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The History of Christianity. The Persecuted Church. © John Stevenson, 2008. Why don’t people like Christians?.

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the persecuted church

The History of


The Persecuted Church

© John Stevenson, 2008


Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent... The more we are hewn down by you, the more numerous do we become. The blood of Christians is seed. (Tertullian, Apology 50:13).

john 15 20

John 15:20

Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

2 timothy 3 10 12

2 Timothy 3:10-12

Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

jewish persecutions
Jewish Persecutions
  • Reasons for Jewish Persecution
    • Perceived charge of blasphemy
    • The stumbling block of the cross
    • Jealousy for popularity of the people
    • Gamaliel’s reasoned defense
  • Initially limited to Judea and the surrounding regions

And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (Acts 8:1b).

jewish persecutions9
Jewish Persecutions
  • Reasons for Jewish Persecution
    • Perceived charge of blasphemy
    • The stumbling block of the cross
    • Jealousy for popularity of the people
    • Gamaliel’s reasoned defense
  • Initially limited to Judea and the surrounding regions
  • Capital punishment was initially unauthorized by Rome
christianity versus rome a conflict of culture
Christianity versus RomeA Conflict of Culture
  • Roman schools taught pagan religion.
  • Roman cemeteries offered up prayers to false idols.
christianity versus rome a conflict of culture11
Christianity versus RomeA Conflict of Culture
  • Roman schools taught pagan religion.
  • Roman cemeteries offered up prayers to false idols.
  • Roman marketplaces sold food that had been offered to Roman gods.
  • The Roman military personnel were required to swear oaths to the emperor, worshiping him.
christianity versus rome a conflict of culture12
Christianity versus RomeA Conflict of Culture
  • Tertullian said that attendance at the Roman circus and theater was the equivalent to sacrificing to false gods.

Roman Religious Tolerance

Christianity’s Exclusive Claims







A Timeline of Church History












nero s persecutions
Nero’s Persecutions
  • Great Fire of Rome: 64 A.D.
  • Christians charged with atheism
  • Forms of torture
    • Crucifixion
    • Torn by animals
    • Burning
    • Dragged to death
nero s persecutions16
Nero’s Persecutions

“They were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed.”

― Tacitus

  • What is his attitude about Nero’s persecution of Christians?
  • What is his opinion about Christianity?
  • Why does he accuse Christians of “hatred of the human race?”
domitian s persecutions

Domitian’s Persecutions

Domitian, too, a man of Nero’s type in cruelty, tried his hand at persecution; but as he had something of the human in him, he soon put an end to what he had begun, even restoring again those whom he had banished (Tertullian, Apology 5).

trajan christianity

What does Trajan recommend to Pliny about how to handle Christians?

Trajan & Christianity
  • Became emperor 98 A.D.
  • Letters from Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus/Bithynia
governor pliny s report to trajan

Governor Pliny’s report to Trajan

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed.

governor pliny s report to trajan21

Governor Pliny’s report to Trajan

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged.

trajan s reply

Trajan’s Reply

“They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion”



  • Those bringing false witness against Christians were themselves to be punished
  • Built a temple to Jupiter in Jerusalem
  • Bar-Kochba Revolt

155 A.D.

  • Bishop of Smyrna
  • Arrested in home; invited soldiers to eat
  • Taken before Roman proconsul
  • Ordered to say, “Away with the atheists!”


155 A.D.

“Eighty-six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

felicitas perpetua
Felicitas & Perpetua

203 A.D.

  • Christian woman and her slave
  • Carthage
  • Refused to apostatize
  • Torn apart by animals
felicitas perpetua27
Felicitas & Perpetua

203 A.D.

What do the martyrdoms of Polycarp, Perpetua, & Felicitas tell us about the early church?

marcus aurelius
Marcus Aurelius


  • Stoic Philosopher
  • Instituted a spy system designed to locate evidence against suspected Christians
  • Justin Martyr put to death during this persecution


  • His predecessor, Philip the Arabian, was friendly toward Christianity
  • Decius wanted to return Rome to her pagan roots
  • When plague broke out, the Christians were blamed
  • All citizens of Rome required to offer incense with oath that “Caesar is Lord”


  • Rose from slavery to become emperor
  • Appointed three co-regents to rule alongside him
  • Initially tolerated all religious groups
  • In 303 he instituted a persecution against Christianity


  • Churches destroyed and properties confiscated
  • All copies of Bible ordered to be destroyed
  • Civil rights of Christians suspended
  • Christians in public office deposed
  • Food in marketplaces sprinkled with wine that had been sacrificed to idols


Edict of Toleration

1 50 100 150 200 250 300 350


Period of

Roman Persecutions

1 50 100 150 200 250 300 350









Justin Martyr




what were the results of the persecutions
What were theResults of the Persecutions?
  • The Church was Purified
  • The New Testament was Recognized
  • God was glorified