Have you ever wondered how many Jews became Christians in the first century? I have.
So I searched and found this, IMO, interesting article by David C. Sims, Australian Catholic University, Research Associate: Department of New Testament Studies, University of Pretoria (2003): How many Jews became Christians in the first century?
This study examines the early Christian mission(s) to the Jews, and attempts to determine, albeit speculatively, the number of Jews in the Christian movement in the first century. It is argued that the combined Christian mission was marked by a distinct lack of success. Neither the Law-observant gospel of the Jerusalem church nor the Law-free gospel of the Hellenists and Paul made much impression upon the people of Israel. Throughout the first century the total number of Jews in the Christian movement probably never exceeded 1 000 and by the end of the century the Christian church was largely Gentile.
If someone has a better estimate, feel free to share or to tell me where to find it.
I know as someone who believes that miracles through laying on of hands existed back then, and that supernatural events were happening by the apostles and those they laid hands on, I’ve always presumed several thousand became believers and if it was not for the Roman persecution many more probably would have converted.
What’s the probability that Gentiles would show up in the crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost? Like you, I agree, not too many.
So, were all of the 3,000 who showed up in Jerusalem residents of Jerusalem? I think not so many. My impression is that the majority of the converts were out-of-towners, in Jerusalem temporarily for the festivities. After the excitement of conversion, where did they go? I suspect they left Jerusalem and went home.
Paul tells us, in 1 Cor. 15:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve.
6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
What’s that? About 512 Jews in Jerusalem who were already baptized presumably.
So, how many of the Jewish out-of-towners who didn’t live in Jerusalem, do you suppose went home, gathered together in communities and continued to be active Christians? All 3,000?
I’ve seen “miracles through laying on of hands”, but I have yet to meet anyone who was a non-believer and converted because hands were laid on him or her, and I don’t remember anything in the Bible that affirms such a thing happening.
No one has seen miracles through the laying on of hands that are alive right now.
All throughout the Bible we see miracles being mentioned as sings and wonders of the apostles attesting to the truth. You don’t think seeing them dead raised, the sick healed, and hearing tongues had a impact on conversion rates?….
So you don’t have a better estimate and you’re not going to tell me where to find one.
(The only thing that matters is faith expressed in love.)
It was a marginal number, a small influential minority; the original leaven that rapidly spread the folk gospel throughout the eastern Roman empire, ahead of Paul. However Paul despaired in Romans of the lack of Jewish converts over half way through the century, after 20 years of evangelism, that had no influence on the collapse of Jewish civilization 20 years later, despite the commune. It left no mark, no record in the Jewish diaspora. Early Jewish converts would have been lost to that and been assimilated in to slowly Christianizing gentile society. 5%? A hundred thousand at its height throughout the empire?
Acts 2 tells about the 3000 jews and tells that God added new ones every day. Acts 6 tells that the numbers increased much. Acts 21 tells that the number of those who believed were tens of thousands in Jerusalem.
When believers spread from Jerusalem, they told about Jesus first to jews. That was also the habit of Paul. There must have been a large number of towns and villages with jews believing that Jesus was the Messiah.
Probably jews believing that Jesus is the Messiah were always a minority among jews but there must have been quite much believing jews. The sad developments that destroyed Jerusalem and separated the gentile believers and jews changed the situation later.
But if you read that story in Genesis 47:31, you’ll find: “And he [i.e. Israel, a.k.a. Jacob] said, Swear unto me. And he [i.e. Joseph] sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.”
So why the difference?
Because the author of Hebrews 11:21 was not quoting the Hebrew text of Genesis 47:31; the author was quoting the Greek text of the Septuagint translation of Genesis 47:31, which says: “εἶπεν δέ ὄμοσόν μοι καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῷ καὶ προσεκύνησεν Ισραηλ ἐπὶ τὸ ἄκρον τῆς ῥάβδου αὐτοῦ”. In other words, the author of Hebrews 11:21 was quoting an incorrect translation of Genesis 47:31.
Moral of this story: Sometimes a New Testament author can get something wrong.
Now there are Jews who know that the author of Hebrews 11:21 got that story wrong, and they’re .
But here are your choices:
Stick with the accounts in Acts and reject the article I posted;
Accept the proposals in the article I posted and reject the accounts in Acts;
Reject the accounts in Acts AND the proposals in the article I posted;
Look for something more appealing for whatever reasons make sense to you.
The article is highly speculative, and uses the basic assumption that the texts written by Luke and Paul were less reliable than other sources from that time. The calculations were based on an assumption that the growth was steady, excluding minor fluctuations. Basic assumptions are very important because the conclusions are based on basic assumptions.
Luke tells that he inspected carefully what had happened and wrote it down. He did not count the believers himself, so it is possible that the numbers have been rounded and the actual numbers were somewhat lower. Yet, I believe Luke more than the writings of second-hand sources (Josephus) or the very speculative calculations about the growth of the movement.
There is also the question of who were the Jewish believers? For a Jew/hebrew, the crucial turning point was to accept that Yeshua was the promised Messiah. This did not necessarily have radical effects on the lifestyle of the circumcised person. So, there were probably radical believers, those who were less radical but openly proclaimed Yeshua and also those who lived the life of a godly Jew without radical changes in the behavior.
It is also known that there were divisions among the Jewish believers. Some were eager to proclaim that believers needed to follow the law of Moses. Some were radical like Paul. Probably many were somewhere between. Writings indicate that Jerusalem was dominated by those who were strict about following the rules in Torah. It is likely that the fate of the different groups differed. Probably a large number (the majority?) of the godly Jews living around Jerusalem were killed when Jerusalem was destroyed. This suggests that the numbers did not grow steadily, rather there were major fluctuations. If this is true, all calculations in the speculative article are meaningless.
During the persecutions, an unknown but probably large proportion of believers were secret believers. Openly proclaiming Jesus during the worst persecutions was a good way to ensure death or at least a trip to jail. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to calculate what was the true percentage of believers during those times.