Walking in the Footsteps of the Apostles

BOOK PICK: The Apostles and Their Times


Archeology, History and Scripture Unveil What Life Was Really Like During the Apostolic Age

By Mike Aquilina

Sophia Institute Press, 2017 

142 pages, $14.95 ($9.99 e-book)

To order: sophiainstitute.com or (800) 888-9344


Did you know that, in the days of the apostles, “martyr” was an ordinary word? It simply meant “one who gives testimony,” as in court.

The same with “apostle.” It meant “one who was sent,” a representative or ambassador, whose word was as good as his sender’s.

The meaning of those words stretched, however, because the apostles used the vocabulary of their day — they were, after all, ordinary first-century men — to explain a new reality: that God gave us his Son and his Spirit so we could share his life.

So a martyr became “one who testifies” not just with his words, but with his life. An apostle was one sent by God, a representative of Jesus Christ.

The apostles were also Jews, whose ideas and thinking were shaped by the thought and institutions of first-century Judaism. The Temple priesthood, the differences among Pharisees, Sadducees and Essences, what chaburah was (and how it led to the table fellowship we call “Eucharist”) and the meaning of the Jewish feast of Pentecost (and how the descent of the Holy Spirit fulfilled it) were all clear to them as first-century Jews — but to us, not so much.

Context, context, context: The Church teaches that to understand the Bible, we have to study its Sitz-im-Leben, its “life situation.”

Mike Aquilina helps us do that with this easy-to-read introduction to the life and times of the apostles.

You’ll gain a whole new perspective, even about a concept like “stone.”

Medieval maps confuse moderns until they figure out the map’s projection: Jerusalem is the center of the world. That’s because Jewish tradition held that God built the world from the stone he laid capping the primeval chaos of the “waters” ... and that stone lay in Jerusalem. The Temple of Jerusalem, specifically its altar, on which the high priest offered the annual atonement sacrifice, was built on it.

Understanding the significance of “stone” gives new depth to understanding what it means to refer to Jesus as the “stone rejected by the builders that has become the cornerstone.” It also enhances what Jesus meant when he called his ambassador, St. Peter, the “rock” on which the Church stands. 

“St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the grandest, the biggest and the most splendid Church in the world. Some of the greatest architectural talent in European history was enlisted to design the building — Bramante, Michelangelo, Bernini. The number of priceless works of art in and around it is incalculable. Carved arches with details picked out in gold leaf glimmer in the shifting light from the vast dome ahead. All of this magnificence points to the altar. And under the altar lie the bones of St. Peter. The whole basilica, with its arches and columns and statues, and domes, is a reliquary for the decayed body of one of the Twelve Apostles. It’s hard to imagine greater disparity than the contrast between Peter’s absolute ordinariness and the magnificent basilica that towers over his bones. Peter was the plain little seed that sprouted and bloomed a Roman masterpiece. The ordinary bones of an ordinary Galilean fisherman grew into St. Peter’s Basilica because for all these centuries, people have remembered what that ordinary fisherman did and what it led to.”

Aquilina is big on Peter, giving a passing glance at Thomas and honorable mentions to James and John. I wish he’d said a little more about the other eight, like what it meant for Matthew to be a tax collector. That said, this book offers solid insight into the apostolic world in a way that deepens one’s understanding of what God did in Jesus Christ.


John M. Grondelski, Ph.D., writes from Falls Church, Virginia.