Christianity Penetrates Asia Minor
IN THE first century C.E., many Christian congregations blossomed in Asia Minor (mainly modern-day Turkey). Jews and Gentiles in great numbers responded to the Christian message. One Bible dictionary states: “Apart from Syria-Palestine, it was here in Asia Minor that the Christian movement made its earliest and most extensive advance.”
We can get a fuller picture of the spread of Christianity in this region by piecing together information from different sources. Let us see how we can benefit from considering the available information.
The First Christians in Asia Minor
The first significant event in the spread of Christianity in Asia Minor dates back to Pentecost 33 C.E. when a multilingual crowd that included Diaspora Jews (Jews who lived outside Palestine) and Jewish proselytes assembled in Jerusalem. Jesus’ apostles preached the good news to these visitors. The historical record says that various ones came from Cappadocia, Pontus, the district of Asia,a Phrygia, and Pamphylia—areas that made up a large part of Asia Minor. About 3,000 listeners accepted the Christian message and were baptized. On their return home, they took their new faith with them.—Acts 2:5-11, 41.
We find the next piece of information in the Bible record of the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys in Asia Minor. During his first trip, dated to about 47/48 C.E., Paul sailed with his companions from Cyprus to Asia Minor, landing at Perga in Pamphylia. In the inland city of Antioch in Pisidia, their success in preaching provoked jealousy and opposition from the Jews. When Paul moved southeastward to Iconium, other Jews plotted to treat the missionaries insolently. Excitable local people in nearby Lystra at first proclaimed Paul to be a god. But after opposing Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived, the local crowd proceeded to stone Paul and leave him for dead! After that experience, Paul and Barnabas extended their tour to Derbe in the Roman political province of Galatia, an area where people spoke the Lycaonian language. Congregations were organized, and elders appointed. You can thus see that about 15 years after Pentecost 33 C.E., Christianity was well-established in Asia Minor.—Acts 13:13–14:26.
During his second journey, dated to about 49 to 52 C.E., Paul’s group first traveled overland to Lystra, likely passing his home territory of Tarsus in Cilicia. After revisiting the brothers in Lystra and moving north, Paul attempted to “speak the word” in the provinces of Bithynia and Asia. However, holy spirit forbade that. Those areas would be evangelized later. Instead, God guided Paul through northwestern parts of Asia Minor to Troas on the coast. Then Paul was directed in a vision to declare the good news in Europe.—Acts 16:1-12; 22:3.
During Paul’s third missionary tour, dated to about 52 to 56 C.E., he again moved through Asia Minor, reaching Ephesus, an important port city of Asia. He had already stopped there when he returned from his second journey. A group of Christians were active in that city, and Paul and his companions joined them for some three years. That interval was punctuated by a number of difficulties and dangers, not least of which was the uproar created by Ephesian silversmiths in defense of their lucrative religious commerce.—Acts 18:19-26; 19:1, 8-41; 20:31.
The Ephesus-based missionary work evidently had far-reaching effects. Acts 19:10 states: “All those inhabiting the district of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
Developments in Asia Minor
Near the end of his stay in Ephesus, Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The congregations of Asia send you their greetings.” (1 Corinthians 16:19) What congregations did Paul have in mind? He probably included those in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. (Colossians 4:12-16) The book Paul—His Story observes: “It seems logical to attribute the creation of communities at Smyrna, Pergamum, Sardis and Philadelphia to the missionary initiative of Ephesus. . . . All were within a 120-mile (192-km) radius of Ephesus and linked by excellent roads.”
So about 20 years after Pentecost 33 C.E., a number of Christian congregations existed in the south and west of Asia Minor. What about other parts of the region?
Recipients of Peter’s Letters
The apostle Peter wrote his first inspired letter some years later, about 62 to 64 C.E. He addressed it to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter’s letter indicates that there likely were Christian congregations in these areas, their elders being exhorted to “shepherd the flock.” When were these congregations founded?—1 Peter 1:1; 5:1-3.
Some of the areas in which the recipients of Peter’s letters lived, such as Asia and Galatia, had been evangelized by Paul. He had not, however, penetrated Cappadocia or Bithynia. The Bible does not tell us how Christianity spread to these regions, but it could have been through Jews or proselytes who were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost 33 C.E. and who later returned home. In any case, about 30 years after Pentecost when Peter wrote his letters, it would appear that there were congregations “dotted all over Asia Minor,” as one scholar puts it.
The Seven Congregations of Revelation
The Jewish revolt against the Romans provoked the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It may be that some Judean Christians wound up in Asia Minor.b
Toward the end of the first century C.E., Jesus Christ directed letters to seven congregations in Asia Minor by means of the apostle John. These letters, to congregations in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, reveal that Christians in this part of Asia Minor were then facing various dangers, such as immorality, sectarianism, and apostasy.—Revelation 1:9, 11; 2:14, 15, 20.
Modest, Whole-Souled Service
The spread of first-century Christianity clearly included more than what we read of in Acts of Apostles. The well-known apostles Peter and Paul were engaged in events described in Acts, but an unknown number of others were preaching elsewhere. Developments in Asia Minor confirm that early Christians took to heart Jesus’ command: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
In a similar way today, only a relatively small number of the faithful acts of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are known to the international brotherhood. As with most of the faithful evangelizers of first-century Asia Minor, the majority of modern-day preachers of the good news are more or less anonymous. Yet, they too enjoy busy, rewarding lives, and they experience deep contentment from knowing that they are obediently giving of themselves to save others.—1 Timothy 2:3-6.
a In the Christian Greek Scriptures and in this article, “Asia” refers to the Roman province that occupied the western part of Asia Minor, not to the continent of Asia.
b The historian Eusebius (260-340 C.E.) states that some time before 66 C.E., the “apostles, in constant danger from murderous plots, were driven out of Judea. But to teach their message they travelled into every land in the power of Christ.”
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EARLY CHRISTIANITY IN BITHYNIA AND PONTUS
The combined province of Bithynia and Pontus lay on the Black Sea Coast of Asia Minor. Much is known about daily life in this province from what Pliny the Younger, one of its officials, wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan.
Some 50 years after Peter’s letters circulated among the congregations in this area, Pliny asked Trajan for advice on how to deal with Christians. “I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them,” wrote Pliny. “A great many individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult.”
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First Missionary Trip
Antioch (of Pisidia)
Second Missionary Trip
Antioch (of Pisidia)
Third Missionary Trip
Antioch (of Pisidia)
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Theater in Ephesus.—Acts 19:29
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Base of the altar of Zeus in Pergamum. Christians in the city dwelled “where the throne of Satan” was.—Revelation 2:13
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.