Not only the oldest church found in the region, but also the largest.
UPDATE: In this article, an anthropolgist makes this statement: Christianity was outlawed until the time of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, and there were no churches before then.
Well, we need to be careful here lest we think this plays into the notion that the early (pre-Constantine) Christians eschewed buildings for theological or moral reasons. Fact is, being an illegal sect they could not, as a group, own property. But the example of the famed Dura-Europos house church is worth noting.
I would offer the following excerpt from something I wrote a long time ago:
1 Cortinthians 16
“19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 20All the brethren greet you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
There are even known cases in which specific houses were purchased by a community in the name of one of the members (it was illegal for Christians to corporately own property) – often the bishop. Furthermore, we have archeological evidence to suggest that the house church in Dura-Europa (the only one discovered and known to be a house church) which dates to around 200-225AD actually had been modified extensively by the community in order to better serve their needs. They had a major wall removed in order to make a larger gathering room; a baptistery was installed, and was elaborately decorated with mosaics and murals.
And at least some house churches were fully devoted to being a church and were consecrated to be just that. Sometime in the 200’s, the following snippet of church history was written by a relatively unknown individual referring to themselves as Clement:
“Theophilus, who was more exalted than all the men of power in that city, with all eagerness of desire consecrated the great palace of his house under the name of a church, and a chair was placed in it for the Apostle Peter by all the people; and the whole multitude assembling daily to hear the word, believed in the healthful doctrine which was avouched by the efficacy of cures.”
Also note that religious groups meeting in houses were not at all unusual. Ever since the Babylonian exile of the Jews, a system of “house synagogues” arose and followed the Jews right back into Israel after the exile had ended. By the first century it was quite common to see houses converted to accommodate Jewish worship and it is not at all unlikely that the synagogue that Jesus attended regularly in Nazareth was in fact a house. Furthermore, numerous Hellenistic and so-called Mystery cults also met in “house churches.” Do we therefore assume (as Simson does in regards to church Temples of the 4th century) that the early Christians adopted the practice of house churches from pagans or “at best Old Testament practices”?
Fascinatingly enough, a particular part of the archeological dig in Dura Europos revealed three different “home-based” religious churches: One a Jewish Synagogue, another a temple dedicated to Mithras, and the aforementioned Christian Church house. All apparently within ear shot of one another! It is interesting to note the decorative similarities between the Synagogue and the Christian church. They were quite elaborate given the humble finances that were likely available to them.
The Dura Europos house synagogue has a quite intricate mural that surrounds the Shrine, which held the Holy Torah. A pic is linked below:
The Dura Europos Church House Baptistery. Though difficult to see in this picture, there are two major images identified in the baptistery: a traditional image of the good shepherd and the myrrh bearing women coming to the empty tomb of Christ.
Archeologists estimate that the main meeting room of the Christian house church would have held as many as 60 people.
Either way (late 3rd or early 4th century) this is indeed a once in a lifetime find...very exciting.
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