Brief summary of Christianity
The main founders of the "Jesus
movements" -- a.k.a. primitive Christianity
There are currently on the order of 30,000 Christian faith groups in the world. Many regard themseves as being the only true descendents from "The Way" as the early Christian movement was originally called. Unfortunately, many present-day denominations have wildly differing understandings of the early history of Christianity. Three examples are:
- The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Jesus ordained his twelve disciples who became the first bishops. Peter was the first pope. The bishops then ordained priests, some of whom were consecreated as other bishops. This has continued to the present day in an unbroken "Apostolic Succession." They regard their pope as being infallible under certain conditions.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- popularly called the Mormons, or the LDS Church -- and about 100 other religious denominations -- trace their spiritual ancestry back to the founding of the Church of Christ by Joseph Smith in 1830. They teach that the Christian Church went astray from Jesus' teachings after the last apostle died. "Over time doctrines were corrupted and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances." 5 These denominations believe that God worked through Joseph Smith to restore Jesus' original church.
- Many religious historians believe that it was never Jesus' intention to found a new church. Rather, he considered his message as being for Jews only and regarded his mission as promoting the teachings of the 1st century BCE Jewish philosopher Hillel the Elder.
In the following essay, we will rely on the conclusions of religious historians rather than the teachings of any specific modern-day faith group.
Yeshua of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and James the Just were the central figures in
the early years of the "Jesus Movement." This was before the followers
of Jesus were called Christians. They still considered themselves to be Jews, and
often referred to themselves as followers of "The Way."
| Yeshua of Nazareth,
is commonly referred to as Jesus Christ. "Jesus" is the Greek form of his
actual name "Yeshua."
"Christ" is Greek for "Messiah" or the "anointed one."
Thus, Jesus Christ is not Yeshua's actual name; it is a combination of a
translation of his first name and a statement of his role.|
Yeshua was born
sometime in the
fall, probably between 7 and 4 BCE. Modern-day
Christians are divided about the location of his birth. Contenders are Bethlehem in Judea,
Bethlehem in the Galilee, and Nazareth in the Galilee. One of the latter two is more probable because Bethlehem in Judea was uninhabited during the first centuries BCE and CE.
Christians believe that he was born of a virgin.
Little is known about his childhood or his early adult life. As he approached
the age of 30, he joined an apocalyptic group obsessed with what they believed
was the imminent end of the world. The group was headed by John the
Baptist, a cousin of Yeshua. After John's execution, Yeshua struck out on his own. He assembled about a half
dozen very close followers -- about half men and half women -- along with over
prominent students. According to the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke)
his ministry was in the Galilee and lasted a year. According to the Gospel of
John, it lasted three or four years and was in Judea.
Yeshua was an Orthodox Jew, and a follower of Hillel the Elder -- the founder
of the more liberal of
the two schools of Jewish philosophy that were active at the time. Yeshua did deviate from his teacher's beliefs in one area: he favored more restrictions on divorce.
After having committed aggravated assault in the Jerusalem
temple close to the time of Passover, he was arrested by the Roman Army, tried, and
sentenced to death as an
insurrectionist. He was executed in Jerusalem by the
Roman occupying authorities, perhaps on a Friday in the
spring of the year 30 CE (possibly 0030-APR-7).
Christians do not observe the precise anniversary of his death, Instead, they observe
Easter each year, sometime between March 22
and April 25th, depending on the nominal date of the
Spring Equinox, and the phases of the moon.
The Bible records that he was bodily resurrected
about a day and a half after his death, probably sometime during Saturday or very early
Sunday morning. The Bible describes his ascension into
the clouds towards Heaven either one day after his resurrection or some 40
days later (biblical references differ). At the time, Jews believed in a three-layer universe with Heaven located above a dome -- called the firmament -- that was
suspended over a flat Earth. They believed that Hades was located below the Earth. So to get to
Heaven in this design of the cosmos, Yeshua would have had to ascend vertically through the air.
During their ministries, both Yeshua and Paul taught that the
end of the world was in their immediate future. It
didn't happen, but many Christians ever since have been convinced that the end
will come sometime in their lifetime.
Shortly after Yeshua's execution, many followers of The Way
organized a reformed Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem under the leadership of Jesus' brother James. They believed that Yeshua was a human prophet adopted by God to reform Judaism. This group, often called Jewish Christians, followed the Mosaic Law, including the dietary restrictions. They observed Jewish holy days, circumcised their male infants, and sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple. The Jewish Christians were mostly killed by the Roman Army after the latter's attack on Jerusalem. The rest were scattered.
Paul of Tarsus: He was originally named
Saul and was an orthodox Jew who persecuted followers of The Way.
The Bible records that he was present during the stoning of Stephen, believed
to be the first martyr of the Jesus Movement. The Bible describes a vision that Saul had of the risen Christ, circa 34 CE.
At the time, Saul he was on the road to Damascus where he had intended to arrest
Jesus Movement followers and return them to Jerusalem. His vision had a profound affect on him. He a new name, Paul, left the area for a few years -- apparently to develop a consistent theology that is often referred to as Pauline Christianity, returned to Jerusalem, went on a number of missionary journeys, founded many churches and became the
greatest theologian and missionary of the early Christian movement.
Paul wrote a series of letters -- generally referred to as epistles -- to
early followers of Jesus in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. His epistles did not
primarily deal with Jesus' life and message; he had already explained these
topics when he founded the groups. Rather, he mainly dealt with problems that
had later arisen within these communities.
Paul was executed in Rome, probably during the 60's, again by the Roman Empire.
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. Paul's version of Christianity abandoned many of the requirements of Judaism, like strict dietary laws, circumcision, etc. His churches flourished.
Christians in the 4th century CE
were divided concerning 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. Most Christian faith groups ever since view the Trinity as consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
These are viewed as three separate persons, all
eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibeneficient, etc. who form a
single, unified deity. Most Christians believe that Jesus co-existed with God
before the creation of the universe.
||James the Just: He is a.k.a. James of Jerusalem, James Adelphotheos,
James the Brother of God, and James the Brother of the Lord. Various Christian
denominations consider him to have been the full brother, step-brother, cousin, or friend of Yeshua of
Nazareth. Paul mentions in Galatians that James, Cephas (a.k.a. Peter) and
John were the three pillars of the Jerusalem "church." 3 According to Wikipedia:|
"Tradition, supported by inferences in Scripture, holds that James led the
"In describing James' ascetic lifestyle, Jerome, De Viris Illustribus,
quotes Hegesippus' account of James from the fifth book of Hegesippus' lost
'After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was
made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one
was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate
no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone
had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not
use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in
behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired
the hardness of camels' knees.'
"Since it was unlawful for any but the high priest of the temple to enter
the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur, Jerome's quotation from
Hegesippus indicates that James was considered a high priest. The
Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions [also] suggest this."
The Jewish historian Josephus records that the
High Priest Ananus ben Ananus assembled a Sanhedrin -- a Jewish high court --
and arranged to have James stoned to death in the year 62 CE. 4
- Mentioned in Acts 9:2.
- Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, "The First Paul:
Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church's conservative icon," Harper
Read reviews or order this book safely.
- Galatians 2:9.
- "James the Just," Wikipedia, 2009-MAR-20, at:
- "What happened to Christ's Church?, New Era, 2005-FEB, at: http://lds.org/ldsorg/