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CH 510 – The History of Christianity 1. UNIT ONE – Early Christianity Slides based in part on The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez. Components of Historical Inquiry. Records (written & oral) Matters of fact, items of tradition, eye-witness accounts, hearsay, legend

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Ch 510 the history of christianity 1

CH 510 – The History of Christianity 1

UNIT ONE – Early Christianity

Slides based in part on The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez

Components of historical inquiry
Components of Historical Inquiry

  • Records (written & oral)

    • Matters of fact, items of tradition, eye-witness accounts, hearsay, legend

    • histories, court records, conciliar documents, decrees & proclamation, sermons, treatises, apologias, polemics, correspondence

Components of inquiry
Components of Inquiry

  • Cultural developments

    • Art, architecture, technologies, language, religious movements, philosophy, commerce/trade, travel, political realities, migrations/conquests, legal codes

Components of inquiry1
Components of Inquiry

  • The Interpretation of History

    • Contemporaneous

    • Subsequent interpretations

  • Reconstructions: hypotheses or “corrections” of our understanding of history based on new findings and discoveries

The complications of historical inquiry
The Complications of Historical Inquiry

  • Incomplete accounts

  • Prejudiced records or accounts

  • Inequities (what might seem important to the historian may not be as important as he thinks!)

  • Emotional disfavor of certain authors

  • Distrust of historical inquiry

The historian s task
The Historian’s Task

  • Determining the significance of what is written and why it was written

    • In part, this involves the inevitable “reading between the lines” and other subjective judgments on the part of the historian.

The historian s task1
The Historian’s Task

  • Discerning the motivation of the writer

    • Same problem as above though not as pronounced.

The historian s task2
The Historian’s Task

  • Defining the basic concepts and sifting out the principles that account for them

    • Applying history to the present realm of life and work

The historian s task3
The Historian’s Task

RESULT: In the final analysis, the best historians are those who are able to tell the most convincing story of the past and draw the most applicable lessons from that story for the present and future.


  • Geography – Crossroads of the great trade routes that joined Egypt with Mesopotamia

  • Alexander the Great (4th century BC) – empire dismembered after his death

  • Back and forth rule between Egypt & Syria

  • Hellenism – provided cultural unity; mixed blessing

  • Jewish reaction to Hellenism, eventually led to rebellion and to self-rule under the Maccabees (2nd century BC)

  • Hasmonean accommodation of Hellenism

  • Pompey’s conquest of Palestine (63 BC), deposing the last of the Maccabees, Aristobulus II.


  • Roman policies in general were very tolerant, allowing the descendants of the Maccabees to serve as High Priests and Ethnarchs

  • Herod the Great, appointed King of Judaea (40 BC)

  • Continuous rebellion throughout the land due to Herod’s Hellenizing policies, which continued under his son, Archelaus

  • Roman governorship set up in Judaea after the deposition of Archelaus; Some of Herod’s descendants continued to reign as ethnarchs and tetrarchs (e.g. Herod Antipas)

  • Great rebellion (AD 66), leading to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.

Religious partisanship
Religious Partisanship

  • Pharisees – enjoyed support of the populace at large

  • Saducees – Temple was their power base

  • Essenes – ascetical group

  • Zealots – various groups that sought to overthrow foreign powers through force


  • Ethical Monotheism

  • Eschatological hope (messianic)

The pharisees
The Pharisees

  • Best equipped to survive after destruction of Temple

  • Roots went back to the time of the exile when it was not possible to worship in Jerusalem

  • Religious life centered on the written Torah

    • The same was true for the Jews of the Diaspora, who lived in distant lands

  • Center of religious life: the Synagogue

  • While the Sadducees received a mortal blow with the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisees continued to bloom into modern Judaism.

The diaspora
The Diaspora

  • “Diaspora” means “Dispersion” and refers to the increasing number of Jews who lived outside of Palestine

  • Since OT times, numerous Jews lived in Mesopotamia (Persia) and Egypt

  • After the Roman conquest, many followed the trade routes and settled throughout the empire

  • Jews of the Diaspora forced to come to terms with Hellenism

    • Philo of Alexandria (1st century BC – 1st century AD)

  • The LXX – Greek translation of the OT

  • Crucial importance to the spread of Christianity

The roman empire
The Roman Empire

  • Brought unprecedented political unity to the Mediterranean basin

  • Tolerant of local laws and customs, yet greatly encouraged as much uniformity as possible

  • The Romans were admirers of (and thought of themselves as successors to) Alexander the Great

  • Roman legal system and Hellenistic culture (synthesis)

  • Unprecedented freedom/safety of travel (road system and safe sea passage)

  • Paul’s missionary journeys enjoyed all of the benefits of Roman society: common language, legal system, culture and safe travel

Rome s religious policy
Rome’s Religious Policy

  • In order to achieve greater unity, imperial policy sought religious uniformity by following two routes:

    • Religious syncretism

    • Emperor worship

  • Rome had a vested interest in having her subjects from different lands believe that, although their gods had different names, they were the same as the gods of the Romans.

  • Roman Pantheon – Temple of “All Gods”

  • Combined with Emperor Worship, religious syncretism amounted to the “state religion” (or state-control of religion)

  • Jews and Christians regarded as unbending fanatics who insisted on the worship of their one God

Religious context
Religious Context

  • Cults of Antiquity: traditional gods of the Greeks and the Romans (& conquered peoples’ “equivalents”)

  • “Mystery” Cults: both old and new

    • Old: Horus, Isis, etc. (Egyptian)

    • New: Mithraism (Indo-Iranian origin)

    • “Mystery” refers to the fact that these cults were “initiatory” cults rather than geo-ethnic ones

  • The Judeo-Christian God (Monotheism)

  • Collegialicita – legal societies (Jews)

  • Collegiaillicita – illegal societies (Mithraism, Christianity); generally speaking “new” religions were frowned upon

Emperor worship
Emperor Worship

  • The “glue” that kept religious unity in society

  • The intermingling of religions meant that one could possibly be an adherent of many; creates confusion for historians

  • Emperor worship (worship of the state in the person of the ruling imperator) was the measure of unity and test of loyalty

  • To refuse to burn incense before the emperor’s image was a sign of treason and/or disloyalty.

  • Christian refusal to burn incense before the emperor’s image was a witness to their faith; hence, a cause of their persecution


  • Two philosophical traditions lent themselves well to the articulation of Christian teaching in a Hellenistic culture

    • Platonism

    • Stoicism


  • Plato was the student of Socrates, who was seen as a martyr for teaching truth

  • Plato had criticized the ancient gods, and taught about a supreme being, perfect and immutable; also believed in the immortality of the soul and a higher plane of truth

  • At first used to articulate the faith to outsiders, Platonism (especially as reinterpreted by Plotinus and repackaged as Neo-Platonism) began influencing the very manner in which Christian understood their faith.


  • Early Stoics (3rd century BC) were materialists and determinists; also critical of the religions of the time

  • Trained themselves to assent to the inexorable laws that ruled all events

  • High moral standards; appeal to wisdom to guide course of events

  • Believed that the purpose of philosophy was to understand the law of nature and to obey it

  • Goal: apatheia(life without the passions)

  • Universality of the law; citizens of the world

  • Austerity, appeal to the law, and universality had its appeal on the emerging Christian consciousness.

The tendency to idealize the earliest christian communities
The tendency to “idealize” the earliest Christian communities

  • Evidence of conflict and tension even within the New Testament itself. For example:

    “The Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1)

    • Conflict between two groups of Jews

    • Appointment of the seven “to serve tables”

    • Earliest persecutions seem to have been aimed mostly at the “Hellenistic” Christians (i.e. converted Jews of the Diaspora)

    • Saul seems to ignore the apostles in his efforts to persecute the early Christian movement.

What were the earliest christian communities like
What were the earliest Christian communities like? communities

  • Primarily Jewish communities (i.e. followers of Christ who were Jews)

    • Did not consider themselves followers of a new religion

    • Centered in Jerusalem, though forced to spread out

  • Apart from the NT, only fragmentary evidence

    • The NT is an important historical source (e.g. Book of Acts)

    • Epistles like the Book of James provide intriguing glimpses of the Jewish-Christian communities; but an incomplete picture

    • The earliest strata of the NT are the Pauline Epistles, which deal mainly with the so-called “Gentile Churches”; though the interaction between “Jews and Gentiles” in Paul’s letters is instructive of the attitudes that the former had for the latter.

Book of acts
Book of Acts communities

  • A primary historical text

  • However, affected by bias and theological agenda; objectivity and historicity in question

Some assumptions that can be made
Some assumptions that can be made communities

Characteristics of the early Jewish-Christian communities:

  • The conviction that their faith was not a denial of Judaism, but its messianic fulfillment

  • The earliest Jewish-Christians continued to observe the Sabbath and Temple rituals

Assumptions… communities

  • Communal life seems to have centered around a “synagogue” approach to instruction and the sharing of common meals

  • The custom of gathering on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection is probably very early

  • Authority invested in the original twelve apostles; though James, the “brother of Jesus,” took an important early role (later considered the first “bishop” of Jerusalem)

The new faith s propensity to spread via bridge groups
The new Faith’s propensity to spread via “bridge groups”

  • Hellenistic Jewish-Christians (Acts 6:5-6 – Appointment of seven “to serve tables” presumably from the Hellenist party)

  • The Samaritans (Acts 8 – Philip’s mission)

  • God-Fearers (Acts 10 – Household of Cornelius)

  • The Pauline communities:

    • Caused a degree of concern and consternation within the Jerusalem church

    • Paul’s ongoing conflict with the Jewish-Christians (Acts 15; Galatians 2)

    • Paul nonetheless continues to support the Jerusalem church financially (1 Corinthians 16)

The waning of the jerusalem church
The waning of the Jerusalem Church groups”

  • The martyrdom of James, brother of John, under Herod Agrippa (grandson of Herod the Great); imprisonment of Peter (Acts 12)

  • Martyrdom of James, brother of Jesus (AD 62), attested to by Josephus

  • Christian community in Jerusalem moved to Pella, beyond the Jordan, shortly before the destruction of the city by Titus’ legions in AD 70

    • Jewish nationalism reached a boiling point

    • Christians were followers of one who was of the “line of David” and had been crucified by the Romans for claiming to be “King of the Jews”; too risky to stay in Jerusalem

  • Simeon (successor to James) was later killed by the Romans, probably because of his claim to Davidic lineage

Jewish christians in exile post pella migration
Jewish-Christians in exile (post-Pella migration) groups”

  • The ancient Jerusalem church found itself isolated from the rest of the Christian world; leadership had passed to Gentile Christians (i.e. the Pauline communities of the Mediterranean)

  • Theologically unable to adapt to a changing political and religious world

  • In desolate regions beyond the Jordan, Jewish Christianity came into contact with esoteric (unorthodox) Judaism

    • Probably influenced by these views and ideas

  • Gentile Christianity did not regard these isolated remnant Jewish-Christian sects very highly; considered their views and customs as heretical

  • Faded out of history in the fifth century.

Ebionites and nazarenes

groups”Ebionites” and “Nazarenes”

Ebionite views
Ebionite groups” views…

  • Considered Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah

  • Revered “James the Just” (brother of Jesus); rejected Saul of Tarsus

  • Affirmed one “Jewish” gospel

    • Aramaic version of Matthew or “Ur-Matthew”?

    • Q-Document?

    • Gospel of the Nazarenes?

  • Placed special value on voluntary poverty; may have been vegetarians (and possibly argued that Jesus and John the Baptist were vegetarians as well)

  • Accused by detractors of denying the deity of Jesus and of being heretical Judaizers

Early jewish christian reluctance to cross over
Early Jewish-Christian reluctance to “cross-over” groups”

  • Philip’s mission to the Samaritans and Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8)

    • Peter and John sent from Jerusalem; Simon Magus Episode

  • Acts 9 tells of Saul’s early ministry and the spread of the Christian faith beyond Judea, but limited (at first) to speaking only to Jews

  • Acts 10 tells the story of Peter’s encounter with the household of Cornelius (a god-fearer), and the coming of the Spirit upon the uncircumcised

  • Acts 11 tells of Peter’s report to the Church at Jerusalem, and begins the story of the Church at Antioch’s missionary endeavors (Paul & Barnabas)

  • Acts 15 – the “Jerusalem Council”

Paul s work
Paul’s work groups”

  • The Book of Acts describes “three” journeys of Paul, first with Barnabas, then with others

    • Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome (possibly to Spain)

  • Paul was not necessarily the first evangelist to the regions where his influence became paramount (e.g. Rome)

    • Barnabas, Mark, Apollos, and even Cephas (i.e. Peter)

  • Paul’s influence on Christianity was not primarily in the number of communities that he founded, or converts that he made, but rather in the literary legacy he left behind (epistles).

  • Paul’s methodology: preach first at the synagogues

    • Attracted many Hellenistic Jews and God-fearers this way

    • God-fearers were Paul’s primary converts among the Gentiles

The apostles facts legends
The Apostles: Facts & Legends groups”

  • New Testament intriguingly silent on the work and fate of most of the apostles

    • James, brother of John (martyred, Acts 12)

    • Book of Acts ends with Paul preaching in Rome

  • Two earliest and best-attested traditions:

    • Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome under Nero (mid-60s); one tradition has him crucified upside-down

    • Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome during the same period; by beheading (which befits a Roman citizen)

    • Paul may have had a fourth missionary journey that took him as far as Spain

The apostle john
The Apostle John groups”

  • Many legends and confusing references to the Apostle John

  • Active in Asia Minor after the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul

  • Organized the “Pauline” churches; operated out of Ephesus

  • Purported to have been the teacher of Papias and Polycarp; However, Papias affirms that there were two persons by the name of John: the apostle and the “elder” who lived in Ephesus.

  • Tradition has John living well into Domitian’s reign (end of 1st century)

  • One tradition has him martyred by being placed in a pot of boiling oil; another has him exiled to Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation; some combine the two traditions

  • Unanimous opinion that John lived into extreme old age

Other legends
Other legends groups”

  • Most legends of a church’s “founding” by an apostle arose from the desire for a church to have apostolic pedigree (especially from the 2nd century)

    • Need arose to counter the influence of Rome and Antioch

  • Alexandrian Church founded by Mark

  • Byzantine Church founded by Philip

  • Spain missionized by Paul, Peter and James

  • Thomas visited and missionized India

  • Joseph of Arimathea visited and missionized Britain

Christianity s conflicted beginnings
Christianity’s conflicted beginnings… groups”

  • The “Lord” whom Christians served had been condemned as an insurrectionist, usurper, and self-proclaimed “king” by the Romans

  • Conflict with the leaders of the very nation to whom Jesus had come to proclaim the “kingdom of God”

  • Stephen, first martyr, stoned before a council of the Jews (Acts 7)

  • James, brother of John, beheaded by Herod Agrippa

  • Conflict with Zealots during Jewish uprising (60s)

  • Fled to Pella (ca. 66)

A new jewish sect
A New Jewish Sect? groups”

  • Early Christians (Jewish) were insistent that their good news was not intended to undermine Judaism, but rather to proclaim that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah

  • Outsiders (Jews & Gentiles) were invited to participate in the promises made to Abraham and his descendants

    • Judaism had long held that the advent of the Messiah would be good news for all nations

    • Point of conflict: what would this look like? (Circumcision or no?)

  • Initially, Jews who rejected Christianity saw it as simply another sect within Judaism; a heresy

    • Jewish nationalists feared that this new sect might bring the wrath of God upon the nation and/or incite suppression of the nation by Rome

Acts 18 14 15
Acts 18:14-15 groups”

“This man [Paul] is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law.”

“If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, I should have reason to hear you, O Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I refuse to judge these things.” (Gallio)

  • As long as things were relatively orderly, the Romans preferred to stay out of Jewish controversies.

Expulsion of the jews under claudius
Expulsion of the Jews under Claudius groups”

  • Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome around AD 51

  • Mentioned in Acts 18:2, but does not explain the reason

  • Mentioned by the Roman historian, Suetonius, who states that the reason for the expulsion was “because of Chrestus”

    • Perhaps a reference to “Christus” (i.e. Christ)

    • If so, the Jews were in dispute over the claims of Christians

Tacitus seutonius
Tacitus & groups”Seutonius

Seutonius the twelve emperors
Seutonius groups”’ “The Twelve Emperors”

  • Julius Caesar

  • Octavian (Augustus)

  • Tiberius

  • Gaius (Caligula)

  • Claudius

  • Nero

  • Galba

  • Otho

  • Vitellius

  • Vespasian

  • Titus

  • Domitian

Distinction between judaism and christianity became clearer
Distinction between Judaism and Christianity became clearer…

  • As more and more converts were gained from the Gentile population

  • As Jewish nationalism increased, Christians sought to put as much distance as they could between themselves and that movement

    RESULT: Roman authorities began to take cognizance of Christianity as a religion quite different from Judaism, and thus not given the same tolerance as Judaism

    • Basis for later persecutions

Nero clearer…

  • Became emperor in AD 54 (deposed AD 68)

  • At first ruled well, or reasonably enough

  • Became increasingly infatuated with his own grandeur and desire for pleasure; increasingly unpopular

  • Great fire of Rome – AD 64

  • Blamed the Christians – first imperial persecution of the Church

Year of the four emperors
Year of the Four Emperors clearer…

  • Nero commits suicide in AD 68

  • First Roman Civil War since Mark Antony’s death in 30 BC

  • June 68 – December 69 saw the quick succession of four emperors: Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian

  • Vespasian (reign AD 69-79) – Founder of the Flavian Dynasty

Titus and domitian
Titus clearer…and Domitian

  • Titus (reign AD 79-81) – Son of Vespasian; Fall of Jerusalem (AD 70); Co-Emperor with his father; dies of plague

  • Domitian (reign AD 81-96) – Son of Vespasian, brother of Titus

Persecution under domitian
Persecution under Domitian clearer…

  • Domitian’s love for Roman tradition perhaps led to his hatred for and eventual persecution of Christians

  • Jews did not fare well under Domitian either; he required them to remit to the imperial coffers the annual offering they would have sent to Jerusalem

  • Laws against Jewish practices affected both Jews and Christians alike

  • Persecution seems to have been most severe in Rome and Asia Minor

  • Flavius Clemens and his wife FlaviaDomitilla (relatives of the emperor) were accused of “Jewish practices” and “atheism” and were executed

Persecution under domitian1
Persecution under Domitian clearer…

  • Not a lot known about this persecution, except that it happened and apparently was very thorough and cruel

  • During this time, the Book of Revelation was presumably written on the Isle of Patmos by a seer named “John”

  • Because of this persecution, Domitian (like Nero) was increasingly seen as a tyrant

  • Domitian’s enemies conspired against him and he was murdered in his own palace.

  • Roman senate decreed that his name be expunged from every inscription so that there would be no memory of him

Persecution in the 1 st 2 nd centuries
Persecution in the 1 clearer…st-2nd centuries

  • Persecution from the time of Nero (mid-60s AD)

  • Details of persecution are scarce, until second century

    • Christian literature – “acts of the martyrs” – begin to appear

      • Some legendary; some confirmed by court records

  • Important correspondence – e.g. Pliny the Younger & Trajan

  • Other Christian writings – e.g. Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 115)

Gaius plinius caecilius secundus ad 61 112 a k a pliny the younger
Gaius clearer…PliniusCaeciliusSecundus (AD 61-112) a.k.a. “Pliny the Younger”

  • Governor of Bythinia-Pontus (AD 110-112)

Pliny s letter to the emperor trajan ad 111
Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan (AD 111) clearer…

  • Complains there are so many Christians that the pagan temples are practically deserted

  • Was provided a list of Christians, and so begins an investigation

  • Those accused of being Christians and lapsed Christians were required to pray and offer incense to the image of the emperor

  • Executed those who persisted in their Christian faith on account of their obstinacy

  • Even so, Pliny seems troubled by the severity of the punishment and inquires as to the nature of their “crimes”

Pliny s report to trajan
Pliny’s report to Trajan clearer…

  • Tortures two females called “deacons” who merely confirmed what he already knew

  • Christian practices (according to Pliny):

    • Christians gather on a “certain day before the dawn” to “sing a hymn to Christ as to a god”

    • Swear “an oath” not to commit theft, adultery, etc.

    • Gathered for a “common meal” until secret meetings were outlawed

  • Were Christians guilty of more than this?

  • Suspended prosecutions until he could receive instructions on how to proceed from Trajan

Significant phrases in pliny
Significant Phrases in Pliny clearer…

  • “…none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do –” (in reference to cursing Christ)

  • “accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn”

  • “sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god”

  • “to bind themselves by oath…etc.”

  • “to assemble again to partake of food – but ordinary and innocent food.”

  • “two female slaves who were called deaconesses.”

Emperor trajan s reply to pliny
Emperor Trajan’s reply to Pliny clearer…

  • Brief reply to say there is no general rule to deal with Christians; each case must be weighed on its own merit

  • The state should not waste time and resources on hunting down Christians

  • If, however, they are accused and refuse to recant they should be punished

  • Those who recant and offer incense should be released

  • Anonymous accusations should be disregarded

Tertullian s assessment 3 rd century
Tertullian’s assessment (3 clearer…rd century)

“What a necessarily confused sentence! It refuses to seek them out, as if they were innocent, and order that they be punished as if they were guilty. It pardons, and yet is cruel. It ignores, and yet punishes…”

Trajan s policy prevails
Trajan’s policy prevails clearer…

  • The state should not waste resources and time hunting those who have not yet committed a crime

  • Essentially their crime is not their Christian faith, per se, but rather their contempt of the Roman courts in refusing to give proper homage (i.e. worship) to the Imperial majesty

  • Trajan’s policy becomes the standard Roman policy throughout the second and third centuries

Persecuting emperors
Persecuting Emperors clearer…

  • Nero – Blamed Christians for the Great Fire (AD 64)

  • Domitian – Rome and Asia Minor (late 90s)

  • Marcus Aurelius – Persecution of Lyon (AD 177)

  • Septimius Severus – Rome, Corinth, Alexandria, Carthage (AD 202-210)

  • Maximinus the Thracian – Aimed at heads of the church; Hippolytus and Pope Pontian martyred (AD 235)

  • Decius – Aimed at Christian laity across Europe (AD 250-251)

  • Valerian – Aimed at heads of church (AD 257-260)

  • Diocletian & Galerius – Most severe and widespread persecution (AD 303-313)

Ignatius of antioch bearer of god
Ignatius of Antioch (“Bearer of God”) clearer…

  • Born ca. AD 30-35

  • Bishop of Antioch, the second most ancient “see”

  • “Bearer of God” – “He who was borne of God” (legend that he was the child whom Jesus held)

  • Condemned to death ca. AD 107, and sent to Rome for the great festivities planned there

  • Traveled through Asia Minor on way to martyrdom; visited by many Christians on the way

  • Wrote seven letters (in imitation of Paul), mostly to churches in Asia Minor

  • Eventually dies heroically in Rome

Letters of ignatius
Letters of Ignatius clearer…

  • To the Magnesians

  • To the Ephesians (Bishop Onesimus)

  • To the Smyrneans

  • To the Trallians (Bishop Polybius)

  • To the Philadelphians

  • To Bishop Polycarp (of Smyrna)

  • To the Romans

Importance of ignatius letters
Importance of Ignatius’ letters clearer…

  • Confirmation of a Pauline understanding of faith

  • Early witness to many New Testament texts

  • Proto-creedal statements

  • Insistence on the three orders – Bishop, Presbyters, Deacons

  • Eucharistic theology

  • Early “catholic” Christianity

  • Early witness to the importance and apostolic foundation of the Church of Rome

Polycarp of smyrna ad 155
Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 155) clearer…

  • Martyrdom of Polycarp (anonymous)

  • Group of Christians brought to trial and condemned, tortured and killed

  • Germanicus, an elderly Christian, refuses to recant, citing the injustices he witnessed; this incites mob to demand the arrest of Polycarp

  • At first Polycarp hides, but when discovered submits to his arrest

  • Polycarp refuses to curse Christ and eventually goes bravely to his death

  • The “martyrdom of the spontaneous” was seen as invalid

  • Martyrdom was a divine calling to which God provided divine strength

Martyrdom of polycarp ca 155
Martyrdom of Polycarp clearer…(ca. 155)

"Eighty and six years I have served him. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt."

Marcus aurelius r 161 1801
Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180) clearer…

  • “Enlightened” emperor (philosopher in his own right)

  • Nevertheless known as a persecutor of Christians “for obstinacy” against the state

  • Superstitious, thus blamed Christians for many of the ills of the day

  • Famous accounts of martyrdoms during his reign, including the condemnation and martyrdom of “Justin Martyr”

  • Persecution of Lyon (177); 48 Christians martyred

The apologists

The Apologists clearer…

Base accusations against christians
Base accusations against Christians clearer…

  • Atheism

  • Orgiastic celebrations

  • Incestuous relationships

  • Gluttons and Drunkards

  • Child sacrifice

  • Cannibalism

  • Mockery – Christians worshiped an “ass” (donkey)

Other accusations
Other accusations clearer…

  • Christian doctrines were irrational and self-contradictory

  • Christians were uneducated; pedestrian

  • Foolish people who merely feigned wisdom

  • Not cultured

  • Christianity appeals to the “wrong sorts” of people

  • Christianity derived from the religion of barbarians (Jews)

  • Christianity destroys the fiber of good society

  • Christians continue to “fear the gods” by refusing to take part in most social activities (contradiction to their claim that all other gods are false)

  • Jesus was a criminal condemned by Roman authority

Justin martyr
Justin “Martyr” clearer…

  • Most famous of early apologists

  • Schooled in philosophy and law, until he found the “true philosophy” (Christianity)

  • Author of two “Apologies”; Dialogue with Trypho

Justin martyr first apology
Justin Martyr – First Apology clearer…

  • A work addressed to the Emperor, Antoninus Pius (reign, 138-161) to explain Christian faith and praxis (written ca. 150 AD).

  • Answers many of the charges waged against Christians by their detractors.

  • Christianity is an illegal sect at this point in history, subject to persecution by the state.

  • Justin hopes to convince the emperor that Christians live by the highest moral standards and serve the one true God.

Justin martyr first apology1
Justin Martyr – First Apology clearer…

  • Much of the Apology is devoted to contrasting the true faith (Christian) with demonic imitations that are often confused with it.

  • Justin also contends for the “antiquity” of the Christian faith by asserting that both Moses and the best representatives of Greek philosophy pointed the way to Christ.

  • Much of the Apology is given over to showing how prophecy confirms the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection.

Christian worship as described in justin s first apology
Christian Worship as Described in Justin’s First Apology clearer…

  • The earliest firsthand account of the rites of Christian initiation (as he knew them in his day and context)

  • Provides the earliest detailed account of how the Eucharist was celebrated immediately after Baptism (as part of the rites of Initiation)

  • Provides the earliest detailed account of worship on the Lord’s Day

Other apologists
Other apologists clearer…

  • To Diognetus(anonymous) – early 2nd century

  • Aristides’ Apologia – ca. 138

  • Tatian (disciple of Justin) – An Address to the Greeks

  • Athenagoras – Plea for the Christians; On the Resurrection of the Dead (late 2nd century)

  • Theophilus of Antioch – Three Books to Autolycus

  • In the 3rd Century:

    • Origen, Tertullian, Minucius Felix

Arguments of the apologists
Arguments of the Apologists clearer…

  • The Charge of Atheism

    • Many of the best Greek poets and philosophers were “atheists”

  • Objections to the resurrection of the dead

    • Appeal to the omnipotence of God

  • Accusations of immorality

    • Manifestly false accusation

    • Much of what Christians are accused of doing the pagans actually do in their worship of the gods

  • Accusations of subversion

    • True, Christians do not worship the emperor, but they nonetheless are good and loyal subjects who pray for the emperor and obey his rule

Relationship between faith culture
Relationship between faith & culture clearer…

  • Worship of the “gods” and everything related to that worship is rejected

    • Including civil ceremonies, military service

  • Rejection of much of the classical literature (where gods played an important role)

Christians of two minds
Christians of “two minds” clearer…

  • While the religious aspects of paganism were rejected outright, Christians were nonetheless of “two minds” with regards to classical pagan culture (particularly philosophy)

    • Plato, Aristotle, Stoicism

  • Radical Opposition to classical culture versus Affirmation of classical culture

    • Tertullian

    • Justin Martyr

Tertullian clearer…

“What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? What does the Academy have to do with the Church?” (Prescription against Heretics 1:7)

  • Many of those who took this approach argued that the Greeks confiscated the learning of “barbarians”

Justin s doctrine of the logos
Justin’s doctrine of the Logos clearer…

  • Greek term for “word” and “reason”

  • The human mind can understand reality because it shares in the “Logos” or universal reason that undergirds all reality

  • The Fourth Gospel affirms that Jesus is the “Logos” in the Flesh – “the true light that enlightens everyone”

  • Justin was the proponent of “Christian philosophy”

Gnosticism clearer…

  • Derived from the Greek word gnosis (knowledge)

  • Not a well-defined group or position, but rather an ambiguous, amorphous movement (both inside and outside the church)

  • Dualism between matter (evil) and spirit (good)

  • Human beings are imprisoned spirits

  • Material world created by a fallen “eon” (e.g. Wisdom)

    • The world was an “abortion” of the spirit

  • Liberation (i.e. salvation) possible if an enlightened messenger comes to waken us up from our “dream”

  • The messenger brings secret knowledge (gnosis) that is necessary for salvation

Common features of christian gnosticism
Common features of Christian Gnosticism clearer…

  • Christ is the enlightened, spiritual messenger

  • Christ imparts secret knowledge to remind us of our heavenly origin so that we may return to our heavenly mansions

  • Body and matter are evil; some Gnostics rejected the incarnation (Docetism)

  • Distinction between earthly Jesus and heavenly Christ

  • Not all people have spirits; some completely carnal (fleshly)

  • Two divergent views concerning the body:

    • Must be subjected to the spirit – Ascetics

    • Can be indulged, since the spirit is good and cannot be destroyed – Libertines

The marcionite challenge

The clearer…Marcionite Challenge

Marcion mid 2 nd century ad
Marcion clearer… (mid-2nd century AD)

  • Father was a bishop; raised a Christian

  • Went to Rome in AD 144, gathered a following

  • Founded his own church when opposition grew to his teachings

  • The God of the OT (Jehovah) not the same as the Father of Jesus

    • Jehovah made the world (evil)

    • Hebrew Scriptures were inspired by Jehovah, an arbitrary god of justice

  • The Supreme God is a god of love and the Father of Jesus

    • Jesus was not “born” but appeared as a grown man

    • No judgment

  • Accepted only ten of Paul’s letters and revision of the Gospel of Luke; rejected all other NT books as Judaistic

Irenaeus on marcion
Irenaeus clearer… on Marcion

Marcion therefore himself, by dividing God into two, maintaining one to be good and the other judicial, does in fact, on both sides, put an end to deity. For he that is the judicial one, if he be not good, is not God, because he from whom goodness is absent is not God; and again, he who is good, if he be not judicial, suffers the same loss as the former, by being deprived of his character of deity. And how can they call the Father of all wise, if they do not assign him a judicial faculty? For if he is wise, he is also one who tests [others]; but the judicial power belongs to him who tests, and justice follows the judicial faculty, that it may reach a just conclusion; justice calls forth judgment, and judgment, when it is executed with justice, will pass on to wisdom. (Against Heresies, III.42.2)

Christian response to heresy
Christian Response to Heresy clearer…

  • Apostolic Canon – Which books are recognized as “Scripture”?

  • Apostolic Creed – What do Christians believe?

  • Apostolic Succession – Who has authority to determine matters of faith and practice?

Canon reed or rule
Canon (“reed” or “rule”) clearer…

  • Christians in the second century recognized as Scripture:

    • The Septuagint (LXX)

    • One of more of the Gospels, some of the epistles (particularly those of Paul)

    • No approved list of “New Testament” writings

  • Marcion was the first to attempt a systematic list of the “New Testament”

  • In response to Marcion’s challenge, a consensus on which books Christians recognized as Scripture gradually emerged

    • By end of 2nd century, the general consensus was: the four Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline epistles

Muratorian canon ad 200
Muratorian Canon (AD 200) clearer…

  • Four Gospels and Acts

  • 13 Epistles of Paul

  • James

  • 1, 2 John

  • Jude

  • Revelation of John

  • Revelation of Peter (?)

  • Shepherd of Hermas (only for devotional purposes)

Attested to by origen early 3 rd century
Attested to by Origen clearer…(early 3rd century)

  • Four Gospels and Acts

  • 13 Epistles of Paul

  • 1 Peter

  • 1 John

  • Revelation

  • Disputed: Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Shepherd, Barnabas, Didache, Gospel of the Hebrews

Attested to by eusebius early 4 th century

Books Received by All clearer…

4 Gospels / Acts

13 Pauline Epistles

1 Peter

1 John

Revelation (which he personally excluded)

Books Disputed, but Well-Known


2 Peter

2-3 John


Attested to by Eusebius (early 4th century)

Attested to by eusebius
Attested to by Eusebius clearer…

Books to be Excluded:

  • Shepherd of Hermas

  • Epistle of Barnabas

  • Didache

  • Gospel of the Hebrews

  • Revelation of Peter

  • Acts of Peter

Council of carthage ad 396
Council of Carthage (AD 396) clearer…

  • Four Gospels and Acts

  • 13 Pauline Epistles

  • Hebrews

  • James

  • 1-2 Peter

  • 1-3 John

  • Jude

  • Revelation

Apostolic creed
Apostolic Creed clearer…

  • What is now known as the “Apostles’ Creed” probably emerged in its basic form by AD 150 (in Rome)

    • A Baptismal Symbol (statement of faith)

    • Interrogatory form when used in Baptism

      • Do you believe in God the Father almighty? Etc.

    • Represented the “true” faith in opposition to Marcionism and Gnosticism

Early form of the creed
Early form of the Creed clearer…

  • Do you believe in God the Father almighty?

  • Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended unto heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead?

  • Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, and the resurrection of the flesh?

Apostolic succession
Apostolic Succession clearer…

  • Answered the question of who had the authority to decide matters of faith and practice

    • Gnostics claimed secret knowledge

    • Marcion claimed superior interpretive skills

    • The Church claimed an unbroken succession of faith from the apostles who passed on the guardianship of the gospels and the true teachings of Jesus to the Church through its leadership

  • Successors to the apostles were the bishops, who all agreed that the Gnostic claim to “secret knowledge” was false

  • The ancient churches (e.g. Rome, Antioch, Ephesus) were able to produce lists of bishops linking them to the apostolic past

  • Eventually, only “episcopal ordination” would be considered valid

Clement of rome 1 st century
Clement of Rome (1 clearer…st century)

Our Apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office. For this reason, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the officials mentioned earlier and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. Those, therefore, who were appointed by them or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well spoken of by all -- these men we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry. For it will be no small sin for us, if we depose from the bishop’s office those who have offered the gifts blamelessly and in holiness. Blessed are those presbyters who have gone on ahead, who took their departure at a mature and fruitful age, for they need no longer fear that someone might remove them from their established place. For we see that you have removed certain people, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the ministry which had been held in honor by them blamelessly. (To the Corinthians, 44)

The catholic church
The Catholic Church clearer…

  • Universal, “according to the whole”

  • Term first used by Ignatius (ca. 110-115)

    “Avoid divisions as the beginning of evils. All of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and follow the presbytery as the Apostles; and respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no man perform anything pertaining to the church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist over which the bishop presides, or one to whom he commits it. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as, wheresoever Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted either to baptize or hold a love-feast apart from the bishop. But whatever he may approve, that is well-pleasing to God, that everything which you do may be sound and valid.” (Ignatius, To theSmyrnaeans, VIII)

Early teachers the fathers

Early Teachers clearer…(The Fathers)

Irenaeus ca ad 130 202
Irenaeus clearer… (ca. AD 130-202)

  • Born in Asia Minor; disciple of Polycarp

  • Migrated to Lyon (modern-day France); became a presbyter

  • Elected bishop after a journey to Rome (during persecution)

  • Author: Demonstrations of Apostolic Faith, and the Refutation of the So-called Gnosis (aka Against Heresies)

  • Important themes: Incarnation, Divinization, Ransom theory of Atonement, Mary as “Second Eve”, Apostolic Succession, authority of the Church of Rome

  • Important witness to at least 21 of the 27 books of the New Testament (does not cite 3 John, Jude or Philemon; uncertain whether he cites Hebrews, James or 2 Peter)

Clement of alexandria ca ad 150 215
Clement of Alexandria (ca. AD 150-215) clearer…

  • Titus Flavius Clemens; probably born in Athens

  • Parents were pagans; converted (unknown circumstances)

  • Disciple of Pantaenus, a notable catechist of Alexandria

  • Eventually succeed Pantaenus as head of catechetical school

  • Left Alexandria in 202 during the persecution under Septimius Severus

  • Important themes: to show the reasonableness of Christian faith by making use of Plato and other philosophers; philosophy given to the Greeks, the Law to the Jews, both are reconciled in Christ; promoted an allegorical approach to Scripture

Tertullian of carthage ca ad 160 220
Tertullian of Carthage (ca. AD 160-220) clearer…

  • Quintus SeptimiusFlorensTertullianus

  • Born in Carthage, converted in Rome (about 40 years old)

  • Educated in law and/or rhetoric

  • Eventually left catholic Christianity for Montanism (he wrote Against Praxeas during this time)

  • Treatise Prescription Against the Heretics

  • Important themes: Not only are heretics wrong, they have no right to be heard in the church; Athens has nothing to do with Jerusalem; Scripture belongs to the Church; all things to be judged in light of the accepted body of Christian doctrine; coined the term “Trinity”

Origen ad 184 253
Origen (AD 184-253) clearer…

  • Origen Adamantius; native of Alexandria; son of Christian parents (father martyred during persecution)

  • Entrusted by the bishop to train catechumens

  • Clement’s greatest disciple and successor of his school of Christian philosophy

  • Eventually left Alexandria and settled in Caesarea

  • Martyred during the Decian persecution; died in Tyre

  • Author: The Hexpla, Against Celsus, On First Principles, and commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible

  • Attempted to relate the Christian faith to philosophy, particularly Neo-Platonism (Plotinus)

  • Very speculative – leading to the eventual condemnation of his writings

Social organization
Social Organization clearer…

  • The charges of their critics (e.g. Celsus) were not entirely unwarranted

  • Vast majority of Christians in the first three centuries belonged to the lower echelons of society

  • There were some who were of high rank, but the lower ranks outnumbered them by far

Early first century christian
Early First Century (Christian) clearer…

Agape (L.S.) [Synagogue] [Temple]

--Christians meeting in homes (1 Corinthians 16:19)

--Apostolic teaching and leadership, “breaking of bread,” “the prayers” (Acts 2:20)

-- “Charismatic” worship

-- “Jewish Christians” still observe Jewish traditions

--The Agape Meal

Late first century post ad 70
Late First Century (post AD 70) clearer…

Agape // Eucharist Synaxis

--Apostolically-appointed leadership emerges

--Agape and Eucharist begin to separate

--Development of a synaxis (service of word)

-- “Charismatic” worship restrained

--Didache (late 1st or early 2nd Century, probably Syrian)

Suggestive themes in the didache
Suggestive themes in the clearer…Didache

  • Blessing prayers over the elements of bread and wine, reminiscent of Jewish meal prayers

  • Eucharist and Agape meal still seem to be together

  • Requirement of baptism in order to take part in the Agape

  • Early reference to the observance of the “Lord’s Day”

  • Early reference to bishops and deacons

  • Suspicion of itinerant prophets

Late second century
Late second century clearer…

  • Distinct threefold ministry: bishops, presbyters, deacons

  • Agape ceases to be observed

  • Christian worship is Synaxis and Eucharist (Service of the Word, Service of the Sacrament)

  • Dura Europa “Church” – 3rd century

  • Baptism – delayed, after period of catechumenate

The development of the christian calendar
The Development of the Christian Calendar clearer…

  • At first, each Sunday was considered a “mini-Easter”

  • Wednesdays & Fridays were days of fasting (Didache)

  • In time Christians began to celebrate one Sunday in the year as the Day of Resurrection (Easter)

    • Problem was – couldn’t agree on the date (Jewish Passover? Sunday?)

  • Earliest feast associated with Jesus’ birth took place on January 6 (Epiphany), later displaced in the West by December 25 (Christmas)

Organization clearer…

  • New Testament: “bishop” “elder” “deacon”

  • By second century, “bishop” is used to designate a single leader or “president” of the Christian community, while “presbyter” designates a body of leaders who exercise authority with the bishop

  • Clearly, by the end of the second century, an all-male leadership has become the rule

    • “Deaconesses” mentioned in certain documents (Pliny)

Evangelism clearer…

  • Did not take place in “church services”

  • As Celsus charged, evangelism took place in kitchens, shops, and markets

  • A few famous teachers (Origen, Justin) would hold debates in their schools, winning a few converts from the intelligentsia

  • Most effective witness: martyrdom

  • Christianity spread mainly in the cities, penetrating the rural areas slowly and with much difficulty