Christianity in the 1st century

Christianity in the 1st century covers the formative history of Christianity, from the start of the ministry of Jesus (c. 27–29 AD) to the death of the last of the Twelve Apostles (c. 100). According to Christian tradition, the period from Jesus's death, resurrection, and the Great Commission is distinguished as the Apostolic Age.

Early Christianity developed out of the eschatological ministry of Jesus. Subsequent to Jesus' death, his earliest followers formed an apocalyptic messianic Jewish sect during the late Second Temple period of the 1st century. Initially believing that Jesus'resurrection was the start of the endtime, their beliefs soon changed in the expected second coming of Jesus and the start of God's Kingdom at a later point in time.

Paul the Apostle, a pious Jew who had persecuted the early Christians, converted c. 33–36[1][2][3] and started to proselytize among the Gentiles. According to Paul, Gentile converts could be allowed exemption from most Jewish commandments, arguing that all are justified by faith in Jesus. This was part of a gradual split of early Christianity and Judaism, as Christianity became a distinct religion including predominantly Gentile adherence.

Jerusalem had an early Christian community, which was led by James the Just, Peter, and John.[4] Antioch was where the followers were first called Christians. Peter was later martyred in the see of Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. The apostles went on to spread the message of the Gospel around the classical world and founded apostolic sees around the early centers of Christianity. The last apostle to die was John in c. 100.


Early Jewish Christians referred to themselves as 'The Way' (ἡ ὁδός), probably coming from Isaiah 40:3, "prepare the way of the Lord."[5][6][note 1] Other Jews also called them "the Nazarenes."[5] According to Acts 11:26, the term "Christian" (Greek: Χριστιανός) was first used in reference to Jesus's disciples in the city of Antioch, meaning "followers of Christ," by the non-Jewish inhabitants of Antioch.[12] The earliest recorded use of the term "Christianity" (Greek: Χριστιανισμός) was by Ignatius of Antioch, in around 100 AD.[13]


Jewish-Hellenistic background

Christianity arose in the syncretistic Hellenistic world of the first century AD, which was dominated by Roman law and Greek culture.[14] Hellenistic culture had a profound impact on the customs and practices of Jews, both in Roman Palestine and in the Diaspora. The inroads into Judaism gave rise to Hellenistic Judaism in the Jewish diaspora which sought to establish a Hebraic-Jewish religious tradition within the culture and language of Hellenism. Hellenistic Judaism spread to Ptolemaic Egypt from the 3rd century BC, and became a notable religio licita after the Roman conquest of Greece, Anatolia, Syria, Judea, and Egypt.

Palestinian Judaism at this time was divided into antagonistic factions. The main camps were the Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes and Zealots.[web 1][web 2] 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; and the ministry of Jesus, which would lead to the emergence of the first Jewish Christian community.[web 1][web 2]

A central concern in 1st century Judaism was the covenant with God, and the status of the Jews as the chosen people.[15] Many Jews believed that this covenant would be renewed with the coming of the Messiah. The Law was given by God to guide them in their worship of the Lord and in their interctions with each other, "the greatest gift God had given his people."[16]

The Jewish messiah concept has its root in the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd century BC to 1st century BC, promising a future leader or king from the Davidic line who is expected to be anointed with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age and world to come.[web 3][web 4][web 5] The Messiah is often referred to as "King Messiah" (Hebrew: מלך משיח, romanized: melekh mashiach) or malka meshiḥa in Aramaic.[web 6]

Life and ministry of Jesus

Events in the
Life of Jesus
according to the Gospels

Portals: Christianity Bible

 Book:Life of Jesus


The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical gospels, and to a lesser extent the Pauline epistles and the New Testament apocrypha.[web 7] The Gospels are theological documents, which "provide information the authors regarded as necessary for the religious development of the Christian communities in which they worked."[web 7] They consist of short passages, pericopes, which the Gospel-authors arranged in various ways as suited their aims.[web 7]

Ministry and eschatological expectations

In the canonical gospels, the ministry of Jesus begins with his baptism in the countryside of Roman Judea and Transjordan, near the Jordan River, and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. [17][note 2] The Gospel of Luke (Luke 3:23) states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry.[30][31] A chronology of Jesus typically has the date of the start of his ministry estimated at around AD 27–29 and the end in the range AD 30–36.[30][31][32]

In the Synoptic Gospels Jewish eschatology stands central.[web 7] After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus teaches extensively for a year, or maybe just a few months,[web 7][note 3] about the coming Kingdom of God (or, in Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven), in aphorisms and parables, using similes and figures of speech. [33][web 7] In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself is the main subject.[web 7]

The Synoptics present different views on the Kingdom of God.[web 7] While the Kingdom is essentially described as eschatological, becoming reality in the near future, some texts present the Kingdom as already being present, while other texts depict the Kingdom as a place in heaven that one enters after death, or as the presence of God on earth.[web 7][note 4]. Jesus talks as expecting the coming of the "Son of Man" from heaven, an apocalyptic figure who would initiate "the coming judgment and the redemption of Israel."[web 7] According to Davies, the Sermon on the Mount presents Jesus as the new Moses who brings a New Law, the Messianic Torah.[34]

Death and resurrection

His ministry was ended by his execution by crucifixion. His early followers believed that three days after his death, Jesus rose bodily from the dead.[35][36][37][38][39] Paul's letters and the Gospels document a number of post-resurrection appearances[40][41][42][43][44] and the resurrection of Jesus "signalled for earliest believers that the days of eschatological fulfilment were at hand."[web 8] The resurrection was also seen as the exaltation of Jesus, "the action in which God designated Jesus as the unique divine Son, Lord, and monarch who is to preside in the submission of all things to God’s kingdom,"[web 8] forming the basis and impetus of the Christian faith and devotion.[45][46][47][web 8] His followers expected Him to return in the near future, ushering in the Kingdom of God.[web 7]

Historical Jesus

There is widespread disagreement among scholars on the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings.[48] Scholars often draw a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, and two different accounts can be found in this regard.[49]

Critical scholarship has discounted most of the narratives about Jesus as legendary, and the mainstream historical view is that while the gospels include many legendary elements, these are religious elaborations added to the accounts of a historical Jesus who was crucified under the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate in the 1st-century Roman province of Judea.[50][51] His remaining disciples later believed that he was resurrected.[52][53]

Contemporary scholarship places Jesus firmly in the Jewish tradition,[54] Five portraits of the historical Jesus are supported by mainstream scholars, namely the apocalyptic prophet,[note 5] the charismatic healer,[58] the Cynic philosopher, the Jewish Messiah, and the prophet of social change.[59][60] The most prominent view of Jesus is as a Jewish apocalyptic or eschatological teacher.[61][note 6] A primary criterion used to discern historical details in the "third quest" is that of plausibility, relative to Jesus' Jewish context and to his influence on Christianity.[65]

Apostolic Age

Traditionally, the years following Jesus until the death of the last of the Twelve Apostles is called the Apostolic Age, after the missionary activities of the apostles.[67] According to the Acts of the Apostles, the Jerusalem church began at Pentecost with some 120 believers,[68] in an "upper room," believed by some to be the Cenacle, where the apostles received the Holy Spirit and emerged from hiding following the death and resurrection of Jesus to preach and spread his message.[69][70]

Paul's conversion on the Road to Damascus is first recorded in Acts 9:13-16. Peter baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius, traditionally considered the first Gentile convert to Christianity, in Acts 10. Based on this, the Antioch church was founded. It is also believed that it was there that the term Christian was coined.[71]

Jewish Christianity

Historically, after the death of Jesus, "Christianity [...] emerged as a sect of Judaism in Roman Palestine."[72] The first Christians were all Jews, either by birth or conversion ("proselytes" in Biblical terminology),[note 7] who constituted a Second Temple Jewish sect with an apocalyptic eschatology.

Beliefs and practices

Jewish Christians were fully faithful religious Jews, who formed an apocalyptic Jewish sects during the late Second Temple period of the 1st century. They regarded Jesus as Lord and resurrected messiah, and the eternally existing Son of God,[73][74][note 8] expecting the second coming of Jesus and the start of God's Kingdom. They pressed fellow Jews to prepare for these events and to follow "the way" of the Lord. They believed Yahweh to be the only true God,[76] the god of Israel, and considered Jesus to be the messiah (Christ), as prophesied in the Jewish scriptures, which they held to be authoritative and sacred. They held faithfully to the Torah,[note 9] including acceptance of Gentile converts based on a version of the Noachide laws.[note 10] They employed mostly the Septuagint or Targum translations of the Hebrew scriptures.

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.[77][78]

Liturgical services were 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 rest of the liturgical ritual is rooted in the Jewish Passover, siddur, the Passover Seder, and synagogue services, including the singing of hymns (especially the Psalms) and reading from the scriptures.[79] At first, Christians continued to worship alongside Jewish believers, but within twenty years of Jesus' death, Sunday (the Lord's Day) was being regarded as the primary day of worship.[80]

The Jerusalem ekklēsia

The New Testament's Acts of the Apostles and Epistle to the Galatians record that an early Jewish Christian community[note 11] centered on Jerusalem, and that its leaders included Peter, James, the brother of Jesus, and John the Apostle.[81] Legitimised by Jesus' appearance, Peter was the first leader of the Jerusalem ekklēsia.[82][83] He was soon eclipsed in this leadership by James the Just, "the Brother of the Lord,"[84][85] which may explain why the early texts contain scarce information about Peter.[85] According to Lüdemann, in the discussions about the strictness of adherence to the Jewish Law, the more conservative faction of James the Just took the overhand over the more liberal position of Peter, who soon lost influence.[85] The Jerusalem community "held a central place among all the churches," as witnessed by Paul's writings.[86] The relatives of Jesus were accorded a special position within this community, as displayed by the leadership of James the Just in Jerusalem.[87]

According to a tradition recorded by Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis, the Jerusalem church fled to Pella at the outbreak of the Great Jewish Revolt (AD 66–73).[88]

Emerging Church

Growth of early Christianity

While Jesus' early followers expected the immediate installment of the Kingdom of God, the delay of this cosmic event lead to a change in beliefs.[89] According to a naturalistic explanation, in a proces of cognitive dissonance reduction, Jewish scriptures were re-interpreted to explain the crucifixion and visionary post-mortem experiences of Jesus.[89][90][91][web 10] The belief that Jesus' resurrection signaled the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God, changed into a belief that the resurrection confirmed the Messianic status of Jesus, and the belief that Jesus would return at some indeterminate time in the future, the Second Coming c.q. Parousia, heralding the expected endtime.[89] The same proces may have lead to intensive missionary activity, convincing others of the developing beliefs to reduce cognitive dissonance, explaining why the early group of followers grew larger despite the failing expectations.[web 10]

This change in beliefs is reflected in the New Testament writings.[89] They contain the Great Commission, the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples to spread his eschatological message of the coming of the Kingdom of God to all the nations of the world. The most famous version of the Great Commission is in Matthew 28:16–20, where on a mountain in Galilee Jesus calls on his followers to make disciples of and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christian missionary activity spread "the Way" to early centers of Christianity in the predominantly Greek-speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire, and then throughout the Hellenistic world and even beyond the Roman Empire.[69][92][93][94][note 12]

Apostles and preachers traveled to Jewish communities around the Mediterranean Sea, and attracted Jewish converts.[93] Within 10 years of the death of Jesus, apostles had attracted enthusiasts for "the Way" from Jerusalem to Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Cyprus, Crete, Alexandria and Rome.[96][69][92][97] Paul was responsible for introducing "the Way" to Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica.[98] Over 40 churches were established by 100,[92][97] most in Asia Minor, such as the seven churches of Asia, and some in Greece and Italy.

Early Christian beliefs were proclaimed in kerygma (preaching), some of which are preserved in New Testament scripture. The early Gospel message spread orally, probably originally in Aramaic,[99] but almost immediately also in Greek.[100] Christian groups and congregations first organized themselves loosely. In Paul's time there were no precisely delineated functions yet for bishops, elders, and deacons.[101][103]


Eschatological expectations

Creeds and salvation

The sources for the beliefs of the apostolic community include oral traditions (which included sayings attributed to Jesus, parables and teachings),[104][105] the Gospels, the New Testament epistles and possibly lost texts such as the Q source[106][107][108] and the writings of Papias. The texts contain the earliest Christian creeds[109] expressing belief in the risen Jesus, such as 1 Corinthians 15:3–41:[110]

[3] For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, [4] and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,[note 13] [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. [6] Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. [7] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.[111]

The creed has been dated by some scholars as originating within the Jerusalem apostolic community no later than the 40s,[112][113] and by some to less than a decade after Jesus' death,[114][115] while others date it to about 56.[116] Other early creeds include 1 John 4:2, 2 Timothy 2:8[117] Romans 1:3–4[118] and 1 Timothy 3:16.


Two fundamentally different Christologies developed in the early Church, namely a "low" or adoptionist Christology, and a "high" or "incarnation Christology."[119] The chronology of the development of these early Christologies is a matter of debate within contemporary scholarship.[120][39][121][web 11]

The "low Christology" or "adoptionist Christology" is the belief "that God exalted Jesus to be his Son by raising him from the dead,"[122] thereby raising him to "divine status."[web 12] According to the "evolutionary model"[123] c.q. "evolutionary theories,"[124] the Christological understanding of Christ developed over time,[14][125][126] as witnessed in the Gospels,[39] with the earliest Christians believing that Jesus was a human who was exalted, c.q. adopted as God's Son,[127][128] when he was resurrected.[126][129] Later beliefs shifted the exaltation to his baptism, birth, and subsequently to the idea of his eternal existence, as witnessed in the Gospel of John.[126] This evolutionary model was very influential, and the "low Christology" has long been regarded as the oldest Christology.[130][131][web 12][note 14]

The other early Christology is "high Christology," which is "the view that Jesus was a pre-existent divine being who became a human, did the Father’s will on earth, and then was taken back up into heaven whence he had originally come,"[web 12][132] and from where he appeared on earth. According to Hurtado, a proponent of an Early High Christology, the devotion to Jesus as divine originated in early Jewish Christianity, and not later or under the influence of pagan religions and Gentile converts.[133] The Pauline letters, which are the earliest Christian writings, already show "a well-developed pattern of Christian devotion [...] already conventionalized and apparently uncontroversial."[134]


Early Christianity continued Judaic practices: baptism,[135] Jewish liturgical, a set of scriptural readings adapted from synagogue practice, use of sacred music in hymns and prayer, and ascetic practices. A novel element was the worship of Jesus as Lord.[65]


Early Christian beliefs regarding baptism probably predate the New Testament writings. It seems certain that numerous Jewish sects and certainly Jesus's disciples practised baptism. John the Baptist had baptized many people, before baptisms took place in the name of Jesus Christ. Paul likened baptism to being buried with Christ in his death.[note 15]

Communal meals and Eucharist

Communal meals originated in the early Church.[136][137] The Eucharist was often a part of the Lovefeast, but between the latter part of the 1st century A.D. and 250 A.D. the two became separate rituals.[138][139][140] Thus, in modern times the Lovefeast refers to a Christian ritual meal distinct from the Lord's Supper.[141]

The Eucharist (/ˈjuːkərɪst/; also called Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper, among other names) is a Christian rite that is considered a sacrament in most churches, and as an ordinance in others. According to the New Testament, the rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper; giving his disciples bread and wine during the Passover meal, Jesus commanded his followers to "do this in memory of me" while referring to the bread as "my body" and the cup of wine as "the new covenant in my blood".[142][143][144] Through the Eucharistic celebration Christians remember both Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross and his commission of the apostles at the Last Supper.[145]


During the first three centuries of Christianity, the Liturgical ritual was rooted in the Jewish Passover, Siddur, Seder, and synagogue services, including the singing of hymns (especially the Psalms) and reading from the scriptures.[79] Most early Christians did not own a copy of the works that later became the Christian Bible or other church works accepted by some but not canonized, such as the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, or other works today called New Testament apocrypha. Similar to Judaism, much of the original church liturgical services functioned as a means of learning these Scriptures, which initially centered around the Septuagint and the Targums.

A final uniformity of liturgical services may have become solidified after the church established a Biblical canon, possibly based on the Apostolic Constitutions and Clementine literature. Clement (d.99) 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.[146]


At first, Christians continued to worship alongside Jewish believers, but within twenty years of Jesus' death, Sunday (the Lord's Day) was being regarded as the primary day of worship.[80]

Paul and the inclusion of Gentiles


Paul's influence on Christian thinking is said to be more significant than that of any other New Testament author.[147] According to the New Testament, Saul of Tarsus first persecuted the early Jewish Christians, but then converted. He adopted the name Paul and started proselytizing among the Gentiles, adopting the title "Apostle to the Gentiles."

Paul was in contact with the early Christian community in Jerusalem, led by James the Just.[148] According to Mack, he may have been converted to another early strand of Christianity, with a High Christology.[149] Fragments of their beliefs in an exalted and deified Jesus, what Mack called the "Christ cult," can be found in the writings of Paul.[148][note 16] Yet, Hurtado notes that Paul valued the linkage with "Jewish Christian circles in Roman Judea," which makes it likely that his Christology was in line with, and indebted to, their views.[151] Hurtado further notes that "[i]t is widely accepted that the tradition that Paul recites in [Corinthians] 15:1-71 must go back to the Jerusalem Church."[152]

Inclusion of Gentiles

Paul was responsible for bringing Christianity to Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica.[98] According to Hurtado, "Paul saw Jesus’ resurrection as ushering in the eschatological time foretold by biblical prophets in which the pagan 'Gentile' nations would turn from their idols and embrace the one true God of Israel (e.g., Zechariah 8:20-23), and Paul saw himself as specially called by God to declare God's eschatological acceptance of the Gentiles and summon them to turn to God."[web 14] According to Krister Stendahl, the main concern of Paul's writings on Jesus' role, and salvation by faith, is the problem of the inclusion of gentile (Greek) Torah observers into God's covenant.[153][154][155][web 15] The inclusion of Gentiles into early Christianity posed a problem for the Jewish identity of some of the early Christians. Observance of the Jewish commands, including circumcision, was regarded as a token of the membership of this covenant, and the early Jewish Christians insisted on keeping those observances.[73] Gentiles were, by definition, not part of Israel, God's chosen people, and the new converts did not follow all "Jewish Law"[note 17] and refused to be circumcised,[156] as circumcision was considered repulsive during the period of Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean.[157][158]

Paul objected strongly to the insistence on keeping all of the Jewish commands, considering it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith in Jesus.[159] According to Fredriksen, Paul's opposition to male circumcison for Gentiles is in line with Old Testament predictions that "in the last days the gentile nations would come to the God of Israel, as gentiles (e.g., Zechariah 8:20-23), not as proselytes to Israel."[web 9] For Paul, Gentile male circumcison was therefore an affront to God's intentions.[web 9] According to Hurtado, "Paul saw himself as what Munck called a salvation-historical figure in his own right," who was "personally and singularly deputized by God to bring about the predicted ingathering (the “fullness”) of the nations (Romans 11:25)."[web 9]

For Paul, Jesus' death and resurrection solved the problem of the exclusion of the gentles from God's covenant,[160] since the faithful are redeemed by participation in Jesus' death and rising. In the Jerusalem ekklēsia, from which Paul received the creed of 1 Corinthisnas 15:1-7, the phrase "died for our sins" probably was an apologetic rationale for the death of Jesus as being part of God's plan and purpose, as evidenced in the scriptures. For Paul, it gained a deeper significance, providing "a basis for the salvation of sinful Gentiles apart from the Torah."[161] According to Sanders, Paul argued that "those who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death, and thus they escape the power of sin [...] he died so that the believers may die with him and consequently live with him."[web 16] By this participation in Christ's death and rising, "one receives forgiveness for past offences, is liberated from the powers of sin, and receives the Spirit."[162] Paul insists that salvation is received by the grace of God; according to Sanders, this insistence is in line with Judaism of c. 200 BC until 200 AD, which saw God's covenant with Israel as an act of grace of God. Observance of the Law is needed to maintain the covenant, but the covenant is not earned by observing the Law, but by the grace of God.[web 17]

These divergent interpretations have a prominent place in both Paul's writings and in Acts. According to Paul, fourteen years after his conversion he visited the "Pillars of Jerusalem" to compare his Gospel with theirs. According to Paul, in his letter to the Galatians,[note 18] they agreed that his mission was to be among the Gentiles. According to Acts, Paul made an argument that circumcision was not a necessary practice, vocally supported by Peter, as documented in Acts 15.[73][163][note 19]

The inclusion of Gentiles is reflected in Luke-Acts, which is an attempt to answer a theological problem, namely how the Messiah of the Jews came to have an overwhelmingly non-Jewish church; the answer it provides, and its central theme, is that the message of Christ was sent to the Gentiles because the Jews rejected it.[166]


Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire occurred sporadically over a period of over two centuries. For most of the first three hundred years of Christian history, Christians were able to live in peace, practice their professions, and rise to positions of responsibility.[167] Sporadic percecution took place as the result of local pagan populations putting pressure on the imperial authorities to take action against the Christians in their midst, who were thought to bring misfortune by their refusal to honour the gods.[168]

Only for approximately ten out of the first three hundred years of the church's history were Christians executed due to orders from a Roman emperor.[167] The first persecution of Christians organised by the Roman government took place under the emperor Nero in 64 AD after the Great Fire of Rome.[169] There was no empire-wide persecution of Christians until the reign of Decius in the third century.[web 18] The Edict of Serdica was issued in 311 by the Roman emperor Galerius, officially ending the Diocletianic persecution of Christianity in the East. With the passage in 313 AD of the Edict of Milan, in which the Roman Emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius legalised the Christian religion, persecution of Christians by the Roman state ceased.[web 19]

Development of the Biblical canon

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

The Biblical canon began with the Jewish Scriptures. The Koine Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, later known as the Septuagint[170] and often written as "LXX," was the dominant translation.[171]

Perhaps the earliest Christian canon is the Bryennios List, dated to around 100, which was found by Philotheos Bryennios in the Codex Hierosolymitanus. The list is written in Koine Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew.[172] In the 2nd century, Melito of Sardis called the Jewish scriptures the "Old Testament"[173] and also specified an early canon.

New Testament

The New Testament (often compared to the New Covenant) is the second major division of the Christian Bible. It includes the Canonical Gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation. The original texts were written by various authors, most likely sometime between c. AD 45 and 120 AD,[174] in Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, though there is also a minority argument for Aramaic primacy.

Writings attributed to the Apostles circulated among the earliest Christian communities. The Pauline epistles were circulating, perhaps in collected forms, by the end of the 1st century AD.[note 20]

Early orthodox writings – Apostolic Fathers

The Church Fathers are the early and influential Christian theologians and writers, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. The earliest Church Fathers, within two generations of the Twelve apostles of Christ, are usually called Apostolic Fathers for reportedly knowing and studying under the apostles personally. Important Apostolic Fathers include Clement of Rome (d. AD 99),[175] Ignatius of Antioch (d. AD 98 to 117) and Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 69-155). Their writings include the Epistle of Barnabas and the Epistles of Clement. The Didache and Shepherd of Hermas are usually placed among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers although their authors are unknown.

Taken as a whole, the collection is notable for its literary simplicity, religious zeal and lack of Hellenistic philosophy or rhetoric. They contain early thoughts on the organisation of the Christian ekklēsia, and witness the development of an early Church structure.

In his letter 1 Clement, Clement of Rome calls on the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order.[175] Some see his epistle as an assertion of Rome's authority over the church in Corinth and, by implication, the beginnings of papal supremacy.[176] Clement refers to the leaders of the Corinthian church in his letter as bishops and presbyters interchangeably, and likewise states that the bishops are to lead God's flock by virtue of the chief shepherd (presbyter), Jesus Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch advocated the authority of the apostolic episcopacy (bishops).[177]

The Didache (late 1st century)[178] is an anonymous Jewish-Christian work. It is a pastoral manual dealing with Christian lessons, rituals, and Church organization, parts of which may have constituted the first written catechism, "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."[179]

Split of Early Christianity and Judaism

Split with Judaism

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 Judaism and Christianity.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the consequent dispersion of Jews and Jewish Christians from the city (after the Bar Kokhba revolt) ended any pre-eminence of the Jewish-Christian leadership in Jerusalem. 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.[180]

The Council of Jamnia c. 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.[181][182]

During the late 1st 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. 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.

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.[184][185] Christianity was not legalized until the 313 Edict of Milan.


1st century timeline

Earliest dates must all be considered approximate

See also


  1. It appears in the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 9:2, Acts 19:9 and Acts 19:23). Some English translations of the New Testament capitalize 'the Way' (e.g. the New King James Version and the English Standard Version), indicating that this was how 'the new religion seemed then to be designated' [7] whereas others treat the phrase as indicative—'the way',[8] 'that way' [9] or 'the way of the Lord'.[10] The Syriac version reads, "the way of God" and the Vulgate Latin version, "the way of the Lord".[11]
    See also Sect of “The Way”, “The Nazarenes” & “Christians” : Names given to the Early Church.
  2. Jesus' early Galilean ministry begins when after his baptism, he goes back to Galilee from his time in the Judean desert.[18] In this early period he preaches around Galilee and recruits his first disciples who begin to travel with him and eventually form the core of the early Church.[17][19] The major Galilean ministry which begins in Matthew 8 includes the commissioning of the Twelve Apostles, and covers most of the ministry of Jesus in Galilee.[20][21] The final Galilean ministry begins after the death of John the Baptist as Jesus prepares to go to Jerusalem.[22][23] In the later Judean ministry Jesus starts his final journey to Jerusalem through Judea.[24][25][26][27] The final ministry in Jerusalem is sometimes called the Passion Week and begins with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.[28] The gospels provide more details about the final ministry than the other periods, devoting about one third of their text to the last week of the life of Jesus in Jerusalem.[29]
  3. Sanders and Pelikan: "Besides presenting a longer ministry than do the other Gospels, John also describes several trips to Jerusalem. Only one is mentioned in the Synoptics. Both outlines are plausible, but a ministry of more than two years leaves more questions unanswered than does one of a few months."[web 7]
  4. The Kingdom is described as both imminent (Mark 1:15) and already present in the ministry of Jesus (Luke 17:21) Jesus promises inclusion in the Kingdom for those who accept his message (Mark 10:13–27)
  5. The notion of Apocalyptic prophet is shared by E. P. Sanders,[55] a main proponent of the New Perspective on Paul, and Bart Ehrman.[56][57]
  6. Christian eschatology relates to 'last things', such as death, the end of the world and the judgement of humanity. Eschatological passages are found in the Old Testament Prophets, such as Isaiah and Daniel; and in the New Testament, such as the Olivet discourse and the parable of The Sheep and the Goats in the Gospel of Matthew, in the General epistles, the Pauline epistles, and the Book of Revelation. Jesus prophesied that the end of the world and the Day of Judgement were imminent in sayings such as, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," (Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15)[62][63] and "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place"[64]
  7. Catholic Encyclopedia: Proselyte: "The English term "proselyte" occurs only in the New Testament where it signifies a convert to the Jewish religion (Matthew 23:15; Acts 2:11; 6:5; etc.), though the same Greek word is commonly used in the Septuagint to designate a foreigner living in Judea. The term seems to have passed from an original local and chiefly political sense, in which it was used as early as 300 BC, to a technical and religious meaning in the Judaism of the New Testament epoch."
  8. According to Shaye J.D. Cohen, Jesus's failure to establish an independent Israel, and his death at the hands of the Romans, caused many Jews to reject him as the Messiah.[75] Jews at that time were expecting a military leader as a Messiah, such as Bar Kohhba.
  9. Perhaps also Jewish law which was being formalized at the same time
  10. Acts 15 and Acts 21
  11. Hurtado: "She refrains from referring to this earliest stage of the "Jesus-community" as early "Christianity" and comprised of "churches," as the terms carry baggage of later developments of "organized institutions, and of a religion separate from, different from, and hostile to Judaism" (185). So, instead, she renders ekklēsia as "assembly" (quite appropriately in my view, reflecting the quasi-official connotation of the term, often both in the LXX and in wider usage)."[web 9]
  12. 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 [see Greek colonies for the background]. 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."[95]
  13. See Why was Resurrection on “the Third Day”? Two Insights for explanations on the phrase "third day." According to Pinchas Lapide, "third day" may refer to Hosea 6:1-2:

    "Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
    After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him."

    See also 2 Kings 20:8: "Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?”"
  14. Ehrman:
    * "The earliest Christians held exaltation Christologies in which the human being Jesus was made the Son of God—for example, at his resurrection or at his baptism—as we examined in the previous chapter."[131]
    * Here I’ll say something about the oldest Christology, as I understand it. This was what I earlier called a “low” Christology. I may end up in the book describing it as a “Christology from below” or possibly an “exaltation” Christology. Or maybe I’ll call it all three things [...] Along with lots of other scholars, I think this was indeed the earliest Christology.[web 13]
  15. Romans 6:3–4; Colossians 2:12
  16. According to Mack, "Paul was converted to a Hellenized form of some Jesus movement that had already developed into a Christ cult. [...] Thus his letters serve as documentation for the Christ cult as well."[150]
  17. Generally understood to mean Mosaic Law as the Halakha was still being formalized at the time
  18. Four years after the Council of Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Galatians about the issue, which had become a serious controversy in their region. There was a burgeoning movement of Judaizers in the area that advocated adherence to traditional Mosaic laws, including circumcision. According to McGrath, Paul identified James the Just as the motivating force behind the movement. Paul considered it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith and addressed the issue with great detail in Galatians 3.[159]
  19. According to 19th-century German theologian F. C. Baur early Christianity was dominated by the conflict between Peter who was law-observant, and Paul who advocated partial or even complete freedom from the law. Scholar James D. G. Dunn has proposed that Peter was the "bridge-man" between the two other prominent leaders: Paul and James the Just. Paul and James were both heavily identified with their own "brands" of Christianity. Peter showed a desire to hold on to his Jewish identity, in contrast with Paul. He simultaneously showed a flexibility towards the desires of the broader Christian community, in contrast to James. Marcion and his followers stated that the polemic against false apostles in Galatians was aimed at Peter, James and John, the "Pillars of the Church", as well as the "false" gospels circulating through the churches at the time. Irenaeus and Tertullian argued against Marcionism's elevation of Paul and stated that Peter and Paul were equals among the apostles. Passages from Galatians were used to show that Paul respected Peter's office and acknowledged a shared faith.[164][165]
  20. Three forms are postulated, from Gamble, Harry Y, "18", The Canon Debate, p. 300, note 21, (1) Marcion's collection that begins with Galatians and ends with Philemon; (2) Papyrus 46, dated about 200, that follows the order that became established except for reversing Ephesians and Galatians; and (3) the letters to seven churches, treating those to the same church as one letter and basing the order on length, so that Corinthians is first and Colossians (perhaps including Philemon) is last.


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  2. Barnett, Paul (2002). Jesus, the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times. InterVarsity Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-8308-2699-8.
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  27. The Life and Ministry of Jesus: The Gospels by Douglas Redford 2007 ISBN 0-7847-1900-4 pp. 189–207
  28. Steven L. Cox, Kendell H Easley, 2007 Harmony of the Gospels ISBN 0-8054-9444-8 pp. 155-170
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  30. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3 p. 140.
  31. Paul L. Maier "The Date of the Nativity and Chronology of Jesus" in Chronos, kairos, Christos: nativity and chronological studies by Jerry Vardaman, Edwin M. Yamauchi 1989 ISBN 0-931464-50-1 pp. 113–129
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  61. Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0195124743.
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  63. Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15
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  66. Bargil Pixner, The Church of the Apostles found on Mount Zion, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.3 May/June 1990, Archived 2018-03-09 at the Wayback Machine
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  69. Vidmar 2005, p. 19-20.
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  79. "LITURGY -".
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  103. Despite its mention of bishops, there is no clear evidence in the New Testament that supports the concepts of dioceses and monepiscopacy, i.e. the rule that all the churches in a geographic area should be ruled by a single bishop. According to Ronald Y. K. Fung, scholars point to evidence that Christian communities such as Rome had many bishops, and that the concept of monepiscopacy was still emerging when Ignatius was urging his tri-partite structure on other churches.[102]
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  106. Horsley, Richard A., Whoever Hears You Hears Me: Prophets, Performance and Tradition in Q, Horsley, Richard A. and Draper, Jonathan A. (eds.), Trinity Press, 1999, ISBN 978-1-56338-272-7, "Recent Studies of Oral-Derived Literature and Q", pp. 150–74
  107. Dunn, James D. G., Jesus Remembered, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003, ISBN 978-0-8028-3931-2, "Oral Tradition", pp. 192–210
  108. Mournet, Terence C., Oral Tradition and Literary Dependency: Variability and Stability in the Synoptic Tradition and Q, Mohr Siebeck, 2005, ISBN 978-3-16-148454-4, "A Brief History of the Problem of Oral Tradition", pp. 54–99
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  137. Burns, Jim (10 July 2012). Uncommon Youth Parties. Gospel Light Publications. p. 37. ISBN 9780830762132. During the days of the Early Church, the believers would all gather together to share what was known as an agape feast, or "love feast." Those who could afford to bring food brought it to the feast and shared it with the other believers.
  138. Walls, Jerry L.; Collins, Kenneth J. (17 October 2010). Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation. Baker Academic. p. 169. ISBN 9781493411740. So strong were the overtones of the Eucharist as a meal of fellowship that in its earliest practice it often took place in concert with the Agape feast. By the latter part of the first century, however, as Andrew McGowan points out, this conjoined communal banquet was separated into "a morning sacramental ritual [and a] prosaic communal supper."
  139. Davies, Horton (29 January 1999). Bread of Life and Cup of Joy: Newer Ecumenical Perspectives on the Eucharist. Wipf & Stock Publishers. p. 18. ISBN 9781579102098. Agape (love feast), which ultimately became separate from the Eucharist...
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Further reading

  • Bockmuehl, Markus N.A. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Jesus. Cambridge University Press (2001). ISBN 0-521-79678-4.
  • Bourgel, Jonathan, From One Identity to Another: The Mother Church of Jerusalem Between the Two Jewish Revolts Against Rome (66-135/6 EC). Paris: Éditions du Cerf, collection Judaïsme ancien et Christianisme primitive, (French). ISBN 978-2-204-10068-7
  • Brown, Raymond E.: An Introduction to the New Testament (ISBN 0-385-24767-2)
  • Conzelmann, H. and Lindemann A., Interpreting the New Testament. An Introduction to the Principles and Methods of N.T. Exegesis, translated by S.S. Schatzmann, Hendrickson Publishers. Peabody 1988.
  • Dormeyer, Detlev. The New Testament among the Writings of Antiquity (English translation), Sheffield 1998
  • Dunn, James D.G. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. Cambridge University Press (2003). ISBN 0-521-78694-0.
  • Dunn, James D.G. Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity. SCM Press (2006). ISBN 0-334-02998-8.
  • Edwards, Mark (2009). Catholicity and Heresy in the Early Church. Ashgate. ISBN 9780754662914.
  • Freedman, David Noel (Ed). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (2000). ISBN 0-8028-2400-5.
  • Esler, Philip F. The Early Christian World. Routledge (2004). ISBN 0-415-33312-1.
  • Mack, Burton L.: Who Wrote the New Testament?, Harper, 1996
  • Keck, Leander E. Paul and His Letters. Fortress Press (1988). ISBN 0-8006-2340-1.
  • Mills, Watson E. Acts and Pauline Writings. Mercer University Press (1997). ISBN 0-86554-512-X.
  • 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 0-85111-479-2
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan. The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). University of Chicago Press (1975). ISBN 0-226-65371-4.
  • 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 0-8006-1783-5
  • 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).
  • Thiessen, Henry C. Introduction to the New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids 1976
  • White, L. Michael. From Jesus to Christianity. HarperCollins (2004). ISBN 0-06-052655-6.
  • Wilson, Barrie A. "How Jesus Became Christian". St. Martin's Press (2008). ISBN 978-0-679-31493-6.
  • Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press (1992). ISBN 0-8006-2681-8.
  • Zahn, Theodor, Introduction to the New Testament, English translation, Edinburgh, 1910.
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