Christianity is the eligion allegedly founded by a Judaean mystic and rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth (in Hebrew, his name would have been Yeheshua ben Yosef Netzariot), approx. 30 e.v. and propagated throughout the Roman Empire by his disciples in the following century, especially by Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul). Jesus is known to his followers and worshippers as the Christ (Greek Christos), meaning the "Annointed One," parallel to the Hebrew title "Messiah." Christianity is currently one of the world's largest religions. Particularly in recent centuries, it has been subject to much inner division and sectarianism.
Christianity originated in the first century AD. According to Acts 11:19 and 11:26 in the Christian Bible, Jesus’ followers were first called Christians by non-Christians in the city of Antioch, where they had fled and settled after early persecutions in Judea. Paul (originally Saul) of Tarsus was a Hebrew priest who converted to Christianity as the result of a vision after Jesus' death, and became one of its most influential teachers and organizers.
Despite the efforts of Christian scholars, there is no historical record outside of the Christian scriptures themselves (written well after the putative death of Jesus) to corroborate the biographical testimony of the Gospels which describe his life and ministry. A passage in the Jewish Antiquities of Hellenic Jew Flavius Josephus describes "Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. ... And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him." (18.3.3:63) This passage has been alternately championed as an historical vindication of Christianity, and as a forged interpolation. A better explanation may be that Christian scribes in the Third of Fourth century removed a sentence that introduced the passage as the beliefs of the Christians circa 93 c.e., rather than an item of positive history.
According to Christian scriptures, Jesus Christ claimed to be the long awaited Jewish Messiah, but was rejected as an apostate by the Jewish authorities. He was condemned for blasphemy and executed by the Romans for being a rebel leader around 30 AD.
Jesus' apostles were those alleged to be the main witnesses of his life and teaching. Christian scriptures and traditions agree that there were twelve apostles, a number suggestive of the twelve Hebrew tribes and the twelve signs of the zodiac. After his execution, his apostles and other followers claimed that Jesus rose from the dead, and set out to preach the new message. Christians claim that the Gospel of John and some biblical epistles were written by these apostles.
Original Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus is supposed to have taught a doctrine of love, tolerance, and forgiveness. The essence of his doctrine is often thought to be contained in the "Beatitudes" of the "Sermon on the Mount," a lesson taught in the hillsides of Judea. (Matthew 5:1 - 7:29):
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Other passages of Christian scripture present a more aggressive picture of the teachings of Jesus, however:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes [shall be] they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-37)
The words of Jesus in the Gospels also provide a doctrine of eternal damnation for sinners. For example:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. ... Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: ... And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46)
History of Christianity
The Early Church
Christianity spread rapidly over the first three centuries AD aided by the relative internal peace and good roads of the Roman Empire:
- via Egypt into North Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia
- via Mesopotamia to Persia, Inner Asia and India
- via Greece and Rome to Europe
During this period of first organization the church had to deal mainly with occasional, but sometimes severe persecutions. The life of the martyr, who would rather die than renounce his faith, became the highest virtue. The canonical books of the New Testament were agreed, early translations appeared, and a church hierarchy emerged: the Bishops of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome assumed the title Patriarch.
The Roman Emperor Constantine Constantine I was converted in 312 and with his Edict of Milan (313) he made Christianity the favored religion of the Empire. Similar events took place in neighbouring Georgia and Armenia. But in Persia, which was at constant war with Rome, the Christians struggled under the oppresive Sassanids, which tried to revive the Zoroastrian religion.
In the Persian empire, at the synod of Seleucia in 410 the bishop of Seleucia was pronounced Catholic and replaced the Patriarch of Antioch as the highest authority of the Assyrian Church of the East. Soon after, during the Nestorian Schism, this church broke all ties with the west. It would be the dominant church of Asia for more than a millennium, with bishopries as far away as India, Java and China.
Fragmentation among Christians
The Great Schism of 1054 split the Church into Western and Eastern branches: the Western branch gradually consolidated into the Roman Catholic Church under the central authority of Rome, while the Eastern branch became known as the Orthodox Church with the Patriarch of Constantinople as the most honored bishop among its autocephalous churches.
In the European Reformation of the 1500s, Protestants and numerous similar churches arose in objection to perceived abuses of growing Papal authority and to perceived doctrinal error and novelty in Rome. Led by Martin Luther, a German monk, the Reformation ultimately raised five key questions in the Reformation controversy are summed up in five famous 'solas': Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone - does the church's authority derive solely from correctly intrepreting the Scriptures, or does it have a separate authority?), Sola Fide (Faith alone - is a man saved through faith in Christ alone, or do the Church, good works and the sacraments contribute?), Sola Gratia (Grace alone - is a man's salvation purely and exclusively due to God's unmerited grace, or do individual works make a contribution?), Solus Christus (Christ alone - is Jesus Christ the only mediator between man and God, or does the Church and its priests play a part?) and Soli Deo Gloria (To the glory of God alone - does 100% of the glory for man's salvation belong to God, or are the Church and its priests eligible for a part?).
The Reformation sparked a vigorous struggle for the hearts and minds of Europeans. Disputes between Catholics and Protestants sparked bloody persecution and were caught up in various wars, both civil and foreign, whose repercussions still plague the world.
Current Christian Doctrine
Christianity is seen as the fulfilment and successor of Judasim and carried forward much of the doctrine and many of the practices from the Hebrew faith, including monotheism, the belief in a Messiah (or Christ from the Greek Χριστός Christós, which means "anointed one"), certain forms of worship (such as prayer, and reading from religious texts), a priesthood (although most Protestants assert the Universal Priesthood of All Believers), and the idea that worship on Earth is modelled on worship in Heaven.
The central belief of Christianity is that by faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, individuals are saved from death - both spiritual and physical - by redemption from their sins (i.e. faults, misdeeds, disobedience, rebellion against God). Through God's grace, by faith, repentance, and obedience, men and women are reconciled to God through forgiveness and by sanctification or theosis to return to their place with God in Heaven.
Crucial beliefs in Christian teaching are Jesus' incarnation, atonement, crucifixion, death and resurrection to redeem humankind from sin and death; the belief that the New Testament is a part of the Bible; and supersessionism. Supersessionism is the belief that the Jews' chosenness found its ultimate fulfillment through the message of Jesus: Jews who remain non-Christian are no longer considered to be chosen, since they reject Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, even so this position has been softened by some churches where Jews are recognized to have a special status due to their covenant with God and this continues to be an area of on-going dispute.
The emphasis on God giving his son, or the Son (who is God) coming down to earth for the sake of humanity, is an essential difference between Christianity and most other religions, where the emphasis is instead placed solely on humans working for salvation.
- The New Testament. Multiple authors, many uncertain. King James version.
- Wikipedia (2004). Christianity. Retrieved Sept. 25, 2004.
- This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.