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A House That Became a Church

When does a house become a church? Plenty of famous houses exist, and many have become museums. But what would have to happen at a house such that later owners turned that house into a church? A house does exist in which that transformation occurred. And most will agree that this particular house would have to become a church; few can imagine that someone would just live there; it is too special, even too holy. The house? Some archaeologists believe they have discovered the location of the house of the Apostle Peter.

Some history connecting the house, Peter, and Jesus first. After delivering the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5-7), Jesus went to Capernaum where he healed a man with leprosy and then a centurionís son. Next, in Matthew 8:14, "When Jesus came into Peterís house, he saw Peterís mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever." From this, many New Testament scholars believe that Peter lived in Capernaum, since Jesus entered Peterís house right after healing the centurionís son in Capernaum. (The same evidence can be seen in Luke 4:31 & 38.)

Earlier, Matthew states that after John the Baptist was put into prison Jesus moved to Capernaum (4:13). Therefore, Jesus frequented Capernaum, and in fact Jesus is listed in the Gospels as going to Capernaum 10 times (Mat 4:13; 8:5; 17:24; Mark 1:21; 2:1; 9:33; Luke 4:31; 7:1; John 2:12; 6:59)(Some of these may represent overlapping trips).

So, Peter had a house in Capernaum and Jesus lived there for a short time. What do we know about events in the house? Peterís mother-in-law was healed there. And perhaps the story found in Mark 2:1-12 is located in Peterís house. There four friends have a paralytic friend and they want Jesus to heal him. Jesus is in Capernaum preaching in a house which was packed with listeners. The four friends climbed on top of the house, dug a hole, lowered the friend down to Jesus, and Jesus healed him.

What do we know about the history of the house? In Capernaum, archaeologists have discovered an early first-century house (during the time of Jesus); during the late first century the house was turned into a Christian worship site; during the fourth century the house/church was enlarged and set apart from the rest of the town by an enclosing wall; and then a hundred or so years later, an octagonal church was built upon the site of the original house. This last church was used until the seventh century. No more renovations were done after the early 600s; in fact, the church was eventually destroyed. Why? Muhammed and Islam arose in the early 600s and eventually controlled the region. While we do not know what happened, it seems certain that the Christians lost control of the region and the church and it fell into disrepair or was destroyed.

Two comments remaining from earlier times describe the various stages of churches at this site. Egeria, a Spanish nun, visited the Holy Land including Capernaum in the late 300s and described the fourth-century church/house this way: "The house of the prince of the Apostles [Peter] in Capernaum was changed into a church; the walls, however, are still standing as they were [in the past]." And a visitor from around the year 570 wrote: "We came to Capernaum in St. Peterís house, which at present is a basilica."

©2005 Mark Nickens

Question/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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