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Early Christianity

Early Christianity

Doctrines The early Christian church was confronted with the challenge of explaining the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first written interpretation of the Christ event is found in the letters of the Apostle Paul which were composed during the middle of the 1st century for the churches which he founded. As a Pharisee Paul sought to present Christ's ministry as continuous with Jewish religious traditions. This he did through depicting Christ as the new Adam who brought salvation into the world as opposed to the old Adam who brought sin into the world.
For Paul, Christ's death atoned for the sins of all humanity and his resurrection enabled believers to acquire a new life free of sin, appropriated through faith and repentance. Paul defended his theology through the example of Abraham, the fatherof the Jewish nation, whose faith was equated with righteousness. The equation of faith with righteousness meant that adherence to the Jewish law was not sufficient for salvation. Instead the law served to make people aware of sin before Christ came.

History Jesus was born in Behlehem in about 5 BCE and raised in Nazareth in Galilee. His ministry began at about the age of thirty when he was baptised in the river Jordan. After gathering a group of twelve disciples he travelled through Galilee proclaiming the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. His acceptance of those who were socially and religiously outcast, his denunciation of the dry legalism that permeated contemporary religious life, and his attacks on the temple earned him the hostility of the Jewish religious authorities. Accused of blasphemy and inciting sedition, Jesus was tried and put to death by crucifixion.
Fearing for their own lives, Jesus' disciples fled to their homes, but soon were reunited in Jerusalem convinced that God had risen Jesus from the dead. Emboldened by the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the disciples publicly professed their belief in the inauguration of the new age promised by Jesus. Persecution forced many in the movement to flee Jerusalem for Antioch in Syria where the term "Christian" (derived from the Greek word christos meaning "messiah") was used for the first time. This designation, combined with Paul's prescription that the faith be available to non-Jews as well as Jews, reflected the beginnings of Christianity's withdrawal from its Jewish roots.
Such change was also apparent in the emergence of distinctive Christian writings. During its early years the Christian movement had relied solely on the Hebrew scriptures interpreted by the apostles and their successors. But at the end of the apostolic age the church began to use distinctively Christian writings, such as the letters of Paul, which came to acquire the same authority as the Hebrew scriptures. By the end of the 2nd century a recognised corpus of Christian writings had developed. These consisted of four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John); the Acts of the Apostles; the thirteen letters attributed to Paul; seven further letters; and the Book of Revelation.

Symbols The New Testament is full of symbolic images, many of which were used in the writings of early Christian apologists. One of the best known comes from the Gospel of John in which Jesus describes himself as a vine and his followers as the branches. The church has understood this passage to mean that Jesus is identifying himself as the true Israel and the Christians as the community which grows from Jesus.
The catacombs of Rome contain the earliest surviving Christian art, which dates to middle of the third century. Common images are of boats and fishes. The boat image played an important role in both the Old and New Testaments: Moses was adopted by an Egyptian princess who discovered him floating in the Nile in a boat-crib, Noah and his family were saved from the deluge by building an ark, and Jesus preached from a boat in lake Galilee. Very early on the boat became a symbol of the church bearing the faithful to salvation.
The fish was also a common theme of both Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains the story of Jonah who was swallowed by a whale, a story that Jesus used as an image of his own death and resurrection. Some of Jesus' followers were fishermen, fish was consumed by the crowds following Jesus, and after his resurrection Jesus gave his disciples fish and bread to eat. The church soon discovered that the letters of the Greek word for fish - I Ch Th U S - Provided the initials of Jesus Christ son of God Saviour. Consequently, the fish became a powerful symbol of Christ's presence in the church.
As a result of persecution the church frequently had to disguise its portrayal of Christ. One way in which this was done was through the chi-rho monogram; that is, the union of the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. Another image was to disguise the cross in the form of another image such as an anchor, an axe or a plough.

Adherents Christianity remained a minority religion within the Roman empire until Theodosius made it the official religion of the empire in 380.

Main Centre
 The sacred city for Christians is Jerusalem, but the most important centre for the early church was Rome.