Did the apostles often start, teach, and visit churches, training them in Jesus-biography?

  • Our question

    Did the apostles habitually teach, often traveling Palestine—and later the mediterranean—sharing teachings and deeds of their rabbi, Jesus. In the process they would found, check on, and strengthen the daughter churches through teaching about Jesus. Would the 12 apostles thereby testify to them (and to enemies and anyone who would listen) of Jesus Christ, “bearing witness”?

  • What historians are saying

    • James Dunn: “Such indications as there are from the pre-Pauline and early Pauline period suggest already fairly extensive outreach by such figures, both establishing and linking new churches, and a general concern to ensure that a foundation of authoritative tradition was well laid in each case.” [Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2019), 242.]
“Yes, after all…
  • Gospels: “Jesus says ‘Apostles will be my witnesses’”

    Throughout the gospels and Acts, we see Jesus proclaiming that the 12 apostles will be Jesus’s witnesses to the world; Jesus prophesied that they would teach the world of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

    • Lk 21:12-13 —‘But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.
    • Lk 24:45-48 — [Jesus said], “So it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
    • Mt 10:18 — and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
    • Mk 13:9-13 — ‘But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over… Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name,….
    • Acts 1:8 — but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth.”

    This is relevant because it is highly unlikely authors would be attributing overtly false predictions to Jesus. The authors at least believed the apostles were actively teaching, and their belief on the matter would likely be justified rather than random. And being a witness, of course, involved testifying of Jesus’s fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, his teachings, His death, and His resurrection.

  • Acts oft says “the 12 are full-time teachers”

    Peppered throughout the book of Acts are rich and loud proclamations of the apostles working essentially full-time to teach about Jesus’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

    Consider these verses:

    • Acts say the apostles were devoted to teaching “the word.”1
    • Acts 2:32 — It is this Jesus whom God raised up, a fact to which we are all witnesses.
    • Acts 3:15 — but put to death the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
    • Acts 4:20 — for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
    • Acts 5:32 — And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
    • Acts 10:39-41 — We are witnesses of all the things that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He be revealed, not to all the people, but to witnesses who had been chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
    • Acts 13:31 — and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.

    This is relevant because Acts is the historical document, written during the life of the witnesses, which records how the apostles of Jesus proceeded to live after his crucifixion. And, as seen above, it is peppered with references to the apostles acting as witness-teachers of Jesus’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

    But so what? Plausibly...

    • Acts is too unreliable. [Forthcoming]
    1. We read in Acts 6:1-6 that the apostles were dedicated to their primary mission: to spread “the word.”

      Acts 6:2 — “Now at this time, as the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint developed on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Instead, brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. The announcement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And they brought these men before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. 7 The word of God kept spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem”

      This is relevant because witnessing to and teaching the word was…
      Eric Eve (summarizing Gerhardsson's work): “speaking in the name of Jesus just as the rabbis’ disciples would speak in the name of their masters. Indeed, the Apostles devoted themselves to the service of the word, leaving mundane tasks to others (Acts 6.1–6), rather as the rabbinic ideal was to devote oneself to the study of (and obedience to) the Torah. This service of the word included not only teaching it, but also intense discussion to discover its full meaning. In this context ‘the word’, as an analogue to the rabbinic oral Torah, referred primarily to Jesus’ sayings and deeds, as summarized in the speeches in Acts (Acts 2.22–36; 3.12–26; 4.8–12; 5.29–32; 10.34–43), although the Church also took over the Scriptures of Israel. In Luke’s presentation Jesus laid the foundation for its Christian interpretation (Luke 24.27, 32, 44–45), and the work of continuing this interpretation was carried on by the Apostles.” Citing {Gerhardsson, Memory, 208–61.}

  • 1 John and 1 Peter say “The 12 are teachers”

    We read both in 1 John and 1 Peter assertions that the apostles act as witnesses to Jesus's life and ministry.

    • 1 Jn 1:1-3 — What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
    • 1 Peter 5:1 — Therefore, I urge elders among you, as your fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and one who is also a fellow partaker of the glory that is to be revealed:

    This is relevant because these, along with the other sources above, all converge on the same truth, with no evidence of dissent.

  • Clement & Irenaeus: “the 12 trained disciples’”

    Irenaeus, writing in c. AD 185 records how Clement (c. 30-100 AD) was a disciple-student of the apostles, being specifically taught by them.

    • Irenaeus (writing c. AD 185): “Clement [c. 30-100 AD, bishop of Rome] was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing, and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone, for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brothers at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians [Written c. AD 95].” [Against Heresies 3.3.3]

    This is relevant because this very specific belief of Clement’s an Irenaeus’s is likely not a complete shot in the dark, but rather is likely to enjoy some measure of justification. (They were up close to the events.) It is also one of the few resources, aside from Acts, which speak on the matter.

    But so what? Plausibly...

    • Clement was not well-connected to the apostles. [Forthcoming]
  • The 1st church passed down tons of Jesus-bio

    The Jerusalem church pass-down Jesus-bio, delivering to their successors and even other churches.

    This is relevant because the apostles lead the Jerusalem church, and the apostles passing down this content in part explains the fact that the Jerusalem church passed down Jesus-biography.

  • Christianity explosively grew in AD 30-60

    In the 1st century, while witnesses were still alive, the number of people converting to believing in Jesus's claim to be Messiah as well as his resurrection was massive. This is relevant because it is near impossible to explain if Jesus’s own apostles abandoned the faith or were otherwise lacking zea in their teaching of others. The growth is far easily to explain if they apostles were actively teaching.

  • Christians super-honored the apostles

    The earliest Christians honored the “The Twelve” (apostles) as leaders of all Christendom, as long as those apostles were still alive and active.

    This is relevant because it is hard to explain unless the apostles were witness-teachers.