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May 23, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

In 30 AD, the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the first Pentecost, the normal population of Jerusalem was about 25,000.  During festivals it could jump to four times that number, or to somewhere near 100,000.  Since tomorrow is Pentecost in both Judaism and Christianity I offer some observations on numbers.

The recent Pew Research Center report on America’s Changing Religious Landscape (2014) puts the Christian population of the United States at 70.6%.  This is a drop from the last Landscape survey which in 2007 calculated the Christian population at 78.4%.

If there were 100,000 Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem for Pentecost 30 AD the 3000 who believed and were baptized as a result of Peter’s preaching amounted to 3% of the city’s population at the feast.  Of course this is not a valid figure because most of these were visitors.  To get an accurate figure for Jerusalem itself we would have to divide each of the numbers by four.  If the normal population of Jerusalem was 25,000 and the number of Jerusalem believers as a result of Pentecost was 750 then 25% of the city would be believers after Pentecost.  This is an amazing number, but far short of the 70% of believers in the United States.

It is difficult to calculate the number of believers in the Roman Empire by the end of the first century.  Rodney Stark puts the number at 8,000.  This seems low given the Acts account of 3000 believers at Pentecost, but Stark is good with numbers.  The population of the Roman Empire at that time ran around 500,000, so we are talking about less than 1%.  It could have been much larger given the information that there were congregations in the major cities throughout the empire.  In Acts we have the expansion of the church to the west, but we know it also expanded to the east and south.  Peter went to Babylon and Mark evangelized Egypt.  Thomas preached in India.  None of this is recorded in Acts.  We get the information from the Church Fathers.

I chose the first century because this was the century in which the last living Apostle died.  John ministered in the province of Asia, modern Turkey, and lived into his nineties.

By the end of the third century the Christian population of the Roman Empire was in the millions.

As we celebrate Pentecost we should be aware that the United States is losing its Christian share of the population.  It is, however so much stronger than it was at the beginning of its history.  The Pew report breaks the 70% down into categories.  Evangelical Protestants come in at 25.4% and are the only category that is holding its own.  Do we need a new Pentecost?  We clearly do.  Is it possible?  It clearly is.  We have a strong base.  Do Christians need to get to work?  They clearly do.

According to the Pew report 85% of Americans were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity.  Former Christians represent 19.2% of U.S. adults overall.  Our churches need to do some serious soul searching, and put some real effort into educating our youth.  Christian faith stood as the foundation for Western science, Western art, Western benevolence, and Western politics.  What we are losing is our civilization.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs