Early Christian Origins: Studies in Honor of Harold R. Willoughby

By Allen Wikgren | Go to book overview

IX
CHRISTIANITY IN SARDIS

Sherman E. Johnson CHURCH DIVINITY SCHOOL OF THE PACIFIC


I

Christianity in Sardis is first known from the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. When the apocalyptic prophet John writes ( Rev. 3:1-7), the church in the ancient Lydian city may have existed for some time, for it has the name of being alive but is dead. John recognizes that in Sardis there are still a few who have not soiled their garments and are worthy, but the church must awake and strengthen what little remains. Its decadence may have been a relapse into paganism or into the error of the Nicolaitans mentioned in the letters to Pergamum and Thyatira ( Rev. 2:15, 20 ff.), which involved the eating of foods sacrificed to pagan gods. If this was the situation, Paul's teaching about Christian freedom may have led to what John considered a dangerous laxity. But we cannot prove any connection between Paul and the earliest church in Sardis. Of the seven churches of the Apocalypse, only two-- Ephesus and Laodicea--are known to have had any connection with the great apostle. It is possible, of course, that on the so-called third missionary journey Paul went through the Hermus valley on his way to Ephesus; but, as I have argued elsewhere,1 the most logical route for him to take was past Laodicea and down along the Maeander river. A third possibility is that he came through the Caÿster valley, but this would have involved another mountain pass, and the towns along this route were not as important as those in the other two valleys.

On the other hand, John represents a highly Jewish type of Christianity, and the churches to which he writes are closely

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1

S. E. Johnson, "Laodicea and Its Neighbors," BA, XIII ( 1950), 1-18.

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