In the Justin Martyr interview (100-165 AD) by a magistrate (sometimes called a Judge) we catch sight of a house church and gain some intriguing insight into the Christian life in the Early Church. Justin Martyr was an early Christian apologist, born in Samaria who moved to Rome. This interview was part of a translation by Marcus Dods (1834-1909) who was a Scottish divine and eminent Biblical scholar on the "Anti-Nicene Fathers."✞
The interview went like this. Judge: 'Where do you have your meetings?'
Justin: 'Wherever we can. Our God fills heaven and earth, and is worshipped everywhere.'
Judge: 'Tell me where.'
Justin: 'I live upstairs in the house of Martin, close to the Timiotinian Bath. And if anyone wished to come to me there, I passed on to him the true doctrine.'✞
This court document reveals to us that Justin Martyr could talk to people in the street, and tell those who were interested to come to Martin's house to learn more. The house as a meeting place afforded some privacy, a degree of intimacy, and stability.✞
It also created the potential for the emergence of factions within the Christian body in the city. It may well have been the case that the contending factions addressed by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 1-4 were based on different views held in different households. The household context also sets the stage for some conflicts in the allocation of power and the understanding of roles in the community. The head of the household, by normal expectations of the society, would exercise some authority over the group and would have some legal responsibility for it. We see this also in Justin Martyr's description of worship.✞
The John Mark House in Jerusalem was mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles where several important Christians stayed and other notable events occurred. Three great events in the early history of Christianity took place in a Jerusalem home which was possibly John Mark's house in Jerusalem. John Mark who died at the end of the first century AD was named in the Acts of the Apostles as an assistant accompanying Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas on their missionary journeys. He was regarded traditionally as identical to Mark the Evangelist. These special occasions were listed as the "Passover" or the "Lord's Supper" in Mark 14.12-26. "On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, 'Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?' So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, 'Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.' The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover."✞
The appearances of Jesus to the Apostles after his Resurrection also happened in a house in Jerusalem in John 20.19-20. "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord."✞
The Holy Spirit came to the disciples in this Jerusalem house in Acts 2. "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." The phrase, "speak in other tongues" may also be translated as "speak in other languages."
John Foster in "The First Advance - Church History 1: AD 29-500" describes these events as taking place in John Mark's house in Jerusalem. But he adds, "do we know that all three passages refer to the same house" Mark describes the house as having a guestroom in Mark 14.14, "say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'" It is upstairs in Mark 14.15, and large enough for Jesus and his Apostles. The Apostles in Acts 1.12-13, "returned ... and went up to the upper room where they were staying." It was a large room because one hundred and twenty people gathered with the Apostles there. Acts 2 begins with the Twelve "all together in one place" possibly again referring to the John Mark house.✞
No place change is mentioned in John 20.19 and John merely says, "the doors being shut where the disciples were," which seemed to mean "where they were staying." So the three passages probably referred to the same house in Jerusalem. A Jerusalem house where many Christians gathered for prayer is also mentioned in Acts 12. Peter, when he escapes from Herod's prison, knew where he would find his friends. This was "the house of Mary the mother of John, whose other name was Mark." This is the John Mark who later wrote the earliest of the Gospels. This would be the same John Mark's house in Jerusalem✞
During these early days, Christians were described as taking part in the Jerusalem Temple worship. The early community in Jerusalem is depicted in Acts 2.46 "They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity." The phrase "generosity" may be translated as "sincere hearts." Later in Acts 5.42, we read, "And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: 'Jesus is the Messiah.'" They met regularly in houses, in addition to their attendance at the Jerusalem Temple. Since the first Jewish believers saw themselves as a reform movement of Judaism (the true, not a new, Israel), it is not surprising that disciples such as Peter and John went to the Jerusalem Temple at the "hour of prayer." In Acts 3.1 "Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service." They taught and preached in its precincts, and continued to live as Jews in every other way.✞
The first serious and negative critique of the Jerusalem temple came in Stephen's speech before his death by stoning in Acts 6.13-7.53. "The lying witnesses said, 'This man is always speaking against the Holy Temple and the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth [or "Jesus the Nazarene"] will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us." This was less an attack on the Jerusalem Temple worship itself than on the attitude that gave supremacy to it. Stephen "was asserting that the promise to Abraham found its ultimate fulfillment not in the law as given to Moses nor in the Temple but Jesus Christ to whom everything in the Old Testament points." Nevertheless, some Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, under the leadership of James, may not have abandoned their loyalty to the Jerusalem Temple worship until its destruction in 70 AD.✞
Mary's Jerusalem house is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and is probably where Jesus met with the disciples in the upper room. The incidental details we know about may suggest that Mary Jerusalem house also called "the Cenacle" or "dining room" is a room located in the David's Tomb Compound in Jerusalem traditionally held to be the site of the Last Supper. According to Mark 14.14, it was not part of "an insulae," or "apartment" complex, but was a large house with a gateway that acted as a buffer between the street and the inner courtyard and rooms.✞
Jesus said to his disciples according to Mark 14.14, "Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks, "Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'" According to John Foster in "The First Advance - Church History 1, AD 29-500" the house of Mary, the mother of Mark in Jerusalem was the place of meeting for the first congregation of Christ's Church, and therefore the "First Christian church."✞
Saint Luke never portrayed the entire post-Pentecost community gathered in any one place. In Acts 2.41 we read, "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day". If we are to understand the number three thousand as an accurate count of these believers, they obviously could not have gathered under one roof. Peter's instruction to the group assembled in Mark's house suggests multiple places for meeting. ✞
In Acts 12.17 we read that, "Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. 'Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,' he said, and then he left for another place." The disciples were to report his release to James and "the brethren," who were presumably meeting elsewhere according to editors Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids in "Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development." It is interesting to look up the other Bible references to Mary's Jerusalem house. Was this the same house used for so many other events in the life of Jesus?✞
The Jewish Synagogue worship and attendance by Christians at the synagogues were described in the Acts of the Apostles. Jewish synagogue worship was another major institution in Jewish public and religious life during the first century AD. A "synagogue" from the Greek was simply an "assembly." The Hebrew equivalent "Beit Knesset " meant a "house of assembly" or "a synagogue" and is often used in the names of congregations. "Knesset" means "the gathering" or "assembly" and is also used by the national legislature of Israel today. However, while Jewish Christian believers continued an association with the Temple, Saint Luke was silent about any Jewish synagogue worship in or around Jerusalem. One may surmise that the house gatherings of the early believers replaced Jewish synagogue worship by providing similar opportunities and structures for Christian worship and fellowship.✞
Contacts with the synagogue apart from Stephen and the "Synagogue of the Freedmen" were found in Acts 6.9 where "opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) — who were Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia — who began to argue with Stephen." Synagogues were important in Saint Paul's missionary activity only as opportunities to initiate the proclamation of the gospel and as a model for Christian house churches in the Greco-Roman world. We also noted Ephesians 2.19-20 which said, "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." The Temple, however, had a special role before its destruction in 70 AD in the lives of the patriarchs and prophets and even in the life of Jesus. How did Jewish synagogue worship and then the house churches take over in the early years of the Christian community in Jerusalem?✞