In the period between AD 30 and AD 70, many historians claim that there was an Early Jerusalem Church active and preaching in Palestine. The mainstream historical narrative can be found in this pdf. I am curious how the accepted story withstands skeptical scrutiny.

The Jerusalem Church was supposedly active for only a few decades, and qualitatively different from the contemporary Pauline Church, which took over after the last Jewish revolt in 135AD. Most of the documents related to the teaching of this church or its existence are contained in Pauline documents. These Pauline documents serve as religious texts too, as proselyzing tools, so I don't trust them as historical sources. For all I know, Paul just made up all his correspondence with the Jerusalem church so as to justify various positions. The only time the Jerusalem church comes up is when he has a debate with somebody on church policy, and then he sends off a letter to Jerusalem, and then Jerusalem tells him he was right. Modern religious leaders seem to have no compunctions about fabricating even more outrageous things, so I don't want anything reliant on Paul's testimony.

The reason I doubt this church, is because the Christian faith has Gnostic and Pagan components which are significant. I hesitate to say "Pagan", because I don't mean it negatively, I think these are important teachings, you find them in Gnostic texts. One of the Pagan things seems to be Plato's realm of the spirit, where forms and souls have eternal life, and which is can be seen as a precurser to the very distinctive Christian concept of eternal life. This idea does not have a Jewish source that I can see. Ecclesiastes, which is one of the latest Jewish texts in the old testament, while showing Greek influence, denies the afterlife, although it talks about it, so the idea must have been floating around. Job too.

I am curious whether there was an actual Jerusalem church. This question is inspired by the question about the historical Jesus: Did Jesus live? . I guess you can phrase it as "Was there a historical Peter?".

So was there a major church in Jerusalem in AD 30-130? Like unfabricated archeological evidence: church buildings, grave-markers, documentary evidence from people other than Paul about figures other than James the Just or John the Baptist, both of whom are well documented, but not clearly affiliated with an organized Christian Church.

The number and type of each church is significant evidence, so that if the Church spread out from Jerusalem, you expect to find churches spreading radially from there, and to find other Jerusalem-style church communities elsewhere after 135AD, etc.

Was there a Jerusalem Church? What was its size and composition?

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    @DJClayworth: Religious questions should be off-topic, but a question about (the proof of) the existence of a specific church isn't religious itself, is it? Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 17:28
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    Questions about the veracity of historical claims are perfectly on topic - although, @Ron, you may get a better answer on History. Completely up to you, though. I agree that asking on Christianity is a bit different (as they encourage answers based on Scripture).
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 19:12
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    Many people are perfectly happy to answer historical questions on Christianity, and if you don't want scripture considered as an answer then you have only to say so. Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 20:14
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    Incidentally, are you asking about the existence of a church in Jerusalem? Or are you asking about the existence of a widespread organized church centred on Jerusalem? Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 20:20
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    @DJClayworth: I want any evidence for a church community in Jerusalem ca 30-70AD. This can be some people other than Paul, that had recorded correspondence with the Jerusalem church figures, James the Just, and Peter, or someone else. Any evidence for the events in Acts having some historical basis, anything that can persuade one that Christianity has significantly more Jewish components than using the Septuagint or teachings of a Jewish figure. Personally, I am skeptical when people either blame or praise Jews for Christianity, which I see as 60% Greek (I like Christianity very much BTW).
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Mar 29, 2012 at 5:20

2 Answers 2


The Jerusalem church is described in Acts (which is not by Paul but by the author of Luke), and Acts 15 has an account of the conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem church. The same conflict is described by Paul in Galatians 2, hence we have two independent sources, which at least establish the existence of the church. (The council is not surprisingly described somewhat differently in the two accounts, but the premise that there were a church and a council is established by both.)

We don't have any archaeological evidence and wouldn't expect to, since there most likely were no dedicated church building (the disciples met in private according to Acts - church just means congregation at this point, not a specific building) and distinct Christian symbols like crucifixes etc were not used at the time.

I don't see anything suggest that the church should be fictional, especially since the story of the conflict kind of weakens the authority of the early church and Paul, so it wouldn't be in anybody's interest to make such a story up.

You are correct that Christianity shows a lot of Greek influence, especially in later iteration, but this has clearly been a gradual process. John (the latest gospel) shows much more Greek (perhaps even Gnostic) influence, while Mark (the earliest) is more purely Jewish. This is fully consistent with the mainstream view that the first Christians and the Jerusalem church where basically a Jewish sect, and Paul transformed it into a more Hellenistic religion approachable by non-Jews - a transformation which caused the conflict described in Acts.

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    While a typical debate might put the onus of proof on the personal making the extraordinary claim, by necessity it works the other way around onf Skeptics.SE. The onus is on the answerer to provide the evidence. This makes some claims unanswerable, but that's the price of being a Q&A site rather than an open debating forum.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 13:36
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    @Oddthinking: OK, but there is independent historical proof of the Jerusalem Church in Acts. This is the "documentary evidence from people other than Paul" which the OP request.
    – JacquesB
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 13:51
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    @Oddthinking What exactly is so extraordinary about claiming there was a church in Jerusalem?
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 14:54
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    @NeilMeyer: Sorry, it was me who stated it was en extraordinary claim that the Jerusalem church was fictional, and I requested some evidence from the OP. As per the request by Oddthinking I removed this request for evidence.
    – JacquesB
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 14:58
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    @RonMaimon: Acts is definitely not written by Paul, so it is independent evidence. And both accounts (Acts and Pauls) specifically shows disagreement between Paul and the Jerusalem church, most specifically regarding circumcision.
    – JacquesB
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 9:13

Jerusalem church existed. Conclusive external evidence is found in Richard Carrier's "On the Historicity of Jesus". If you accept Carrier's thesis (I do), a real historical Peter founded the religion, and it is plausible that 1 Peter is his authentic Epistle.

This Petrine Jewish Christian community is attested to independently of the NT in two separate mutually confirming sources: the Babylonian Talmud and Epiphanius. Both describe a community of Torah-observant Christians, called the Nazarenes, independent of the Roman Church, and in the case of the Talmud outside the boundaries of the Roman empire, who can be clearly identified as doctrinally continuous with Peter and his Nazoreans attested to in the New Testament. This has nothing to do with any Christian sources, and it is unbiased independent confirmation.

"Nazoreans" (Mod Heb:Notzri still is the term for Christian), which could mean "from Nazareth", but could plausibly alternatively be derived from the Hebrew root "Notzar", or "made" in the sense of "manufactured", most accurately "formed". Carrier identifies a use of a Greek word that Paul uses for Jesus, he identifies the Greek meaning as a sort of "manufacture" or "formation", describing the creation of Christ's body.

Somebody asked why I asked this question, as the historicity of the Jerusalem church was not seriously questioned by other people. It's because I got confused after being temporarily persuaded (here) that there was a historical Jesus. I didn't believe in a historical Jesus before, I only believed in the existence of communication with the risen Jesus, inside people's heads.

One can see how the historical narratives would be written to describe the internal experience, but it is not so clear how a bunch of Jews would come associate this immaterial vision with any historical person they personally knew. If you accept a historical Jesus came first, then Christian and Jewish theology just don't fit together very well at all, because you require that Jews deified a living person. The deification of a human is tough to imagine in Judaism, no matter how great and saintly, and after reading the standard answer to the "historical Jesus" question it then became impossible for me to imagine how such a belief could emerge in Jerusalem. I figured everything doctrinaire had to come from Paul, and that the Jewish Christians were a few scattered individual followers of John the Baptist, rather than an organized church.

But within Carrier's framework, there is no theological problem, the two faiths fit together perfectly at the seam. The experience of the risen Christ is the fundamental thing in Carrier, and it is the fundamental thing right from the start in Christianity, it is the experience communicated by both Peter and Paul in the Epistles, transmitting this experience is the job of the Apostles. The Jewish version of this just associated this experience with a metaphysical archangel who embodies as a flesh messiah somewhere (it doesn't matter where), gets crucified, ressurects and reascends. This is a natural outgrowth of Jewish theology and failed Messianic expectation--- the idea is that the Messiah already came and went, just nobody noticed. It would be compatible with an unnoticed anonymous Earthly messiah, or several different competing theories of historical messiah all simultaneously possible (meaning nobody knows which historical version is true, or perhaps all of them, as mirrors of heavenly events). The initial faith wouldn't care who specifically Jesus was in history, or even if he weren't in history at all, but crucified in outer space, as Carrier proposes.

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