When we think about the church, the picture of a gathering in either a church or chapel [Gemeindehaus] stands before our eyes. In front there is a pulpit for the pastor, who speaks to a congregation which sits in rows as an audience. When Paul writes "church", a totally different picture stands before his eyes, namely that of a small group made up of all generations which meets in a private house or the inner court of a private estate. Ecclesia, the New Testament word for church, means literally "gathering". Christians gathered, sitting on mats or reclining on couches around a table in a large room or inner court. Whoever wanted to say something simply stood up or spoke out. The meeting continued a long time; there was a coming and going throughout; children were present. Community in prayer, in reading the Old Testament aloud, in preaching and discussion, and in a common meal (as in the Last Supper) were the outstanding marks of the church, the gathering of Christians.
When we bring this New Testament situation to our consciousness, it challenges us anew to reflect upon church. As early as 1954 the Catholic theologian Heinz Schuermann said in a lecture, "The living space of the church is the house." H.-J. Klauck writes about this new departure of Schuermann, "He refers to the first churches, which 'mostly gathered in private houses in the beginning and hid in the family space,' and he brings up the demand even then for this 'family life' of the church (which in the time-limited form of the beginnings became visible as the required basic form) to be realized anew in the changed circumstances of the present. Completing this idea, one may add that external circumstances can within limits compel a backwards reflection over the way of life in the beginning years of the church. It is not hard to picture situations of persecution or minority status in which houses will again become the place where the Christian life of faith can dwell.
This idea, that of realizing anew under the circumstances of our time the original form of the church as the church in the home, would radically transform the structure and content of church life for all denominations, free church as well as mainline (or state) church. The following contribution should show how strong the evidence for the house church is in the New Testament and what life-style possibilities it opened up then (and perhaps today).
The two Greek words oikos and oikia mean both "house" in the sense of a "dwelling house" and "house" in the sense of "family". The basic meaning is thereby clear: house is that which "coheres". The English word "house" [German word Haus] also mediates a similar basic experience; it comes from the Indogermanic root "to cover, to envelope". The word "house" in Greek as in English describes the house church as an "overseeable, security-giving life fellowship [Lebensgemeinschaft]."
The dwelling house of the middle and upper classes in the Roman Empire offered a place for larger groups: we can at least reckon with the fact that 20 people could take part in a house gathering. If the circle were larger, the group shifted out into the inner court. The upper limit for a house church would have been about 40 members. In comparison, the typical Palestinian house which had just one room would only offer space for a small group. But by the time of Jesus there were already many large houses of the Roman or Hellenistic type in Jerusalem, which offered space enough for the various Jerusalem house churches.
"House" in the sense of family means the typical extended family of the Roman period, which could include parents, children, grandparents, relatives and slaves. The meaning of oikos and oikia is, however, so indefinite in Greek (and therefore also in the New Testament) that most of the time it is difficult to decide whether the dwelling house or the extended family is intended. There were house churches which indeed took place in a designated, suitable house - the family of the house's owner or even the owner himself did not necessarily have to be a Christian. But most of the time the whole family formed the basis of a house church, although Christians from outside this family could also belong to the church.
We can therefore expect a very multifarious picture of the house church in the New Testament.
There is no house church about which we know more from the New Testament epistles than this one. We wish to attempt to briefly narrate its history, since it can give us special insights into early Christian life.
Aquila was a tentmaker or leather worker, who had therefore the same vocation as Paul. He and his wife Prisca (or Priscilla) were driven from Rome by the edict of Claudius Caesar (AD 49) shortly before the arrival of Paul in Corinth, and they had founded a new trade workshop in Corinth. Paul not only moved into Aquila's house, but also entered his workshop as well. Thus they worked and evangelized [missionieren] together (Acts 18:1-4). This very evangelistic [missionarischel house church was therefore a live-in community and a trade community as well. Probably the first evangelistic contacts were made either with the customers of the two tentmakers or through neighborhood relationships.
When Paul left Corinth after a year and a half and moved to Ephesus, Prisca and Aquila went with him (Acts 18:18). This was not a small move, but a very substantial one, for as an independent tradesperson Aquila certainly had suitable equipment for his business, and he probably employed dependent workers or slaves, who presumably belonged to his house church. One suspects that Epenetus and Mary, who are mentioned in Rom 16:5-6 and bear slave names, were domestics who belonged to Prisca and Aquila's house church. Apparently Aquila and Prisca went with Paul to Ephesus because he only intended to remain there a short time and needed a "house church capable" couple in order to build the church in Ephesus.
In Rom 16:3-4 the two again appear: "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. . . ." It appears therefore that they had moved back to Rome as soon as the political situation allowed. There they had again founded a house church - perhaps they were preparing themselves to receive Paul into their home when he should come to Rome. "In all these places they became the apostle's 'quartermasters', in Corinth more by chance, in Ephesus and Rome purposely." Paul sees them as particularly important fellow workers, who in Ephesus apparently stood bail with their lives for his release: "They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." (Rom 16:4, NIV)
It is significant, although utterly abnormal for the customary usage of that day, that with one exception Prisca is always named before her husband. Since a firm ancient convention is breached here, one must give special importance to this usage. A. von Harnack has expressed this concisely and colorfully: "The missionary Prisca and her spouse Aquila . . . ." When Paul comes to Corinth, Luke still names Aquila first (Acts 18:2); when they move with Paul to Ephesus, Prisca is named first as in every case later (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19). During this time both marriage partners apparently discovered their gifts and responsibilities: Prisca the outwardly directed mission and Aquila the organizational work and the more clearly specifically vocational mission. This consistent living according to the charism (gifting) of the individual without consideration of the societal conventions is still a challenge today.
What conclusions can we draw from the description of Prisca and Aquila's house church?
The church in Rome was a network of house churches; we can name seven of them. (1) Excavations have proven that at least two of the old Roman churches emerged from private houses, therefore from house churches. (2) Furthermore, the martyrologies witness to Justin's house church. (3) Romans chapter 16 names four further house churches: first, that of Prisca and Aquila, which we already know (16:3-4), then in v. 14 the house church of Asyncritus, in v. 15 the church in the house of Philologus and Julia, in v. 10 "those who belong to the household of Aristobulus", and finally in v. 11, "Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord." Then, Andronicus and Junia (Junias) are also named, perhaps a missionary couple with a house church similar to Prisca and Aquila.
This enumeration says more about early Christian house church life in Rome than one might first expect, for the types of names and the added remarks allow us to draw conclusions. It is clear that the enumerated house churches were so different and multiform that we today can hardly imagine it. First, we find Prisca and Aquila, Jews of some standing, proved Christians, and respected businesspeople. Over against them the Christian workers [Mitarbeiter] in the house churches of Asyncritus and Philologus appear to have been slaves or former slaves, as their names indicate. Aristobulus was certainly a Jew, possibly a highly placed relative of Herod Agrippa I. Whether he was a Christian or whether a Christian congregation simply met in his house can not be established with certainty. In the case of Narcissus the situation is again different: relatives or slaves of a pagan householder had found an opportunity to form a Christian house church in his home, presumably because they had earned his trust through model private and business lives. We therefore conclude that on the one hand individual house churches knew a certain "closedness" within themselves, but on the other hand that the whole church in Rome was a type of "colorfully thrown together heap" with respect to religious background and differentiated social strata in a way we can hardly imagine today.
The reference to Andronicus and Junia presents a special problem. All Bible translations before the late 1980's and most older commentaries assume that a man named Junias is intended here. But the context and archaeological evidence indicates that instead one should assume a woman named Junia. The Greek accusative case used in the text is identical for Junia and Junias. However, there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for a male name Junias in the ancient period, but there is for a female name Junia. The early church fathers (e.g. Tertullian) apparently assumed that Junia was a woman. How then did this change in the tradition come about? Junia and her husband Andronicus were designated by Paul as "outstanding" apostles. A woman as an apostle - that could not be. So, starting with the fourth century church fathers, commentators assumed that only a man could be intended here and read the text accordingly. If we value the original tradition as correct, then we have an especially clear corroboration of the Pauline saying in Gal 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
The enumeration of the house churches in Rome underlines this saying impressively. We find Jews and Greeks as leaders of house churches, slaves and free as leading church workers [Mitarbeiter der Gemeinde] - and presumably even a female apostle, Andronicus and Junia as a married couple, who were sent out together for a special mission. Besides indicating the multifaceted nature of church life in Rome, the fact is once more underlined that the life of the churches in the apostolic period breached the social conventions of their time in many places.
There is hardly a more interesting chapter in Paul's missionary strategy than the description in Acts 18 of his work in Corinth. First - we have already described it - Paul moved into the house of Aquila in order to practice his trade together with him and thereby to evangelize [missionieren]. When Silas and Timothy joined them, Paul was able to concentrate totally on preaching, for the two new arrivals and Aquila could support Paul through their work - and, besides, an important framework of contacts had already been built up through Paul's work in his trade. That is a fascinating combination: three wage earners finance a full-time worker [Hauptamtlichen]! Paul first concentrated on the mission to the Jews and therefore remained in the house of the Jew Aquila. When the direct Jewish mission failed, Paul turned to the pagans and moved into the house of Titus Justus, a God-fearer (therefore a person who sympathized with the Jews). That was a strategic masterpiece, for he went to a pagan who was a friend of the Jews and also possessed a house that immediately adjoined the synagogue. The strategy fulfilled its goal, for the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, was baptized along with his whole house. He was one of the few who was personally baptized by Paul. Here we find evangelization through an undivided life based on relationships, on neighborhood, and on business contacts; the preaching did not build the contacts, but led through them to decision. That was true for even such a great preacher as Paul, who is here described as both missionary preacher and missionary strategist.
How did the house churches in Corinth arise? The three house churches described so far all came into being primarily thanks to the initiative of Paul; when it comes to Stephanas, however, Stephanas' own initiative is emphasized: "You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints." (1 Cor 16:15, NIV) One must observe this wording carefully: the zeal of Stephanas had made his house the firstfruit of Achaia: not only is the individual person important as a beginning point for the Gospel, but also the living area which belongs to that person, the house, the family, the house church, is equally important.
Two further house churches in Corinth give us special insights. First, there is Phoebe's house church. From her name one supposes that she came from the slave class but had become independent and acquired possessions and was the host for a house church. Apparently she was more than a well-to-do woman who had placed her house at the service of the church, for she is designated the leader of her house church. This house church was situated about 7 km from the city center, in Cenchrea, one of the two Corinthian ports. The church in Phoebe's house was, on the one hand, influenced from its location on the periphery or the Corinthian city-state and, on the other, from its social situation in the harbor area. Here Christians from the lower classes met: stevedores, sailors, slaves, former prostitutes, and perhaps also women like Cloe and "her people", about whom Paul speaks in 1 Cor 1:11.
In the city center of Corinth lived Erastus, a high official, the city treasurer of Corinth. He is not expressly designated a householder, but he certainly owned a house appropriate to his social rank and presumably also led a house church. At the least he was one of the leading church workers [Mitarbeiter] in Corinth. We can vividly imagine what possibilities for conflict were offered when the whole church gathered together (1 Cor 14). Here Cloe's people from the harbor proletariat met the distinguished city treasurer Erastus; the pious Jew Crispus, a former leader of the synagogue, met the "emancipated" former female slave Phoebe, who would later even travel to Rome as a single woman (Rom 16:1).
The various house churches arose in the first instance from the geographical situation. The Christians from Cenchrea could hardly make the 14 km long round trip to the city of Corinth several times a week. But through this circumstance there arose house churches whose internal social structure was relatively unified and stood in stark contrast to that of other house churches. Uneducated people from the harbor proletariat and rich officials from the inner city could perhaps relatively easily participate in formal church services with one another, but they could hardly live so closely with one another as happened in a house church.
Thus severe problems, which certainly stemmed from this dimension of social tension and the acceptance of social division in the collegia of that day, occurred readily in Corinth at the Lord's Supper, which was then a proper meal. The following was the consequence: there is in Christ no longer Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female - but one need not have an identically close relationship with everyone. One may live where he or she feels comfortable, where one can be together with those who are similar to himself or herself, where they do not feel excessively irritated by the differences of the other. Only then can a proportion of mutual complementarity grow in the total church, a mutuality which Paul describes in his picture of the body of Christ.
This network of a variety of house churches with very different identities became woven together into a totality, the whole church of Corinth; that is clear from Rom 16:23 (the letter which Paul wrote from Corinth): "Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings." (NIV) In a thorough examination of these verses Klauck comes to the conclusion that the whole church gathered for special occasions in the especially roomy house of Gaius. The old commentary on Romans by Origen also supports this thesis. Certainly in every place where multiple house churches existed there were occasionally whole church gatherings. The New Testament leaves unstated what normally happened in the house church and what happened on the special occasions in the whole city church. Presumably there was no firm dividing line. In the house churches they baptized, taught, celebrated the Lord's Supper, i.e. ate. They certainly met as a whole church when visitors from outside the local area came, and perhaps on special feast days (Passover and Pentecost were celebrated by Paul), or when special decisions which affected the total church had to be made. If thes passages refer to such a whole church gathering rather than (or as well as) to a gathering of a house church, 1 Cor 14 describes the gathering ("When the whole church comes together in one place . . .") as a charismatic service [charismatische Gottesdienst]; 1 Cor 11 as a shared meal, i.e. the Lord's Supper.
Finally, the following appears important to me: although there was a house or location in Corinth where the whole church had enough room to meet, at least on occasion, the house churches remained, for without their concrete intensive life of fellowship [Gemeinschaftsleben] church [Gemeinde] was unthinkable. Likewise the gathering of the whole church was necessary for life, for only in this way was it possible for the differentially influenced (through geographical location, social structure, or various personalities as leaders) house churches to complement each other. The house church is not to be seen as a stopgap measure which was only meaningful so long as one had no church building for the whole congregation, but as an indispensable part of church life, since only in houses can people live together; the whole church gathering is not a result of an overdriven institutionalizing tendency, but a vessel (as the body of Christ) in which the differentially influenced groups flow together in order to present a unified totality.
The fate of the house church came about quickly; after two centuries she had practically died out. In Dura-Europa, a Roman garrison city on the Euphrates, one can virtually excavate the fate of the house church. In AD 232/233 a dwelling house was built on old foundations. A Christian owned it. It appears that between 240 and 245 through the enlargement of the garrison the Christian church had grown so large that the space was no longer sufficient. Instead of forming other house churches, they renovated the house which they had. The owner moved out, a dividing wall was demolished, and space for about 60 to 70 participants was made. In the courtyard the latrine pit was walled up and new benches were built in the quadrangle in order to have room to spread out. In a smaller room they built a baptismal font and painted the walls with biblical motifs. There, where only a few years before a Christian family lived together with others as a house church [Hausgemeinde], church [Kirche] had now come into being.
Porphery, a pagan critic of Christianity during this time of upheaval, wrote ironically: "But even the Christians mimic temple architecture and build vast buildings in which they come together to pray, which they could indeed do unhindered in their houses, since it is very well known that the Lord hears from everywhere." Two further occurrences make the results of this development clear: in AD 312 Eusebius as bishop consecrated a church in Tyre. In his sermon he praised the most holy altar as the center of the building; fifty years later the Synod of Laodicea forbid the celebration of the Lord's Supper in houses.
The witness of the New Testament is clear: the living space of the church was the house. We judge the church-historical development to be a step backward from relationship to religion. Today a new desire for a face-to-face fellowship has broken out. For too long we have exclusively seen the formal church services as the center of the church and neglected our concrete life together in houses. We cannot slavishly imitate what took place earlier, but we should be challenged anew by this foundational structure of the church as a network of house churches. We see the following concrete challenges:
We stand here totally at the beginning. These questions are urgent and central enough that it is important that we enter into dialogue about them. Certainly together we will more easily find the new beginning point at which God wishes to surprise us with new experiences.
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 The term koinonia itself may well be a technical term indicating in some contexts the type of legal entity which the church was in Roman eyes, namely a consensual societas. See further J. P. Sampley, Pauline Partnership in Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980).
 This basis for this article, the material of Siegfrid Grossmann, originally appeared in Der Ruferrundbrief 1982/3, as an insertion (Beilage). It was translated by Peter Davids, who added all the notes, either as editorial comments or from material which originally appeared in the text. He has also, with permission, expanded the text, making it in essence a co-authored article, although the basic German article is preserved and German terms are given in brackets when they are deemed to be significant.
One notes that some concepts could be confused with earlier German ideas, for example, H. R. Boer, Pentecost and Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), e.g. 174-178, argues against a sense of house which means virtually people (Volk) and 1eads to a partially Christianized national church (Volkskirche). This pre-war theology is absent from Grossmann, whose use of Gemeinde throughout the original article points to his believers' church theological background, which is also deeply rooted in Germany.
 H. Schuermann, "Gemeinde als Bruderschaft" in Ursprung und Gestalt. Erörterungen und Besinnungen zum Neuen Testament (KBANT) (Düsseldorf, 1970) 61-73. The earliest major article on the early house church in English is F. V. Filson, "The Significance of the Early House Churches," JBL, 58 (1939) 105-112. It has continued to be an engaging topic. See, for example, Reta Halteman Finger, Paul and the Roman House Churches, (Scotdale: Herald Press, 1993).
 Much of the information in this article comes from the book by Hans-Josef Klauck, Hausgemeinde und Hauskirche im frühen Christentum (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1981). A somewhat more cautious work similar to Klauck's in some respects is R. Banks, Paul's Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in their Historical Setting (Exeter: Paternoster Press/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980). To get the same level of practical application as this present article, however, this book must be combined with his article, "'Small is Beautiful'": The Relevance of Paul's Idea of Community for the Local Church Today", Theological Renewal 22 (Nov., 1982) 4-18.
 Klauck, Hausgemeinde, p.11. E. Earle Ellis, Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989), among others, points out that the legal basis for the house churches was that of the collegia, or private clubs, found in the Graeco-Roman world. Part of the problems which the church would encounter would be when they followed the social mores of the collegia rather than the new values of Jesus, as, for example, in 1 Cor 11:17ff. However, the existence of such clubs, which could be little more than an enlarged family gathering, made the house churches understandable.
 The derivation of meaning from semantic roots is not intended to show the meaning in the NT or in the present day, but to illustrate the feelings that the Greek terms would mediate and the range of meaning in the terms. Cf. Banks, Paul's Idea, pp. 37-39.
 This is consistent with the estimate given by Peter Stuhlmacher, Der Brief an Philemon (EKKNT) (Neukirchen, 1975) pp.70-75. This essay is one of the important seminal works on this topic. However, to the extent that the early house churches were meal-fellowships, celebrating the Lord's Supper as a full meal, they would not have been able to meet regularly in the courtyard. However, larger rooms could house the six tables arranged as two "U's" with their open ends facing each other, which could accommodate 18, or if squeezed 20 or so, dinner guests.
 The lack of uniformity in house church structure and leadership is stressed by a number of authors, including J. Hainz, Ekklesia: Strukturen paulinisher Gemeinde-Theologie und Gemeinde-Ordnung (Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1972) e.g. pp. 229-230.
 For this reason Robert Banks selects as the church described in his work Going to Church in the First Century (Chipping Norton, NSW, Australia: Hexagon Press, 1980, now also Auburn, ME: Christian Books).
 Luke tends to prefer her formal name Priscilla, but Paul normally calls her by the shorter, more familiar Prisca, which is also the form used in the German original of this article.
 Banks, Paul's Idea, 161-170, carefully differentiates Paul's mission, in which members of local churches participated from the local church itself, the former being evangelistic in purpose and the latter focused on edification. Nevertheless in cases like this one the mission and the church surely tended to merge.
 Klauck, Hausgemeinde, p.24.
 Cf. Klauck, Hausgemeinde, pp. 26-30.
 Banks, Paul's Idea, p.40, argues that the fact that Paul address the "saints" in Rome rather than the church in Rom 1:7 indicates that unlike the church in Corinth the churches in Rome never met together as a whole group, for ekklesia always indicates a gathered community, not a theoretical one. This lack of gathering as a whole could have resulted from size, the political situation, or the fact that the house churches were so different from each other that they lacked the impulse to join together as a whole.
 While this is a probable interpretation of the data because it is the most natural reading of the grammar, others are possible which read the text as "whose fame is known by the apostles" and thus question whether these two are actually named apostles. See further Hainz, Ekklesia, pp. 196-198.
 While Grossmann argued that these two joined Aquila in his workshop and so freed Paul to evangelize, it is also possible that they brought with them a gift of money from Thessalonica, or perhaps also other churches which Paul had planted. However, there is no mention of such a gift in the Thessalonian correspondence, although Philippians chapter 4 does refer to such a gift from Macedonia.
 As Hainz, Ekklesia, p. 194, argues, one must be careful not to read back into the description of Phoebe as diakonos a later concept of deaconesses and their role in the church, even if that would be an advance over much of the church practice in the present. Rather, Phoebe is a patrona, who used her standing in the city to protect the church and thus was the most influential member of the church, which in a period before the development of formal offices gave her a leadership position.
 We have virtually no evidence for such formal church services in the first two centuries.
 Grossmann refers to the Lord's Supper as being "joined to a meal". Banks, Paul's Idea, 83-88, more accurately points out that the Lord's Supper was more than joined to a common meal: it was a common meal with the breaking of the bread at the beginning and the drinking of the cup of blessing at the conclusion. Liturgies up through the second century (e.g. the Didache and the Canons of Hippolytus) witness to this fact. Only later did it develop into the merely-symbolic cultic "meal" which it is today in virtually all churches. As a common meal the family emphasis was so strong that the social tensions to which Grossmann refers were almost guaranteed to occur.
 Klauck, Hausgemeinde, pp. 33-41.
 Banks, Paul's Idea, 62-70, points out that it is precisely the body of Christ concept which refers to the church as more than a gathered community and thus underlines the unity of the community between gatherings, whether large or small.
 Neither the Jerusalem temple nor purpose-built church buildings had toilets, for that would introduce the "unclean" into "holy" space. This conception of church differs radically from the idea of church as "family" space, where all the functions of life can go an, since all are holy.
 Baptisms from at least the third century onward were done naked, women's modesty being protected by their being behind a curtain and do self-immersion. Baptism was therefore not a public ceremony, but a taking of the pledge to follow Christ before official church witnesses, especially before the bishop.
 Klauck, Hausgemeinde, p. 74.
 Once you have an altar with "holy food", mixing it with the common food of a communal meal appears profane. Thus the focus on the table as altar brings about the forbidding of celebrating the Lord's Supper in houses. The irony is that in the tabernacle and temple the central act of worship was a family meal in the presence of the diety, the temple being part slaughterhouse and part bar-b-que, as well as being the place where animal fat was burned and incense was offered.
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