The right way to understand history is to start from the beginning.
What was it like to be a Christian in the earliest church in Rome? We have a marvellous picture of this earliest church, provided by the New Testament scholar Peter Lampe, author of the work “From Paul to Valentinus: Christians in Rome in the First Two Centuries.”
The Catholic historian Eamon Duffy writes in his work, “Sinners and Saints”:
All modern discussion of the issues must now start from the exhaustive and persuasive analysis by Peter Lampe, Die Stadsfromische Christen in den ersten beiden Jahrhundetern, Tubingen 1987.” At the time Duffy wrote, this work had not been translated into English, but of course, we here all know it as “From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries”
Lampe seemingly searched and analyzed every scrap of paper from that era, every tomb, every inscription, every archaeological find, and he pieced together one of the most intricate reconstructions of the church in this place, in this era.
Over the next few weeks, Lord willing, I’m going to take a step back and provide some glimpses of the church from this era. Lampe brings to life this ancient city, in a way that modern readers I think will see and feel and understand what was going on in that earliest church period.
Here is most of the entire work on Google Books.
Before Christians were in Rome, there was a network of Jewish synagogues in the city.
Philo, writing in the first half of the first century ad, already knew of a number of established “proseucha,” or Jewish synagogue buildings in Rome.
“The inscriptions verify a maximum of fourteen different congregations,” he says (p. 431-2). These are listed in Appendix 4 of his work.
These are individual communities, independently organized, each with its own place of assembly, its own council of elders, and its own community officials. These communities were only loosely associated with each other. Throughout the entire imperial period there is no evidence of a union of Roman Jewish communities under one single council of elders, a finding that is a contrast to Alexandria, where the diverse synagogues formed one big political corporation…. At least five of the communities listed above existed already in the first century c.e.The background of a fractionated Roman Jewry serves as a foil to the fractionation of Roman Christianity.
This is important for understanding how early Roman Christianity developed, because, as Lampe says, “That new communities of worship were established in a city next to already existing communities was not unusual for Jewish circumstances. A group of ten men capable of worship were enough to form a new community (footnote 1, pg 431).
Elsewhere in the book, Lampe associates the earliest churches (he even includes a map of ), with the “house churches” that Paul greeted in Romans 16, “ecclesiastical regions” along with population centers of the city (pg 477 in the book).