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The earliest followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic, Second Temple, Jewish sect, which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity. The Apostles and others following the Great Commission's decree to spread the teachings of Jesus to "all nations," had great success spreading the religion to gentiles, with Cornelius the Centurion traditionally considered the first. Peter, Paul, and James the Just were the most notable of early Christian leaders. As is shown in the list of events that marked the split between Early Christianity and Judaism, Early Christianity gradually (over several centuries) grew apart from Judaism as a predominantly gentile religion, rather than having a sudden split.

Judaism and Messianism

Jewish messianism has its root in the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd century BC to 1st century BC, promising a future "anointed" leader or Messiah to resurrect the Israelite "Kingdom of God", in place of the foreign rulers of the time. This corresponded with the Maccabean Revolt directed against the Seleucids. Following the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom, it was directed against the Roman administration of Iudaea Provincemarker, which, according to Josephus, began with the formation of the Zealots during the Census of Quirinius of 6 AD, though full scale open revolt did not occur till the First Jewish–Roman War in 66 AD. Historian H. H. Ben-Sasson has proposed that the "Crisis under Caligula" (37-41) was the "first open break" between Rome and the Jews.

Judaism at this time was divided into antagonistic factions. The main camps were the Pharisees, Saducees, and Zealots, but also included other less influential sects such as the Essenes. This led to further unrest, and the 1st century BC and 1st century AD saw a number of charismatic religious leaders, contributing to what would become the Mishnah of Rabbinic Judaism, including Yochanan ben Zakai and Hanina Ben Dosa. During the Jewish War, the Sanhedrin was relocated to Jamnia, where it stayed till 132.

Life and Ministry of Jesus

The ministry of Jesus, according to the account of the Gospels, falls into this pattern of sectarian preachers with devoted disciples. According to the Gospel writers, Jesus preached for a period of one to three years when he was in his early 30s, in the early 1st century AD. The gospels give Jesus' method of teaching as involving parables, metaphor, allegory, sayings, proverbs, and a small number of direct sermons such as the Sermon on the Mount. His ministry was cut short by his execution at the hands of the Roman authorities in Jerusalem, but see also Responsibility for the death of Jesus. This catastrophe, cast in terms of substitutionary atonement, motivated his surviving disciples to embark on a number of missionary campaigns to spread the "Good News", presumably following the Great Commission.

The account of the Gospels tells us that Jesus was born to a Jewish mother named Mary in 6-4 B.C. and that he was raised in Nazarethmarker, Galilee and lived for a short time in Egypt. His ministry around the age of thirty and that it included recruiting disciples who regarded him as a wonderworker, healer and/or the Son of Man and Son of God. He was eventually executed by crucifixion in Jerusalem circa AD 33 on orders of the Roman Governor of Iudaea Provincemarker, Pontius Pilate; and after his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb.

Christians believe that three days after his death, Jesus and his body rose from the dead and that the empty tomb story is a historical fact. Early works by Jesus's followers document a number of resurrection appearances and the resurrection of Jesus formed the basis and impetus of the Christian faith. His followers wrote that he appeared to the disciples in Galilee and Jerusalem and that Jesus was on the earth for 40 days before his Ascension to heaven and that he will return to earth again to fulfil aspects of Messianic prophecy, such as the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, though Preterists believe these events have already happened.

The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels, and to a lesser extent the Acts of the Apostles and writings of Paul. Christianity's popularity is largely founded and based on one central point found in these Gospels, that Jesus died and rose from death as God's sacrifice for human sins, see also Substitutionary atonement.

Jesus began his ministry after his baptism by John the Baptist and during the rule of Pontius Pilate, preaching: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." While the historicity of the gospel accounts is questioned to some extent by some critical scholars and non-Christians, those accounts detail the following chronology for his ministry: his temptation in the wilderness, the Sermon on the Mount, the appointment of the Twelve, many miracles and teachings, the Last Supper with the Twelve, the arrest and trial of Jesus, his suffering and crucifixion on Good Friday entombment, resurrection on Easter Sunday, various resurrection appearances, giving the Great Commission, and his Ascension from the Mount of Olivesmarker with a promise to return. See the Gospel harmony for more details.

Apostolic Age: Post-Jesus Christianity

Early Christianity may be divided in two distinct phases: the apostolic period, when the apostles were leading the Church, and the post-apostolic period or ante-Nicene period, when imperial persecution of Christians continued until the rise of Constantine the Great, and the early episcopate developed until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils.

The years following Jesus until the death of the last of the Twelve Apostles is called the Apostolic Age. The Christian Church came fully into being on Pentecost when, according to scriptural accounts, the apostles received the Holy Spirit and emerged from hiding following the death and resurrection of Jesus to preach and spread his message.The apostolic period produced writings attributed to the direct followers of Jesus Christ and is traditionally associated with the apostles and apostolic times. This age is the foundation upon which the entire church's history is founded. This Apostolic Church, also called the "Primitive Church", was the community led by Jesus' apostles and, it would seem, his relatives.

Acts of the Apostles

The principal source of information for this earliest period is the Acts of the Apostles, which gives a history of the Church from the resurrected Jesus' commission to the disciples to spread his teachings to all nations, Pentecost, and the spread of the Christian faith outside of the Jewish nation and among the gentiles.

Shortly after the death and resurrection, and ascension of Jesus with a prophecy to return, the Jerusalem church began on Pentecost with Apostles and others totalling some 120 Jews and Jewish Proselytes, in an "upper room," believed by some to be the Cenacle, and thus "the first Christian church." The Acts of the Apostles goes on to record the stoning of Stephen and the subsequent dispersal of the church, ; which led to the baptism of Simon Magus in Samariamarker, ; and also an Ethiopianmarker eunuch, . Paul's "Road to Damascus" conversion to "Apostle to the Gentiles" is first recorded in Acts . Peter baptized the Roman Centurion Cornelius, traditionally considered the first Gentile convert to Christianity in Acts . The Antioch church was founded, it was there that the term Christian was first used.

Disputes over the Mosaic law generated intense controversy in early Christianity. This is particularly notable in the mid-1st century, when the circumcision controversy came to the fore. The issue was addressed at the Council of Jerusalem where Paul made an argument that circumcision was not a necessary practice, vocally supported by Peter, as documented in . This position received widespread support and was summarized in a letter circulated in Antiochmarker. Four years after the Council of Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Galatians about the issue, which had become a serious controversy in their region. According to Alister McGrath, Paul considered it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith and addressed the issue with great detail in .

Although competing forms of Christianity emerged early and persisted into the fifth century, there was broad doctrinal unity within the mainstream churches. Bishops like Ignatius of Antioch (c.35-c.108) and later Irenaeus (d. c.202) defined proto-orthodox teaching in stark opposition to heresies such as Gnosticism.

In spite of intermittent intense persecutions, the Christian religion continued its spread throughout the Mediterranean Basin.

Worship of Jesus

The sources for the beliefs of the apostolic community include the Gospels and New Testament Epistles. The very earliest accounts are contained in these texts, such as early Christian creeds and hymns, as well as accounts of the Passion, the empty tomb, and Resurrection appearances; often these are dated to within a decade or so of the crucifixion of Jesus, originating within the Jerusalem Church.

The earliest Christian creeds and hymns express belief in the risen Jesus, e.g., that preserved in quoted by Paul: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." The antiquity of the creed has been located by many scholars to less than a decade after Jesus' death, originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community, and no scholar dates it later than the 40s. Other relevant and very early creeds include , , , and , an early creedal hymn.


From the beginning, Christians were subject to various persecutions. This involved even death for Christians such as Stephen ( ) and James, son of Zebedee ( ). Larger-scale persecutions followed at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire, beginning with the year 64, when, as reported by the Roman historian Tacitus, the Emperor Nero blamed them for that year's great Fire of Rome.

Several of the New Testament writings mention persecutions and stress endurance through them. Christians suffered persecutions for their refusal to give any worship to the Roman emperor, considered treasonous and punishable by execution.

Systematic persecution of the early Christian church caused it to be an underground movement. Of the underground churches that existed before legalization, some are recorded to have existed as the catacombs in Europe, Catacombs of Rome, Greecemarker (see Cave of the Apocalypsemarker, The Church of St George and the church at Pergamon) and also in the underground cities of Anatoliamarker such as Derinkuyu Underground Citymarker (also see Cave monastery and Bab Kisanmarker).

Jerusalem in Christianity

Shortly after the death and resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Jerusalem church was founded as the first Christian church with about 120 Jews and Jewish Proselytes ( ), at Pentecost. The Christian community in Jerusalem, where Jesus, many of the twelve Apostles and many eye-witnesses originally lived, had a special position among Christian communities. It experienced conflict and persecution especially in the years 32-33 and 62-63 highlighted by the stoning of Stephen and the death of the James, son of Zebedee.

The Desposyni (relatives of Jesus) lived in Nazarethmarker during the first century. The relatives of Jesus were accorded a special position within the early church, as displayed by the leadership of James the Just in Jerusalem.

The destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, and with the consequent dispersion of Jews and Christians from this city, while seen as symbolic by Supersessionism, ended any pre-eminence of the Christian leadership in Jerusalem. Although Epiphanius of Salamis reported that the Cenacle itself survived at least to Hadrian's visit in 130, some today think it merely rebuilt shortly after this first Jewish war. Early Christianity grew further apart from Judaism to establish itself as a predominantly gentile religion, and Antioch became the first Gentile Christian community with stature.

Peter and the Twelve

Today, New Testament scholars agree that there is a special position to Peter among the Twelve. The official Catholic Church position is that Jesus had essentially appointed Peter as the first pope, with universal primacy as bishop of Rome. This is derived from his seeming primacy among the Twelve in New Testament texts on Peter, namely , , and . It is also noteworthy that there are two Apostolic (and Patriarchal) sees that are claimed to have have been founded by Peter: the Diocese of Antioch and the Diocese of Rome.

The Christian Church built its identity on the Apostles as witnesses to Christ, and responsibility for pastoral leadership was not restricted to Peter. The New Testament also does not contain any record of the transmission of Peter's leadership, nor is the transmission of apostolic authority in general very clear. As a result, the New Testament texts on Peter have been subjected to differing interpretations from the time of the Church Fathers on.

Worship Liturgy

Liturgical services and in specific the Eucharist service, are based on repeating the actions of Jesus ("do this in remembrance of me"), using the bread and wine, and saying his words (known as the words of the institution). The church has the rest of the liturgical ritual being rooted in the Jewish Passover, Siddur, Seder, and synagogue services, including the singing of hymns (especially the Psalms) and reading from the Scriptures. Clement writes that liturgies are "to be celebrated, and not carelessly nor in disorder" but the final uniformity of liturgical services only came later, though the Liturgy of St James is traditionally associated with James the Just. Also noteworthy is the so-called Clementine Liturgy found in the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions and proposed by some to be of early origin.

Earliest Christianity took the form of a Jewish eschatological faith. The book of Acts reports that the early followers continued daily Templemarker attendance and traditional Jewish home prayer. Other passages in the New Testament gospels reflect a similar observance of traditional Jewish piety such as fasting, reverence for the Torah and observance of Jewish holy days. The earliest form of Jesus's religion is best understood in this context. At first, Christians continued to worship alongside Jewish believers, but within twenty years of Jesus's death, Sunday was being regarded as the primary day of worship.

Defining scripture

Outside of the Holy Land, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia, areas that still used Aramaic, the earliest forms of Christianity all used the Greek language. Christianity first spread in the predominantly Greek-speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire, and then extensively throughout the Empire by Paul and others. Ecclesiastical historian Henry Hart Milman writes that in much of the first three centuries, even in the Latin-dominated western empire: "the Church of Rome, and most, if not all the Churches of the West, were, if we may so speak, Greek religious colonies. Their language was Greek, their organization Greek, their writers Greek, their scriptures Greek; and many vestiges and traditions show that their ritual, their Liturgy, was Greek."

The early Christians likely did not have their own copy of Scriptural and other church works. Much of the original church liturgical services functioned as a means of learning Christian theology later expressed in these works.

Old Testament canon

The Biblical canon began with the Jewish Scriptures, first available in Koine Greek translation, then as Aramaic Targums. In the 2nd century, Melito of Sardis called these Scriptures the "Old Testament", and specified an early canon. The Greek translation, later known as the "Septuagint" and often written as "LXX," arouse from Hellenistic Judaism which predates Christianity. Also significant was the Aramaic speaking church in Syria, which used the Targums and developed the Peshitta.

Bruce Metzger in his Canon of the New Testament, page 43, 1987, draws the following conclusion about Clement:

Perhaps the earliest Christian canon is the Bryennios List which was found by Philotheos Bryennios in the Codex Hierosolymitanus. The list is written in Koine Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew and dated to around 100 by J. P. Audet. It consists of a 27-book canon which comprises:

New Testament

The "New Testament" (often compared to the New Covenant) is the name given to the second major division of the Christian Bible, either by Tertullian or Marcion in the 2nd century. The original texts were written by various authors, most likely sometime after c. AD 45 in Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, though there is also a minority argument for Aramaic primacy.

The common languages spoken by both Jews and Gentiles in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus were Aramaic, Koine Greek, and to a limited extent a colloquial dialect of Mishnaic Hebrew. It is generally believed that the original text of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, the vernacular dialect in 1st century Roman provinces of the Eastern Mediterraneanmarker, and later translated into other languages, most notably, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. However, some of the Church Fathers seem to imply that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and there is another contention that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote in Hebrew, which was translated into Greek by Luke. Neither view holds much support among contemporary scholars, who argue that the literary facets of Matthew and Hebrews suggest that they were composed directly in Greek, rather than being translated, a view known as Greek primacy.

Gospels and Acts

Each of the gospels narrates the life and death of Jesus of Nazarethmarker. The first three are commonly classified as the Synoptic Gospels. They contain very similar accounts of events in Jesus' life. The Gospel of John describes several miracles and sayings of Jesus not found in the other three. The synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, unlike the other New Testament works, have a unique interrelationship. The dominant view among non-theologian scholars is the Two-Source Hypothesis. This hypothesis proposes that both Matthew and Luke drew significantly upon the Gospel of Mark and another common source, known as the "Q Source" (Q is derived from Quelle, the German word for "source"). However, the nature and even existence of Q is speculative, and scholars have proposed variants on the hypothesis which redefine or exclude it. Most pro-Q scholars believe that it was a single written document, while a few contest that "Q" was actually a number of documents or oral traditions. If it was a documentary source, no information about its author or authors can be obtained from the resources currently available. The common view supposes that Mark was written first, and Matthew and Luke drew from it and the second chronological work; and some scholars have attempted to use their modern methods to confirm the idea.

While each work is internally anonymous; the traditional author is listed after each entry.
  • The Gospel of Matthew is traditionally ascribed to the Apostle Matthew, according to Papias, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Eusebius.
  • The Gospel of Mark is traditionally ascribed to John Mark the Evangelist, who wrote down the recollections of the Apostle Simon Peter according to Papias, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Eusebius.
  • The Gospel of Luke is traditionally ascribed to Luke, a physician and companion of the Apostle Paul according to Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Canon Muratori. The book of Acts, is a sequel to the third gospel. Examining style, phraseology, and other evidence, modern scholarship agrees that Acts and Luke share the same author.
  • The Gospel of John is traditionally ascribed to the Apostle John, son of Zebedee according to Papias, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Eusebius, Canon Muratori, Codex Vaticanus and Alexandrinus.

Gospel and Acts authorship

The New Testament is a collection of works, and as such was written by multiple authors. The traditional view is that all the books were written by apostles (e.g. Matthew and Paul), or disciples working under their direction (e.g. Mark and Luke). However, in modern times, with the rise of rigorous historical inquiry and textual criticism, these traditional ascriptions have been rejected by some. While the traditional authors have been listed above, a modern, unsubstantiated critical view is discussed herein.

Composition dates of the Gospels and Acts

Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 185, stated that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome, which would be in the 60s, and Luke was written some time later. Most secular scholars agree tend to date Mark no earlier than 65 and no later than 75. Matthew is dated between 70 and 85. Luke is usually placed within 80 to 95. However a select few scholars disagree with this as Luke indicates in the book of Acts that he has already written the Gospel of Luke prior to writing the introduction to Acts. Acts is written in a journal form indicating that it may have been written during Paul's journeys which it documents. That would put Acts as early as the 60's and the Gospel of Luke earlier than that. This then could push back Mark into the late 50's if one believes that Mark is the source of some of Luke's material. Early church fathers rarely seem to support parts of that. For instance Irenaeus claims "Luke recorded the teachings of Paul, after the deaths of Peter and Paul. He wrote after the Hebrew Matthew, at around the same time as Mark, and before John." Clement though claims: "Luke was written before Mark and John and at the same time as Matthew. " When taken with Clement's writing on Mark, this means that Peter and Paul were alive at the time that Luke was written.


General epistles includes those epistles written to the church at large.
*The Pauline epistles constitute those epistles traditionally attributed to Paul.

*Epistle of James
*First Epistle of Peter; Second Epistle of Peter
*First Epistle of John; Second Epistle of John; Third Epistle of John; Book of Revelation
*Epistle of Jude
  • Unknown authorship. While some the work listed below to be traditionally by Paul, modern scholars agree with Origen (d. 254) "who wrote the epistle, God only knows".
*Epistle to the Hebrews

Authorship of the epistles

Seven of the epistles of Paul are generally accepted by most modern scholars as authentic; these undisputed letters include Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon. Liberal scholars usually question Pauline authorship for any other epistle, although there are conservative Christian scholars who accept the traditional ascriptions. However, almost no current mainstream scholars, Christian or otherwise, hold that Paul wrote Hebrews. In fact, questions about the authorship of Hebrews go back at least to the 3rd century ecclesiastical writer Caius, who attributed only thirteen epistles to Paul (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., 6.20.3ff.). A small minority of scholars hypothesize Hebrews may have been written by one of Paul's close associates, such as Barnabas, Silas, or Luke, given that the themes therein seemed to them as largely Pauline.

The authorship of all non-Pauline books have been disputed in recent times. Ascriptions are largely polarized between Christian and non-Christian experts, making any sort of scholarly consensus all but impossible. Even majority views are unclear.

Composition dates of the epistles

According to tradition, the earliest of the books were the letters of Paul, and the last books to be written are those attributed to John, who is traditionally said to have lived to a very old age, perhaps dying as late as 100. The earliest of the books of the New Testament was First Thessalonians, an epistle of Paul, written probably in 51, or possibly Galatians in 49 according to one of two theories of its writing.

A Clement's letter to the church at Corinth in 95 quotes from 10 of the 27 books of the New Testament, and a Polycarp's letter to the Philippians in 120 quotes from 16 books. An early datation has been proposed by John A. T. Robinson, on the ground that none of the writings in the New Testament showed clear evidence of a knowledge of Jerusalem's Temple's destruction, which should have appeared considering the importance of that event for Jews and Christians of that time. Thus, he argues that the whole New Testament have been written before 70 A.D.

Early Christianity and Judaism

Jewish continuity

The early Christians in the first century believed Yahweh to be the Only true God, the God of Israel, and considered Jesus to be the Messiah (Christ) prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures. The first Christians were essentially all ethnically Jewish or Jewish Proselytes. In other words, Jesus preached to the Jewish people and called from them his first disciples, known as the Limited Commission of , while the Great Commission issued after the Resurrection is specifically directed at "all nations".

Alister McGrath, a proponent of palaeo-orthodoxy, claimed that many of the Jewish Christians were fully faithful religious Jews, only differing in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. Acts records the martyrdom of Stephen and James. Thus, Christianity acquired an identity distinct from Rabbinic Judaism, see also. The name "Christian" (Greek ) was first applied to the disciples in Antiochmarker, as recorded in .

Early Christianity retained some of the doctrines and practices of first-century Judaism while rejecting others. They held the Jewish scriptures to be authoritative and sacred, employing mostly the Septuagint or Targum translations, later called the Old Testament, a term associated with Supersessionism, and added other texts as the New Testament canon developed. Christianity also continued other Judaic practices: baptism, liturgical worship, including the use of incense, an altar, a set of scriptural readings adapted from synagogue practice, use of sacred music in hymns and prayer, and a religious calendar, as well as other distinctive features such as an exclusively male priesthood, and ascetic practices (fasting etc.). Circumcision was rejected as a requirement at the Council of Jerusalem, c. 50, though the decree of the council parallels Jewish Noahide Law. Sabbath observance was modified, perhaps as early as Ignatius' Epistle to the Magnesians 9.1. Quartodecimanism (observation of the Paschal feast on Nisan 14, the day of preparation for Passover, linked to Polycarp and thus to John the Apostle) was formally rejected at the First Council of Nicaea.

An early difficulty arose concerning the matter of Gentile converts as to whether they had to "become Jewish," in following circumcision and dietary law, as part of becoming Christian. Circumcision was considered repulsive during the period of Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean. The decision of Peter, as evidenced by conversion of the Centurion Cornelius, was that they did not, and the matter was further addressed with the Council of Jerusalem. Around this same time period, Rabbinic Judaism made their circumcision requirement even stricter.

The doctrines of the apostles brought the Early Church into conflict with some Jewish religious authorities. Late first century developments attributed to the Council of Jamnia eventually led to Christian's expulsion from synagogues.

Jewish Christians

Jewish Christians were among the earliest followers of Jesus and an important part of Judean society during the mid to late first century. This movement was centered around Jerusalem and led by James the Just. They held faithfully to the Torah and Jewish law, including acceptance of Gentile converts based on a version of the Noachide laws ( and ). In Christian circles, "Nazarene" later came to be used as a label for those faithful to Jewish law, in particular for a certain sect. These Jewish Christians, originally the central group in Christianity, were not at first declared to be unorthodox, but were later excluded and denounced. Some Jewish Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, were considered to have unorthodox beliefs, particularly in relation to their views of Christ and Gentile converts. The Nazarenes, holding to orthodoxy except in their adherence to Jewish law, were not deemed heretical until the dominance of orthodoxy in the 4th century. The Ebionites may have been a splinter group of Nazarenes, with disagreements over Christology and leadership. After the condemnation of the Nazarenes, "Ebionite" was often used as a general pejorative for all related "heresies".

Jewish Christians constituted a separate community from the Pauline Christians, but maintained a similar faith, differing only in practice. There was a post-Nicene "double rejection" of the Jewish Christians by both Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. It is believed that there was no direct confrontation, or persecution, between Gentile and Judaic Christianity. However, by this time the practice of Judeo-Christianity was diluted, both by internal schisms and external pressures. Some claim the true end of ancient Jewish Christianity occurred only in the fifth century. Those remaining fully faithful to Halacha became purely Jews, while those adhering to the Christian faith joined with Pauline Christianity. Gentile Christianity remained the sole strand of orthodoxy and imposed itself on the previously Jewish Christian sanctuaries, taking full control of those houses of worship by the end of the fifth century.

Split with Judaism

In or around the year 50, the apostles convened the first church council, known as the Council of Jerusalem, to reconcile practical (and by implication doctrinal) differences concerning the Gentile mission. While not numbered among them, this council has often been looked to as both "ecumenical" and the model for later ecumenical councils.

At the Council of Jerusalem it was agreed that gentiles could be accepted as Christians without full adherence to the Mosaic Laws, possibly a major break between Christianity and Judaism (the first being the Rejection of Jesus), though the decree of the council ( ) seems to parallel the Noahide laws of Judaism, see also Jewish background to the early Christian circumcision controversy. The Council of Jerusalem, according to , determined that circumcision was not required of Gentile converts, only avoidance of "pollution of idols, fornication, things strangled, and blood" (KJV, Acts 15:20), establishing nascent Christianity as an attractive alternative to Judaism for prospective Proselytes. The Twelve Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers initiated the process of integration of the originally Jewish sect (outlawed as religio illicita since the 80s, assuming they didn't pay the Fiscus Judaicus) into a more Hellenistic religion.

There was a slowly growing chasm between Christians and Jews, rather than a sudden split. Even though it is commonly thought that Paul established a Gentile church, it took centuries for a complete break to manifest. However, certain events are perceived as pivotal in the growing rift between Christianity and Judaism. The Council of Jamnia circa 85 is often stated to have condemned all who claimed the Messiah had already come, and Christianity in particular. However, the formulated prayer in question (birkat ha-minim) is considered by other scholars to be unremarkable in the history of Jewish and Christian relations. There is a paucity of evidence for Jewish persecution of "heretics" in general, or Christians in particular, in the period between 70 and 135. It is probable that the condemnation of Jamnia included many groups, of which the Christians were but one, and did not necessarily mean excommunication. That some of the later church fathers only recommended against synagogue attendance makes it improbable that an anti-Christian prayer was a common part of the synagogue liturgy. Jewish Christians continued to worship in synagogues for centuries.

Coin of Nerva "The blackmail of the Jewish tax lifted"
During the late first century, Judaism was a legal religion with the protection of Roman law, worked out in compromise with the Roman state over two centuries. Observant Jews had special rights, including the privilege of abstaining from civic pagan rites. Christians were initially identified with the Jewish religion by the Romans, but as they became more distinct, Christianity became a problem for Roman rulers. Circa 98 the emperor Nerva decreed that Christians did not have to pay the annual tax upon the Jews, effectively recognizing them as distinct from Rabbinic Judaism. This opened the way to Christians being persecuted for disobedience to the emperor, as they continued to refuse to worship the state pantheon. It is notable that from c. 98 onwards a distinction between Christians and Jews in Roman literature becomes apparent. For example, Pliny the Younger postulates that Christians are not Jews since they do not pay the tax, in his letters to Trajan.

According to the account by Cornelius Tacitus' in his Annals, Christians were a group punished for the Great Fire of Rome, in order to divert blame from Nero. The original text of the earliest extant manuscript, from which the other existing manuscripts probably are derived, suggests that Tacitus wrote "Chrestianos", which was a vulgar form of the name "Christianos", likely derived from the most common name for slaves ("Chrestus", which means "useful"). In the same passage Tacitus used the name "Christus", not "Chrestus", to refer to the founder of the "Chrestianos", noting that he was a Jew executed as a criminal under Pontius Pilate.

Spread of Christianity

Paul and the Apostles traveled extensively and establishing communities in major cities and regions throughout the Empire. The first communities appeared in Antiochmarker, Ephesusmarker, Corinthmarker, and the political center of Romemarker. The original church communities were founded by apostles and numerous other Christians soldiers, merchants, and preachers in northern Africa, Asia Minor, Arabia, Greece, and other places. Over 40 were established by the year 100, many in Asia Minor, see also Seven Churches of Asia.

Paul was responsible for bringing the Christianitiy to new parts of the world such as Ephesusmarker, Corinthmarker, Philippimarker, and Thessalonicamarker. By the end of the first century, Christianity had already spread to Rome and to various cities in Greece, Asia Minormarker and Syria. Major cities such as Rome, Ephesusmarker, Antiochmarker and Corinthmarker served as foundations for the expansive spread of Christianity in the post-apostolic period. Christianity spread quickly throughout Asia Minor. In Syria, it reached Edessamarker during this era, spurring the development of various local Christian legends. Further to the east on the bank of the Euphrates, the earliest known house-church was found, dating to 232 AD. The third-century Acts of Thomas relates the early spread of Christianity in India, though the accuracy of this tradition is disputed.


Irenaeus of Lyons believed in the second century that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the Church in Rome and had appointed Linus as succeeding bishop. There is no conclusive evidence, scripturally, historically or chronologically, that Peter was in fact the Bishop of Rome. While the church in Rome was already flourishing when Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans to them from Corinthmarker, about AD 57, he greets some fifty people in Rome by name, but not Peter whom he knew. There is also no mention of Peter in Rome later during Paul's two year stay there in chapter 28 of Acts, about AD 60-62. Church historians consistently consider Peter and Paul to have been martyred under the reign of Nero, around AD 65 such as after the Great Fire of Rome which, according to Tacitus, Nero blamed on the Christians.

Arabian Peninsula

In our consideration of the penetration of the Arabian peninsula by the gospel, it is necessary to distinguish between the marauding Bedouin nomads of the interior, who were chiefly herdsmen and unreceptive to foreign influence, and the inhabitants of the settled communities of the coastal areas and oases, who were either middlemen traders or farmers and were receptive to influences from abroad. Christianity apparently gained its strongest foothold in the ancient center of Semitic civilisation in South-west Arabia or Yemenmarker, (sometimes known as Seba or Sheba), whose queen visited Solomon. Because of geographic proximity, acculturation with Ethiopiamarker was always strong, and the royal family traces its ancestry to this queen.

The presence of Arabians at Pentecost ( ) and Paul's three-year sojourn in Arabia ( ) suggest a very early gospel witness. A fourth-century church history, states that the apostle Bartholomew preached in Arabia and that Himyarites were among his converts. Arabia's close relations with Ethiopiamarker give significance to the conversion of the treasurer to the queen of Ethiopia, not to mention the tradition that the Apostle Matthew was assigned to this land. Eusebius says that “one Pantaneous (c. AD 190) was sent from Alexandriamarker as a missionary to the nations of the East, ,”including southwest Arabia, on his way to India.


According to Eusebius' record, Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia (modern Iran) and India. The Didache (dating from the end of the first century) states, “India and all countries condering it, even to the farthest seas...received the apostolic ordinances from Judas Thomas (same as the Apostle Thomas), who was a guide and ruler in the church which he built.”Moreover, there is a wealth of confirmatory information in the Syriac writings, liturgical books, and calendars of the Church of the East, not to mention the writings of the Fathers, the calendars, the sacramentaries, and the martyrologies of the Roman, Greek and Ethiopian churches. Since trade routes from the East were wide open at the time and were used by early missionaries, there are no circumstantial reasons why Thomas could not have visited India in the first century. And his visit is the most plausible explanation for the early appearance of the church there.

An early third-century Syriac work known as the Acts of Thomas connects the apostle's Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.”But the Apostle still demurred, do the Lord overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in northwest India, where he found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king, Gondophares. The apostle's ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.

Critical historians treated this legend as an idle tale and denied the historicity of King Gundaphorus until modern archeology established him as an important figure in North India in the latter half of the first century. Many coins of his reign have turned up in Afghanistan, the Punjab, and the Indus Valley. Remains of some of his buildings , influenced by Greek architecture, indicate that he was a great builder. Interestingly enough, according to the legend, Thomas was a skilled carpenter and was bidden to build a palace for the king. However, the Apostle decided to teach the king a lesson by devoting the royal grant to acts of charity and thereby laying up treasure for the heavenly abode.Although little is known of the immediate growth of the church, Bar-Daisan (AD 154-223) reports that in his time there were Christian tribes in North India which claimed to have been converted by Thomas and to have books and relics to prove it. But at least by the time of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (AD 226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity.

The apocryphal Acts of Thomas (3rd century) identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadwa, one of the rulers of a first-century dynasty in southern India. It is most significant that, aside from a small remnant of the Church of the East in Kurdistanmarker, the only other church to maintain a distinctive identity is the Mar Thoma or “Church of Thomas” congregations along the Malabar Coast of Keralamarker State in southwest India. According to the most ancient tradition of this church, Thomas evangelized this area and then crossed to the Coromandel Coast of southeast India, where, after carrying out a second mission, he suffered martyrdom near Madrasmarker. Throughout the period under review, the church in India was under the jurisdiction of Edessamarker, which was then under the Mesopotamian patriarchate at Seleucia-Ctesiphonmarker and later at Baghdad and Mosul.Historian Vincent A. Smith says, “It must be admitted that a personal visit of the Apostle Thomas to South India was easily feasible in the traditional belief that he came by way of Socotramarker, where an ancient Christian settlement undoubtedly existed. I am now satisfied that the Christian church of South India is extremely ancient... ”.

Although there was a lively trade between the Near East and India via Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf, the most direct route to India in the first century was via Alexandriamarker and the Red Seamarker, taking advantage of the Monsoon winds, which could carry ships directly to and from the Malabar coast. The discovery of large hoards of Roman coins of first-century Caesars and the remains of Roman trading posts testify to the frequency of that trade. in addition, thriving Jewish colonies were to be found at the various trading centers, thereby furnishing obvious bases for the apostolic witness.

Piecing together the various traditions, one may conclude that Thomas left northwest India when invasion threatened and traveled by vessel to the Malabar coast, possibly visiting southeast Arabia and Socotra enroute and landing at the former flourishing port of Muziris on an island near Cochinmarker (c. AD 51-52). From there he is said to have preached the gospel throughout the Malabar coast, though the various churches he founded were located mainly on the Periyar Rivermarker and its tributaries and along the coast, where there were Jewish colonies. he reputedly preached to all classes of people and had about seventeen thousand converts, including members of the four principal castes. Later, stone crosses were erected at the places where churches were founded, and they became pilgrimage centres. In accordance with apostolic custom thomas ordained teachers and leaders or elders, who were reported to be the earliest ministry of the Malabar church.

Thomas next proceeded overland to the Coromandel coast and ministered in what is now the Madrasmarker area, where a local king and many people were converted. One tradition related that he went from there to Chinamarker via Malaccamarker and, after spending some time there, returned to the Madras area (Breviary of the Mar Thoma Church in Malabar). Apparently his renewed ministry outraged the Brahmins, who were fearful lest Christianity undermined their social structure, based on the caste system. So according to the Syriac version of the Acts of Thomas, Masdai, the local king at Mylaporemarker, after questioning the apostle condemned him to death about the year AD 72. Anxious to avoid popular excitement, “for many had believed in our Lord, including some of the nobles,”the king ordered Thomas conducted to a nearby mountain, where, after being allowed to pray, he was then stoned and stabbed to death with a lance wielded by an angry Brahmin. A number of Christians were also persecuted at the same time; when they refused to apostatize, their property was confiscated, so some sixty-four families eventually fled to malabar and joined that Christian community.

Other Apostolic sees

Apostolic Fathers

The Church Fathers are the early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. The earliest Church Fathers, within two generations of the Apostles of Christ, are usually called Apostolic Fathers, for reportedly knowing and studied under the apostles personally. Important Apostolic Fathers include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. In addition, the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas are usually placed among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers although their authors are unknown.

Clement of Rome

Best known for his epistle, 1 Clement (c. 96), it was copied and widely read. In it, Clement calls on the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order. It is the earliest Christian epistle outside the New Testament. Tradition identifies him as the fourth Bishop of Rome, later called Pope. Some see his epistle as an assertion, of Rome's authority over the church in Corinth, and by implication, the apostolic primacy of his see.

Clement, wrote about the order with which Jesus commanded the affairs of the Church be conducted, and the selection of persons was also "by His supreme will determined" Clement also refers the way "rivalry ... concerning the priesthood" was resolved by or through Moses in chapter 43 of the letter, and in chapter 44, that likewise, the apostles "gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry."

The New Testament writers use the terms "overseer" and "elders" interchangeably. Clement also refers to the leaders of the Corinthian church in his letter Clement I as bishops and presbyters interchangeably, and likewise says that the bishops are to lead God's flock by virtue of the chief shepherd (presbyter), Jesus Christ.

Bishops eventually emerged as overseers of urban Christian populations in the early church, and a hierarchical clergy gradually took the form of epískopos (overseers, bishops), then elder and presbyters (shepherds), and third were deacons (servants). But this emerged slowly and at different times for different locations.

The Didache

The Didache is the common name of a brief early Christian treatise dated by most scholars to the late first century.It is an anonymous work not belonging to any single individual, and a pastoral manual "that reveals more about how Jewish-Christians saw themselves and how they adapted their Judaism for gentiles than any other book in the Christian Scriptures." The text, parts of which may have constituted the first written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Christian lessons, rituals such as baptism and eucharist, and Church organization. It was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament but rejected as spurious or non-canonical by others, eventually not accepted into the New Testament canon. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church however, does include the later Didascalia within its "broader canon" (though only the "narrower canon" has printed since twentieth century), and the Didascalia was influenced by the Didache.

The manuscript is commonly referred to as the Didache. This is short for the header found on the document and the title used by the Church Fathers, "The Lord's Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" which Jerome said was the same as the Gospel according to the Hebrews. A fuller title or subtitle is also found next in the manuscript, "The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles."

Jonathan Draper writes: "Few scholars now date the text later than the end of the first century or the first few decades of the second." Similarly Michael W. Holmes concurs: "A date considerably closer to the end of the first century seems more probable." The 2005 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church comments: "Although in the past many English and American scholars tended to assign it to the late second century, most scholars now place at some point during the mid to late first century."

The contents may be divided into four parts, which most scholars agree were combined from separate sources by a later redactor: the first is the Two Ways, the Way of Life and the Way of Death (chapters 1-6); the second part is a ritual dealing with baptism, fasting, and Communion (chapters 7-10); the third speaks of the ministry and how to deal with traveling prophets (chapters 11-15); and the final section (chapter 16) is a brief apocalypse.


Further reading

  • Berard, Wayne Daniel. When Christians Were Jews (That Is, Now). Cowley Publications (2006). ISBN 1561012807.
  • Bockmuehl, Markus N.A. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Jesus. Cambridge University Press (2001). ISBN 0521796784.
  • Brown, Raymond E.: An Introduction to the New Testament (ISBN 0-385-24767-2)
  • Brown, Schuyler. The Origins of Christianity: A Historical Introduction to the New Testament. Oxford University Press (1993). ISBN 0198262078.
  • Dormeyer, Detlev: The New Testament among the Writings of Antiquity (English translation), Sheffield 1998
  • Dunn, James D.G. Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, AD 70 to 135. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (1999). ISBN 0802844987.
  • Dunn, James D.G. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. Cambridge University Press (2003). ISBN 0521786940.
  • Dunn, James D.G. Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity. SCM Press (2006). ISBN 0334029988.
  • Elwell, Walter A. & Comfort, Philip Wesley. Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale House Publishers (2001). ISBN 0842370897.
  • Freedman, David Noel (Ed). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (2000). ISBN 0802824005.
  • Esler, Phillip F. The Early Christian World. Routledge (2004). ISBN 0415333121.
  • Helms, Randel McCraw : Who Wrote the Gospels?
  • Mack, Burton L.: Who Wrote the New Testament?, Harper, 1996
  • Keck, Leander E. Paul and His Letters. Fortress Press (1988). ISBN 0800623401.
  • Mills, Watson E. Acts and Pauline Writings. Mercer University Press (1997). ISBN 086554512X.
  • Malina, Bruce J.: Windows on the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea. Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville (Kentucky) 1993
  • Malina, Bruce J.: The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. 3rd edition, Westminster John Knox Press Louisville (Kentucky) 2001
  • Malina, Bruce J.: Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John Augsburg Fortress Publishers: Minneapolis 1998
  • Malina, Bruce J.: Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels Augsburg Fortress Publishers: Minneapolis 2003
  • McKechnie, Paul. The First Christian Centuries: Perspectives on the Early Church. Apollos (2001). ISBN 0851114792
  • McNeile, A.H. An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament, second edition revised New Testament Introduction, D. Guthrie, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester 1976.
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan. The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). University of Chicago Press (1975). ISBN 0226653714.
  • Stegemann, Ekkehard and Stegemann, Wolfgang: The Jesus Movement: A Social History of Its First Century. Augsburg Fortress Publishers: Minneapolis 1999
  • Stegemann, Wolfgang: The Gospel and the Poor. Fortress Press. Minneapolis 1984 ISBN 0800617835
  • Tabor, James D. "Ancient Judaism: Nazarenes and Ebionites", The Jewish Roman World of Jesus. Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (1998).
  • Thiede, Carsten Peter. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity. Palgrabe Macmillan (2003). ISBN 1403961433.
  • Thiessen, Henry C. Introduction to the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids 1976
  • White, L. Michael. From Jesus to Christianity. HarperCollins (2004). ISBN 0060526556.
  • Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press (1992). ISBN 0800626818.
  • Wylen, Stephen M. The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction. Paulist Press (1995). ISBN 0809136104.
  • Interpreting the New Testament. An Introduction to the Principles and Methods of N.T. Exegesis, H. Conzelmann and A. Lindemann, translated by S.S. Schatzmann, Hendrickson Publishers. Peabody 1988.
  • Zahn, Theodor, Introduction to the New Testament, English translation, Edinburgh, 1910.

External links

See also

History of Christianity: Early Christianity
Cultural & historical
background of Jesus
Followed by:
Christianity in
the 2nd century

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