THE STORY OF THE EARLY CHURCH
Verses about the Apostles' "TRAVELS and ACTS"
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2.1 THE CHURCH SCATTERS; PHILIP EVANGELISES SAMARIA AND BAPTISES THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH
- Philip brings the Gospel to two disadvantaged groups - the outcast Samaritans, and a mutilated eunuch (Map following). The Church thus moves further away from an exclusive and strict Jewish religion, towards being the body of Christ for all people -
Map - The Earliest Missionary Journeys - Philip the Evangelist
Map Key: 1. The journeys of Philip the Evangelist as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Also in text in [red square brackets]
Acts 8:1b-40 - On that very day (the death of Stephen) a great storm of persecution burst upon the Church in Jerusalem . All Church members except the apostles were scattered over the countryside of Judea  and Samaria . While reverent men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him, Saul (later the apostle Paul) harassed the Church bitterly. He would go from house to house, drag out both men and women and have them committed to prison. Those who were dispersed by this action went throughout the country, preaching the good news of the message as they went. Philip (the "deacon" and Evangelist), for instance, went down to the city of Samaria  and preached Christ to the people there. His words met with a ready and sympathetic response from the large crowds who listened to him and saw the miracles which he performed. With loud cries evil spirits came out of those who had been possessed by them; and many paralysed and lame people were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that city.
A magician believes in Christ
But there was a man named Simon in that city who had been practising magic for some time and mystifying the people of Samaria. He pretended that he was somebody great and everyone from the lowest to the highest was fascinated by him. Indeed, they used to say, "This man must be that great power of God." He had influenced them for a long time, astounding them by his magical practises. But when they had come to believe Philip as he proclaimed to them the good news of the kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptised. Even Simon himself became a believer and after his baptism attached himself closely to Philip. As he saw the signs and remarkable demonstrations of power which took place, he lived in a state of constant wonder.
God confirms Samaria's acceptance of the Gospel
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the Word of God, they sent (the apostles) Peter and John down to them. When these two had arrived they prayed for the Samaritans that they might receive the Holy Spirit for as yet he had not fallen upon any of them. They were living simply as men and women who had been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. So then and there they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Simon's monstrous suggestion is sternly rebuked
When Simon saw how the Spirit was given through the apostles' laying their hands upon people he offered them money with the words, "Give me this power too, so that if I were to put my hands on anyone he could receive the Holy Spirit."
But Peter said to him, "To hell with you and your money! How dare you think you could buy the gift of God! You can have no share or place in this ministry, for your heart is not honest before God. All you can do now is to repent of this wickedness of yours and pray earnestly to God that the evil intention of your heart may be forgiven. For I can see inside you, and I see a man bitter with jealousy and bound with his own sin!"
To this Simon answered, "Please pray to the Lord for me that none of these things that you have spoken about may come upon me!"
When Peter and John had given their clear witness and spoken the Word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the good news to many Samaritan villages as they went.
Philip is given an unique opportunity
But an angel of the Lord said to Philip (the Evangelist), "Get up and go south down the road which runs from Jerusalem to Gaza , out in the desert."
Philip arose and began his journey. At this very moment an Ethiopian eunuch, a minister and in fact the treasurer to Candace (not a name, but the title of the queens of what is now the Sudan), queen of the Ethiopians, was on his way home after coming to Jerusalem to worship (presumably as a Jewish convert. As a eunuch, he would be restricted in his ability to worship, Deuteronomy 23:1). He was sitting in his carriage reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, "Approach this carriage, and keep close to it."
- Philip (Acts 8:30-38 following, repeated in Part 33.1) explains a prophecy of Isaiah, preaches the Gospel of Jesus, and at the eunuch's request, baptises him. The baptised Ethiopian carries the Gospel on to Africa -
(Verse 30 starts ...) Then as Philip ran forward he heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah, and he said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
And he replied, "How can I unless I have someone to guide me?"
And he invited Philip to get up and sit by his side. The passage of scripture he was reading was this:
'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation his justice was taken away. And who will declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.' (Isaiah 53:7-8)
The eunuch turned to Philip and said, "Tell me, I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this - is he speaking about himself or about someone else?"
The Philip began, and using this scripture as a starting point, he told the eunuch the good news about Jesus. As they proceeded along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look, here is some water; is there any reason why I should not be baptised now?"
And he gave orders for the carriage to stop. Then both of them went down to the water and Philip baptised the eunuch. (Verse 39 continues ....) When they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away suddenly and the eunuch saw no more of him, but proceeded on his journey with a heart full of joy. Philip found himself at Azotus  and as he passed through the countryside he went on telling the good news in all the cities until he came to Caesarea  (where we meet him 25 years later during a visit by Paul).
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2.2 SAUL IS CONVERTED; HE PREACHES IN DAMASCUS BUT HAS TO ESCAPE; HE REACHES JERUSALEM, AND IS SENT ON TO TARSUS
Map - The Conversion and Earliest Journeys of Saul (Paul) of Tarsus c AD34-45
Map Key: 1. The early journeys of Paul as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and his Letter to the Galatians. Also in text in [red square brackets]
Part of Paul's early Christian life (locations 4, 5 and 9) is covered in his Letter to the Galatians chapters 1 and 2
Acts 9:1-30 - But Saul (of Tarsus ), still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the High Priest (in Jerusalem ) and begged him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus , so that if he should find there any followers of the Way (of Jesus Christ), whether men or women, he could bring them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. (The authority of the Sanhedrin could be extended to Jews living outside Palestine.)
But on his journey, as he neared Damascus, a light from Heaven suddenly blazed around him, and he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice speaking to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"
"Who are you, Lord?" he asked.
"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting," was the reply. "But now stand up and go into the city and there you will be told what you must do."
His companions on the journey (officers of the Sanhedrin) stood there speechless, for they had heard the voice but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. There he remained sightless for three days, and during that time he had nothing either to eat or drink.
God's preparation for the converted Saul
Now in Damascus there was a disciple by the name of Ananias. The Lord spoke to this man (Ananias) in a dream. calling him by his name.
"I am here, Lord," he replied.
Then the Lord said to him, "Get up and go down to the street called Straight (still in existence in Damascus, 2,000 years later) and enquire at the house of Judas (of Damascus) for a man named Saul from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying and he sees in his mind's eye a man by the name of Ananias coming into the house, and placing his hands upon him to restore his sight."
But Ananias replied, "Lord, I have heard on all hands about this man and how much harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem! Why even now he holds powers from the chief priests to arrest all who call upon your name."
But the Lord said to him, "Go on your way, for this man is my chosen instrument to bear my name before the Gentiles and their kings, as well as to the sons of Israel. Indeed, I myself will show him what he must suffer for the sake of my name."
Then Ananias set out and went to the house, and there he laid his hands upon Saul, and said, "Saul, brother, the Lord has sent me - Jesus who appeared to you on your journey here - so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got to his feet and was baptised. Then he took some food and regained his strength.
- According to Paul's own account in his Letter to the Galatians 1:17, he then went away to Arabia , before returning to Damascus  -
Saul's conversion astounds the disciples
Saul stayed with the disciples in Damascus for some time. Without delay he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues declaring that he is the Son of God. All his hearers were staggered and kept saying, "Isn't this the man who so bitterly persecuted those who called on the name (of Jesus) in Jerusalem, and came down here with the sole object of taking back all such people as prisoners before the chief priests?"
But Saul went on from strength to strength, reducing to confusion the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving beyond doubt that this man is Christ.
The long revenge on the "renegade" begins
After some time the Jews made a plot to kill Saul, but news of this came to his ears. Although in their murderous scheme the Jews watched the gates day and night for him, Saul's disciples took him one night and let him down through an opening in the wall by lowering him in a basket.
Jerusalem Saul is suspect: Barnabas conciliates
When Saul reached Jerusalem , he tried to join the disciples. But they were all afraid of him, finding it impossible to believe that he was a disciple. Barnabas (last heard selling his farm and giving the proceeds to the apostles), however, took him by the hand and introduced him to the apostles, and explained to them how he had seen the Lord on his journey, and how the Lord had spoken to him. He further explained how Saul had spoken in Damascus with the utmost boldness in the name of Jesus. After that Saul joined with them in all their activities in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord. He used to talk and argue with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they made several attempts on his life. When the brothers realised this they took him down to Caesarea  and sent him off to Tarsus  (after which he preached in Cilicia and Syria , Galatians 1:21. Sometime later still, Paul is brought from Tarsus by Barnabas to work in Syrian Antioch, Acts 11:25 ).
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2.3 PETER HEALS AT LYDDA & JOPPA; PETER'S VISION; HE BAPTISES CORNELIUS A GENTILE
Map - The Earliest Missionary Journeys - the Apostle Peter
Map Key: 1. The early journeys of the Apostle Peter as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Also in text in [red square brackets]
Acts 9:31-43 - The whole Church throughout Judea , Galilee  and Samaria  now enjoyed a period of peace. It became established and as it went forward in reverence for the Lord and in the strengthening presence of the Holy spirit, continued to grow in numbers.
Peter heals at Lydda
Now it happened that (the apostle) Peter, in the course of travelling (from Jerusalem ) about among them all, came to God's people living at Lydda . There he found a man called Aeneas who had been bed-ridden for eight years through paralysis. Peter said to him "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and make your bed."
He got to his feet at once. And all those who lived in Lydda and (the Plain of) Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
And again at Joppa
Then there was a woman in Joppa , a disciple called Tabitha, whose name in Greek was Dorcas (meaning Gazelle). She was a woman whose whole life was full of good and kindly actions, but in those days she became seriously ill and died. So when they had washed her body they laid her in an upper room. Now Lydda is quite near Joppa, and when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and begged him, "Please come to us without delay."
Peter got up and went back with them, and when he arrived in Joppa they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood around him with tears in their eyes, holding out for him to see dresses and cloaks which Dorcas used to make for them while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside the room and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up!"
She opened her eyes, and as soon as she saw Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand, helped her to her feet, and then called out to the believers and widows and presented her to them alive.
This became known throughout the whole of Joppa and many believed in the Lord. Peter himself remained there for some time, staying with a tanner called Simon.
God speaks to a good-living Gentile
Acts 10:1-33 - There was a man in Caesarea  by the name of Cornelius, a centurion in what was called the Italian Regiment. He (Cornelius) was a deeply religious man who reverenced God, as did all his household. He made many charitable gifts to the people and was a real man of prayer. About three o'clock one afternoon he saw perfectly clearly in a dream an angel of God coming into his room, approaching him, and saying, "Cornelius!"
He stared at the angel in terror, and said, "What is it, Lord?"
The angel replied, "Your prayers and your deeds of charity have gone up to Heaven and are remembered before God. Now send men to Joppa for a man called Simon, who is also known as Peter. He is staying as a guest with another Simon, a tanner, whose house is down by the sea."
When the angel who had spoken to him had gone, Cornelius called out for two of his house-servants and a devout soldier, who was one of his personal attendants. He told them the whole story and then sent them off to Joppa.
Peter's startling vision
Next day, while these men were still on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up about mid-day on to the flat roof of the house to pray. He became very hungry and longed for something to eat. But while the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance and saw the heavens open and something like a great sheet descending upon the earth, let down by its four corners. In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. Then came a voice which said to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!"
But Peter said, "Never, Lord! For not once in my life have I ever eaten anything common or unclean."
Then the voice spoke to him a second time, "You must not call what God has cleansed common."
This happened three times, and then the thing was gone, taken back into heaven.
The meaning of the vision becomes apparent
While Peter was still puzzling about the meaning of the vision which he had just seen, the men sent by Cornelius had arrived asking for the house of Simon. They were in fact standing at the very doorway of the house calling out to enquire if Simon, surnamed Peter, were lodging there. Peter was still thinking deeply about the vision when the (Holy) Spirit said to him, "Three men are here looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Go with them without any misgivings, for I myself have sent them."
So Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the man you are looking for; what brings you here?"
They replied, "Cornelius the centurion, a good-living and God-fearing man, whose character can be vouched for by the whole Jewish people, was commanded by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to listen to your message."
Then Peter invited them in and entertained them.
Peter, obeying the Spirit, disobeys Jewish law
On the next day he got up and set out with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa, arriving at Caesarea on the day after that. Cornelius was expecting them and had invited together all his relations and intimate friends. As Peter entered the house Cornelius met him by falling on his knees before him and worshipping him. But Peter roused him with the words, "Stand up, I am a human being too!"
Then Peter went right into the house in deep conversation with Cornelius and found that a large number of people had assembled. Then he spoke to them, "You all know that it is forbidden for a man who is a Jew to associate with, or even visit, a man of another nation (such as Cornelius, a non-Jewish Gentile, even though he worshipped the God of the Jews). But God has shown me plainly that no man must be called 'common' or 'unclean'. That is why I came here when I was sent for without raising any objection. Now I want to know what made you send for me."
Then Cornelius replied, "Three days ago, about this time, I was observing the afternoon hour of prayer in my house, when suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your charitable gifts have been remembered before God. Now you must send to Joppa and invite here a man called Simon whose surname is Peter. He is staying in the house of a tanner by the name of Simon, down by the sea.' So I sent to you without delay and you have been most kind in coming. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything that the Lord has commanded you to say."
- Peter preaches the Gospel to the God-fearing Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34-46a (Part 33.2). Verses 44-46a are repeated below -
The Holy Spirit confirms Peter's action
Acts 10:44-48 - While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to his message. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles also; for they heard them speaking in foreign tongues and glorifying God.
The Peter exclaimed, "Could anyone refuse water or object to these men being baptised - men who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did ourselves?"
And he gave orders for them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterwards they asked him to stay with them for some days.
The uncircumcised Cornelius becomes the first named Gentile baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ.
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2.4 PETER DEFENDS HIS ACTIONS BEFORE THE JERUSALEM CHURCH; GENTILE BAPTISM IS ACCEPTED
Acts 11:1-18 - Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God's message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party (later referred to as"Judaisers" - Jewish Christians who treated Christianity as a Jewish cult, insisting that non-Jewish converts must be circumcised and obey the Law) were full of criticism, saying to him, "You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!"
But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen.
"I was in the city of Joppa praying," he said, "and while completely unconscious of my surroundings I saw a vision - something like a great sheet coming down towards me, let down from heaven by its four corners. It came right down to me and when I looked at it closely I saw animals and wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice say to me, 'Get up, Peter, kill and eat.' But I said, 'Never, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever passed my lips.' But the voice from Heaven spoke a second time and said, 'You must not call what God has cleansed common.' This happened three times, and then the whole thing was drawn up again into heaven. The extraordinary thing is that at that very moment three men arrived at the house where we were staying, sent to me personally from Caesarea. The (Holy) Spirit told me to go with these men without any misgiving. And these six of our brothers accompanied me and we went into the man's house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon, surnamed Peter. He will give you a message which will save both you and your whole household.' While I was beginning to tell them this message the Holy spirit fell upon them just as on us at the beginning. There came into my mind the words of our Lord when he said, 'John indeed baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them exactly the same gift as he gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could hinder the working of God?"
The flexibility of the young Church
When they heard this they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, "Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life."
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2.5 SYRIAN ANTIOCH CHURCH GAINS GENTILE CONVERTS; BARNABAS & SAUL TEACH THE "CHRISTIANS"; THEY TAKE FAMINE AID TO JERUSALEM
Map - The Church in Syrian Antioch Grows and Gains Gentile Converts
Map Key: 1. The order of events in the growth of the Syrian Antioch Church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Also in text in [red square brackets]
Acts 11:19-30 - Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and (Syrian) Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus  and Cyrene , and these men, on their arrival at (Syrian) Antioch , proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well (... an important development by Jewish Christians in the transition from a Jewish towards a Gentile Church), telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number (of Gentiles) believed and turned to the Lord. News of these things came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem  and they sent Barnabas to Antioch . When he arrived and saw this working of God's grace, he was delighted. He urged them all to be resolute in their faithfulness to the Lord, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. So it happened that a considerable number of people became followers of the Lord.
Believers are called "Christians" for the first time
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus  to find Saul (Paul). When he found him he brought him up to Antioch . Then for a whole year they met together with the Church and taught a large crowd. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first given the name of "Christians".
The young Church and famine relief
During this period some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them by the name of Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there was to be a great famine throughout the world. (This actually happened in the days of Claudius - emperor of Rome, AD41-53.) The disciples determined to send relief to the brothers in Judea, each contributing as he was able. This they did, sending their contribution to the elders there (in Jerusalem ) personally through Barnabas and Saul (who later return to Syrian Antioch ).
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2.6 HEROD AGRIPPA I KILLS THE APOSTLE JAMES; PETER IS ARRESTED AND MIRACULOUSLY FREED; HEROD DIES
Acts 12:1-24 -It was at this time that King Herod (Agrippa I, ruler of all Palestine, AD41-44) laid violent hands on some of the Church members. James, John's brother (both the son's of Zebedee), he executed with the sword, and when he found this action pleased the Jews he went on to arrest Peter as well. It was during the days of unleavened bread (the Passover in Spring) that he actually made the arrest. He put Peter in prison with no less than four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was closely guarded in the prison, while the Church prayed to God earnestly on his behalf.
Peter's miraculous rescue
On the very night that Herod was planning to bring him out, Peter was asleep between two soldiers, chained with double chains, while guards maintained a strict watch in the doorway of the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him up, saying, "Get up quickly." His chains fell away from his hands and the angel said to him, "Fasten your belt and put on your sandals."
And he did so. Then the angel continued, "Wrap your cloak round you and follow me." So Peter followed him out, not knowing whether what the angel was doing were real - indeed he felt he must be taking part in a vision. So they passed right through the first and second guard-points and came to the iron gate that led out into the city. This opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and had passed along the street when the angel suddenly vanished from Peter's sight. Then Peter came to himself and said aloud, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel to rescue me from the power of Herod and from all that the Jewish people are expecting." As the truth broke upon him he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John surnamed Mark where (at the house of Mary, mother of John Mark) many were gathered together in prayer. As he (Peter) knocked at the door a young maid called Rhoda came to answer it, but on recognising Peter's voice failed to open the door from sheer joy. Instead she ran inside and reported that Peter was standing on the doorstep. At this they said to her, "You must be mad!"
But she insisted that it was true. Then they said, "Then it is his angel."
But Peter continued to stand there knocking on the door, and when they opened it and recognised him they were simply amazed. Peter, however, made a gesture to them to stop talking while he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of prison. Then he said, "Go and tell James (brother of Jesus, and now apparently a leader of the church in Jerusalem) and the other brothers what has happened."
After this he (Peter) left them and went on to another place (first in Judea and then to Caesarea).
Peter's escape infuriates Herod
But when morning came there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what could have happened to Peter. When Herod had had a search put out for him without success, he cross-examined the guards and then ordered their execution. Then he left Judea and went down to Caesarea and stayed there.
But Herod dies a terrible death
Now Herod (Agrippa I) was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon (where Jesus had healed the Syrophoenician woman's daughter). They approached him in a body and after winning over Blastus the king (Herod)'s chamberlain , they begged him for peace. They were forced to do this because their country's food supply was dependent on the king's dominions. So on an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the public throne and made a speech to them. At this people kept shouting, "This is a god speaking, not a mere man!" Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not give God the glory. And in fearful agony he died.
The message continues to spread
But the Word of the Lord continued to gain ground and increase its influence.
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2.7 BARNABAS & SAUL RETURN TO ANTIOCH WITH MARK; THEY LEAVE ON PAUL'S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Acts 12:25-13:3 - Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their (famine relief) mission there, bringing with them John whose surname was Mark.
Saul and Barnabas are called to a special task
(Chapter 13 .....) Now there were in the Church at Antioch (by now an important Christian centre with many Gentile converts) both prophets and teachers - Barnabas, for example, Simeon surnamed Niger. Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, "Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them."
At this, after further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and set them free for this work.
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Possibly around this period - the fifth decade AD - the Letter of James was written for Jewish Christians. Although James' Letter may be one of the first Christian writings still in existence, it appears towards the end of the New Testament
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