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Early Christianity covers the period from its origins (c. 30–36) until the First Council of Nicaea (325). This period is typically divided into the Apostolic Age (c. 30–100) and the Ante-Nicene Period (c. 100–325).
The first Christians were Jewish Christians, either by birth or conversion ("proselytes" in Biblical terminology).[note 1] Important practices were baptism, which made one a member of the Christian community, and the communal meals, from which the Eucharist developed, the participation in Christ's death and resurrection. Eventually, the inclusion of Gentile God-fearers lead to a departure from Jewish customs, and the establishment of Christianity as an independent religion.
A variety of Christianities developed throughout the 2nd and 3rd century, alongside a developing proto-orthodoxy, which eventually defined orthodoxy and heresy. Proto-orthodoxy developed in tandem with the growing number of Christians, which necessitated the development of ecclesiastical structure.
Early Christians generally used and revered the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) as religious text, mostly in the Greek (Septuagint) or Aramaic (Targum) translations, but also developed their own Canon of the New Testament, which includes the canonical gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation, all written before 120.
Early Jewish Christians referred to themselves as 'The Way' (Greek: ἡ ὁδός), probably coming from Isaiah 40:3, "prepare the way of the Lord."[web 1][note 2] 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. The earliest recorded use of the term "Christianity" (Greek: Χριστιανισμός) was by Ignatius of Antioch, in around 100 AD.
Christianity "emerged as a sect of Judaism in Roman Palestine" in the syncretistic Hellenistic world of the first century CE, which was dominated by Roman law and Greek culture. During the early first century CE there were many competing Jewish sects in the Holy Land, and those that became Rabbinic Judaism and Proto-orthodox Christianity were but two of these. There were Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots, but also other less influential sects, including the Essenes.[web 2][web 3] The first century BCE and first century CE saw a growing 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 2][web 3]
A central concern in 1st century Judaism was the covenant with God, and the status of the Jews as the chosen people. 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 interactions with each other, "the greatest gift God had given his people."
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 4][web 5][web 6] The Messiah is often referred to as "King Messiah" (Hebrew: מלך משיח, romanized: melekh mashiach) or malka meshiḥa in Aramaic.[web 7]
In the Synoptic Gospels Jewish eschatology stands central.[web 8] After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus teaches extensively for a year, or maybe just a few months,[web 8][note 3] about the Kingdom of God (or, in Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven), in aphorisms and parables, using similes and figures of speech.[web 8] In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself is the main subject.[web 9][web 8] 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 8] According to Davies, the Sermon on the Mount presents Jesus as the new Moses who brings a New Law, the Messianic Torah.
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 and was exalted to Divine status. Paul's letters and the Gospels document a number of post-resurrection appearances, which are often explained as visionary experiences, in which the presence of Jesus was felt. The resurrection of Jesus "signalled for earliest believers that the days of eschatological fulfilment were at hand,"[web 10] and gave the impetus to the exaltation of Jesus to the status of divine Son and Lord[web 10] and the resumation of their missionary activity. His followers expected Him to return in the near future, ushering in the Kingdom of God.[web 8]
Since the 18th century, three scholarly quests for the historical Jesus have taken place, each with distinct characteristics and based on different research criteria, which were often developed during each specific phase. Scholars involved in the third quest for the historical Jesus have constructed a variety of portraits and profiles for Jesus, most prominently that of Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet or eschatological teacher.[note 4]
The first part of the period, named after the lifetimes of the Twelve Apostles as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, is called the Apostolic Age. The Great Commission is the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples to spread his teachings to all the nations of the world.
After the death of Jesus, "Christianity [...] emerged as a sect of Judaism in Roman Palestine." The first Christians were all Jews, either by birth or conversion ("proselytes" in Biblical terminology),[note 1] who constituted a Second Temple Jewish sect with an apocalyptic eschatology.
The New Testament's Acts of the Apostles and Epistle to the Galatians record the existence of a Christian community centered on Jerusalem, and that its leaders included Peter, James, the "brother of Jesus", and John the Apostle.[note 5] Legitimised by Jesus' appearance, Peter was the first leader of the Jerusalem ekklēsia. He was soon eclipsed in this leadership by James the Just, "the Brother of the Lord," which may explain why the early texts contain scant information about Peter. According to Lüdemann, in the discussions about the strictness of adherence to the Jewish Law, the more conservative faction of James the Just gained the upper hand over the more liberal position of Peter, who soon lost influence. According to Dunn, this was not an "usurpation of power," but a consequence of Peter's involvement in missionary activities. The Jerusalem Church "held a central place among all the churches," as witnessed by Paul's writings.
Christian missionary activity spread Christianity to cities throughout the Hellenistic world and even beyond the Roman Empire. Over forty existed by the year 100, 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, but almost immediately also in Greek. Christian groups and congregations first organized themselves loosely. In Paul's time there were no precisely delineated functions yet for bishops, elders, and deacons.
The sources for the beliefs of the early Christians include oral traditions (which included sayings attributed to Jesus, parables and teachings), the Gospels, the New Testament epistles and possibly lost texts such as the Q source and the writings of Papias. The texts contain the earliest Christian creeds expressing belief in the risen Jesus, such as 1 Corinthians 15:3–41. The creed has been dated by some scholars as originating within the Jerusalem apostolic community no later than the 40s, and by some to less than a decade after Jesus' death, while others date it to about 56. Other early creeds include 1 John 4:2, 2 Timothy 2:8 Romans 1:3–4 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." The chronology of the development of these early Christologies is a matter of debate within contemporary scholarship.[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," thereby raising him to "divine status."[web 12] According to the "evolutionary model" c.q. "evolutionary theories," the Christological understanding of Christ developed over time. This evolutionary model was very influential, and the "low Christology" has long been regarded as the oldest Christology.[web 12][note 6]
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] 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. The Pauline letters, which are the earliest Christian writings, already show "a well-developed pattern of Christian devotion [...] already conventionalized and apparently uncontroversial."
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 7]
Communal meals originated in the early Church. 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. Thus, in modern times the Lovefeast refers to a Christian ritual meal distinct from the Lord's Supper.
The Eucharist (//; 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". 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.
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. 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.
Paul's influence on Christian thinking is said to be more significant than that of any other New Testament author. 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, calling himself "Apostle to the Gentiles."
According to Krister Stendahl, the main concern of Paul's writings on Jesus' role, and salvation by faith, is not the individual conscience of human sinners, and their doubts about being chosen by God or not, but the problem of the inclusion of gentile (Greek) Torah observers into God's covenant.[web 14] The inclusion of Gentiles posed a problem for the early Christian community, since the new converts did not follow all "Jewish Law" and refused to be circumcised, as circumcision was considered repulsive in Hellenistic culture.[web 15] 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 16] For Paul, Gentile male circumcision was therefore an affront to God's intentions.[web 16] 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 16]
For Paul, Jesus' death and resurrection solved this problem of the exclusion of the gentiles from God's covenant, since the faithful are redeemed by participation in Jesus' death and rising. According to Galatians 2:1–10 and Acts chapter 15, Paul discussed the issue with the leaders of the Jerusalem ekklēsia, agreeing to allow Gentile converts exemption from most Jewish commandments, which opened the way for a much larger Christian Church, extending far beyond the Jewish community.
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. 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."
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.
Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire occurred sporadicly 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint) was the dominant translation, including the biblical apocrypha.[note 8] The books of the canon of the New Testament, which includes the Canonical Gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation were written before 120 AD, but not defined as "canon" until the 4th century.
The earliest Christian writings, other than those collected in the New Testament, are a group of letters credited to the Apostolic Fathers. These 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.
There was a slowly growing chasm between Christians and Jews, rather than a sudden split. Growing tensions led to a starker separation that was virtually complete by the time Christians refused to join in the Bar Khokba Jewish revolt of 132. Certain events are perceived as pivotal in the growing rift between Christianity and Judaism.
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.
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.
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 (see Anti-Judaism in the Roman Empire for details). In contrast, Christianity was not legalized until the 313 Edict of Milan. 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. Around the year 98, the emperor Nerva decreed that Christians did not have to pay the annual tax upon the Jews, effectively recognizing them as distinct from Rabbinic Judaism. This opened the way to Christians being persecuted for disobedience to the emperor, as they refused 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. 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 5th century.
Jewish Christians constituted a separate community from the Pauline Christians but maintained a similar faith, differing only in practice. In Christian circles, "Nazarene" later came to be used as a label for those faithful to Jewish law, in particular for a certain sect. These Jewish Christians, originally the central group in Christianity, and holding to orthodoxy except in their adherence to Jewish law, were not deemed heretical until the dominance of orthodoxy in the 4th century. The Ebionites may have been a splinter group of Nazarenes, with disagreements over Christology and leadership. They were considered by Gentile Christians to have unorthodox beliefs, particularly in relation to their views of Christ and Gentile converts. After the condemnation of the Nazarenes, "Ebionite" was often used as a general pejorative for all related "heresies".
There was a post-Nicene "double rejection" of the Jewish Christians by both Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. The true end of ancient Jewish Christianity occurred only in the 5th century. 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 5th century.[note 9]
The predominant eschatological view in the Ante-Nicene Period was Premillennialism, the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus were the most outspoken proponents of premillennialism. Justin Martyr saw himself as continuing in the “Jewish” belief of a temporary messianic kingdom prior to the eternal state. Irenaeus devoted Book V of his Against Heresies to a defense of the physical resurrection and eternal judgement.
Other early premillennialists included Pseudo-Barnabas, Papias, Methodius, Lactantius, Commodianus Theophilus, Tertullian, Melito, Hippolytus of Rome and Victorinus of Pettau. By the 3rd century there was growing opposition to premillennialism. Origen was the first to challenge the doctrine openly. Dionysius of Alexandria stood against premillennialism when the chiliastic work, The Refutation of the Allegorizers by Nepos, a bishop in Egypt, became popular in Alexandria, as noted in Eusebius’s, Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius said of the premillennialist Papias that he was "a man of small mental capacity" because he had taken the Apocalypse literally.
According to Bauckham, the post-apostolic church contained diverse practices as regards the Sabbath. It seems clear that most of the Early Church did not consider observation of the Sabbath to be required or of eminent importance to Christians and in fact worshiped on Sunday.
Infant baptism was widely practised at least by the 3rd century, but it is disputed whether it was in the first centuries of Christianity. Some believe that the Church in the apostolic period practised infant baptism, arguing that the mention of the baptism of households in the Acts of the Apostles would have included children within the household. Others believe that infants were excluded from the baptism of households, citing verses of the Bible that describe the baptized households as believing, which infants are incapable of doing.[note 10]
Until the late 2nd century there was a difference in dating the celebration of the Christian Passover/Easter between Western churches and those of Asia Minor. The churches in Asia Minor celebrated it on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, the day before Jewish Passover, regardless of what day of the week it fell on, as the Crucifixion had occurred on the day before Passover according to the Gospel of John. The Latins called them Quartodecimans, literally meaning 14'ers. At the time, the West celebrated Easter on the Sunday following the Jewish 14th of Nisan.
Victor, the bishop of Rome, attempted to declare the Nisan 14 practice heretical and excommunicate all who followed it, but rescinded, after Irenaeus and Polycrates of Ephesus wrote to Victor. A uniform method of computing the date of Easter was not formally addressed until 325 at the First Council of Nicaea.[note 11]
The development of doctrine, the position of orthodoxy, and the relationship between the various opinions is a matter of continuing academic debate. Since the Nicene Creed came to define the Church, the early debates have long been regarded as a unified orthodox position against a minority of heretics. Walter Bauer, drawing upon distinctions between Jewish Christians, Pauline Christians, and other groups such as Gnostics and Marcionites, argued that early Christianity was fragmented, with various competing interpretations. According to Bauer, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy was the original manifestation of Christianity.
Rodney Stark estimates that the number of Christians grew by approximately 40% a decade during the first and second centuries. This phenomenal growth rate forced Christian communities to evolve in order to adapt to their changes in the nature of their communities as well as their relationship with their political and socioeconomic environment. As the number of Christians grew, the Christian communities became larger, more numerous and farther apart geographically. The passage of time also moved some Christians farther from the original teachings of the apostles giving rise to teachings that were considered heterodox and sowing controversy and divisiveness within churches and between churches.
The Ante-Nicene period saw the rise of a great number of Christian sects, cults and movements with strong unifying characteristics lacking in the apostolic period. They had different interpretations of Scripture, particularly the divinity of Jesus and the nature of the Trinity. Part of the unifying trend was an increasingly harsh anti-Judaism and rejection of Judaizers.
Christianity differed from other Roman religions in that it set out its beliefs in a clearly defined way, though the process of orthodoxy (right belief) was not underway until the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils. By the end of the third century proto-orthodoxy became dominant, viewing Christian teachings as either orthodox or heterodox. Orthodox teachings were those that claimed to have the authentic lineage of Holy Tradition. All other teachings were viewed as deviant streams of thought and were possibly heretical.
A Church hierarchy seems to have developed by the late 1st century and early 2nd century. (see Pastoral Epistles, c. 90–140) Robert Williams posits that the "origin and earliest development of episcopacy and monepiscopacy and the ecclesiastical concept of (apostolic) succession were associated with crisis situations in the early church."
Roger Haight posits the development of ecclesiology in the form of "Early Catholicism" as one response to the problem of church unity. Thus, the solution to division arising from heterodox teaching was the development of "tighter and more standardized structures of ministry. One of these structures is the tri-partite form of church leadership consisting of episkopoi (overseers); presbyteroi (elders), as was the case with Jewish communities; and diakonoi (ministerial servants). Presbyters were ordained and assisted the bishop; as Christianity spread, especially in rural areas, the presbyters exercised more responsibilities and took distinctive shape as priests. Deacons also performed certain duties, such as tending to the poor and sick.
Ignatius of Antioch urged churches to adopt this structure, writing that "You cannot have a church without these." In the 2nd century this structure was supported by teaching on apostolic succession, where a bishop becomes the spiritual successor of the previous bishop in a line tracing back to the apostles themselves. Over the course of the second century, this organizational structure became universal and continues to be used in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches as well as in some Protestant denominations.
Jerusalem was the first church and an important church center up to 135. The First Council of Nicaea recognized and confirmed the tradition by which Jerusalem continued to be given "special honour", but did not assign to it even metropolitan authority within its own province, still less the extraprovincial jurisdiction exercised by Rome and the other sees mentioned above.
Constantinople came into prominence only after the early Christian period, being founded officially in 330, five years after the First Council of Nicaea, though the much smaller original city of Byzantium was an early center of Christianity largely due to its proximity to Anatolia.
By the end of the early Christian period, the church within the Roman Empire had hundreds of bishops, some of them (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, "other provinces") holding some form of jurisdiction over others.
The books of the canon of the New Testament, which includes the Canonical Gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation were written before 120 AD, but not defined as "canon" until the 4th century.
Debates about scripture were underway in the mid-2nd century, concurrent with a drastic increase of new scriptures, both Jewish and Christian. Debates regarding practice and belief gradually became reliant on the use of scripture other than what Melito referred to as the Old Testament, as the New Testament canon developed. Similarly, in the 3rd century a shift away from direct revelation as a source of authority occurred, most notably against the Montanists. "Scripture" still had a broad meaning and usually referred to the Septuagint among Greek speakers or the Targums among Aramaic speakers or the Vetus Latina translations in Carthage. Beyond the Torah (the Law) and some of the earliest prophetic works (the Prophets), there was not agreement on the canon, but this was not debated much at first.
There is a lack of direct evidence on when Christians began accepting their own scriptures alongside the Septuagint. Well into the 2nd century Christians held onto a strong preference for oral tradition as clearly demonstrated by writers of the time, such as Papias.
Since the end of the 4th century, the title "Fathers of the Church" has been used to refer to a more or less clearly defined group of ecclesiastical writers who are appealed to as authorities on doctrinal matters. They are the early and influential theologians and writers in the early Christian Church, who had strong influence on the development of proto-orthodoxy. They produced two sorts of works: theological and "apologetic", the latter being works aimed at defending the faith by using reason to refute arguments against the veracity of Christianity.
Justin Martyr's works represent the earliest surviving Christian "apologies" of notable size. The earliest Church Fathers (within two generations of the Twelve apostles of Christ) are usually called the Apostolic Fathers, for reportedly knowing and studied under the apostles personally. Important Apostolic Fathers of the 2nd century include Pope Clement I (died 99), Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 110), and Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 69 – c. 155). In addition, the Shepherd of Hermas is usually placed among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers although its author is unknown. Those who wrote in Greek are called the Greek Church Fathers. Famous Greek Fathers of 2nd century (other than the Apostolic Fathers) include: Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria. Church Fathers who wrote in Latin are called the Latin Church Fathers. Tertullian (c.155–c.240) was the first Latin Father.
The attitude of the Church Fathers towards women paralleled rules in Jewish law regarding a woman's role in worship, although the early church allowed women to participate in worship—something that was not allowed in the Temple (where women were restricted to the outer court). The Deutero-Pauline First Epistle to Timothy teaches that women should remain quiet during public worship and were not to instruct men or assume authority over them. The Epistle to the Ephesians, which is also Deutero-Pauline, calls upon women to submit to the authority of their husbands.
Elizabeth A. Clark says that the Church Fathers regarded women both as "God's good gift to men" and as "the curse of the world", both as "weak in both mind and character" and as people who "displayed dauntless courage, undertook prodigious feats of scholarship".
There was no empire-wide persecution of Christians until the reign of Decius in the third century.[web 17] 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 18]
Christianity spread to Aramaic-speaking peoples along the Mediterranean coast and also to the inland parts of the Roman Empire, and beyond that into the Parthian Empire and the later Sasanian Empire, including Mesopotamia, which was dominated at different times and to varying extents by these empires. In 301, the Kingdom of Armenia became the second state to declare Christianity as its official religion, following the conversion of the Royal House of the Arsacids in Armenia.
Various theories attempt to explain how Christianity managed to spread so successfully prior to the Edict of Milan (313). In The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark argues that Christianity replaced paganism chiefly because it improved the lives of its adherents in various ways. Another factor, more recently pointed out, was the way in which Christianity combined its promise of a general resurrection of the dead with the traditional Greek belief that true immortality depended on the survival of the body, with Christianity adding practical explanations of how this was going to actually happen at the end of the world. According to Will Durant, the Christian Church prevailed over paganism because it offered a much more attractive doctrine, and because the church leaders addressed human needs better than their rivals.
Bart D. Ehrman attributes the rapid spread of Christianity to five factors: 1) the promise of salvation and eternal life for everyone was an attractive alternative to Roman religions; 2) stories of miracles and healings showed that the one Christian God was more powerful than the many Roman gods; 3) Christianity began as a grassroots movement providing hope of a better future in the next life for the lower classes; 4) Christianity took worshipers away from other religions since converts were expected to give up the worship of other gods, unusual in antiquity where worship of many gods was common; 5) in the Roman world, converting one person often meant converting the whole household, if the head of the household was converted, he decided the religion of his wife, children and slaves.
The New Testament contains twenty-seven books, written in Greek, by fifteen or sixteen different authors, who were addressing other Christian individuals or communities between the years 50 and 120 (see box 1.4). As we will see, it is difficult to know whether any of these books was written by Jesus' own disciples.
For the early Christians, the agape signified the importance of fellowship. It was a ritual to celebrate the joy of eating, pleasure and company.
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.
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."
Agape (love feast), which ultimately became separate from the Eucharist...
Around AD 250 the lovefeast and Eucharist seem to separate, leaving the Eucharist to develop outside the context of a shared meal.
The churches were becoming ever more distant from their origins in space and time. They were growing and with growth came new or false teachings, the sources of controversy and division.
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