Paul and the spread of the Christian movement

How important was Paul in the early spread of the Christian movement? He made a major contribution to the New Testament as both a writer and the subject of half of the book of Acts. Yet his direct impact on the spread of early Christianity may have been overstated according to Rodney Stark's latest book.

Stark examines the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman empire city by city and surprisingly finds that the more Hellenized (Greek language and culture), rather than Roman, the more likely that city was to have a Christian congregation by the end of the first century. If a city had a Hellenized Jewish community (the “Diaspora”) it was also far more likely to have a Christian congregation.

Looking at the data, we see that Paul’s missionizing had no significant, independent effect on Christianization, while the importance of Diasporan communities was quite significant. These results strongly suggest that Paul’s impact on the spread of Christianity was incidental to the general receptivity of the Diasporan communties to Christian missionizing.

Stark is no Paul basher. But he reminds us that

Paul was only one of many traveling professional missionaries, to say nothing at all of the rank-and-file missionaries who circulated from city to city. Indeed, Paul may have been far more important as a trainer, organizer, and motivator of missionaries than as an actual founder of congregations.

Did you read that last line?

“Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome” (Rodney Stark), 134-5.