I have started discussing the fascinating article by Keith Hopkins, “Christian Number and Its Implications” (see my post of two days ago). After discussing some of the problems with knowing how to “count” Christians (i.e., who counts as a Christian), he reflects for a bit on the problems presented to us by our sources of information. The basic problem is that our sources don’t *give* us much information! No one from the early Christian church was a statistician and no one kept records of how many people were being converted. And the comments we find that are of any relevance turn out to be so broad, generalized, and suspicious as to be of no use to us at all.
Sometimes, a source will give numbers, but they clearly cannot be trusted. Take the book of Acts. This is our first account of early Christianity, and, of course, became the “canonical” account. According to Acts 2 (this and the following are examples that *I’m* giving; they are not found in Hopkins), just 50 days after Jesus’ death, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the disciples and they preached in foreign tongues in some kind of open-air setting, and Jews from around the world heard them and came to believe. How many Jews? 3000 became Christians that day.
A few days afterward, Peter and John are involved with a great miracle and Peter uses the opportunity to preach to the crowd, and he is remarkably successful. 5000 more Jews convert that day (Acts 4:4)
So here we are less than two months after Jesus’ death, and 8000 non-Christian Jews have converted to believe in Jesus, in Jerusalem. Really? Can that be right?
For starters: what was the population of Jerusalem at the time? Some scholars …
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