Early Christianity

  • Johnno Kuipers - Faculty of Spatial Sciences

Early Christianity can be defined as the stage of Christianity from the birth of Jesus until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. In the early stages of Christianity the believers were Jew, who slightly deviated from their original religion, Judaism. The New Testament inform us that the first Christians settled in and around Jerusalem.[1]

At the end of the first century Christianity became more recognized as an independent religion by the people who were acknowledging Jesus Christ as the Messiah. That means that Christian Judaism separated itself from Judaism and became a religion on its own, called Christianity.[2] This parting of the ways was a gradual process.

In the first years of Christianity the Jewish Torah, available in Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic,[3] was used as the main scripture and guidance of the new religion[1]. In the early years, Christianity was made up upon three principles: God as the protagonist, Satan as the antagonist and God’s people as the agonist.[4] Jesus Christ was recognized as the son of God, the foundation of Christianity.[1]

Contents
1. History
2. Characteristics of Early Christianity
3. Early Christian Practises
4. Early Christian Worship
References

History


Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, who was teaching and preaching about the settlement of the Kingdom of God. Jesus collected twelve loyal Apostles. According to the New Testament, which is written from 50 to 100 AD, Jesus was arrested, persecuted and punished to death, by crucifixion. On the third day after his execution Jesus arose from death and became the Son of God.[5][6]

After Christ’s death and the assumption of the resurrection of Christ around 33, the adherents of Christ believed the Messiah rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. According to the rules of Judaism (Torah), the Messiah still had to come, while the early Christians believed in Jesus as the Messiah.[7] After the resurrection and the Great Commission the twelve apostles decided to disperse across Europe and the Hellenic world to spread the message of Jesus Christ.[8]

When the new religion spread out more extensively across the Roman Empire, some emperors came acted against Christianity. Nero (54-68) was the first emperor who persecuted Christians, but based on law, the persecution of Christians became more common in the second century AD. Trajan (98-117) was the first emperor who outlawed Christianity, in 111. Nevertheless, there were long periods of relatively religious freedom.[9]

During the first century AD Christianity was a very small religion. The number of people adhering to Jesus Christ as the Son of God grew steadily from 7500 believers at the end of the first century to around 600.000 believers in 300.[10][11] Numbers started rising exceedingly when Emperor Constantine (306-337) came into power. He withdrew the ban on Christianity in 312, after which he himself seems to have converted to Christianity in 312.[12] After the Edict of Milan in 313 Christianity was able to spread freely across the Western Roman Empire.[13][14]

The Early Christian Age ended with the First Council of Nicaea in 325, where the bishops came to a consensus considering the orthodoxy of the Christian religion.[15] It would take until 394 when emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.[16]


Characteristics of Early Christianity


Initially Jesus was only referred by his name “Jesus from Nazareth”, or in combination with the name of his father: “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth”. After Christ’s death the disciples used the term “Messiah” for Jesus as the person who would rebuild Israel as the nation it should be. After his resurrection the term Messiah was commonly used. Also the term “Son of God” came into use by his disciples, especially by Paul.[17] Subsequently, at the Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that Jesus was from the same substance as God, which meant that he was truly God.[18] Furthermore, (Early) Christians believed and still believe in God’s Kingdom, in life after death.[19]


Early Christian Practises


Baptism was already practised in the early stages of Christianity, but there are slight different views on baptism between John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul. According to John the Baptist, baptism was the preparation for God’s judgement and salvation. Jesus, however, proclaimed that in the expectation of God’s Kingdom his followers were to repent their sins by way of baptism. Later on, Paul used baptism differently: He baptized people into the “name of Jesus” and into his resurrection, a way to dedicate people to God.[20] Baptism can be seen as the first sacrament.


Early Christian Worship


Early Christians worshipped God in a way that his “worthiness becomes the norm and inspiration of human living.”[21] Christians praised, expressed thanks and prayed to God and came together in house churches.[22] An example of a house of worship is the lowest level of the Basilica of Saint Clement, in Rome. Before this lowest level was destructed by a fire in 64 AD, there was a house church located, founded by Flavius Clemens, a Roman noble man and believer.[23]



Sources


  1. Anonymous (n.d.). An Introduction to Christian Theology. The Boison Center for Religion and American Public Life. Accessed on the 28th of December 2014 via: http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/boisi/pdf/bc_papers/BCP-Christianity.pdf P.2.
  2. Anonymous (n.d.) The Roman Empire in the first century: Early Christians. Public Broedcasting Service. Accessed on the 28th of December 2014 via:http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/christians.html
  3. Parsons, J.J. (n.d.) Did Jesus speak Hebrew? Hebrew For Christians . Accessed on 27th of December 2014 via:http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Articles/Jesus_Hebrew/jesus_hebrew.html
  4. Fee, G.D. & Stuart, D. (2014). How to Read the Bible for all it’s worth. Pastor Matt Blog. Accessed on 23th of December 2014 via: http://pastormattblog.com/2014/03/31/how-to-read-the-bible-for-all-its-worth-old-testament-stories/
  5. Boisi Center (n.d.). An Introduction to Christian Theology. The Boison Center for Religion and American Public Life.. Accessed on the 28th of December 2014 via: http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/boisi/pdf/bc_papers/BCP-Christianity.pdf P.2.
  6. Anonymous (2013). In what Language was the Bible first written? Biblica. Accessed on the 7th of January 2015 via: http://www.biblica.com/en-us/bible/bible-faqs/in-what-language-was-the-bible-first-written/
  7. Anonymous (n.d.). Comparision of Christianity and Judaism. Religion Facts. Accessed on the 29th of December 2014 via: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/charts/christianity_judaism.htm
  8. Symes, K. Jewish Missions and the Great Commission. Jewish Awareness Ministries. Accessed on the 28th of December 2014, via: http://www.jewishawareness.org/jewish-missions-and-the-great-commission/
  9. Anonymous (n.d.) Persecution in the Early Church: The Christian Persecution.Religion Facts. Accessed on 29th of December 2014 via: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/history/persecution.htm
  10. Sim, D.C. (2005). How many Jews became Christian in the first century? HTS. 61(1&2), 2005. Pp. 419
  11. Carrier, R. (2006). Was Christianity too improbable to be False? The Scholar Web. Accessed on the 7th of January 2015 via: http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/luck.html#9
  12. Anonymous (n.d.). Het christendom in het Romeinse Rijk: van verboden tot enig toegestane godsdienst. Tijdvakken.nl. Accessed on the 28th of December 2014 via: http://www.tijdvakken.nl/christendom-in-het-romeinse-rijk/
  13. Lewis, N. & Meyer, R. (1990) Empire. Columbia University Press. pp. 614
  14. Grindle, G. (1892). The Destruction of Paganism in the Roman Empire, pp. 29-30
  15. Anonymous (n.d.). Council of Nicaea. Christian History Institute. Accessed on 27th of December 2014 via: https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/nicea/
  16. Anonymous (n.d.). Het christendom in het Romeinse Rijk: van verboden tot enig toegestane godsdienst. Tijdvakken.nl. Accessed on the 28th of December 2014 via: http://www.tijdvakken.nl/christendom-in-het-romeinse-rijk/
  17. Anonymous (n.d.). Christology. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed on the 29th of December 2014 via: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/447019/Saint-Paul-the-Apostle/259976/Christology#ref927002
  18. Graves, D. (n.d.). Council of Nicaea. Christion History Institute. Accessed on the 29th of December 2014 via: https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/nicea/
  19. Anonymous (n.d.). Kingdom of God. Theopedia. Accessed on the 28th of December 2014 via: http://www.theopedia.com/Kingdom_of_God
  20. Isaak, J. (2013). Baptism among the Early Christians. Direction Journal. Accessed on the 30th of December 2014 via : http://www.directionjournal.org/33/1/baptism-among-early-christians.html
  21. Martin, R. P. (1982). The Worship of God. In Marshall, I.H. How far did the early Christians worship God? Accessed on the 30th of December 2014 via: http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_099_3_Marshall.pdf
  22. Marshall, I. H. (1985). How far did the early Christians worship god. Church Society. Accessed on the 30th of December 2014 via: http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_099_3_Marshall.pdf
  23. Tongeren, S., van, Kuipers J. & Vries, H., de (2014). Basilica of Saint Clemens: Eastern-Roman influences in a Western-Roman church. University of Groningen: Honours College Rome Summerschool. Accessed on the 29th of December 2014 via: http://rome-honours-groningen.co.nf/2014/SanClemente.php