11.   The disciples: the apostle churches and Paul

Jesus did not found the church, he did not appoint disciples.

Volcano Pichincha, crater floor
Volcano Pichincha, crater floor

It was not until after his death that religious communities developed whose leaders referred to Jesus and claimed that they were fulfilling his work as his successors.

These communities, which I call apostle churches, were rivals with one other and with other religious movements in the competitive market of religions and cults in Palestine and the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.

The most important apostle churches were the Baptists of the church of John, which had a special relationship with the disciples of John the Baptist; the Jewish Christian church of James, which had to distance itself from the Rome-hostile Judas of Galilee and his disciples; the spiritual church of Simon Peter, which competed with the Gnostics of Simon Magus (Acts 8).

First Paul tried to achieve church unity and to get away from the schism not only between Jewish and gentile Christians, but also between all different Christian groups. Paul claimed that Jesus and faith in him was important, not in the apostles.


In 70 CE for early Christianity the time of the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit and sent directly by God, was over.

Volcano Pichincha, crater floor
Volcano Pichincha, crater floor

 The authority of the church was given to the local churches and their elders. In the gospels, the Acts and the late letters, the time of Jesus and the apostles is considered to be a completed era whose heroes the Christians after 70 CE could not and did not want to compare themselves with.

As in Rome of the same time, the Christians saw the epoch as over and made a fresh start. The gospels and the Acts ask for the significance of Jesus and the apostles, for the meaning of the fall of Jerusalem.

As a model for interpretation they used the epic poetry of the pagan Ancient World. Redefining the Christian identity they accepted – now bindingly for all Christians – the Jewish culture of the Old Testament as the predecessor culture.

The two cultures were linked accordingly to the well-known system of promise and fulfilment, with promise in the Old Testament and fulfilment in the New Testament.