Seems like when the NT was written, the churches Paul planted could not have been large numerically in Ephesus, Thessalonia, Corinth etc. Acts says that 3000 were added in a day in Jerusalem, but was that the norm? Did the churches Paul planted rival the mega churches we have today in size?
closed as off-topic by bimargulies, Gone Quiet, Daи♦, swasheck, Soldarnal Nov 14 '13 at 5:50
This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:
- "Questions without a specific Bible passage are off-topic as we cannot apply hermeneutical methods to text if there is no text." – Community, Daи, swasheck, Soldarnal
Seems to be a problem in the logic. IF the Bible is considered infallible, why are we looking at what Wikipedia has to say? If there is a reason to doubt the numbers given in Acts, what stops me from doubting all of the information found in Acts? You make a choice: You either believe a first century source (Luke), or you don't.
So, back to the question about the size of congregations in the NT era. Simplest answer: We do not know. We do not know how many of the 1000's in Acts 2 stayed in Jerusalem, but we do know how many regions were represented (Or do we have to doubt that, as well??) We do know however, that the 5,000 later included many priests. But that still does not give us the answer to the question asked.
In the end, the answer is based on guess work. All we know for sure is that within the early years of the preaching in Jerusalem the church grew rapidly. Nothing wrong with admitting that.
The first aspect we should look whether 3000 converts in one day (Acts 2:41) and 5000 on another day (Acts 4:4) is the norm for early Christianity. These numbers are far greater than the total number of converts attributed to Jesus by the gospels for his entire mission. And as the population of Jerusalem was only around 25,000 or 30,000 in total, just two days of evangelising would mean that a significant proportion of the Jerusalem population was Christian - yet there is no evidence of a significant Christian population in Jerusalem in the history of the events leading up to 70 CE. Then we have to look at how 3000 or more people could even have heard Peter's voice without a loudspeaker system.
True, Acts has traditionally believed to be a history of the early Church, with Sir William Ramsay stating "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy...this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians." This is now strongly disputed, and Uta Ranke-Heinemann (Putting Away Childish Things) says that anyone familiar with recent scholarship would laugh at Ramsay's claim, and says that the whole book is a work of propaganda.
So we need to move away from reports of thousands converted to Christianity on a daily basis and look at more reliable statistics. Wikipedia provides estimates for the number of Christians in the Roman empire by the end of the first century, ranging widely from 7,500 to more than 50,000. The total number of Christians at the time of Paul would have been very much less, if we assume some sort of exponential growth.
Paul does not tell us how many Christians there were in each of the communities he was involved with, but the numbers were likely to have been in the hundreds at most. These are numbers that could plausibly meet in house churches, whereas numbers in the thousands would be unmanageable on that basis.
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