This led to their dispersal from Judea into neighbouring regions. But the dispersed Hellenists spread the message of Jesus—the gospel—wherever they went, at first only to their fellow-Jews but soon to non-Jews, Gentiles, as well.

Paul’s Missionary Journey I, AD 44 to 46 (Acts 13, 14).
Image source: © Carta, Jerusalem

This was particularly so in the great city of Antioch in North Syria, where a largely Gentile church (a community of believers in Jesus) came into being. It was the people of Antioch who called the followers of Jesus “Christians”.

In Judea itself a small group of Gentile Christians was formed in the seaport of Caesarea (the headquarters of the Roman governor of the province), where another leader of the Christian Hellenists, Philip, who had taken the gospel to the people of Samaria, made his home for many years. The first member of this group actually belonged to the Roman army: he was a centurion named Cornelius, a convert not of Philip but of Peter.

The most noteworthy convert in those early days was a young Jew called Paul, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, educated at Jerusalem in the academy of Gamaliel the elder, the greatest rabbi of his day. Paul was at first fiercely opposed to the Christians. When he was on his way to Damascus to round up Christian fugitives from Jerusalem and bring them back for trial, he was confronted by the risen Christ and called to be his servant and messenger in the Gentile world.

Paul was neither the first nor the only Christian missionary to the Gentile world, but he gave himself so wholeheartedly to this work that something new was added to the Christian movement. In the first few years of his Christian career he was active mainly in Syria and Cilicia. Barnabas, whom the leaders of the Jerusalem church sent to Antioch to supervise the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles there, enlisted Paul as his helper in this work.

From Antioch about AD 46 Barnabas and Paul began to take the gospel to Cyprus and central Asia Minor. A large part of central Asia Minor was occupied by the province of Galatia, in which several churches were planted at this time, consisting in the main of believing Gentiles.