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Christianity in the 1st century

Christianity-related events during the 1st century

Top 10 Christianity in the 1st century related articles

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, by Ford Madox Brown (1852–1856)

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) and is thus also known 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.[1]

Paul the Apostle, a Jew who had persecuted the early Christians, converted c. 33–36[2][3][4] 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.[5] 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.[6] According to Acts 11:26, 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.[7]

Christianity in the 1st century Intro articles: 18


Early Jewish Christians referred to themselves as "The Way" (ἡ ὁδός), probably coming from Isaiah 40:3, "prepare the way of the Lord."[web 1][web 2][8][9][note 1] Other Jews also called them "the Nazarenes,"[8] while another Jewish-Christian sect called themselves "Ebionites" (lit. "the poor"). 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.[15] The earliest recorded use of the term "Christianity" (Greek: Χριστιανισμός) was by Ignatius of Antioch, in around 100 AD.[16]

Christianity in the 1st century Etymology articles: 8


Jewish–Hellenistic background

Christianity "emerged as a sect of Judaism in Roman Palestine"[17] in the syncretistic Hellenistic world of the first century AD, which was dominated by Roman law and Greek culture.[18] Hellenistic culture had a profound impact on the customs and practices of Jews everywhere. 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.

During the early first century AD 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. Philosophical schools included Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots, but also other less influential sects, including the Essenes.[web 3][web 4] The first century BC and first century AD 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 3][web 4]

A central concern in 1st century Judaism was the covenant with God, and the status of the Jews as the chosen people of God.[19] Many Jews believed that this covenant would be renewed with the coming of the Messiah. Jews believed 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."[20]

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 5][web 6][web 7] The Messiah is often referred to as "King Messiah" (Hebrew: מלך משיח‎, romanizedmelekh mashiach) or malka meshiḥa in Aramaic.[web 8]

Life and ministry of Jesus


Christian sources, such as the four canonical gospels, the Pauline epistles, and the New Testament apocrypha[web 9], include detailed stories about Jesus, but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus.[21] The only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.[22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29] 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 9] They consist of short passages, pericopes, which the Gospel-authors arranged in various ways as suited their aims.[web 9]

Non-Christian sources that are used to study and establish the historicity of Jesus include Jewish sources such as Josephus, and Roman sources such as Tacitus. These sources are compared to Christian sources such as the Pauline Epistles and the Synoptic Gospels. These sources are usually independent of each other (e.g. Jewish sources do not draw upon Roman sources), and similarities and differences between them are used in the authentication process.[30][31]

Historical person

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.[32] 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.[33]

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.[34][35] His remaining disciples later believed that he was resurrected.[36][37]

Academic scholars have constructed a variety of portraits and profiles for Jesus.[38][39][40] Contemporary scholarship places Jesus firmly in the Jewish tradition,[41] and the most prominent understanding of Jesus is as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet or eschatological teacher.[42][note 2] Other portraits are the charismatic healer,[note 3] the Cynic philosopher, the Jewish Messiah, and the prophet of social change.[38][39][note 4]

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. [47][note 5] The Gospel of Luke (Luke 3:23) states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry.[60][61] 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.[60][61][62]

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jewish eschatology stands central.[web 9] After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus teaches extensively for a year, or maybe just a few months,[web 9][note 6] about the coming Kingdom of God (or, in Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven), in aphorisms and parables, using similes and figures of speech.[63][web 9] In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself is the main subject.[web 9]

The Synoptics present different views on the Kingdom of God.[web 9] While the Kingdom is essentially described as eschatological (relating to the end of the world), 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 9][note 7]. 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 9] According to Davies, the Sermon on the Mount presents Jesus as the new Moses who brings a New Law (a reference to the Law of Moses, the Messianic Torah.[66]

Death and reported resurrection

The Crucifixion, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, c. 1745–1750, Saint Louis Art Museum

Jesus' life was ended by his execution by crucifixion. His early followers believed that three days after his death, Jesus rose bodily from the dead.[67][68][69][70][71] Paul's letters and the Gospels contain reports of a number of post-resurrection appearances.[72][73][74][75][76] Progressively, Jewish scriptures were reexamined in light of Jesus's teachings to explain the crucifixion and visionary post-mortem experiences of Jesus,[1][77][78] and the resurrection of Jesus "signalled for earliest believers that the days of eschatological fulfilment were at hand."[web 10] Some New Testament accounts were understood not as mere visionary experiences, but rather as real appearances in which those present are told to touch and see.[79]

The resurrection of Jesus gave the impetus in certain Christian sects to the exaltation of Jesus to the status of divine Son and Lord of God's Kingdom[80][web 10] and the resumption of their missionary activity.[81][82] His followers expected Jesus to return within a generation[83] and begin the Kingdom of God.[web 9]

Christianity in the 1st century Origins articles: 130

Apostolic Age

The Cenacle on Mount Zion, claimed to be the location of the Last Supper and Pentecost. Bargil Pixner[84] claims the original Church of the Apostles is located under the current structure.

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.[85] According to the Acts of the Apostles (the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles is disputed), the Jerusalem church began at Pentecost with some 120 believers,[86] 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.[87][88]

The New Testament writings depict what orthodox Christian churches call the Great Commission, an event where they describe the resurrected Jesus Christ instructing 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 (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.

Paul's conversion on the Road to Damascus is first recorded in Acts 9 (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.[89]

Christianity in the 1st century Apostolic Age articles: 20

Jewish Christianity

After the death of Jesus, Christianity first emerged as a sect of Judaism as practiced in the Roman province of Judea.[17] The first Christians were all Jews, who constituted a Second Temple Jewish sect with an apocalyptic eschatology. Among other schools of thought, some Jews regarded Jesus as Lord and resurrected messiah, and the eternally existing Son of God,[90][91][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,[93] 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]

The Jerusalem ekklēsia

James the Just, whose judgment was adopted in the apostolic decree of Acts 15:19–29

With the start of their missionary activity, early Jewish Christians also started to attract proselytes, Gentiles who were fully or partly converted to Judaism.[94][note 11]

The New Testament's Acts of the Apostles (the historical accuracy of which is questioned) and Epistle to the Galatians record that an early Jewish Christian community[note 12] centered on Jerusalem, and that its leaders reportedly included Peter, James, the brother of Jesus, and John the Apostle.[95] The Jerusalem community "held a central place among all the churches," as witnessed by Paul's writings.[96] Reportedly legitimised by Jesus' appearance, Peter was the first leader of the Jerusalem ekklēsia.[97][98] Peter was soon eclipsed in this leadership by James the Just, "the Brother of the Lord,"[99][100] which may explain why the early texts contain scant information about Peter.[100] 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.[100] According to Dunn, this was not an "usurpation of power," but a consequence of Peter's involvement in missionary activities.[101] The relatives of Jesus were generally accorded a special position within this community,[102] also contributing to the ascendancy of James the Just in Jerusalem.[102]

According to a tradition recorded by Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis, the Jerusalem church fled to Pella at the outbreak of the First Jewish–Roman War (AD 66–73).[103]

The Jerusalem community consisted of "Hebrews," Jews speaking both Aramaic and Greek, and "Hellenists," Jews speaking only Greek, possibly diaspora Jews who had resettled in Jerusalem.[104] According to Dunn, Paul's initial persecution of Christians probably was directed against these Greek-speaking "Hellenists" due to their anti-Temple attitude.[105] Within the early Jewish Christian community, this also set them apart from the "Hebrews" and their Tabernacle observance.[105]

Beliefs and practices

Creeds and salvation

The sources for the beliefs of the apostolic community include oral traditions (which included sayings attributed to Jesus, parables and teachings),[106][107] the Gospels, the New Testament epistles and possibly lost texts such as the Q source[108][109][110] and the writings of Papias.

The texts contain the earliest Christian creeds[111] expressing belief in the resurrected Jesus, such as 1 Corinthians 15:3–41:[112]

[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.[113]

The creed has been dated by some scholars as originating within the Jerusalem apostolic community no later than the 40s,[114][115] and by some to less than a decade after Jesus' death,[116][117] while others date it to about 56.[118] Other early creeds include 1 John 4 (1 John 4:2), 2 Timothy 2 (2 Timothy 2:8)[119] Romans 1 (Romans 1:3–4)[120] and 1 Timothy 3 (1 Timothy 3:16).

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,[121] but almost immediately also in Greek.[122]


Two fundamentally different Christologies developed in the early Church, namely a "low" or adoptionist Christology, and a "high" or "incarnation Christology."[123] The chronology of the development of these early Christologies is a matter of debate within contemporary scholarship.[124][71][125][web 12]

The "low Christology" or "adoptionist Christology" is the belief "that God exalted Jesus to be his Son by raising him from the dead,"[126] thereby raising him to "divine status."[web 13] According to the "evolutionary model"[127] c.q. "evolutionary theories,"[128] the Christological understanding of Christ developed over time,[18][129][130] as witnessed in the Gospels,[71] with the earliest Christians believing that Jesus was a human who was exalted, c.q. adopted as God's Son,[131][132] when he was resurrected.[130][133] 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.[130] This evolutionary model was very influential, and the "low Christology" has long been regarded as the oldest Christology.[134][135][web 13][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 13][136] 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.[137] The Pauline letters, which are the earliest Christian writings, already show "a well-developed pattern of Christian devotion [...] already conventionalized and apparently uncontroversial."[138]

Some Christians began to worship Jesus as a Lord.[139]

Eschatological expectations

Ehrman and other scholars believe that Jesus' early followers expected the immediate installment of the Kingdom of God, but that as time went on without this occurring, it led to a change in beliefs.[1][web 15] In time, 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, heralding the expected endtime.[1][web 15] When the Kingdom of God did not arrive, Christians' beliefs gradually changed into the expectation of an immediate reward in heaven after death, rather than to a future divine kingdom on Earth,[140] despite the churches' continuing to use the major creeds' statements of belief in a coming resurrection day and world to come.


The Book of Acts reports that the early followers continued daily Temple attendance and traditional Jewish home prayer, Jewish liturgical, a set of scriptural readings adapted from synagogue practice, use of sacred music in hymns and prayer. Other passages in the New Testament gospels reflect a similar observance of traditional Jewish piety such as baptism,[141] fasting, reverence for the Torah, observance of Jewish holy days.[142][143]


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

Early Christian rituals included communal meals.[144][145] The Eucharist was often a part of the Lovefeast, but between the latter part of the 1st century AD and 250 AD the two became separate rituals.[146][147][148] Thus, in modern times the Lovefeast refers to a Christian ritual meal distinct from the Lord's Supper.[149]


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.[150] Most early Christians did not own a copy of the works (some of which were still being written) 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.[151]

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.[152]

Christianity in the 1st century Jewish Christianity articles: 62