πετροστελος

February 7, 2010

Crowded Tenement Building Churches in Early Christianity

A young promising bright Master’s student at my alma mater, Regent College, dubbed “Poser or Prophet” writes in response to the Brooks’ post, “House Churches“:

Also, the early church probably didn’t meet in houses. They probably met in what space they could find in crowded tenement buildings — although if the wealthier first floor resident(s) converted, they could meet there (because, you know, with the risk of buildings falling over or burning down — which tended to happen frequently — it was much better to live on the ground floor than in the penthouse!).

Now I know that Poser and I have had our disagreements in the past, but this time I completely agree with him. In fact, I’ve gathered a number of texts as evidence for his position; the term πολυοχλοικοδομη (poluochloikodome=“crowded tenement building”), occurs frequently in early Christian literature. I can provide an abundant supply of further primary texts. I recommend the article in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, “Crowded tenement builiding” (s.v.); and Abraham Malhabre’s important essays in Social Aspects of Early Christianity, ch. 3-4, “Crowded tenement building churches and their problems”, “Hospitality and Inhospitality in crowded tenement building churches”; Gerd Thiessen’s, Social Setting of Pauline Christianity; and the article everyone refers back to F. V. Floyd, “The significance of the Early Christian crowded tenement building churches”  JBL 58 (1939): 105-112.

Here are some sample texts from the NT and the NT apocrypha (all translations taken from the NTCB):

Acts 1.13: and when they had entered crowded tenement buildings, they went up to the upper room where they were staying—for there was no room for them on the first floor where the rich people dwelt …

Acts 2.3: And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them, but also endangering the upper room of the crowded tenement buildings where they were met.

Acts 4.31: And when they had prayed, the crowded tenement buildings in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 8.3: But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering crowded tenement building after crowded tenement building, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Acts 12.12: When he realized this, he went to the crowded tenement building of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

Romans 16.3: Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their crowded tenement building.

1 Cor 16.19: The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their crowded tenement building, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

1 Tim 5.13: Besides that, they learn to be idlers, gadding about from crowded tenement building to crowded tenement building, and not only idlers but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

2 John 10: If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the crowded tenement building or give him any greeting;

Here are couple texts from the second century Apocrypha which shows that second century Christians also believed that the earliest Christians met in πολυοχλοικοδομη:

Acts of Paul III, 4, 7: And when Paul entered into the crowded tenement building of Onesiphorus, there was great joy, and bowing of knees and breaking of bread, and the word of God concerning abstinence (or continence) and the resurrection [snip] … And as Paul was saying these things in the midst of the assembly (church) in the crowded tenement building of Onesiphorus, a certain virgin, Thecla, whose mother was Theocleia, which was betrothed to an husband, Thamyris, sat at the window of the neighboring crowded tenement building, and hearkened night and day unto the word concerning chastity which was spoken by Paul…

Acts of John 46: John therefore continued with them, receiving them in the crowded tenement building of Andromeus. And one of them that were gathered laid down the dead body of the priest of Artemis before the door [of the temple]**, for he was his kinsman, and came in quickly with the rest, saying nothing of it. John, therefore, after the discourse to the brethren, and the prayer and the thanksgiving (eucharist) and the laying of hands upon every one of the congregation, …

**Junod-Kaestli, as well as earlier interpreters, suggest the elimination of “of the temple” (Greek, του ιερου) —Acta Iohannes (CChrSA) p. 227.

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