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Brief summary of Christianity

Fragmentation of the
primitive Christian movement

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Fragmenting of the Christian movement:

In the later decades of the first century CE, there were three main groups, each claiming to be teaching Yeshua of Nazareth's (Jesus Christ's) message:

bullet Jewish Christianity: After Yeshua's death, his followers formed the Jewish Christian movement, centered in Jerusalem. Two of Yeshua's followers, Simon Peter and James the Just were prominent in the group. James, who is variously considered as either Yeshua's brother, cousin, or friend, became the leader of the Jewish Christians.

The group regarded themselves Jews in a reform movement within Judaism. They continued to worship Yahweh, to sacrifice at the temple, to circumcise their male newborns, to follow Jewish kosher food laws, etc. They seem to have viewed Jesus as a human prophet, and not as a deity or part of the Trinity.

For most of the fourth decade of the first century CE, the followers of Jesus were unified under the leadership James the Just.

The Jewish Christians were killed in large numbers by the Roman Army during their siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The rest were scattered. Although there are references to Jewish Christians in later years, they never again achieved a position of prominence.

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bullet Pauline Christianity: The 13 epistles (letters) that the Bible records as having been written by Paul, along with the writings of the author(s) of the Gospel of John, provided much of the theological foundation for what has been called Pauline Christianity or Proto-Christianity. Paul's ministry, which started circa 37 CE, and ended with his execution by the Roman Empire in Rome some three decades later, was directed mainly to Gentiles -- non-Jews -- throughout the northern and eastern Mediterranean basin.

Most mainline and liberal/progressive Christian theologians divide the 13 epistles that identify Paul as their author into three groups: those that were definitely written by Paul, those that may have been written by him, and those that definitely were not written by him. They believe that the third group of writings written as late as 150 CE, up to 8 decades after Paul's death, by anonymous authors. Marcus Borg and John Crossan suggest that the main motivation for these forgeries was to dilute Paul's radical message in order to make it conform with the culture of the Roman Empire. 1

The Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke were written by the same author. Conservative Christians generally believe that he was a physician and a disciple of Paul by the name of Luke; liberal Christians generally believe that the author's name and identity are unknown. Acts indicates that an early conflict between Pauline and Jewish Christianity was resolved by a meeting called the Council at Jerusalem. However other passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) indicate that friction existed between the two groups over beliefs and practices. The Jewish Christians were condemned as Judaisers.
bullet Gnostic Christianity: This is the third main early Christian movement based on the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth. They taught that Jesus was a spirit being sent by the true God to impart knowledge to humans so that they could escape the confines of fleshly existence on Earth. They regarded Yahweh, the creator God of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), to be an inferior, short tempered, fickle, and vicious creator deity who committed many genocides, and other evil acts. 

In addition to Gnostic, Jewish, and and Pauline Christianity, there were many other versions of Christianity being taught throughout the Roman Empire. Often, there would be a number of conflicting Christianities being promoted within a single city.

Reference used:

  1. 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.

Copyrighted 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2009-MAR-24
Last updated 200
Author: B.A. Robinson

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