The third essay in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul addresses the origins of the Christian mission. In doing so, he makes 5 main points, though I would question the sequence in which he chooses to tackle them:
1) The first secular Roman historians to mention Christianity (i.e., Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius) give the impression of a rapidly expanding religious movement (superstitio).
2) The Pauline mission was an unprecedented event in scope, both in terms of the history of religion and subsequent church history. Two questions are raised: i) Did Paul have his “world-wide” view of mission from the time of his Damascus Road experience, or did he develop it only later?; and ii) What were the basic motives of his mission?
Regarding the first matter, Hengel concludes that it developed only later. This is evident by the fact that Paul spent the first 14 years of his “Christian” life in the regions of Cilicia and Syria, and he operated under the authority of the Antioch church. It was only after the Jerusalem Council and his break with Barnabas and the Antioch church (cf. Gal 2:11-14) that he came to see his mission in “world-wide” terms.
On the second question, Paul was driven largely by his eschatological convictions and his view of salvation history (cf. Rom 9-11): the full number of Gentiles must convert before God’s eschatological purposes could be fully actualized.
3) The initial impulse towards a mission to non-Jews came from the “Hellenists” (i.e., Greek-speaking Jewish Christians) in Jerusalem, who were led in this direction by connecting Jesus’ critique of Torah and his activity helping outcasts with their own situation in the Diaspora. This happened upon their flight from Jerusalem in the aftermath of Stephen’s stoning.
4) The earliest Christian community in Palestine was a missionary community from its inception, the foundation of which is found in the commissioning given to them in their experience of the risen Christ. Jerusalem, as the eschatological center of Judaism, thus became the headquarters of the movement. That the first Christians were focused on missions, albeit to their fellow Jews only, is also evidenced by the office of “apostle” (one who is sent), which pre-dated Paul.
5) The ultimate basis of the Christian mission lies in the messianic activity of Jesus himself, whose own mission was the starting point for that of his followers.