7: Early Christianities


The Galilee Boat
A recent archeological find
representing the extreme poverty
of the region Jesus came from.

Galilee, First Century

Key Terms

  • canon
  • gospel
  • Messiah
  • Eucharist

The Aeneid

For these Romans I set no limits, of world or time, but make the gift of empire without end.

Jupiter, the Aeneid

Profile of Early Christianity (as of the year 250 CE)

  • Adherents: less than 50,000 in an empire of 60,ooo,ooo (1/1200)
    • By comparison: there are 6,000,000 Jews in the empire (1/10)
  • Do They Proselytize? Yes.
  • Dogmatic? No.
  • Theistic? Yes.
  • Major populations: Jerusalem, Antioch, Byzantium, Alexandria, and Rome (map)


I. Christianity & the Romans

Augustus, Divi Fillius
Augustus, Son of  Divinity
c. 30 BCE

Galatians 3:28

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 Christ Jesus.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

  • A. The Aeneid
    • Written by the Roman poet Virgil
    • Details Rome’s origins and destiny
  • B. Hail, the Divine Caesar
    • Aeneid commissioned by Augustus Caesar
    • Augustus is heir to Julius Caesar who was deified in 42 BCE
    • Augustus began calling himself "Son of the Divine” to capitalize on
      Julius Caesar’s popularity
    • In Greek–speaking areas, Augustus is known
      by the Greek “Theou Huios” or “Son of God
    • Augustus Caesar takes control of Roman Empire in 31 BCE

  • C. Taxes & Fishermen in the Galilee

II. Christianity & the Greeks

  • A. Hanukah: Hey guys, we did this before!
    • Jesus celebrates Hanukah in the Gospel of John
    • The story of Hanukah
      • Greek soldiers desecrate the temple in 165 BCE
      • Judah Maccabee (Greek: Judah the Hammer) organizes a resistance
      • The rededication of the Temple is celebrated as Hanukah
    • Jews in Jesus’ time have an expectation that another Maccabean revolt would occur
    • Zealots, including one of Jesus’ disciples, want an armed revolt during Jesus’ time
    • The Knifemen (Latin: Sicarii) were even more extreme: assassinate Romans & Jews for Israel!
  • B. The Greek “Apocalypse” Genre
    • Cultural exchange due to invading Greeks
    • Greek theater and literary forms, including the Greek Apocalypse
    • Apocalyptic stories tell of the end of an era or “uncovering” of another
    • Apocalyptic literature occurs in the book of Daniel and Christians also write apocalypses

III. Christianity & the Jews


1st Generation Texts | the Christ–Community Letters of Paul

IV. 52-64 CE | The Apostle Paul & the God–Fearing Gentiles

  • A. The Ministry of Paul
  • B. The Exegesis of Paul
    • Letters are responding to questions about Christ Communities (ecclesia)
    • Critical methodologies have divided Pauline letters into three categories
      • “Authentic” Paul: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1+2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and Romans
      • “Falsely–Attributed” Paul: 1+2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews
      • “Disputed” Paul: Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians
    • Exegetical Conclusions about Pauline doctrine
  • C. Paul’s Jesus
    • No evidence of the word “Christian” during Paul or Jesus’ lifetimes
      • Jesus and Paul self–identify as Jews
      • Jesus is called a “Jew” and a “Rabbi” 
    • Paul does not include Jesus’ birth, childhood
    • Paul does not mention miracles, or bodily resurrection of Jesus (e.g. having a meal or talking on a beach)
    • Paul seeks to unite the various peoples of the world through their faithfulness in Jesus (Gal 3:28)
    • Calls Jesus the “Christ” and the “Son of God” and blames the Roman Empire for Jesus’ death
      • Noteably, Paul never blames any fellow Jew for taking part in the death of Jesus
      • Nor does Paul ever hint that the Jewish Temple (or any part of the Temple) will be destroyed
    • Paul claims Jesus will return within his own lifetime to create a new reality

2nd & 3rd Generation Texts | The Biographies of Jesus

V. 70+ CE | After the Destruction of the Jewish Temple

  • A. 70s CE: The Gospel of Mark
  • B. 80s CE: The Gospel of Matthew
  • C. 80s-100s CE: The History of the Christians (Luke-Acts)
  • D. 90s CE: A Greek Jesus: The Gospel of John
    • 90% unique material, the only non–synoptic gospel in the canon
    • Written comparatively late, for a Gentile audience
    • No ongoing relationship between "Christians" and “Jews”
      • Crucifixion blamed squarely on “the Jews” 
      • Jesus’ ancestry cut; references the Greek Logos instead
        • i.e. Jesus is the answer to a central question of Greek philosophy
      • Baptism and Last Supper cut (both rooted in Judaism)
      • Jewish parables cut; uses Greek metaphors instead
      • Exorcisms cut (Greeks don’t have those); uses Greek Seven Signs instead
      • Jesus is far more declarative about himself than in previous gospels (“I am…")
    • Demonization of the Jews
      • “The Jews” now collectively described and blamed
        • This phrase appears 6 times in Mark, fewer times in Matthew + Luke, but 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
    • Today, 1 in 4 Americans blame the death of Jesus on “the Jews 


VI. As of 300 CE

  • A. The Bible
    • In almost 300 years, no “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 just about no one had a copy of every single text

  • B. Christian Hierarchy
    • No pastors or priests
    • Bishops designate elders to host meetings (ecclesia) in homes
    • First generation Christians follow women, but this changes
    • Women cover their hair and most of their skin
    • Singing and a meal is shared
    • Communes (no private property; everything shared) are frequent among Christians

  • C. The Christian Calendar
    • Worship on the Sabbath (Saturday) for at least 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

  • D. Church Buildings & Tithing
    • No “church” buildings, and no scriptural mandate to build any
    • A “Church” always means a group of people
    • No tithing, no building upkeep, no paid clergy

  • E. Orthodoxy
    • No heresy because there is no worldwide leadership
    • Opinions at this time vary wildly over the trinity, Mother Mary, John the Baptist, grace,
      original sin, and the theological meaning of the crucifixion
    • Prevailing theological view of the crucifixion for Early Christians:
    • All Christians are pacifists. The idea of the “Christian Warrior” won’t be generally accepted for another 700 years
    • All bishops are equal in importance. However, this will change in the next 50 years as the bishop of Rome gains power...