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Brief summary of the early years of Christianity

Part 3 of 3 parts:

Paul, a main founder of Christianity (Cont'd).
The d
evelopment of three main Christian
movements in
the first centuries CE.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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St. Paul About Paul of Tarsus, a.k.a. St. Paul (Continued):

Paul of Tarsus' original name was Saul of Tarsus. He was an orthodox Jew who actively persecuted followers of The Way as Jewish heretics. The Bible records that he was present during the stoning of Stephen who is believed to have been the first martyr within the Jesus Movement, called "The Way." 

The Bible describes a vision that Saul had, circa 34 CE, of the risen Christ. At the time, Saul was on the road to Damascus where he had intended to arrest Jesus Movement followers and return them to Jerusalem. 1 His vision had a profound affect on him. He adopted a new name, Paul, and left the area for a few years -- apparently to develop a consistent theology that is often referred to as Pauline Christianity. He returned to Jerusalem, went on a number of missionary journeys, founded many churches and became, by far, the greatest theologian and missionary of the early Christian movement. He wrote a number of epistles -- letters to the churches that he had founded in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. Some of the epistles were incorporated into the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament.) They did not deal primarily with Jesus' life and message. He had already explained these topics to the groups at the time that he founded them. Rather, he dealt mainly with problems that had later arisen within these communities. Many other epistles in his name were written by his followers long after his death and also were accepted into the Scriptures as if they had been written by Paul. 2

Following a long house arrest, Paul was executed in Rome, probably about mid-68 CE, by the Roman Empire. 3

Paul's missionary journeys, and those of his followers, resulted in the establishment of many local churches throughout the Roman Empire that followed his teachings -- often referred to as Proto-Christianity. This version of Christianity abandoned many of the requirements of Judaism, like strict dietary laws, circumcision of male infants, etc. His churches flourished in spite of sporadic persecution by the Roman Empire.

During their ministries, both Yeshua and Paul taught that the end of the world was in their immediate future. They were both wrong. It didn't happen. However, many Christians ever since have been convinced that the end will come sometime within their own lifetime. So far, all of them have also been wrong.

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Development of early Christianity:

  • Jewish Christianity: Shortly after Yeshua's execution, circa 30 CE, followers of The Way had organized a reformed Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem under the leadership of Jesus' brother, James. 4 They believed that Yeshua was a fully human prophet selected by God to reform Judaism according to Jesus' teachings. This group called themselves followers of "The Way." They are now referred to as Jewish Christians. Since the group was formed by the direct followers of Yeshua, it might have held the most accurate representation of Yeshua's teachings.

A watershed event occurred about 40 CE in Caesarea, when a non-Jew, the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family joined "The Way." 5 Later, Greek members of a group in Antioch composed of both Gentile and Jewish members joined. 6

Most of the Jewish Christians, were concentrated in Jerusalem and were slaughtered and starved to death by the Roman Army during the latter's siege on the city in 70 CE. The rest were scattered. The movement died out during the 2nd century CE.

  • Gnostic Christianity, another independent branch of Christianity, was also formed. It combined elements taken from Asian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Syrian pagan religions, from astrology, from Judaism and from the teachings of Yeshua. By the second century CE, many very different Gnostic Christian sects had formed within the Roman Empire at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Some individual Gnostics worked within Jewish Christian and Pauline Christian groups, and greatly influenced the latter group's beliefs from within. Others formed separate communities. Still others were solitary practitioners. The movement was heavily persecuted, was almost wiped out, and went deeply underground. It has emerged in recent years and is growing rapidly.

  • Pauline Christianity, still another version of Christianity, promoted the beliefs of St. Paul among the Gentiles. 4 It flourished and eventually became the main, diverse, Christian movement as we know it today. During the first to early fourth centuries CE, its members were intermittently persecuted by the Roman Empire. This was mainly because many of them refused to perform their civic duty of offering sacrifices to Roman Pagan Gods and Goddesses. The movement grew in spite of -- perhaps because of -- the persecution.

During early 313 CE, Roman emperors Constantine 1 and Licinius issued their joint Edict of Milan which temporarily established religious toleration within the empire. 7 Christians of all varieties, and followers of other religions, were then permitted to worship any deity or pantheon of deities that they wanted to.

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The Pauline Christian Church issued their Festal Order in 367 CE which required that all Gospels other than the four canonical Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John be destroyed. 8 This was an attempt to stifle alternate understandings of the life of Yeshua of Nazareth. About 14 and a half centuries, perhaps inspired by this book burning, actors read the lines in Heinrich Heine's 1893 play "Almansor: A Tragedy"

"Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen."

In English, this means:

"Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings." 9

The Pauline Church, which eventually became the Roman Catholic Church eventually did burn tens of thousands of "witches" and other heretics between the mid 15th Century CE and the 1830's. Protestants also persecuted heretics, mainly by hanging.

The attainment of religious toleration did not last long in the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius I issued the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 CE which made Christianity the official state church of the Roman Empire. Members of other religions, including the original Pagan religion of the Roman Empire, were then persecuted. 10

Various Christian beliefs were held during the 4th century CE about the relationship between Yahweh, Yeshua and the Holy Spirit. This was finally resolved by votes at various church councils which established the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the belief of a single Godhead consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are viewed as three separate persons, all eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibeneficient, etc. who form a single, unified deity. Most Christians believe that Jesus co-existed with God the Father before the creation of the universe.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Described in Acts 9:2.

  2. book cover Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, "The First Paul: Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church's conservative icon," Harper One, (2009). Read reviews or order this book safely.
  3. "how did the Apostle Paul die?," The Bible Study Site, undated, at:
  4. Described in Galatians 2:9.
  5. Described in Acts 10.
  6. Described in Acts 11:19-24, and Galatians 2:11-14.
  7. "Edict of Milan," Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015, at:
  8. Larry A. Angus, "Gnostic Christians: A different way to be Christian," 2015, at:
  9. "Heinrich Heine," Wikiquote, as on 2015-OCT-28, at:
  10. "State church of the Roman Empire," Wikipedia, as on 2015-DEC-12, at:
  11. Noah Wiener, "The Origin of Christianity," Bible Archeology Society, 2015-APR-01, at:

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Copyright © 2005 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-DEC-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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