Church History:  AD 30-99

 

What happened in this century?

  • The Age of the Apostles:  by the end of the First Century they were all gone but one.

  • New Testament books were written:  plus other books purported to be from or about apostles but weren't.

  • Christianity moves from being centered in Jerusalem to scattered from Spain to India to Ethiopia.

  • Only the Jews persecuted the Christians at the beginning, by the end this switched to the Romans.

  • Demographic of Christianity:  mainly Jews at the beginning, mainly Gentiles at the end.

  • The first Christian heresies appear:  Gnosticism and Docetism.

Contact Mark Nickens, Ph.D. in Church History, at drnickens@triad.rr.com.  Questions, comments, and observations are welcome.

 

2009-12 Mark Nickens

 

Go to Study Church History home page here.

AD 30      The First Century in Church History began in the year AD 30, the year Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

 

More info:  Why are the letters AD used to signify years?  Go here.

More info:  Read about three authors who lived in the first century and who mentioned Jesus.  Go here.

More info:  Were James and Jude half- or step-brothers of Jesus?  Go here.

More Info:  Why was Pilate in charge instead of one of Herod's sons?  Go here.

More info:  Why did Judas betray Jesus?  To see one theory, go here.

 

30       Right after the ascension of Jesus, Christianity consisted of approximately 1000 believers and was centered in Jerusalem.  Within a year, Christianity had increased to approximately 10,000 believers.  To find out how this number was developed, go here.

 

30-40s       During this time, Peter was the leader of the early Christian movement.

 

More info:  Peter's house may have been discovered.  Go here.

 

c. 30       The stoning of Stephen causes the Christians to scatter.  (The exact date is unknown.)

 

c. 32       Paul is converted.  (The exact date is unkown.)

 

40       The term "Christian" was first used in Antioch around this date. 

 

41       The Emperor Caligula announced that he would erect a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem.  He is assassinated before he can do so.

 

48-49       Paul's first missionary trip.  Paul began to teach that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised in order to become Christians.

 

49     Suetonius, a Roman historian, reported that "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [the Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome."  This may have been a reference to Christ.  Priscilla and Aquilla were a part of this expulsion, as described in Acts 18:2.  Find out more about Priscilla and Aquilla.  Go here.

 

The Big Picture:  Where did the Christians meet?

The first churches were not built for at least 200 years after Jesus, so during this time period Christians frequently meet in people's homes, called house churches.  II and III John are prime examples of letters written to house churches.  [In 303, the Emperor Diocletian decreed that all churches should be discovered.  This is the first evidence of buildings set aside for worship by Christians.]

 

50       Council of Jerusalem called to determine whether or not Paul's belief that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised in order to be Christian; decision is made that Paul is right, see Acts 15.

 

50        By this year, the Christians may have begun to worship on Sunday instead of the Jewish Sabbath which is Saturday.  To learn more, click here.

 

50-58       Paul's second and third missionary trips:  Christianity moves into present-day Turkey and Greece.  Paul writes most of his letters in this time period.

 

More info:  Some NT letters promote slavery, yet Christians believe it is wrong.  Click here to see the resolution. 

 

60-62       Paul is arrested and taken to Rome.  The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome.

 

mid-First Century       At some point in the First Century, Thomas probably went to India.  Read about the evidence which substantiates this claim here.  Also, today membership in Thomist Churches numbers in the several millions. 

 

64       Fire in Rome.  Starting on July 18, a fire swept through Rome and burned up to 70% of the city over a period of a week.  Some citizens accused the Emperor Nero of setting the fire.  Nero pointed at the small group of Christians as the culprits  (they were innocent).  Nero had so many Christians horribly tortured that some Romans began to feel sorry for them.  Go here to read from Tacitius' account.

 

The Big Picture:  Extent of Persecutions

While this was the first Roman persecution of Christians, it did not occur for religious purposes.  Since some people believed that Nero set the fire, he pointed at a group which would not fight back.  The first persecutions of Christians because of their faith did not occur until the 90s with Domitian.  The first systematic, widespread persecution of Christians does not occur until the mid-Third Century.

 

66       Jews revolt against Roman occupation and regain their kingdom.  Some evidence exists which suggests the Christians fled to Pella.

 

67       Perhaps in this year, Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome under Nero:  Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded.  Go here to read the account from the Acts of Peter and Paul.

 

More info:  What happened to the other Apostles?  Go here.

 

68       The Gospel of Mark is believed to have been written during the late 60s.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke may come from the same time period or perhaps as much as 10-15 years later.  The Gospel of John was probably written after that, as late as the decade of the 90s.  Therefore, Paul wrote his letters prior to the writing of the Gospels.

 

70       The Romans regained Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.

 

More info:  Read the history of Jerusalem.  Go here.

 

70-95       Knowledge of the spread and development of Christianity is scant during this time period.

 

81-96       Domitian was emperor.  He began the first persecution against Christians because of their faith.

 

More info:  What does the Christian fish symbol have to do with persecution?  Go here.

 

95       The Apostle John is on the island of Patmos because of the Domitian persecution.

 

95       Council of Jamnia.  The Council was a meeting of Jewish leaders and made several decisions which are referred to as the 18 Benedictions.  The Twelfth Benediction reads in part:  "And may the Nazarenes [Christians] and heretics perish quickly."  Therefore the Council drew a bright line between Christianity and Judaism.  Any Jew who became a Christian was unwelcome in the synagogues.

 

The Big Picture: Christianity becomes mainly Gentile

In the year 30, Christianity mainly consisted of Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  By the year 100, Christianity consisted mainly of Gentiles.  This was due to the travels of the Apostles (go here) which increasingly focused on Gentiles, and because the Jews increasingly forced Jewish Christians out of the synagogues (see the year 95).

 

96       Domitian died and John moved to Ephesus where he probably died around the year 100.  To read Eusebius' account of the reason John was able to leave the island of Patmos, go here.

 

96-98       Nerva was the Roman Emperor.  No evidence of Christian persecution.

 

98-117       Trajan was Roman Emperor.  Some persecution of Christians, but not widespread.

 

The Big Picture:  The First Four Eras of Church History

Early Christianity developed through four eras, which over lapped.  They are, in order:  the Age of the Apostles (Apostolic Age), the Apostolic Fathers, the Apologists, and the Teachers.  These groups of leaders reflect changes which occurred in the early church period.  Right after Jesus, the Apostles were tasked to carry the word of God to the ends of the (then-known) world.  The task of the next leaders, the Apostolic Fathers, was to provide leadership in making decisions about practical and even theological ideas.  The task of the next leaders, the Apologists, was to defend the faith.  The task of the last leaders, the teachers, was to develop more fully the theological ideas of Christianity.  In this last group we see the beginnings of the Councils.  Think of the four eras in this way.  Jesus had the vision, but the Apostles were the ones who spread His message and determined that it included the Gentiles (Paul).  Next the Apostolic Fathers determined how these new churches would be run.  By 100 years after Jesus, non-Christians had begun to attack the new faith of Christianity, and so a group of leaders developed who could combat the heresies.  After the early heresies had been defeated, the Christians could take the time to examine their own belief in more detail, thus the Teachers and the Councils. 

 

The Big Picture:  Who were the Apostolic Fathers?

The time period from Jesus to the late First Century is known as the Age of the Apostles.

The next era in Church History is known as the Apostolic Fathers.  These Christians were the next generation of leaders and helped solidify the new churches and church leadership.  Think of the Apostles as the founders of a corporation and the Apostolic Fathers as the CEOs who run the corporation.  The Apostolic Fathers produced works which helped determine how churches ran and even tackled some theological ideas.  The Apostolic Fathers are Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp, and Papias, and the writings of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, II Clement, and the Didache.  You can find many of these here:  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.toc.html.

To read a short description of each, go here.

 

late 90s       Clement, the bishop of Rome (one of the Apostolic Fathers), wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth:  it is known as I Clement.  To find out more about I Clement and to read an excerpt go here.

 

The Big Picture:  Books which did not make it into the New Testament

While Clement's letter to the Christians in Corinth, known as I Clement, was never considered a part of the New Testament, a number of other books were considered but were not included.  These books are known collectively as Apocrypha.  Early church leaders determined that these were not linked to the Apostles and so were not reliable. To read a number of these, go to www.ccel.org, click on "Church Fathers" on the left hand side, and then click on Volumes VIII and IX.  To help guide you, a list of Apocryphal books available on that website is listed here.

 

late First Century       Development of Christian Gnosticism and Docetism.

 

The Big Picture:  What's up with Gnosticism and Docetism?

Gnosticism predated Christianity and had many forms.  It did have two constant ideas:  (1) dualism, that physical-ness is evil while all things spiritual are good and (2) a hierarchy of gods, where the highest god can be thought of as the spiritually purest god (or the "good" god).  Different gods or spirits exist, with a "lower" or even evil god being responsible for creating physical-ness (think "earth").  Gnostics sought to communicate with this higher or good god in order to learn its wisdom.  Docetism is an offshoot of Gnosticism.  It taught that Jesus was a messenger sent from the highest god (or maybe a lower good god depending on the Gnostic system).  Therefore, Jesus came to teach wisdom from the highest god.  And, since Jesus was a messenger from a pure spiritual god, that meant that he was spiritual and not physical.  He appeared to be physical but was not; this state has been called a phantom.  These two were considered attacks on Christianity because they denied the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Basically, some people could not accept the idea that God had come to earth in physical form, and so they married the idea of Jesus with Gnosticism and came up with Docetism.  These heresies appeared in the First Century (as shown in I and II John), but will grow much stronger in the Second Century.

 

99       The only Apostle alive at the end of the First Century is John.  He most likely died in Ephesus early in the next century. 

Primary Sources

Persecution of Christians under Nero after the fire:  "Yet no human effort, no princely largess nor offerings to the gods could make that infamous rumor disappear that Nero had somehow ordered the fire.  Therefore, in order to abolish that rumor, Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians, who were infamous for their abominations. . . . Therefore, first those were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race.  And perishing they were additionally made into sports:  they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame and when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps.  Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle and performed a Circus game, in the habit of a charioteer mixing with the plebs or driving about the race-course.  Even though they were clearly guilty and merited being made the most recent example of the consequences of crimes, people began to pity these sufferers, because they were consumed not for the public good but on account of the fierceness of one man."  From Tacitus, The Annals, 44.2-44.5.  Go to timeline here.

Martyrdom of Peter and Paul:  "Paul was beheaded on the Ostesian road.  And Peter, having come to the cross, said:  Since my Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from the heaven upon the earth, was raised upon the cross upright, and he has deigned to call to heaven me, who am of the earth, my cross ought to be fixed head down most, so as to direct my feet towards heaven; for I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord.  Then having reversed the cross, they nailed his feet up."  From Acts of Peter and Paul.  Go to timeline here. 

 

Apocryphal books found at www.ccel.org:  The Protevangelium of James, The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, The History of Joseph the Carpenter, The Gospel of Thomas, The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Savior, The Gospel of Nicodemus, The Letter of Pontius Pilate, The Death of Pilate, The Narrative of Joseph, The Avenging of the Savior, Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Acts of Paul and Thecla, The Acts of Barnabas, The Acts of Philip, Acts and Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Andrew, Acts of Andrew and Matthias, Acts of Peter and Andrew, Acts and Martyrdom of St. Matthew the Apostle, Acts of the Holy Apostle Thomas, Consummation of Thomas the Apostle, Martyrdom of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Bartholomew, Acts of the Holy Apostle Thaddaeus, Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, Revelation of Moses, Revelation of Esdras, Revelation of Paul, Revelation of John, The Book of John Concerning the Falling Asleep of Mary, The Passing of Mary, The Gospel of Peter, and The Apocalypse of Peter.  Go to timeline here.

 

Eusebius quotes Tertullian concerning the end of persecutions after the death of Domitian, and the subsequent release of John from Patmos in his Church History 3:20:10:  But after Domitian had reigned fifteen years, and Nerve had succeeded to the empire, the Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that Domitian's honors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them.  It was at this time that the apostle John returned from his banishment in the island and took up his abode at Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition.  Go back to timeline here.

 

Bibliography

Bainton, Roland.  Early Christianity.  1984.  ISBN:  089874735X.

Cross, Frank L., ed.  The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.  Second Edition, 1993.  ISBN:  0192115456.