A favorite book in the Bible through the years has been the book of Acts.
Acts tells how those who believed Jesus was the Son of God, took the amazing story of his resurrection to men and women throughout the Roman empire.
These were real people who carried the message into a real empire. Much is known about the Roman empire, both because of the writings which remain, and from countless archaeological discoveries all over the Roman world.
For example, here are remains of the Roman aqueduct which was built carrying water into the city of Caesarea.
Caesarea was the residence for the Roman governors of Palestine. The famous Roman governor Pilate, for example, lived there.
Another city which has great significance because of archaeological discoveries that have been made there is the city of Pompeii in Italy. The discoveries made in Pompeii have been displayed around the world and can help us catch a glimpse of how people lived, especially in Italy, at the very time the New Testament was being written.
Pompeii was buried by lava which flowed from Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. This means an ancient city was preserved essentially as it was in New Testament times.
The story the first Christians told was of an amazing resurrection. These people saw Jesus alive several times and at a number of places. Here on a mountain among the hills by the Sea of Galilee, the resurrected Jesus met his disciples. As you stand on the northern shore you can see the village of Tiberius.
Jesus was taken into the heavens on the Mount of Olives, and before he left, he said to his disciples:
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth Acts 1:8Those who heard these words were deeply impressed with Jesus. They saw in him the work of God. And when they saw him alive after his crucifixion they were certain he was the Son of God. So they felt compelled to tell others the good news that God, in Jesus, came to help His people.
A great church grew here in Antioch of Syria --a church which included both Jews and Gentiles. It was here that the disciples were first called "Christians".
From Antioch the church began its great western advance into Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece and finally, Rome.
A considerable part of the early growth involved the leadership of one man, the apostle Paul. Paul journeyed to most of the major centers in the Hellenistic or Grecian part of the empire. His efforts were untiring in teaching, nourishing, and preaching. This map shows you his trips throughout the Mediterranean region from Jerusalem to Rome. In some twenty years, he planted many of the churches mentioned in the New Testament.
We know something of the impact made by the work of Paul from Roman documents outside of the New Testament. For example, in 111 A.D, Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia and Pontus wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan inquiring how to treat Christians. From this letter, it is apparent that several Christians were under his jurisdiction.
We also know of early meeting places of the Christians in houses to which later additions were made. These are undeniable evidence that there were Christians in the empire even in the first century.
But we also know the book of Acts is not fiction because it refers to real places, real political units, real cities and towns, and real people. These places and cities still exist and we can visit them ourselves today. They remind us that the evidence of the Roman Empire for the accuracy of Acts cannot be erased.
One of the churches Paul planted was in Corinth, a famous Grecian city of the Empire. Archaeologists have uncovered most of the ancient city, now lying in ruins. In Paul's day, Corinth was a bustling, wealthy seacoast town with the reputation for being loose and sinful.
In those days you would probably walk into Corinth on the Lechaion Road. Paul undoubtedly walked this road many times. It would bring you from the Port of Lechaion on the Corinthian Gulf...
...into the market place in Corinth--called the Agora.
Paul would have passed through the Propylaea--or the city gate--which in Paul's day, was a beautiful triumphal arch.
Nearby, he could get a long, cool sip of spring water from the fountain of Perrine.
As he stood there, Paul could see the tall, dramatic mountain overlooking the city--called the Acro-Corinth. Temples to the Greek gods were built on top of the mountain and, in times of war, the city people fled to this heavily fortified mountain for protection and refuge.
Paul would turn his attention from the Acro-Corinth to this important spot in the marketplace called the bema, a Greek word meaning "platform", from which various city officials addressed the people. Paul may have stood on this very platform to tell people about the resurrection of Jesus, or to defend his Christian faith before the Roman governor, Gallio (Acts 18:12-17).
This is part of a letter written by the emperor Claudius in late 51 or 52 A.D. It mentions Gallio and has helped pinpoint the dates of Paul's journeys.
This is one of the many small shops which surrounded the Agora. It is quite possible that in a building such as this Paul and his friends Priscilla and Aquila set up a tent-making shop to support themselves while they told the message of Jesus to the people of Corinth (Acts 18:1-4).
In Paul's day, the Corinthian temple to the god Apollo was one of the oldest buildings in Corinth. It was one of the few structures to survive the destruction of the city by the Romans in 146 B.C.
These seven columns are the only ones remaining of the original 38. Each was cut from a single piece of marble.
They are 24 feet tall and nearly six feet in diameter.
The temple to Apollo dominated the skyline of Corinth. Also at Corinth was the inhuman slave market and temples to Aphrodite, goddess of lust, which gave the city an infamous reputation in the ancient world. These symbolize the old life from which the young church in Corinth struggled to free itself.
Close by Corinth was the city of Athens. Today it is the busy, bustling capitol of Greece, but it still contains many reminders of Paul's visit. In Paul's time, Athens was the intellectual center of the Hellenistic world.
Paul visited three spots shown here. In the foreground is the agora, the Greek word for market place. Towering above the agora is the magnificent Athenian acropolis lined with temples to Greek gods. To the extreme right is the Areopagus, called "Mars Hill" in the King James translation of the Bible, the site of Paul's sermon about "the unknown god", recorded in Acts 17.
Standing on top of the Acropolis you can see the modern city of Athens. To the left of the Acropolis is the temple of Theseus.
The temple of Theseus is relatively small, but it is the best preserved in all Greece. It was already 500 years old when Paul visited Athens.
Its sculptures are well-preserved and give some idea of how beautiful these buildings must have been in Paul's day.
This is all remains of the temples on the Acropolis. Imagine them as Paul saw them--perfectly preserved, their white marble gleaming beautifully in the sunshine of a bright Mediterranean day.
It must have taken unusual courage for Paul to challenge these temples and their idolatry with the words we read in Acts 17:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. Acts 17:24-25
The Parthenon was the crowning jewel on the Acropolis. Even today many architects say it is the most beautiful building ever constructed. Built between 447 and 438 B.C. it is 60 meters long and has 47 columns, each about 9 meters high.
The builders' skill is reflected by the fact that there is not a single straight line or right angle in the whole building. All the horizontal lines are slightly curved and the columns are slightly smaller at the top than at the bottom.
Inside the Parthenon was a statue of the goddess Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens. The statue stood about 10 meters tall.
All the sculptures from the building have been taken to the British Museum in London.
The beauty of these temples undoubtedly impressed Paul, but for him, the universe centered in the living God, who sent his Son. He therefore spoke out against these man-made gods without hesitation.
On the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, Paul delivered his most famous sermon against the idols and powerless gods of the Greeks. In Acts 17, as we read the speech, we hear Paul refer to a monument to an unknown god, built by the Athenians to any gods they may have overlooked. Archaeologists have not found that particular monument.
But this is part of a similar altar found in 1909 in the ruins of the Temple of Demeter in Pergamum, across the Aegean Sea from Athens. It bears the inscription "to unknown gods". Undoubtedly, Paul was looking at one very similar in Athens. He had, no doubt, seen monuments of this sort and had preached against idolatry on more than one occasion.
A bronze tablet located at the Areopagus memorializes Paul's contest with Greek popular religion. At the time, few Greeks even noticed Paul's visit. But in another 300 years almost everyone in Athens had been won to Paul's living God. This is evidence of the power and appeal of the message of the early Christians.
Now let's leave Athens and cross the Aegean Sea to Ephesus where the people worshiped the goddess Diana.
Ephesus was one of the leading cities of the empire in Paul's day, and the ruins of the city are still some of the most impressive in the Near East.
The great temple to the goddess Diana was located in Ephesus--a temple so magnificent that it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Today, the only remains of the temple are a few pieces of marble in this marshy area.
However, images of the goddess have been found. Paul's preaching in Ephesus was so effective that the people began to forsake the worship of Diana. Demetrius and the silversmiths who made their living selling little statues of the goddess stirred up a riot against Paul.
The people of the city gathered in the theater --still impressive today--and for two hours they shouted, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:23-41).
Despite this opposition, Paul established a strong church in Ephesus. And from there the good news radiated into the interior of Asia Minor. Even before Paul's death, there were probably more Christians in Asia Minor than in Palestine. Today, that powerful ancient city lies in ruins. But a powerful faith, which permeated the city before its demise, still abides.
Paul left Ephesus in a ship, much like this small vessel pictured in a painting from Pompeii. In fact, Paul did much of his traveling by ship while on his missionary journeys.
Eventually on one of Paul's return trips to Jerusalem he was arrested and sent to Rome. Rome was the most important city in the world at that time, with almost a million inhabitants.
This is a sculpture of the famous Praetorian Guard. Paul was guarded by guards such as these. In Paul's letter from prison to the Philippians, he mentions that the gospel had become known among the whole Praetorian Guard. They were very special, very tough soldiers whose job it was to protect the administrators and emperor in Rome.
Over the years Paul wrote many letters and they may have looked something like this one. The top part is written by a scribe, or a professional letter-writer. The bottom part is a short note written by the person who dictated the letter to the scribe. The letter you see here is dated August 24, 66 A.D.
Paul often dictated his letters to a scribe, then added a greeting and signature in his own hand.
This is the oldest known section of any part of the New Testament. It is a part of the 18th chapter of John's gospel, written on papyrus between 100 and 150 A.D and is called the John Ryland's Papyrus. The original writings of Paul and the other early Christians are now gone, but they were carefully copied and recopied like this fragment, as Christians continued to carry God's word to the far reaches of the Empire.
This is another early Biblical manuscript called the Codex Sinaiticus. It was discovered by Count Tischendorf, a German scholar, at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai. The Codex Sinaiticus was written during the first half of the fourth century.
The Biblical Archaeologist, a newsletter written about archaeology, reported in 1978 that the rest of this manuscript and others may have been...
..discovered in a sealed off room at the monastery. Discovery by discovery more of the ancient world is being uncovered and disclosed.
This is the baptistry in the oldest known church building. Archaeologists found it in 1931 at Dura-Europus in eastern Syria. The building was constructed in 232 A.D. as a private home and later converted for use as a church.
This is a painting from the same church building. It shows Jesus healing a cripple and telling him "Take up your bed and walk!" (Mark 2:1-12)
This crude graffiti, discovered in 1856 in one of the guardrooms of the old imperial palace in Rome, shows us the kind of ridicule and persecution early Christians suffered because of their faith in God. This picture was scratched on the wall during the first half of the third century. It shows a man kneeling before a crucified figure--a man with the head of a donkey. An inscription reads: "Alexamenos worshipping his god". But Alexamenos and his fellow believers were undaunted by ridicule and persecution. They were secure in their faith in Christ. As Paul expressed it:
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
The sneers and mockery of ancient foes have been forgotten. But the news of a crucified and risen Son sent by God to reconcile the world to Himself has been the hope of countless men and women for twenty centuries.
The preaching of the crucified Lord began on the Mount of Olives when Jesus left the disciples. But before leaving, he instructed them to spread the story of the resurrected life to the entire world.
Faithful to Jesus' charge, the disciples traveled everywhere throughout the vast Roman Empire as well as regions to the east. They had an amazing story to tell and taught many followers.
Christianity grew daily as men of Paul's vigor declared it in homes, and in marketplaces and temples.
Christianity has outlived its early critics. It continues to prove its strength and might as men and women read the story from the scriptures and live by it.
Christianity has always been a religion of real people struggling in real human situations. It is a religion rooted in history.
This is why those archaeologists who search out the treasures of the past are confirming the authenticity of the Christian faith.
Original text and slides from "Proof from the Past: How Archaeology Confirms the Bible", ©1979 Religious Services Company, Inc. Used by permission. Various edits and new audio recordings by the Bible Study Center 2006-2014.
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