The First Urban Christians:
The Social World of the Apostle Paul

Wayne A. Meeks

Yale University Press 1983
A book review by Danny Yee © 1993
The First Urban Christians is a study of the social background of the world in which the apostle Paul lived and wrote. It paints a picture of what it was actually like to be a first century Christian in a Pauline church, drawing on archaeological evidence as well as both biblical and non-biblical literary evidence. The approach is scholarly, employing all the tools of modern anthropology and sociology. (Some Christians will probably find this disturbing, but I think without good reason.)

The topics looked at in detail include: the way in which the early Christian communities maintained their separation from the rest of the world (while preserving an ability to accept converts) and a common sense of community with other churches; the social status of the first Christian converts and its significance for the growth of Christianity; the methods used to maintain order within communities; and the role played by rituals such as baptism and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

The First Urban Christians is a good introduction for anyone wanting to understand the context in which Paul's letters were written. This is perhaps particularly relevant for Christians given the recent debates within various churches over issues such as the ordination of women. Non-Christians should not turn away, however — the early Christians are as interesting a religious group as any other. A prior reading of the New Testament is recommended for those not familiar with it.

February 1993

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%T The First Urban Christians
%S The Social World of the Apostle Paul
%A Meeks, Wayne A.
%I Yale University Press
%D 1983
%O hardcover, index
%G ISBN 0300032447
%P 299pp