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What was it like to be an ordinary Christian in the beginning decades of the Roman Empire? In this absorbing and authoritative book, Meeks analyzes the earliest extant documents of Christianity--the letters of Paul--to describe the tensions and the texture of life of the first urban Christians.


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What was it like to be an ordinary Christian in the beginning decades of the Roman Empire? In this absorbing and authoritative book, Meeks analyzes the earliest extant documents of Christianity--the letters of Paul--to describe the tensions and the texture of life of the first urban Christians.

30 review for The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dan Lacich

    Very insightful look at early Christianity. Meeks tends to take the most liberal and skeptical of views on dating New Testament books as well as questions of authorship. This impacts how he interprets certain events but is not a reason to reject the basic work.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Annie Large

    Really interesting, full of lots of information. Presented as a thesis, tough, not a book you would just volunteer to read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard Worden

    In the 1950's there was a TV program called "You Were There" which re-created historical events. Meeks' book is a You Were There experience. Using sociological concepts the author gives a bird's eye view of the church in Roman cities and how they survived, interacted with their neighbours, differed from the Jerusalem James led church and how the Pauline theology evolved ultimately dominating the Roman Empire. The book is academic with hundred of footnotes and an excellent biography.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brett

    Awesome book. It is early '80's. So it doesn't seem that novel now, but it was a turning point in Pauline and biblical scholarship as he was one of the pioneers of the social-critical approach. It is a must read for anybody reading Paul. I was particularly fascinated his first chapter about urban life at the time.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nicola Hawkes

    I'm not a theologian and so not really qualified to judge the literary value of the content - some reviewers dispute Meeks' assertions of authorship for some of the epistles, or lack of treatment of some relevant material and I can see why they might be concerned that he extrapolates too far from scanty material (I have no idea). However I found a great deal of this book extremely interesting and thought provoking. It set the scene for me of the early church. Yes a lot of it was technical - disc I'm not a theologian and so not really qualified to judge the literary value of the content - some reviewers dispute Meeks' assertions of authorship for some of the epistles, or lack of treatment of some relevant material and I can see why they might be concerned that he extrapolates too far from scanty material (I have no idea). However I found a great deal of this book extremely interesting and thought provoking. It set the scene for me of the early church. Yes a lot of it was technical - discussions of the translations were simply beyond me. But when the author tried hard to make it accessible, I thought he succeeded very well. Its refreshing to read about every-day life, and how many problems there must have been. Paul must have been a strong-willed (even stroppy!) apostle, full of the Spirit but humanly exasperated at times. Can't give it 4 stars simply because it was hard-going at times, but a very interesting read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim Warren

    I started this book as part of my study of a Biblical sense of community. Meeks writes to an audience of scholars yet is understandable to anyone who reads above a 7th grade reading level. His scholarly insights help us understand the culture surrounding and within the early churches established by Paul in Urban Centers.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael Walker

    This was a ground-breaking work in biblical sociology by one of the field's pioneers. Thought-provoking!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura Robinson

    Great quick read about the evidence from Pauline letters about what sort of communities Paul was in the business of forming -- their self-understanding, social mobility, social class, etc.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lu Tsun

    REVIEW AND CRITIQUE Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale, 1983. In The First Urban Christians Meeks offered a ground-breaking social history model of explaining the growth of the Pauline-Christian movement, studying the sociological conditions (urban lives, social classes, rituals and household conventions) of the ordinary Pauline Christians in the Greco-Roman environment. The distinctive orientation of Meek’s study is to “describe” th REVIEW AND CRITIQUE Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale, 1983. In The First Urban Christians Meeks offered a ground-breaking social history model of explaining the growth of the Pauline-Christian movement, studying the sociological conditions (urban lives, social classes, rituals and household conventions) of the ordinary Pauline Christians in the Greco-Roman environment. The distinctive orientation of Meek’s study is to “describe” the real-life pattern of ordinary Christians instead of “analyzing” the “vague” ideas of culture and religion in the thoughts of the leaders and writers. The picture of social history of the early Pauline Christians as reconstructed by Meek remains Hellenistic in orientation. The resultant is not far from the common imagination of most interpreters of the Pauline writings: the Pauline community is a very heterogeneous mixture of social statuses, typically meeting in household homes, using voluntary membership, having liturgy and rituals, etc. The relatively peculiar suggestion of Meek is that he proposes the resolution of social status inconsistency as a way of explaining the extraordinary growth of the Pauline-Christian movement. Critiques: Meek's work provides many interesting angles of probing the history of Pauline Christianity. Though it is not directly treated in this work, the social aspect is indeed indispensable for our understanding of the broader context of Paul's life and theology. On the other hand, Meek's ground-breaking work has not rendered fruitful insights on our subject. More researches are needed to make Meek's approach truly useful: 1) The highly controversial issue of the relationship between social context and religious did not receive a full treatment in this work. We need to use caution when some more comprehensive sociological paradigm (e.g. Marxism) is introduced into the hermeneutic framework through the sociological angle. 2) The available data suitable for sociological study of ancient history is very limited and often speculative. We will need to be patient in awaiting more archaeological and anthropological data to become available for interesting sociological studies.

  10. 4 out of 5

    T.A. Gallant

    This book came highly rated, but honestly I found it a bit disappointing. It's not simply that I don't share the author's opinions about the New Testament text, although that certainly contributed: I happen to think Acts has actual historical value, and don't buy the notion that Ephesians, Colossians and the Pastorals are "deutero-Pauline." Thus, I found much of Meeks' analysis frustrating. Equally problematic is that in mutiple cases, Meeks made an assertion about Paul himself, and I could readi This book came highly rated, but honestly I found it a bit disappointing. It's not simply that I don't share the author's opinions about the New Testament text, although that certainly contributed: I happen to think Acts has actual historical value, and don't buy the notion that Ephesians, Colossians and the Pastorals are "deutero-Pauline." Thus, I found much of Meeks' analysis frustrating. Equally problematic is that in mutiple cases, Meeks made an assertion about Paul himself, and I could readily think of an instance in an uncontested Pauline letter that disproved the point—including at times verses that elsewhere Meeks showed awareness of the text. Then too, I frankly found the writer a bit "dry," which helps explain why it took me so long to come back and finish the book. All that said, Meeks knows his stuff and if you're willing to put up with the above, you'll probably find a good deal valuable in terms of how the various social realities of the time impinged upon the first century churches.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Milk Badger

    A fascinating, though at times scholarly, sociological and historical study of the religious communities founded by Paul in a dozen or so cities around the Mediterranean basin. Meeks compares them with a number of other contemporary social phenomena in the Hellenistic world (patrifamilial households, voluntary associations, synagogues, rhetorical schools), describing how the Pauline ekklēsiai were in some ways similar to these groups but also unprecedented. Although much is still unknown about t A fascinating, though at times scholarly, sociological and historical study of the religious communities founded by Paul in a dozen or so cities around the Mediterranean basin. Meeks compares them with a number of other contemporary social phenomena in the Hellenistic world (patrifamilial households, voluntary associations, synagogues, rhetorical schools), describing how the Pauline ekklēsiai were in some ways similar to these groups but also unprecedented. Although much is still unknown about the earliest Christians, the book left me with an impression of them that bears more resemblance to sixteenth-century Anabaptists, eighteenth-century Wesleyan "class meetings" and contemporary house churches than to most of the established Christian institutions in existence today.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen

    I started out excited by the title, thinking I'd get some insight into Paul's world. Well. I did, but it was work. Dry read. Really more of a research paper feel. Really felt like I was back in college and HAD to read it for the class. Nothing compelling about it for me. (Maybe I'm not intellectual enough...)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I'm very curious about the few hundred years of Christianity. This is four stars and not five because I'm not expert enough to evaluate it, but I certainly enjoyed it and found it informative. I don't know what group is the contemporary counterpart to the very early church -- the holiness churches?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Morton

    Wayne Meeks provides much helpful information regarding the first century world. The weakness in the study (even the revised version) shows up in the almost complete lack of attention he gives to the powerful ancient mystery religions such as the Artemis and Dionysus cults. The omissions seriously weaken some of his conclusions.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brent Wilson

    This book has been influential among New Testament scholars - helping to open up new ways to understand Paul's ministry. My personal response though was - a little too academic and not direct enough for my interests. I read it all, but it was somewhat tedious compared to works aimed more at lay readers.

  16. 4 out of 5

    jon

    Very meaningful content. A better reference work, imho, than a left to right read--too dense even for this academic. It was groundbreaking sociological work at the time and warrants its voice in pauline study.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Quient

    Absorbing, center/left, and ultimately compelling overview of the early Christians within the Pauline communities. He tends to have a rather dim view of Paul (one I don't share) but this book, when taken after a pinch of salt, is illuminating.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chantee

    One of the most interesting books on the early Christian/Pauline community I have ever read. The roles of urban ecology and "low-status crystallization" are particularly thought-provoking so I recommend this book without hesitation.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rick Folker

    rather dense but could be informative for college age or above

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

    An outstanding, detailed social history of the eastern Mediterranean in the New Testament period.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    Good overview of the social context of the communities that would have made up the first generation of Christians.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    Classic work on the types of social organization reflected in the Pauline epistles. I'm embarrassed that I never read it until now.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    As a standard in the field, it is a worthwhile read. Full of useful information. Meeks' approach, however, necessitates that a grain of salt (read: healthy skepticism)be applied to his evaluations.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alan Brehm

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Taylor

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doug

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

  28. 4 out of 5

    David de la Torre

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chackopay

  30. 4 out of 5

    Arthur O'dell

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