Did Christians regularly visit the Jerusalem church (in AD 30-40)

  • Question

    Christian churches in AD 30-70 were scattered across the Mediterranean (e.g. in Rome, Ephesus, Corinth). The Judean churches, with members having a more Jewish background, are often distinguished from the non-Jewish (Gentile) churches, many of which Paul planted. We mean to ask here whether the churches outside of Jerusalem, both Gentile and Jewish, would pilgrammage to Jerusalem and fellowship with the church there.

“Yes, after all…
  • E.g. Members of the Pauline churches did

    As an example, we see that members of the churches founded by Paul would make a habit of visiting the Jerusalem church and its leadership.

    • For example, we read in Acts 15 how members visited to sort out doctrinal questions which they deferred to the Jerusalem leadership.

    • For another example, we know many Jewish Christians from Paul's churches would visit during their multiple visits to the festivals that were centralized in Jerusalem, e.g. Passover. See below.


    Richard Bauckham: “We should also not forget that the Jerusalem church would have played a unique role in the spread of the Christian Gospel in the Diaspora, …also by preaching to the thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the Diaspora who came to Jerusalem every year for the festivals and who could take the Christian message back to their own communities.” [James: New Testament Readings (Routledge, 1999), 18.]

  • Jewish Christians visited during festivals

    We know that early Jewish Christians habitually pilgrammaged to Jerusalem to attend the important Jewish festivals there.

    • First, we know this because it is recorded in the book of Acts, the Gospels, Josephus's works, and more.
    • Second, we also see it commanded in Jewish scritures that Jews are to attend these festivals:
      • Dt 16:16 — “Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed
      • Ex 23:17 — Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.
      • Ex 34:23 — Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.
  • Ancients felt personal instruction was of utmost value

    A group of students in the foreground are showing admiration for a martial arts instructor standing on a stage, who is about to give a demonstration.

    In the ancient Mediterranean world and Jewish or Greco-Roman society in particullar, instruction from those who knew the information 1st hand was invaluable. For those who wanted to know the truth of matters, hearing witness-testimony first hand was paramount.

    We see this fascination with first-hand testimony (out of the horses mouth) in several sources. For consider these few:

    • Quintilian: “[h]owever many models for imitation he may give them from the authors they are reading, it will still be found that fuller nourishment is provided by the living voice, as we call it, more especially when it proceeds from the teacher himself, who, if his pupils are rightly instructed, should be the object of their affection and respect. And it is scarcely possible to say how much more readily we imitate those whom we like.” [Institutes of Oratory {Institutio Oratoria} 2.2.8]
      • Galen: [Of the composition of local remedies {De compositione medicamentorum secundum} locos 6 preface — “gathering information out of a book is not the same thing, nor even comparable to learning from the living voice” [(Kühn XII.894.1-4)
      • Pliny the Younger: “You will say: ‘[a]s the proverb goes, the spoken word is invariably much more impressive than the written one; for however lively what you read may be, it does not sink so deeply into the mind as what is pressed home by the accent, the expression, and the whole bearing and action of a speaker.” [Nepos (Epistles 2.3)]
    • See how Historians preferred to witness 1st hand.

    This is relevant because for Christians who wanted this kind of personal instruction, visiting the Jerusalem church where the apostles and central witnesses resided and recounted their experiences was the natural destination.