Early Christianity, which began within first-century Judaism, became clearly distinct from Rabbinic Judaism. It continued to revere the Jewish Bible, generally using the Septuagint translation that was in general use among Greek-speaking Jews and Gentile Godfearers or the Targums in use among Aramaic speakers, and added to it the writings that would become the New Testament, thus developing the first Christian Biblical canons. It defended Christian beliefs against criticism by non-Christian Jews and followers of other Roman religions, survived various persecutions, consisted of divisions that accused each other of heresy, and developed church hierarchy. Christianity synthesized Jewish morals, Greek theology, and Roman administration. What started as a religious movement within Second Temple Judaism became, by the end of this period, the favored religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great (leading later to the rise of Christendom), and a significant religion also outside of the empire. According to Will Durant, the Christian Church prevailed because it offered an attractive doctrine and because the church leaders addressed human needs better than their rivals. The First Council of Nicaea marks the end of this era and the beginning of the period of the first seven Ecumenical Councils (325 - 787).
The church was first centered in Jerusalem. Jesus' brother James was martyred, the Temple was destroyed, and Jews were banned from the city after the Bar Kokhba revolt, weakening the Jerusalem Church. Churches of the eastern part of the empire, notably in Alexandria and Antioch, used Greek and developed Hellenistic theologies. Churches of the western part of the empire eventually took to using Latin and excelled at the Roman virtues of discipline and rule.
Jesus and all his original followers were Jews or Jewish proselytes. These first followers of Jesus composed a sect of first-century Judaism marked by their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah and that the Kingdom of God had come or would soon come, in fulfilment of expectation (). Practice among the groups that followed Jesus included those who were strictly Jewish, or those strongly attracted to Jewish practice, including the Church leaders in Jerusalem.
Jewish Christians were 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. The Acts of the Apostles asserts "All the believers were united and shared everything with one another.They made it their practice to sell their possessions and goods and to distribute the proceeds to anyone who was in need." They held faithfully to the Torah and Jewish law which included 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 a central group in Christianity, were not at first declared to be unorthodox, but were later excluded and denounced, as Judaizers. 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 fourth 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 eventually constituted a separate community from the Pauline Christians, adhering to the belief that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and that they remained part of the Jewish community. 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. The traditional understanding is that the the original Jewish Christianity continued until the fifth century, after which there are no more references to Jewish followers of the Jesus movement. Those remaining fully faithful to Halacha became purely Jews, while those adhering to the Christian faith joined with Gentile, Graeco-Roman, 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. Yet, even today, there are Christian groups that claim to be Contemporary Jewish Christians.
The Desposyni (relatives of Jesus) lived in Nazareth during the first century. The relatives of Jesus were accorded a special position within the early church, as displayed by the leadership of James in Jerusalem.
Earliest Christianity took the form of a Jewish eschatological faith. The book of Acts reports that the early followers continued daily Temple 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.
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 Saint 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 Antioch. Yet, four years after the Council of Jerusalem, Paul had to write to the Galatians about the issue, which had become a serious controversy in their region. According to Alister McGrath, a proponent of Paleo-orthodoxy, Paul considered it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith and addressed the issue with great detail in .
Some modern scholars challenge the prevailing view, that first century Judaism was a religion of legalistic works-righteousness that Paul opposed, suggesting what they call a New Perspective on Paul; James D. G. Dunn, who coined this phrase, has proposed that Peter was the bridge-man (i.e. the pontifex maximus) between the two other "prominent leading figures": Paul and James the Just.
Jews who did not convert to Christianity and the growing Christian community gradually became more hostile toward each other, see also List of events in early Christianity and Responsibility for the death of Jesus. Christianity established itself as a predominantly Gentile religion that spanned the Roman Empire and beyond.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, generally considered to have been authored by Paul, identifies Jesus as establishing a New Covenant with his flesh and blood the bread and wine of the Eucharist. The New Covenant also appears in though not in all copies and is primarily discussed in the Epistle to the Hebrews which is generally considered anonymous. The previous covenant was that of Moses, called the Mosaic Covenant (see also Biblical law in Christianity and Supersessionism).
Perhaps as early as the early second century, some Christians (notably Justin Martyr) began to accept early Christian texts as additional scripture. By the first century, Paul's letters and the separate Gospels were circulating among Christian communities. In the second century, the last books of the New Testament were written, Paul's letters were referred to as scripture, the four canonical Gospels were asserted by Irenaeus, and other epistles were also accepted as canon. By 325, the Church had roughly the same New Testament in use in the East and West, but the details were still disputed, see Antilegomena.
Some early Christian groups went further than others in distancing themselves from Judaism. Marcion (d. 160) rejected the Old Testament altogether, saying that its God of Law had nothing to do with Jesus Christ's God of Love. Gnostic groups also commonly identified the Old Testament's God as the Demiurge (see also Dualism), the evil or lesser god of the material world (as contrasted with the superiority of the spiritual world).
The first and second-century texts that would later be canonized as the New Testament several times imply or directly refer to Jesus' divinity, though there is scholarly debate as to whether or not they call him God. Within 20-30 years of the death of Jesus, Paul, who authored the largest early expositions of Christian theology, refers to Jesus as the resurrected Son of God, the savior who would return from heaven and save his faithful, dead and living, from the imminent destruction of the world. The Synoptic Gospels describe him as the Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and who will return to judge the nations. The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the human incarnation of the divine Word or "Logos" (see Jesus the Logos) and True Vine. The Book of Revelation depicts Jesus as the "Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, who died and now lives for ever and who holds the keys of death and Hades, and as the Alpha and Omega who is to come soon. The book speaks of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God as reigning with him for a thousand years before the final defeat of Satan and the Judgement at the Great White Throne.
The term "Logos" was used in Greek philosophy (see Heraclitus) and in Hellenistic Jewish religious writing (see Philo Judaeus of Alexandria) to mean the ultimate ordering principle of the universe. Those who rejected the identification of Jesus with the Logos, rejecting also the Gospel of John, were called Alogi (see also Monarchianism).
According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Trinity was revealed to the disciples by revelation and in religious visions called theoria during the Theophany and the Transfiguration of Jesus called the Tabor Light or uncreated light.
The close of the early Christian era is defined as the First Council of Nicea, which gave the trinity its dogmatic form. But the term trinity (coined by Tertullian) and concepts related to the trinity existed earlier in the church. The phrase "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" became common, especially at baptism. Another trinitarian formula, "Glory to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit," was common even before the Arian controversy. However, this earlier formula does not express the co-equality of the three persons.
The Council used the Greek term homoousios (literally "of the same substance, essence or being") to express its view of the relation of the Son to the Father. However, it also appears in the early Christian era as used by Origen, Paul of Samosata, and Alexander of Alexandria though not without controversy, see for example Synods of Antioch. Various Christian writings refer to Jesus as a man and as God, but it was this Council that gave official sanction to the common Trinity formulation using this term.
Many, including Oneness Pentecostals and some Restorationists, styling themselves as restoring early Christian practice, reject the trinitarian concepts of the early church, and generally place no importance in the post-apostolic writings of the Church Fathers on the subject. (See below in the discussion on the Church Fathers.)
Among early Christians there was a widely accepted belief that Christ's return would establish not the general resurrection but a thousand-year kingdom, with the general resurrection following (a belief known as chiliasm or premillenialism). Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation is the main source of this teaching, though it may owe something to the Book of Daniel and to ideas popular in late pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic literature, especially 2 Esdras and the non-canonical Books of Enoch
Early Christians followed the Pharisaic precedent of believing in a physical resurrection of the dead. They believed that the saved received various divine rewards corresponding to their holiness. While all the saved would gain eternal life in Christ, not all of the saved would live in heaven.
Apologists defended the resurrection of the dead against pagan philosophers, who considered the soul worthy of perfection but not the body. Origen, however, who attempted to synthesise Platonism and Christianity, appears to have supported the idea of an ethereal rather than corporeal resurrection.
The ancient Jewish picture was of the sky as a firmament, a dome covering the earth. But the prevailing picture in early Christian times was that of the earth as a sphere with one or more other spheres, containing the stars, rotating around it. They sometimes described the souls of the dead waiting underground for the general resurrection. They described gehenna (roughly, hell) as a subterranean fire, see also Lake of Fire. In some Hellenic traditions, influential in the Alexandrian church, souls escaped the material world of the earth and returned to the spirit realm above.
Early Church Fathers who wrote in Greek, such as Hippolytus of Rome in his book on Hades, continued to use the term "Hades". Early Christian writers in Latin also used either the Greek word "Hades" itself or employed as its equivalent the Latin word "infernus", the Roman word for the underworld, as Jerome did in his translation of the New Testament.
The word "angel" is derived from Greek ἄγγελος, the basic meaning of which is "messenger". Visitations from the "angel of the LORD" in the Old Testament are taken by many to be pre-Incarnation manifestations of Christ. Accordingly, Justin Martyr spoke of Christ as "King, and Priest, and God, and Lord, and angel, and man, and captain, and stone, and a Son born, and first made subject to suffering, then returning to heaven, and again coming with glory, and He is preached as having the everlasting kingdom". He interpreted as Christ the Angel who spoke with Abraham in , and argued for the divinity of Christ.
Arius, born probably in Libya between c. 260 and 280, was ordained a priest in Alexandria in 312-313. Under Bishop Alexander (313-326), probably in about 319, he came forward as a champion of subordinationist teaching about the person of Christ.
Arius appears to have held that the Son of God was not eternal but created by the Father as an instrument for creating the world and therefore not God by nature, different from other creatures in being the one direct creation of God. The controversy quickly spread, with Arius seeking support from other disciples of his teacher Lucian of Antioch, notably Eusebius of Nicomedia, while a synod under Alexander excommunicated Arius. Because of the agitation aroused by the dispute, Emperor Constantine I sent Hosius of Córdoba to Alexandria to attempt a settlement; but the mission failed. Accordingly, in 325, Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea, which, largely through the influence of Athanasius of Alexandria, then a deacon, but destined to be Alexander's successor, defined the Catholic faith in the coeternity and coequality of the Father and the Son, using the famous term "homoousios" to express the oneness of their being, while Arius and some bishops who supported him, including Eusebius, were banished.
This council marks the end of the early Christian period.
While there appear to be Gnostic elements in some early Christian writing, Irenaeus and others condemned Gnosticism as a heresy, rejecting its dualistic cosmology and vilification of the material world and the creator of that world. Gnostics thought the God of the Old Testament was not the true God. It was considered to be the demiurge and either fallen, as taught by Valentinus (c. 100 - c. 160) or evil, as taught by the Sethians and Ophites.
The Gospel of John, according to Stephen L Harris, both includes Gnostic elements and refutes Gnostic beliefs, presenting a dualistic universe of light and dark, spirit and matter, good and evil, much like the Gnostic accounts, but instead of escaping the material world, Jesus bridges the spiritual and physical worlds. Raymond E. Brown wrote that even though gnostics interpreted John to support their doctrines, the author didn't intend that. The epistles were written (whether by the author of the Gospel or someone in his circle) to argue against gnostic doctrines.
The Gospel of Thomas has some Gnostic elements but lacks the full Gnostic cosmology. The scene in John in which "doubting Thomas" ascertains that the resurrected Jesus is physical refutes the Gnostic idea that Jesus returned to spirit form after death. The written gospel draws on an earlier oral tradition associated with Thomas. Some scholars argue that the Gospel of John was meant to oppose the beliefs of that community.
Some believe that there were at least three distinct divisions within the Christian movement of the 1st century: the Jewish Christians (led by the Apostle James the Just, with Jesus's disciples, and their followers), Pauline Christians (followers of Paul of Tarsus) and Gnostic Christians. Others believe that Gnostic Christianity was a later development, some time around the middle or late second century, around the time of Valentinus. Gnosticism was in turn made up of many smaller groups, some of which did not claim any connection to Jesus Christ. In Mandaeist Gnosticism, Mandaeans maintain that Jesus was a mšiha kdaba or "false messiah" who perverted the teachings entrusted to him by John the Baptist. The word k(a)daba, however, derives from two roots in Mandaic: the first root, meaning "to lie," is the one traditionally ascribed to Jesus; the second, meaning "to write," might provide a second meaning, that of "book;" hence some Mandaeans, motivated perhaps by an ecumenical spirit, maintain that Jesus was not a "lying Messiah" but a "Book Messiah", the "book" in question presumably being the Christian Gospels. This however seems to be a folk etymology without support in the Mandaean texts. A modern view has argued that Marcionism is mistakenly reckoned among the Gnostics, and really represents a fourth interpretation of the significance of Jesus. Gnostics freely exchanged concepts and texts. It is considered likely that Valentinius was influenced by previous concepts such as Sophia, as much as he influenced others.
In 144, the Church in Rome expelled Marcion of Sinope. He thereupon set up his own separate ecclesiastical organization, later called Marcionism. Like the Gnostics, he promoted dualism. Unlike the Gnostics, however, he founded his beliefs not on secret knowledge (gnosis) but on the vast difference between what he saw as the "evil" deity of the Old Testament and the God of love of the New, on which he expounded in his Antithesis. Consequently, Marcionists were vehemently anti-Judaism in their beliefs. They rejected The Hebrew Gospel (see also Gospel of the Hebrews) and all the other Gospels with the exception of a short version of the Gospel of Luke, often called the Gospel of Marcion.
From the perspectives of Tertullian and Epiphanius (when the four gospels had largely canonical status, perhaps in reaction to the challenge created by Marcion), it appeared that Marcion rejected the non-Lukan gospels, however, in Marcion's time, it may be that the only gospel he was familiar with from Pontus was the gospel that would later be called Luke. It is also possible that Marcion's gospel was actually modified by his critics to become the gospel we know today as Luke, rather than the story from his critics that he changed a canonical gospel to get his version. For example: compare to ; did Marcion delete 5:39 from his Gospel or was it added later to counteract a Marcionist interpretation of 5:36-38? See also New Wine into Old Wineskins. One must keep in mind that we only know of Marcion through his critics and they considered him a major threat to the form of Christianity that they knew. John Knox (the modern writer, not to be confused with John Knox the Protestant Reformer) in Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon (ISBN 0-404-16183-9) was the first to propose that Marcion's Gospel may have preceded Luke's Gospel and Acts.
Marcion argued that Christianity should be solely based on Christian Love. He went so far as to say that Jesus’ mission was to overthrow Demiurge -- the fickle, cruel, despotic God of the Old Testament -- and replace Him with the Supreme God of Love whom Jesus came to reveal. Marcion was labeled a gnostic by Irenaeus. Irenaeus' labeled Marcion this because of Marcion expressing this core gnostic belief, that the creator God of the Jews and the Old Testament was the demiurge. This position, he said, was supported by the ten Epistles of Paul that Marcion also accepted. His writing had a profound effect upon the development of Christianity and the canon.
Christian testimony was entirely oral for roughly twenty years after Jesus' death. Christians passed along Jesus' teachings, proclaimed his resurrection, and prophesied his imminent return. Apostles established churches and oral traditions in various places, such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Caesarea, and Ephesus. These traditions gradually developed distinct characteristics.
When those who had heard Jesus' actual words began to die, Christians started recording the sayings in writing. The hypothetical Q document, a collection of Jesus' sayings, is perhaps the first such record (c 50).
At about the same time, Paul of Tarsus also began writing (or dictating) letters ("epistles") to various churches that would later be considered scripture. Some scholars think Paul articulated the first Christian theology: namely that all people inherit Adam's guilt (see Original Sin) and can only be saved from death by the atoning death of the Son of God, Jesus' crucifixion.
The gospel of Mark was written during c. 65-70, possibly motivated by the First Jewish-Roman War. The gospel of Matthew was written c. 80-85 to convince a Jewish audience that Jesus was the expected Messiah (Christ) and a greater Moses. The gospel of Luke, together with Acts (see Luke-Acts) was c. 85-90, considered the most literate and artistic of the gospels. Finally, the gospel of John was written, portraying Jesus as the incarnation of the divine Word, who primarily taught about himself as a savior. All four gospels originally circulated anonymously, and they were attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John in the 2nd century. Various authors wrote further epistles and the Apocalypse of John.
Several apocalypses circulated in the early church, and one of them, the Revelation of John, was later included in the New Testament.
Regardless, throughout the Jewish diaspora newer writings were still collected and the fluid Septuagint collection was the primary source of scripture for Christians. Many works under the names of known Apostles, such as the Gospel of Thomas, were accorded scriptural status in at least some Christian circles. Apostolic writings, such as I Clement and the Epistle of Barnabas, were considered scripture even within the orthodoxy through the fifth century. A problem for scholars is that there is a lack of direct evidence on when Christians began accepting their own scriptures alongside the Septuagint. Well into the second century Christians held onto a strong preference for oral tradition as clearly demonstrated by writers of the time, such as Papias.
The acceptance of the Septuagint was generally uncontested. Later Jerome would express his preference for adhering strictly to the Jewish canon, but his view held little currency even in his own day. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that substantial numbers of Christians began to reject those books of the Septuagint which are not found in the Jewish canon.
Originally, candidates for baptism accepted a short formula of belief, which varied in detail from one place to another. "By the fourth century these formulas had become more uniform and were everywhere tripartite in structure, following ".
The early Christian era ends with Emperor Constantine convening the Council of Nicaea, where the original version of the Nicene Creed was formulated.
While it is clear that infant baptism was widely practiced by at latest the third century, the origins of the practice are controversial. Some believe that the apostolic church practiced infant baptism, arguing that the mention of the baptism of households in the Acts of the Apostles must have included infants. In the second century, Irenaeus may have referred to it,
The third century evidence is clearer, with both Origen and Cyprian advocating the practice. Tertullian refers to the practice (and that sponsors would speak on behalf of the children), but argues against it, on the grounds that baptism should be postponed until after marriage.
Early Christians blessed bread and wine as part of the Lord's supper. Where pagans would sacrifice animals for religious reasons, Christians would perform the eucharist, or unbloody sacrifice.
The early church featured two or three levels of clergy, overseers (bishops), elders (presbyters, sometimes interchangeable with bishops), and deacons (assistants). By the year 200, only bishops had the authority to ordain priests.
The first worship services were informal gatherings in homes of church members. Christians considered each other to be brothers and sisters, each contributing their respective gifts to the community. Gatherings featured readings, such as from Paul's epistles and later the gospels and other texts. The Lord's Supper comprised a communal meal with prayers in memory of Jesus. Services were known as agape feasts or love feasts.
Second century sources, such as the Didache, specify that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are for the baptized only. In his First Apology, a letter of defense written to Roman emperor, Antonius Pius, 161-180, Justin described a newly baptized member of the community sharing in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, which was restricted to the baptized.
Despite Ignatius' rejection of Judaizing (see above), Christianity continued many of the patterns of Judaism, adapting to Christian use synagogue liturgical worship, prayer, use of Sacred Scripture, a priesthood, a religious calendar commemorating on certain days each year certain events and/or beliefs, use of music in worship, giving material support to the religious leadership, and practices such as fasting and almsgiving and baptism.
Christians adopted as their Bible the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures known as the Septuagint and later also canonized the books of the New Testament. There are however many phrases which appear to be quotations and other statements of fact, in the early church fathers, which cannot be found in the Bible as we know it. For example in Clement's First Letter he states that Paul "reached the limits of the West", and also appears to quote a variant form of Ezek 33.
At worship, early Christians greeted each other with a holy kiss. Church leaders restricted the practice to keep the worshipers from taking pleasure in it, such as specifying that the lips be closed.
Many practices which later became characteristic of Christian worship had not yet developed. Singing was generally without instrumentation and was normally in unison. Many Christians had lost their lives rather than offer a mere pinch of incense to the emperor as to a god, and so the use of incense was strongly frowned upon even in Christian worship. These practices and others, such as the use of elaborate vestments and grand buildings, became popular only once the Peace of the Church changed the political situation and the growing prosperity of worshippers made them possible.
Christians proclaimed a God of love who enjoined them to share a higher love with one another. Some interpreted the Old Testament as revealing primarily a God of justice, whereas the New Testament, particularly the letters of Paul and the Gospel of John, revealed a more loving God. Parallels are found in Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism. Paul of Tarsus is represented in as equating the Unknown God of the Greeks as revealed in the Christian God. Early Christian communities welcomed everyone, including slaves and women, who were generally shunned in Greco-Roman culture, but there were other exceptions, such as Epicurianism.
Some first-century Christian writings include reference to overseers ("bishops") and deacons, though these may have been informal leadership roles rather than formal positions. The Didache (dated by most scholars to the early second century),) speaks of "appointing for yourself bishops and deacons" and also speaks about teachers and prophets and false prophets. Bishops were defined as spiritual authorities over geographical areas.
By the end of the early Christian period, the church of the Roman Empire had hundreds of bishops, some of them (those of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and, it seems, the chief bishops of other provinces) holding some form of jurisdiction over others.
Jerusalem was an important church center up to 135, for example see the Council of Jerusalem and the section on Jerusalem below, and it became significant again in the post-Nicene era. Some believe Rome was recognized as the first city of the church, Alexandria second, and then Antioch, see also Papal supremacy, however this belief was also one of the primary causes of the Great Schism and is still disputed today by the Orthodox and Protestants. When the city of Constantinople was founded (330), this too became an important Christian centre within the empire, since the emperor resided there and made it his New Rome. Constantinople (Byzantium) is generally associated with the Byzantine Empire.
Christian monasticism started in Egypt. The first monks were hermits (eremetic monks). By the end of the early Christian era, Saint Pachomius was organizing his followers into a community and founding the tradition of monasticism in community (cenobitic monks).
Languages often presume features of the culture of their native speakers. For instance, the concept represented by the Greek word psyche, that of the soul, was often understood as immaterial in Greek writers, who also discussed whether the soul was immortal or not. The writers of the New Testament, like the Jewish translators of the Old Testament (Septuagint), used this word to render the Hebrew nephesh. Christianity and some forms of Judaism believe in bodily resurrection. Judaism later rejected the Septuagint because of its divergence from what had become the accepted Hebrew text and also because of the use of the Septuagint by Christians. Parallels to this exist in Christian history, where Greek, Latin or 16th century English are felt to be "proper" expressions of the scriptures, or of liturgy.
In early Christianity, Koine Greek, the most widely spoken language in the Roman empire of the time, the language also in which Alexandrian Jews such as Philo wrote their works, was naturally the language most used in Christian writings. (Other less widely used languages were not excluded: Latin, for instance, was used by writers such as Tertullian and Marcus Minucius Felix and Syriac by Syriac Christianity.) Regarding issues like polytheism, Christianity stood with Judaism against the background pagan culture, being staunchly monotheistic. Early Christianity thus found itself, like Judaism before it, in conflict with the prevailing Greco-Roman culture, where polytheistic theology was not simply an abstraction, but influenced social customs at many levels. Banquets in honour of gods were a common occurrence, legal codes and international diplomacy depended on gods as witnesses and the ultimate court of appeal on justice. Christians were considered atheists, because they refused to honour the pagan gods. In some cases, public opinion was against Christianity as antisocial (refusing to eat at pagan banquets) and immoral (unaccountable to the moral ethos couched in polytheistic terms). Tacitus recorded some of his impressions in 109: "a class hated for their abominations", "a most mischievous superstition", guilty of "hatred against mankind". Christians were also accused of "cannibalism" (perhaps a reference to the Eucharist) and "incest" (perhaps a reference to the biblical prohibition of marriage outside the faith).
In the year 64, the Christians, specified by this name in the account written later by the Roman historian Tacitus (died c. 117), were blamed by Nero as a scapegoat for the Great Fire of Rome in that year. He probably chose them as a new and secretive cult, mistrusted by the people: Tacitus called Christianity a "deadly superstition"; but he also noted that Nero's persecution of the Christians was so harsh that the inhabitants of Rome resented its cruelty.
Christians also suffered persecutions under the reigns of Domitian and Trajan. Persecutions continued intermittently through the second century. Even during periods between organized persecutions, Christians were still sporadically subject to trial and condemnation. After the late second century relative calm held in Rome. The reign of the Severi emperors is particularly noted as not only tolerant of the various religions in Rome, but actively interested in them. Alexander Severus is said to have had a shrine in his palace with an icon of Christ. The persecutions peaked with the Diocletian Persecution of 303-312.
During persecutions, Christians who capitulated, some to the point of apostasy, and were termed "lapsi" (Latin: fallen). and sacrificed to Caesar. Under the Decian persecution, Christians who obtained false documents asserting that they had sacrificed to the pagan idols were termed libellatici. While this practice was condemned by church authorities, libellatici were treated better than those who had actually sacrificed ("sacrificati"). In Africa during the persecution under Diocletian, Christians who surrendered Scriptures to the authorities were termed traditors. The Novantianist and Donatist schisms arose when the schismatics insisted on being less generous in allowing lapsi back into the Church.
Jerusalem had been King David's capital for his United Monarchy (c 1000 BC) of the Promised Land, and the site of the Israelites First Temple, erected by King Solomon. It was also the capital of the Maccabean Kingdom (164 BC - 63 BC) and site of the Second Temple. Jesus and his followers had traveled there from Galilee, c. 33 AD, at which time the city was under Roman occupation as part of Iudaea province (6 AD - 132 AD). There he was crucified, and there he had reportedly risen and then ascended to heaven with a prophecy to return.
Jerusalem was the first center of the church, according to the Book of Acts. The apostles lived and taught there for some time after Pentecost. Jesus' brother James was a leader in the church, and his other kinsman likely held leadership positions in the surrounding area. Circa 50, Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the "pillars of the church: James, Peter, and John. Later called the Council of Jerusalem, this meeting, among other things, confirmed the legitimacy of the mission of Barnabas and Paul to the gentiles, and the gentile converts' freedom from most Jewish law, especially circumcision, which was repulsive to the Hellenic mind. Thus, the Apostolic Decree may be the first act of differentiation of the Church from its Jewish roots, see also List of events in early Christianity.
When Peter left Jerusalem after Herod Agrippa I tried to kill him, James appears as the principal authority. Church writers would later label him the church's bishop. A second-century church historian, Hegesippus, wrote that the Sanhedrin martyred him in 62.
In 66, the Jews revolted against Rome. Rome besieged Jerusalem for four years, and the city fell in 70. The city was destroyed, including the Temple but not the Temple Mount, and the population was mostly killed or removed. A scattered population survived. The Sanhedrin relocated to Jamnia. Prophecies of the Temple's destruction are found in the synoptics.
In the second century, Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, erecting statues of Jupiter and himself on the site of the former Jewish Temple, the Temple Mount. Bar Cochba led an unsuccessful revolt as a Messiah, but Christians refused to acknowledge him as such. When Bar Cochba was defeated, Hadrian barred Jews from the city, except for Tisha B'Av, thus the subsequent Jerusalem bishops were gentiles (literally "uncircumcised") for the first time.
Jerusalem regained importance in the church when it received special recognition in Canon VII of the First Council of Nicaea of 325. Constantine's mother went to the Holy Land in 326 and began to excavate holy sites, including Golgotha, the Church of the Nativity and the birthplace of Mary. At this time the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built. Jerusalem fell to Islam in 638 and became the object of numerous Crusades. Jerusalem today is divided between the Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Muslim Quarter and Jewish Quarter.
The seat of imperial power soon became a center of church authority, grew in power decade by decade, and became the head of the church. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (c 58) attests to a large Christian community here. The see is traditionally said to be founded by Peter, see also Primacy of Simon Peter, who had invested it with apostolic authority. Church father Clement, bishop of Rome, asserted his see's apostolic authority. However, not even by the end of the era were Rome and Alexandria, which by tradition held authority over sees outside their own province, referred to as patriarchates
Pope Victor I (189-198) was the first Latin ecclesiastical writer, but it seems that he wrote nothing but his encyclicals, which would naturally have been issued in both Latin and Greek.
The earlier Roman bishops were all Greek-speaking, the most notable of them being Pope Clement I (c. 88-97), author of an Epistle to the Church in Corinth; Pope Telesphorus (c. 126-136), probably the only martyr among them; Pope Pius I (c. 141-154), said by the Muratorian fragment to be the brother of the author of the Shepherd of Hermas; and Pope Anicetus (c. 155-160), who received Saint Polycarp and discussed with him the dating of Easter.
The Roman church survived various persecutions, and many clergy were martyred. When Rome burned in 64, Nero blamed the Christians and persecuted them. In the "Massacre of 258", under Valerian, the emperor killed a great many Christian clergy, including Pope Sixtus II and Antipope Novatian and Cyprian of Carthage. Persecutions, of which that which broke out under Diocletian in 303 was particularly severe, finally ended in Rome, and the West in general, with the accession of Maxentius in 306.
Caesarea, at first Caesarea Maritima, then after 133 Caesarea Palaestina, was founded by Herod the Great and was the capital of Iudaea province and later Palaestina Prima. It was there that Peter baptized the centurion Cornelius, considered the first gentile convert. Paul often visited and was imprisoned there for two years. Origen compiled his Hexapla there and it held a famous library and theological school, St. Pamphilus was a noted scholar-priest. St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker, St. Basil the Great, and St. Jerome visited and studied at the library which was later destroyed, probably by the Persians in 614 or the Saracens around 637. The first major church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, was a bishop. F. J. A. Hort and Adolf von Harnack have argued that the Nicene Creed originated in Caesarea.
The tradition of John the Apostle was strong in Anatolia (also called Asia, the near-east, modern Turkey). The gospel of John was likely written in Ephesus. According to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was from Tarsus and his missionary journeys were primarily in this region. The Book of Revelation mentions Seven churches of Asia. The First Epistle of Peter is addressed to Anatolian cities. Of the extant letters of Ignatius of Antioch considered authentic (see Ignatius of Antioch#Letters), five of seven are to Anatolian cities. Smyrna was home to Polycarp, the bishop who reportedly knew the Apostle John personally, and probably to Irenaeus. In the 2nd century, Anatolia was home to Quartodecimanism and Montanus. In 325, Constantine convoked the first Christian ecumenical council in Nicaea and in 330 he moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople, also called the Byzantine Empire, which lasted till 1435.
According to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was converted on the Road to Damascus. In the three accounts (, ), he is described as being led by those he was traveling with, blinded by the light, to Damascus where his sight was restored by a disciple called Ananias then he was baptized.
Edessa, which was held by Rome from 116 to 118 and 212 to 214, but was mostly a client kingdom associated either with Rome or Persia, was an important Christian city. Shortly after 201 or even earlier, its royal house became Christian
The missionary Addai, who evangelized Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) about the middle of the second century, and became the first bishop of Edessa, was succeeded by Aggai, then by Palut, who was ordained about 200 by Serapion of Antioch. Thence came to us in the second century the famous Peshitta, or Syriac translation of the Old Testament; also Tatian's Diatessaron, which was compiled about 172 and in common use until St. Rabbula, Bishop of Edessa (412-435), forbade its use. This arrangement of the four canonical gospels as a continuous narrative, whose original language may have been Syriac, Greek, or even Latin, circulated widely in Syriac-speaking Churches.
Among the illustrious disciples of the School of Edessa, Bardesanes (154 - 222), a schoolfellow of Abgar IX, deserves special mention for his role in creating Christian religious poetry, and whose teaching was continued by his son Harmonius and his disciples.
The Didascalia Apostolorum, originally written in Greek in the first half of the third century, was likely composed by a Jewish convert in northern Syria.
A Christian council was held at Edessa as early as 197. In 201 the city was devastated by a great flood, and the Christian church was destroyed.. In 232 the relics of the Apostle St. Thomas were brought from India, on which occasion his Syriac Acts were written. Under Roman domination many martyrs suffered at Edessa: Sts. Scharbîl and Barsamya, under Decius; Sts. Gûrja, Schâmôna, Habib, and others under Diocletian. In the meanwhile Christian priests from Edessa had evangelized Eastern Mesopotamia and Persia, and established the first Churches in the kingdom of the Sassanids. Atillâtiâ, Bishop of Edessa, assisted at the First Council of Nicaea (325).
By the time that Edessa was incorporated into the Persian Empire in 258, the city of Arbela, situated on the Tigris in what is now Iraq, had taken on more and more the role that Edessa had played in the early years, as a centre from which Christianity spread to the rest of the Persian Empire. Bardaisan, writing about 196, speaks of Christians throughout Media, Parthia and Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan) and, according to Tertullian (c.160-230), there were already a number of bishoprics within the Persian Empire by 220. By 315, the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon had assumed the title "Catholicos". By this time, neither Edessa nor Arbela was the centre of the Church of the East anymore; ecclesiastical authority had moved east to the heart of the Persian Empire. The twin cities of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, well-situated on the main trade routes between East and West, became, in the words of John Stewart, "a magnificent centre for the missionary church that was entering on its great task of carrying the gospel to the far east.
When Constantine converted to Christianity, the Persian Empire, suspecting a new "enemy within," became violently anti-Christian. Within a few years, Shapur II (309-379) inaugurated a twenty-year long persecution of the church with the murder of Mar Shimun, the Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, five bishops and 100 priests on Good Friday, 344, after the Patriarch refused to collect a double tax from the Christians to help the Persian war effort against Rome. See also Christianity in Iran.
According to records written in the Ge'ez language, see also Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the region today known as Ethiopia converted to Judaism during the time of the biblical Queen of Sheba and Solomon. According to the fourth century western historian Rufinius, it was Frumentius who brought Christianity to Ethiopia (the city of Axum) and served as its first bishop, probably shortly after 325.
In the fourth century, Emperor Constantine (306-337) converted to Christianity and legalized it, showing it personal favour (see Constantine I and Christianity for details). He convened at Nicaea the first of the ecumenical councils, at which the church dogmatically defined the divinity of Christ. In 331 he commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Christian Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius (Apol. Const. 4) recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles for Constantine's son and successor Constans (337-350). Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles. In fact, while there was a good measure of debate in the Early Church over the New Testament canon, the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the second century, nearly two centuries before Constantine, on the occasion of the inauguration of his "New Rome" in 330,provided this gift of copies of the Bible for the churches in the city.
Of the next six ecumenical councils, the First Council of Constantinople further defined the Trinity and the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary as the Mother of God. They anathematized various groups, and declared heretical some early Christian writings, such as when the Second Council of Constantinople condemned certain tenets of Origen.
In modern times, several Christian denominations intentionally follow what they believe to be early Christian practices, such as believer's baptism, Sabbath in Christianity, Passover (Christian holiday), and Signs and Wonders, in place of established Christian traditions. These Restorationist sects consider themselves to be restoring the authentic practices of the early Christian era, before what they call the "Great Apostasy." See also Caesaropapism, Paleo-orthodoxy, and Pentacostalism.
Since the 19th century, historians have learned much more about the early Christian community. Major texts, such as the Didache (in second-millennium copies) and the Gospel of Thomas (in two manuscripts dated as early as about 200 and 340), have been rediscovered in the last 200 years.
In 19th century America, a movement known as Restorationism arose, which claimed to restore "original Christianity." Most of these individual movements sought to teach what they believed was a more pure understanding of the New Testament. Some movements claimed an actual restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. Restorationists claimed no genesis from Nicene Christianity (Christianity as formulated at the First Council of Nicaea). They hold that Christian usages and beliefs not mentioned in the New Testament are later introductions at variance with the practice and belief of the Apostolic Age, which they claim to restore. For some, the Great Apostasy was in effect in the second century, when Christians had already adopted Sunday as a day of worship; for others, it began even earlier (see Hyperdispensationalism).