Part One: The World Prepared
Trade, Travel, and Communication The establishment of peace and civil laws throughout the Roman empire brought many changes in the way of life of the times.
The citizens of Rome took an active interest in the culture and affairs of other provinces within the empire.
The roads which formerly had been used strictly for the movement of troops now became a means of visiting FAR AWAY AREAS.
The first wave of tourism caused an empire-wide interest in the products and wares of peoples previously all but unknown to the average citizen. Trade and business began to flourish. A new vista was opened to the world.
Empire-Wide Travel Perhaps the most important preparation of all for the gospel to be spread throughout the world was the means of TRAVEL AND COMMUNICATION developed by and through the Romans. As the armies of Rome subdued nation after nation, the vassal nations were tied to the mother city by a MAGNIFICENT SYSTEM OF ROADS. Trade flourished over sea routes. Business and commerce became a major part of Roman life.
With the pacification of its shores, the Mediterranean served not to separate but to join the lands around it. Improvement in navigational aids increased the safety of sea transport;... Freightage by water was inexpensive and customs barriers between the various sections of the empire were sufficiently low that they offered no real restraint of trade. A stable and uniform currency, and the construction of good roads, a laissez-faire policy on the part of the government, and the revival of great trading cities such as Corinth and Carthage were added stimulants for a healthy expansion in commercial activity.1 The Romans were unequaled as road builders. The moving of huge war machines was no easy matter. In fact, much of Rome's military success was due to her engineering ingenuity.
But with the world at peace, tradesmen, politicians, tourists — anyone — could move freely within the empire.
Later emperors developed and perfected the system of roads; and on the whole the peace and security which Augustus established continued with few interruptions for two hundred years. From one end of the Empire to the other, merchants and traders, tourists, philosophers, rhetoricians, and missionaries moved freely. The Christians knew well the service which the Empire had rendered their faith, as the words of Irenaeus show: "The Romans have given the world peace, and we travel without fear along the roads and across the sea wherever we will."2 Succeeding emperors took care to maintain quality in road construction to assure good governmental communications with provisionaries throughout the empire. Stones were placed at intervals of one thousand paces along the roads, showing under whose rule these fine highways were built. These markers were called milestones — hence the derivation of our English and American term "mile" for the measuring of distances on the highways.
Safety and Speed of Travel In addition to the availability of travel, this period of time in history is also important because by the time Peter and Paul began to travel, transportation was as SWIFT and SAFE as it had ever been in four thousand years of human history.
What is more, there were no major changes in the methods of transportation until well into the 1800's A.D. — really no major breakthroughs until into the twentieth century — in the lifetime of many still living today.
No less important than the means of travel was the SAFETY OF TRAVEL. Because Roman armies were stationed throughout the empire, piracy, robbery, and violence were kept at a minimum.
Here are quotations from two well-known sources on church history to show the importance of travel and safety to the Church:
No small factor in the development of commerce and in the unification of the early Empire was the security and speed with which one might travel. The great Roman roads, which still excite our admiration, were, in the first instance, built for military purposes, but they became great highways for all. Starting from the golden milestone in the Forum at Rome, one could travel to the borders of the Empire with a rapidity and safety which has since been unknown even in Western Europe until within a hundred years.3 And from yet another source:
The rights of persons and property were well protected. The conquered nations, though often and justly complaining of the rapacity of provincial governors, yet, on the whole, enjoyed greater security against domestic feuds and foreign invasion, a larger share of social comfort, and rose to a higher degree of secular civilization. The ends of the empire were brought into military, commercial, and literary communication by CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTED ROADS, the traces of which still exist in Syria, on the Alps, on the banks of the Rhine. The facility and security of travel were greater in the reign of the Caesars than in any subsequent period before the nineteenth century.4 Most people in today's modern jet age have discounted Roman times as ancient and primitive not realizing any area of importance in the world at that time was only a few days, at most a few weeks, away by ship or caravan.
As all authorities on ancient Rome point out, these times approached what we now call "modern" in the speed and means of travel.
The apostles, by sea or land, could travel rapidly from city to city within the empire — at times all the way back to Jerusalem to observe a festival or to attend a conference — then back to the area from which they departed.
It was not at all unusual for citizens of Rome to visit far away places such as India to the east or Britain to the north. Peaceful times brought certain restlessness to the people and the humdrum of daily life led them to travel.
Not all traveled as rapidly as it was possible, but good time could be made without too much effort.
The rate of travel was from thirty to fifty miles a day, although on occasion much higher speeds could be maintained. Julius Caesar covered one hundred miles a day in a hired carriage, and once the Emperor Tiberius traveled two hundred miles in twenty-four hours... Even though travel had its dangers (the apostle Paul was shipwrecked three times on his journeyings),6 on the whole travel was both swift and safe in order to allow the gospel to be taken throughout the world within the lifetimes of the first apostles.
The routes by sea had been determined by the Phoenicians and Greeks centuries before the Romans began a transmarine commerce. From Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber and from Puteoli on the bay of Naples, ships reached Alexandria, occasionally in seven or eight days;... The average run of a sailing-ship was reckoned at four to six knots an hour. With a fair wind and good weather one could sail from Ostia to Africa in two days, to Tarraco in Spain in four, and to Gades beyond the Pillars of Hercules [Gibraltar] in seven. The adventurous merchant or traveller could embark for India from Myos Hormos or from Berenice on the Arabian Gulf, sailing with the western winds in midsummer and returning with the favoring blasts of midwinter. In the reign of Augustus, one hundred and twenty ships from Myos Hormos were dispatched annually on these long voyages.5
Again, WHY? Why did travel methods and safety reach a PEAK right at the time needed by the Church?
The answer very obviously is GOD INTENDED IT THAT WAY. He led and directed affairs to prepare even the methods of transportation.
Today it is no different. For the gospel to go to the ENTIRE WORLD — not just an empire — even more rapid means of travel are required.
And, in this age in history — the 1960's A.D., if there is not a God in heaven to intervene, mankind will soon destroy all life from this planet.
But there is a God who will intervene. However, prior to His intervention He has given a GREAT COMMISSION to His Church, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in ALL THE WORLD for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."7
Just as surely as God prepared the Roman empire for the beginning of His Church, so He has prepared this modern twentieth century jet age for the final years before Jesus Christ returns to this earth to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
The same message which Christ brought His disciples was taken throughout the entire Roman empire. But it has not been until modern times when the gospel — the very same gospel preached by Christ and the disciples — has been going to the ENTIRE WORLD as a final witness to warn the world that God is about to intervene in man's affairs.
Communications an Added Tool Safe and efficient methods of travel in the Roman empire led to the establishment of an efficient means of COMMUNICATION with Rome and the establishment of a practical MAIL SYSTEM.
The construction and repair of roads, harbors, and other aids to commercial enterprise were a special concern of Augustus. Italy now consisted of more than 450 separate communities, and the prince was anxious to improve the communications between them...he initiated a good many road-building projects himself, though he repeatedly catered to senatorial sensitivities by associating the Senate with himself in the inscriptions that appeared on Italian milestones...Canals and harbor projects were completed...All of these projects not only expedited commercial and military movements throughout the empire, but also made possible the efficient dispatch of the empire's civil servants and thus were the necessary preliminaries to the establishment of an imperial postal service.8 Nearly every book in the New Testament is a letter or report sent by an apostle to a church congregation, to a personal friend, or to another minister. These writings have been preserved for us as an inspired part of God's Word, the Bible.
Without the travel and the establishment of the mails, God would have had to use an entirely different means to preserve the writings of the apostles about Jesus Christ and the history of His true Church. But messengers carrying letters of the apostles moved from church to church until the most important letters became standard material and finally were incorporated into the inspired writings.
Messengers carrying the mails did not usually try to make the time some military men did:
Private correspondence was dispatched chiefly by hired messengers, who might cover twenty-five miles a day on foot. For official business Augustus established an imperial post modeled on that earlier maintained by the Persians.9 Letter and business correspondence became a common part of life for the Roman world — consequently one of the most important PREPARATIONS God had made for the Church.
The Preparation Complete In every possible manner the way had been prepared for Christianity. The Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks each made contributions to the world, contributions which aided the Church. But the fullness of times had not arrived until the world was solidified into an empire under the Romans. It was not until a few short years prior to Christ's birth that conditions were JUST RIGHT. When the time was at hand God did send forth His Son.
Volumes upon volumes have been written about Roman times. Few historians have ever grasped the reasons WHY existing conditions were extant — they only recorded WHAT happened.
Understanding God had a hand in the course of nations changes the entire thought and concept of the study of history.
The beginning of Christianity is certainly one of the most inspiring times of all to observe and understand God's intervention in world affairs.
This time is perhaps best summarized in Fisher's Church History:
The system of Roman law, administered wherever there were Roman citizens, was an educating influence of a like tendency.
The mutual influence of the Greeks and Latins, and the united effect of the Greek and Latin languages and culture, not only enlarged and enriched the minds of men, but also served to form a groundwork of intellectual and moral sympathy. Among all the peoples that have appeared on the stage of history the Greeks are the most eminent for literary and artistic genius. Their wonderful creations in literature, science, philosophy, and art were fast becoming the common property of the nations. It was the reasonable boast of Plato, that while other races, as the Phoenicians, had been devoted to money-making, the Greeks in intellectual power and achievement, excelled them all...Greek at length grew to be the language of commerce, and the vehicle of polite intercourse, a common medium of communication through all the eastern portion of the empire. The Latin tongue, the language of Roman officials and of the Roman legions, was carried wherever Roman conquests and colonies went.
Under the reign of Augustus an increased stimulus was given to travel and intercourse between different parts of the Roman world. There were journeys of civil and military officers, and the marching of legions from one place to another. Piracy had been suppressed, and now that peace was established there was a vast increase of trade and commerce, in which the Jews everywhere took an active part. There was much traveling for health and for pleasure. Roman youth studied Egypt and of the East. Provincials were eager to see Rome. From curiosity, to get employment or largesses, to buy and to sell, to find or to furnish amusement, they flocked to the capital.10
A Final Summary of the Positive External Preparations Adolf Harnack, in his Mission and Expansion of Christianity, states several major conditions which greatly facilitated the expansion of Christianity in the world.
These are generally recognized by all church historians as the heart and core of God's preparation. Seven of these are: (1) The Greek influence which had gone on since the time of Alexander the Great — or the comparative unity of language. (2) The world-empire of Rome and the political unity. (3) The security of international traffic. (4) The essential unity of mankind through Roman law. (5) Ancient societies now built up into a democracy-like government and the equalization of the citizens. (6) The religious policies of the Romans, allowing freedom to practice local customs. (7) The spread of religions of other types throughout the empire.11
Once again we see from every possible angle that GOD'S PREPARATION of the world for Christianity was complete and through. From roads on which to travel, to laws to make the travel possible, the stage was set.
The disciples of Christ could and did take advantage of every preparation. They had been commissioned to PERFORM A JOB. With inspired effort they accomplished the task of taking Christ's way of life to the entire Roman empire with forty years.
Chapter II - Footnotes 1. Bourne, A History of the Romans, p. 359.
2. Jackson-Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, pp. 230, 231. (see also Irenaeus, Against Heresies, iv. 30. 3).
3. Jackson-Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, pp. 228.
4. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, p. 81.
5. Jackson-Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, pp. 229.
6. II Corinthians 11:25
7. Matthew 24:14
8. Bourne, A History of the Romans, p. 362, 363.
9. Jackson-Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, pp. 229.
10. Fisher, The History of the Church, pp. 9, 10.
11. Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, pp. 19-23.