland where, Luke reports, “we found brothers and were entreated to remain with them seven days.” (Acts 28:14) Notice the entreaty, the warm loving welcome, resulting in a seven-day stay.
This same note of entreaty marked the hospitality extended by Lydia of Thyatira: “Now when she and her household got baptized, she said with entreaty: ‘If you men have judged me to be faithful to Jehovah, enter into my house and stay.’ And she just made us come.” (Acts 16:15) There was no refusing a welcome like that. No doubt Lydia received much spiritual benefit herself in words of truth and encouragement, and all because she opened her home to the apostle Paul and his traveling companions.
Just a few verses later our attention is drawn to another hospitable home. Paul and Silas were in prison. About the middle of the night the jailer was awakened by a great earthquake that burst open the prison doors, and he was about to kill himself when Paul stopped him, assuring him no one had fled. Struck with the evidence of God’s hand in the incident, the jailer quickly grasped the opportunity to learn of God’s purposes, and he and his household were baptized. Then “he brought them into his house and set a table before them, and he rejoiced greatly with all his household now that he had believed God.” (Acts 16:25-34) How quickly that household bustled about to get that table set, and what a welcome was shown, although it was the middle of the night! To the jailer, it was the least he could do in return for the good news he had received.—1 Cor. 9:11.
Yes, the early Christians used their homes hospitably. Are our homes today like those of the early Christians? Are they warm and friendly, alive with cheerful voices and happy hearts? Do we “follow the course of hospitality”?—Rom. 12:13.
And if we are invited into the home of a fellow Christian, we can always try to leave that home richer spiritually than when we found it. This was the spirit of the early Christians who “took their meals in private homes and partook of food with great rejoicing and sincerity of heart, praising God and finding favor with all the people.”—Acts 2:46, 47.