The prophet Isaiah prophetically singled out this region as the place where the misfortunes that had visited Old Testament Israel would be reversed. The Assyrian invasions that decimated the northern tribes of Israel from 733 to 732 B.C. began in the region of Galilee (2 Kings 15:29). Therefore, Isaiah foretold that God’s restoration would begin where these misfortunes started:
“O land of Zabulon, land of Nephthalim, and the rest inhabiting the sea-coast, and the land beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. O people walking in darkness, behold a great light: you that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you” (Isaiah 9:1-2 LXX).
Jesus fulfilled this passage when he left Nazareth to live in Capernaum (Matthew 4:15-16). He is the great light that was manifested to the gentiles through his teaching and numerous miracles and healings. Think about it. It was in or around Capernaum that Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter (Matt 9:18–26; Mark 5:21–43; Luke 8:41–56) and the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:21-43). He freed the possessed man (Mark 1:21–28) and healed the paralytic (Matt 9:2–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–20). He also called Peter and Andrew to become “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17) and later visited Peter’s house in Capernaum to heal Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:14, Mark 1:29-31). It also was at the synagogue in Capernaum that Jesus delivered the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:59).
Capernaum today offers two remarkable archeological finds. First, one of the oldest synagogues in the world was found in Capernaum, dating from the fourth or fifth century A.D. What’s interesting about this synagogue is that underneath its foundation is an older basalt foundation. It appears that the synagogue had been built upon the remains of an older one and might have used some of its stones for its edifice. If this is so, the older synagogue could very well be the place where Jesus delivered the Bread of Life discourse.
Another fascinating discovery was made not far from this ancient synagogue: In 1921, a small ancient Christian church was discovered dating from the fifth century A.D. From the writings of a pilgrim around A.D. 570, it is believed that this church could be the house of St. Peter himself. But how could a fifth century church be the location of Peter’s house?
In 1968, further excavations revealed that underneath the church lay the ruins of a first century house with a few small rooms clustered around a courtyard. One room in particular caught the attention of the excavators: it had been renovated into a meeting place. Its walls were plastered from floor to ceiling, a very unusual feature for this time, and it contained large storage jars and oil lamps. Various inscriptions in Greek and Hebrew were found on its walls, saying things like, “Lord Jesus Christ help your servant” and “Christ have mercy” along with small crosses and even a boat.
What made this room so important that it was renovated and transformed into a first century house-church? Given that a fifth century church associated with Peter’s house was built directly above this special room, it’s not hard to figure out its significance. It appears that this was Peter’s house where Jesus visited and healed Peter’s mother-in-law. It became a location where the earliest Christians worshipped, and when the house had fallen into disrepair, a new church was built directly above it. Christians continued to venerate this site up until the fifth and sixth centuries, when it, too, had fallen into ruins.
The care that the earliest Christians showed in venerated and preserving this location should give us confidence in our faith, since we have no doubt that the same care was used to pass on the faith that was once for all handed on to the saints (Jude 3).
Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.