10: The Kingdom Movement


Profile of Early Christianities
(30-300 CE)

Ecce Homo
(Behold the Man)
Ciseri, 1871

  • Major populations (map)
    Jerusalem, Antioch, Byzantium, Alexandria, and Rome 
  • The first to call their traditions a “religion”
  • Adherents: >50,000 in an empire of 60,ooo,ooo (1/1200)
    • Cf. 6 million Jews in the Roman empire (1/10)

  • Do They Proselytize? Yes: the Great Commission
  • Dogmatic? No. Orthodoxy not established yet.
  • Theistic? Yes.

  • Totems: ichthys fish, lamb, dove
  • Taboos: Roman gods, violence or military service

Key Terms

  • Pharisees
  • Zealots
  • Sicarii
  • Messiah/Christ
  • Jesus of Nazareth
  • John the Baptist
  • Apostle Paul
  • Gentiles
  • Council of Jerusalem
  • Epistles
  • Synoptic Gospels
  • Kingdom of God
  • The Five Patriarchies



I. First Century Jews in a Roman Context

Jews & the Messianic Age

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4

John the Baptist

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming an immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were immersed by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Mark 1:5-6

II. First Generation: Jesus & the “Nazarenes”
ca. 30 - 50 CE

  • A. The Way of the Nazarenes
    • 30s CE: about 1,000 Jews identify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah
      • The first followers of Jesus are called Nazarenes
      • This Messianic project is called “the Way
      • The concept of “Christian” will come about 15 years after Jesus’ lifetime
    • The Nazarenes were an entirely Jewish sect
      • circumcised, kept kosher, studied Torah, and prayed in the Temple

  • B. The Historical Problem of Jesus
    • There are no written accounts of Jesus from his lifetime
    • Accounts of Jesus and the Nazarenes vary widely across Jewish and Roman texts

  • C. Historical Jesus (scholarly consensus)
    • Born in the destitute Galilee countryside, in Nazareth, to a Judahite named Mary
    • Raised in Jewish tradition: circumcised, studied Torah, atoned by sacrifice, etc.
    • Identifies as a Jew. Reads Hebrew. Speaks Aramaic & maybe Greek.
    • Seeks out the ministry of John the Baptist, a Levite Jew
      • John draws Hellenized Jews out to the desert, immerses them in the mikvah
      • John’s ministry is almost undone when he is assassinated by the Romans
    • Jesus is a traveling rabbi for three years, with Twelve Disciples — all Jews
      • Inner Circle: Peter (the Rock) & Andrew (first-called) | John (Jesus Beloved) & James (the Greater)
      • Living near Gadara, his teachings show an influence from the Greek philosophy Cynicism
      • Continues John the Baptist’s radical ministry: preaching an egalitarian “Kingdom of God”
      • Reputation as a Faith Healer: returning the banished and sick back into their towns
      • Executed by Pontius Pilate for inciting insurrection against Rome during the Passover Festival in Jerusalem

Citizens of the Kingdom of God

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in  Jesus the Messiah.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 3:28

III. Paul, the “Godfearers,” and the Generation after Jesus
ca. 50 - 64 CE

  • A. The teachings of Jesus spread to Gentiles (non–Jews)
  • B. Paul vs. Peter in Jerusalem
  • C. The Year 50: The Council of Jerusalem – the first ecumenical meeting of Christian leadership in history
    • James, the Just: Brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem Church (Nazarene sect)
    • Paul, the Apostle: Hellenized Jew teaching Gentiles they dont need Torah to follow Jesus (Apostolic Church)
    • Peter, the Rock: Part of Jesus inner circle (Nazarene). Hes devoutly Jewish but also open to Pauls message.
      • The outcome of this first Council: Gentile Christians must follow the Noahide Laws
        • BUT: Christians dont have to be Jewish – they can remain uncircumcised, eat pork, etc.

I have reached the decision that we should not trouble Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. Acts 15:19-20

  • D. Late 50s: Final Arrest & Execution
    • Years later, Paul returns to Jerusalem and is captured by Roman imperial agents
      • As a Roman citizen, Paul lives under house arrest in Rome where he continues to preach
        • Peter & Paul’s ministry in Rome becomes the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church
      • Nero Caesar (נרון קסר) has Paul, Peter, and James executed in 64 CE

IV. Late-Century Roman Christians
ca. 64 - 100

  • The Great Revolt (ie. the Jewish-Roman War)
    • Peter, Paul, and James are executed by Rome in 64
    • The Zealots of Israel fight the Roman occupation in 66
    • The Temple is plundered and destroyed in the year 70 (cf. the Arch of Titus in Rome)
      • The first (canonical) gospel of the life of Jesus is written: the Gospel of Mark

  • Roman Christianity
    • The Jerusalem Church, led by James the brother of Jesus, fades into history
      • Modern Christianity is almost entirely a product of Paul’s Apostolic ministry
    • Away from Jerusalem, Gentile Christians aren’t interested in connecting Jesus to Jews
      • Gentile (Roman) Christians want a Roman Jesus!
    • Gentile Christians write and select Biblical texts to suit a Roman worldview
      • After 70 CE, Biblical language shows a pro-Roman (and anti-Jewish) focus

Note: Before the 300s, the only “Bible” for Christians is the Hebrew Bible

I. Hebrew Bible for Christians

Paul: Roman leaders killed Jesus

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom,
secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Paul’s First Letter to Corinth 2:6-8

  • The Torah and the Prophets are canonized by Jesus’ time
    • Jesus quotes from all five books of the Torah
    • He discusses the importance of the Torah and the Prophets 
    • He also quotes heavily from the Psalms (from the Ketuvim)
  • As Greek speakers, most Christian quotations of the Hebrew Bible are from
    the Greek Septuagint Bible (translated in Alexandria, Egypt)
  • Going forward, the Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets, & Writings) will generally be used
    by Christians as a prologue to the messiahship of Jesus. Especially the Prophets.

II. The Letters of the Apostle Paul to the Christ Communities

ca. 52 - 64 CE

Scholarly dating of
the New Testament

  • The Exegesis of Paul’s letters/epistles
    • Letters are responding to questions about Christ Communities (ecclesia)
      • We don’t have any of the letters Paul’s responding to,
        and we don’t have all his letters
    • Authorship: Critical methodologies have divided Paul’s letters in 3 categories
      • Authentic Paul: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1+2 Corinthians,
        Philemon, Philippians,
        and Romans
      • False Paul: 1+2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews
      • Disputed Paul (controversial): Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians
    • Modern Scholarship: Exegetical Conclusions about Pauline doctrine
  • Paul’s Jesus
    • No birth or childhood narratives of Jesus
    • No mention of Jesus performing miracles
    • No mention of Hades (German: Hell)
    • No mention of a bodily resurrection of Jesus
      • (eg., having a meal or talking on a beach)
      • Though, to be clear, Paul claims to have a mystical encounter with Jesus
  • Paul on Jesus’ purpose
    • Paul seeks to unite all the tribes of the world through their faithfulness in Jesus
    • Calls Jesus the “Messiah” and the “Son of God
    • He speicifically blames the Roman Empire for Jesus’ death
      • Noteably, Paul never blames fellow Jews for helping in the death of Jesus
    • Never says the Temple will be destroyed — it happens 6 years after his execution
  • Timeline for Jesus’ return

III. After the Temple: the Synoptic Gospels of Jesus
ca. 70 - 110 CE

Jesus Feeds the Hungry

Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
And all ate and were filled.

Mark 6:39-42

The Kingdom of God

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:20-21, 24-25

How the Kingdom of God works

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each
as any had need.

Acts 4:32-35

  • The Synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew, and Luke are very similar
    • Gospel: (Old English: Good Spell/Word)
    • The first 3 Gospels see (optic) the same (syn) way
    • These 3 works tend to be more fluent (than John) in Jewish custom and ritual

  • A. 70s CE: The Gospel of Mark
  • B. 80s CE: The Gospel of Matthew
    • Authorship of Matthew
      • Written by Jewish author combining Mark (55%),
        the Q Gospel (25%), and new information (20%)
    • Matthew’s Jesus – the royal Jewish crown of the Kingdom of Heaven
      • Opens with birth narrative (Latin: nativity) describing a royal history
        • Jesus is born in Bethlehem, connecting him to King David
        • The angel Gabriel speaks to the father, Joseph (not Mary)
        • Gifts fit for a king are brought to Jesus
        • Kingly child flees to Egypt out of fear for safety
      • Social agenda still prominent, but now called the Kingdom of Heaven
        because its Jewish author considered the “Kingdom of God” blasphemous
      • He makes no “I am…” statements in Matthew
      • He explicitly warns others of Gehenna and Hades

  • C. 80s-100s CE: The History of the Christians (Luke-Acts)

IV. A Roman Jesus
ca. 90+ CE

John: Jesus is the Logos

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

John 1:1-4

John: Jesus hunted by “the Jews” 

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity
to kill him.

John 7:1

  • The Gospel of John
    • Authorship of John
      • 90% unique material, the only non–synoptic gospel in the canon
      • Written comparatively late, for a pro-Roman Gentile audience
    • Crucifixion blamed squarely on “the Jews”
    •  Johns Jesus – Hellenized Savior of the (Roman) World, hunted by Jews
    • Demonization of “the Jews”
      • Gentile Christians want a Roman-friendly Jesus; Jews are the scapegoat
      • Jews are now collectively described and blamed
        • The phrase “the Jews” appears...
          • Only 6 times in Mark. And fewer times in Matthew + Luke.
          • But “the Jews” shows up 67 times in John!
      • John’s Jews actively look for opportunities to kill Jesus
      • John’s Christians live in fear of the Jews
      • John’s Jews refuse to believe in Jesus
      • John’s Jesus says the Jews are “from your father, the Devil
      • Result: today, 1 in 4 Americans blame the death of Jesus on “the Jews

(30-325 CE)

The Five Patriarchies

  • Jewish Center of Culture (active until 130 CE)
    • Jerusalem 
      • The site of many of Jesus’ most famous episodes (eg. money changers, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion)
      • Year 50: The Council of Jerusalem
      • The seat of the Jerusalem Church — led by James the Just, the brother of Jesus
  • Greek Centers of Culture
    • Antioch: 1st place Christians are so named. First major Christian community after Jerusalem. Location of Matthew.
    • Alexandria: Home of the Septuagint Bible translation. Greek center of learning. Birthplace of Coptic Christianity.
  • Roman Centers of Culture
    • Rome: The seat of imperial Roman power at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Where Paul, Peter, and James were killed.
    • Constantinople: The seat of imperial Roman (Byzantine) power at the time of the New Testament canonization.

(30-300 CE)

  • Jewish Roots
    • Early Christians: celebrate the Sabbath (Saturday), Passover, attend synagogue, and wash in the Mikvah (Baptism)
    • Later Christians: celebrate the Lord’s Day (Sunday), Easter, attend Church meetings, eat pork, pray in Greek and Latin,
      and will end circumcision. By the year 100, Christians are outwardly indistinguishable from other Romans.

  • No Christian Bible
    • Over the next 300 years,  there is no such thing as a “Christian Bible”
    • Hundreds of stories in circulation; none more “official” than any other
    • Christian texts generally not read in a “harmony” as they are now,
      because no one had a copy of every Christian text

  • Christian Hierarchy
    • No pastors or priests
    • Bishops designate elders to host meetings in homes
    • First generation Christians follow women — but this changes as the movement becomes more Roman
    • Women cover their hair and most of their skin
    • Singing and a meal is shared
    • Communes (no private property; everything shared) are frequent among early Christians

  • The Christian Calendar
    • Worship on the Sabbath (Saturday) happens for the first generation of Christians
    • As of the year 300, no one had ever heard of “Christmas” 
    • Easter is the most important day of the year

  • No Church Buildings or Tithing
    • No “church” buildings. No one talks about “going to church”
    • “Church” always means a group of people
    • No tithing, no building upkeep, no paid clergy

  • No Orthodoxy
    • No heresy because there is no worldwide leadership. What’s Christian? What’s not Christian?
    • Opinions at this time vary wildly over the trinity, Mother Mary, John the Baptist, grace,
      original sin, and the theological meaning of the crucifixion

  • The (Early Christian) Meaning of the Crucifixion
  • No War
    • All Christians are pacifists (and suffer execution by Romans for this practice!)
    • The idea of the “Christian Warrior” (ie. the Knight) won’t be acceptable for many hundreds of years

  • No Pope over all Christians
    • All bishops are equal in importance
    • The Five Patriarchs more or less treat each other with equal dignity
    • However, this will change in the next 50 years as the bishop of Rome gains power...