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By early, I mean the second half of the first century to the end of the second century. I know, for example, that Paul and Barnabus were ethnic Jews. The Apostle Paul mentions various Christians, such as Tychicus (a Greek name, meaning 'fortunate'), who came from Asia Minor (Colossians 4:7, 16; Ephesians 6:21–22; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12).Source: Who was Tychicus?

But was he a Jew, or was he a Gentile who converted to Christianity?

Later, we have Polycarp of Smyrna (died c. A.D. 155), Linus, and Clement of Rome (died c. A.D. 99), who are attributed as being bishops within the early Christian church. We also have Ignatius of Antioch (died c. A.D. 110). But were they Jews or were they Gentile converts to Christianity?

Is there any information on the earliest recorded Gentiles who became leaders in the Christian church?

  • 1
    John Marcus (Mark) has a Roman surname and a mother called Mary, a Hebrew name. Possibly, his father was a Roman. It would be interesting to know any further background to this if it is available. 'Labbeus whose surname was Thaddaeus' Matthew 10:3 seems to be an alternative (Greek or Syrian) name for Jude, the apostle. Also a possible inter-marriage to a Gentile ? – Nigel J Nov 12 at 15:57
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    Then there is Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who converted to Christianity - but did he ever hold a position of responsibility or leadership within the Christian church? – Lesley Nov 12 at 17:40
  • What do you call a church leader: a bishop? – Ken Graham Nov 13 at 12:01
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    A bishop is certainly a church leader, as are elders, overseers or deacons (see Acts 20:17; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13). Clement of Rome and the Didache referred to elders and deacons from the late first century to the early second century as the church’s leaders. However, I don’t want to go beyond A.D. 325 (Council of Nicea). – Lesley Nov 13 at 13:44
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This question already has a lot of answers, but I feel like the most basic answer is missing!

The answer is yes, and we need look no further than the Bible.

Titus himself was a gentile convert. We learn this in Galatians 2

Galatians 2:3 nkjv - Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

For the sake of being concise, I wont quote more of the chapter, but you should check it out.

Now that we have established Titus Gentile-ness, we must ask the second question, was he a "Leader in the early Church"?

If we go to the book of Titus, we can find that out

Titus 1:5 nkjv - For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you

Titus 2:15 nkjv - Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.

So his job is to choose elders, teach , exhort, and rebuke, and in general get the churches in line. To me it is clear that Paul is asking Titus to act as a leader in the church.

Its at this point that the discussion gets more complicated if we don't have a shared doctrine of what constitutes an Elder/leader in the church etc, but personally I think this single example answers the original question quite nicely!

  • 2
    So do I (think this single example answers the original question quite nicely) - especially as the question I was asked wanted the earliest recorded Gentiles who became church leaders. – Lesley Nov 14 at 17:14
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Whilst doing my own research I found two articles that touch on the subject. I simply want to post these in addition to the other two useful answers already given:

Cornelius (Greek: Κορνήλιος) was a Roman centurion who is considered by Christians to be the first Gentile to convert to the faith, as related in Acts of the Apostles. The baptism of Cornelius is an important event in the history of the early Christian church, along with the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. The Christian church was first formed around the original disciples and followers of Jesus, all of whom, including Jesus himself, were Jewish. Certain traditions hold Cornelius as becoming either the first bishop of Caesarea, or the bishop of Scepsis in Mysia. (Emphasis mine) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_the_Centurion

Zacchaeus was the first bishop, according to the Apostolic Constitutions 7.46, followed by Cornelius (possibly Cornelius the Centurion) and Theophilus. Theophilus, bishop of Caesarea, according to Church History V.22 during the 10th year of Commodus (c. 189) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_in_Palaestina_(diocese)

Clement of Alexandria (died c. 220) was born into a pagan family, making him a Gentile, then became a Christian but whether he held a position of leadership within the church I do not know.

As already pointed out, the names of many Gentile converts to Christianity who became leaders has been lost to history. The Bible does not tell us, probably because from the start of Christianity there was no distinction between Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free men, that all were considered equal within the body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Nontheless, it is an interesting subject especially in light of the second major persecution under Roman Emperor Hadrian during the Bar Kockba Revolt, circa 135 C.E.

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The earliest list of Gentile bishops in Christianity would be those after the first 15 bishops. The first 15 were of Jewish descent who served as bishops of Jerusalem from the time of Christ's death until the second major persecution under Roman Emperor Hadrian during the Bar Kockba Revolt about 135 CE. The first Jewish bishop was James the brother (same mother, different father) of Christ Jesus. But once the Revolt ended, the Romans supported only Gentile Bishops in Jerusalem.

  1. The chronology of the bishops of Jerusalem I [Eusebius] have nowhere found preserved in writing;994 for tradition says that they were all short lived.

  2. But I have learned this much from writings,995 that until the siege of the Jews, which took place under Adrian,996 there were fifteen bishops in succession there,997 all of whom are said to have been of Hebrew descent, and to have received the knowledge of Christ in purity, so that they were approved by those who were able to judge of such matters, and were deemed worthy of the episcopate. For their whole church consisted then of believing Hebrews who continued from the days of the apostles until the siege which took place at this time; in which siege the Jews, having again rebelled against the Romans, were conquered after severe battles.

  3. But since the bishops of the circumcision ceased at this time, it is proper to give here a list of their names from the beginning. The first, then, was James, the so-called brother of the Lord;998 the second, Symeon;999 the third, Justus;1000 the fourth, Zacchæus;1001 the fifth, Tobias; the sixth, Benjamin; the seventh, John; the eighth, Matthias; the ninth, Philip; the tenth, Seneca;1002 the eleventh, Justus; the twelfth, Levi; the thirteenth, Ephres;1003 the fourteenth, Joseph;1004 and finally, the fifteenth, Judas.

  4. These are the bishops of Jerusalem that lived between the age of the apostles and the time referred to, all of them belonging to the circumcision. History, Book IV, Chapter 5

So, the first 15 were of Jewish descent, but after the revolt, the 16th bishop was a Gentile Marcus of Jerusalem who served from 135 to 156.

  1. And thus, when the city had been emptied of the Jewish nation and had suffered the total destruction of its ancient inhabitants, it was colonized by a different race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose changed its name and was called Ælia, in honor of the emperor Ælius Adrian. And as the church there was now composed of Gentiles, the first one to assume the government of it after the bishops of the circumcision was Marcus. History, Book IV, Chapter VI

After Marcus, the 17th bishop was Cassianus.

To be clear, we know there were numerous Gentile converts to Christianity, like Cornelius and others, but it appears that, after Titus who Paul ordained, the earliest known Gentile converts to Christianity who took a leadership role would be the successive bishops of Jerusalem post 135 CE.

PS. To edit re the answer of Titus.

  • P.S. re Titus - comment noted, thank you. – Lesley Nov 23 at 18:39
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Were any of the early church leaders Gentile converts to Christianity?

The short answer seems to be yes. But a secondary question comes into play here. What sources is one willing to accept?

According to Catholicism, there are some examples of Gentile converts who went on to become Church leaders such as Bishop and others positions of authority.

Let’s start with the Passion of Our Jesus Christ and those who crucified Our Lord on the day Our Lord died.

According to Blessed Catherine Emmerich, the Abenadar was the centurion who was in charge of the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus on the Cross. Abenadar changed his name to Ctesiphon when he converted and eventually went on to become a bishop and worked in the evangelization of Spain. His feast day is celebrated on April 1st in the Roman Martyrology. He is also celebrate as one of the Seven Apostolic Men who were sent by the Apostles to evangelize Spain.

According to Christian tradition, the Seven Apostolic Men (siete varones apostólicos) were seven Christian clerics ordained in Rome by Saints Peter and Paul and sent to evangelize Spain. This group includes Torquatus, Caecilius, Ctesiphon, Euphrasius, Indaletius, Hesychius, and Secundius (Torcuato, Cecilio, Tesifonte, Eufrasio, Indalecio, Hesiquio y Segundo).

Saint Ctesiphon (Spanish: San Tesifonte, Tesifón) or Ctesiphon of Vergium is venerated as patron saint (besides Mary, Virgen de Gádor) of Berja, Andalusia, southern Spain. Tradition makes him a Christian missionary of the 1st century, during the Apostolic Age. He evangelized the town of Bergi, Vergi(s), or Vergium, identified as Berja, and is said to have become its first bishop, but the Diocese of Vergi was probably only founded around 500.

Ctesiphon's relics purportedly lie in the catacombs of Sacromonte Abbey in Granada, along with those of Caecilius of Elvira. - Seven Apostolic Men (Wikipedia)

Here is what Blessed Catherine Emmerich tells us about St. Ctésiphon:

Ctesiphon, the centurion who had assisted at the Crucifixion, and that she had seen during the night various particulars concerning his life. But she had also suffered greatly, which, combined with exterior distractions, had caused her to forget the greatest part of what she had seen. She related what follows: Abenadar, afterwards called Ctesiphon, was born in a country situated between Babylon and Egypt in Arabia Felix, to the right of the spot where Job dwelt during the latter half of his life. A certain number of square houses, with flat roofs, were built there on a slight ascent. There were many small trees growing on this spot, and incense and balm were gathered there. I have been in Abenadar’s house, which was large and spacious, as might be expected of a rich man’s house, but it was also very low. All these houses were built in this manner, perhaps on account of the wind, because they were much exposed. Abenadar had joined the garrison of the fortress Antonia, at Jerusalem, as a volunteer. He had entered the Roman service for the purpose of enjoying more facilities in his study of the fine arts, for he was a learned man. His character was firm, his figure short and thick-set, and his complexion dark.

Abenadar was early convinced, by the doctrine which he heard Jesus preach, and by a miracle which he saw him work; that salvation was to be found among the Jews, and he had submitted to the law of Moses. Although not yet a disciple of our Lord, he bore him no ill will, and held his person in secret veneration. He was naturally grave and composed, and when he came to Golgotha to relieve guard, he kept order on all sides, and forced everybody to behave at least with common decency, down to the moment when truth triumphed over him, and he rendered public testimony to the Divinity of Jesus. Being a rich man, and a volunteer, he had no difficulty in resigning his post at once. He assisted at the descent from the Cross and the burial of our Lord, which put him into familiar connection with the friends of Jesus, and after the day of Pentecost he was one of the first to receive baptism in the Pool of Bethsaida, where he took the name of Ctesiphon. He had a brother living in Arabia, to whom he related the miracles he had beheld, and who was thus called to the path of salvation, came to Jerusalem, was baptised by the name of Cecilius, and was charged, together with Ctesiphon, to assist the deacons in the newly-formed Christian community.

Ctesiphon accompanied the Apostle St. James the Greater into Spain, and also returned with him. After a time, he was again sent into Spain by the Apostles, and carried there the body of St. James, who had been martyred at Jerusalem. He was made a bishop, and resided chiefly in a sort of island or peninsula at no great distance from France, which he also visited, and where he made some disciples. The name of the place where he lived was rather like Vergui, and it was afterwards laid waste by an inundation. I do not remember that Ctesiphon was ever martyred. He wrote several books containing details concerning the Passion of Christ; but there have been some books falsely attributed to him, and others, which were really from his pen, ascribed to different writers. Rome has since rejected these books, the greatest part of which were apocryphal, but which nevertheless did contain some few things really from his pen. One of the guards of our Lord’s sepulchre, who would not let himself be bribed by the Jews, was his fellow countryman and friend. His name was something like Sulei or Suleii. After being detained some time in prison, he retired into a cavern of Mount Sinai, where he lived seven years. God bestowed many special graces upon this man, and he wrote some very learned books in the style of Denis the Areopagite.

Another writer made use of his works, and in this manner some extracts from them havencome down to us. Everything concerning these facts was made known to me, as well as the name of the book, but I have forgotten it. This countryman of Ctesiphon, afterwards followed him into Spain. Among the companions of Ctesiphon in that country were this brother Cecilius, and some other men, whose name were Intalecius, Hesicius, and Euphrasius. Another Arab, called Sulima, was converted in the very early days of the Church, and a fellow countryman of Ctesiphon, with a name like Sulensis, became a Christian later, in the time of the deacons. - Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick: The Centurion

For those of us that have watched the Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ the centurion at the crucifixion of Jesus was indeed named Abenadar.

There are certainly many more Gentile converts who were Church leaders in the Early Church, but who’s names have been lost to history. A little more digging and I am sure history will reveal many others.

Ctesiphon von Vergium

St. Ctesiphon von Vergium

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