Early Christianity

Early Christianity covers the period from its origins (c. 30–36) until the First Council of Nicaea (325). This period is typically divided into the Apostolic Age (c. 30-100) and the Ante-Nicene Period (c. 100-325). Early Christianity is also known as the Early Church by the proponents of apostolic succession, notably the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, Assyrian Church of the East, and Ancient Church of the East, in addition to some Protestant denominations.

The first Christians, as described in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible, were all Jews either by birth or conversion ("proselytes" in Biblical terminology),[1] and historians refer to them as Jewish Christians. The early Gospel message spread orally, probably originally in Aramaic,[2] but almost immediately also in Greek.[3] The New Testament's Acts of the Apostles and Epistle to the Galatians record that the first Christian community centered on Jerusalem and that its leaders included Peter, James, the "brother of Jesus", and John the Apostle.[4]

After his conversion, Paul the Apostle claimed the title of "Apostle to the Gentiles". Paul's influence on Christian thinking is said to be more significant than that of any other New Testament author.[5] By the end of the 1st century, Christianity began to be recognized[by whom?] internally and externally as a separate religion from Judaism which itself was refined and developed further in the centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD.[6]

Numerous quotations in the New Testament and other Christian writings of the first centuries, indicate that early Christians generally used and revered the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) as religious text, mostly in the Greek (Septuagint) or Aramaic (Targum) translations.[7]

Early Christians wrote many religious works, including the canon of the New Testament, which includes the canonical gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation, and which were written before 120 AD.[8]

As the New Testament canon developed, the Pauline epistles, the canonical gospels and various other works were also recognized as scripture to be read in church. Paul's letters, especially Romans, established a theology based on Christ rather than on the Mosaic Law, but most Christian denominations today still consider the "moral prescriptions" of the Mosaic Law, such as the Ten Commandments, Great Commandment, and Golden Rule, to be relevant. Early Christians demonstrated a wide range of beliefs and practices, many of which were later denounced as heretical.[9]


The earliest followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic, Second Temple Jewish sect, which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity. The first part of the period, during the lifetimes of the Twelve Apostles, is called the Apostolic Age. In line with the Great Commission attributed to the resurrected Jesus, the Apostles are said to have dispersed from Jerusalem, and the Christian missionary activity spread Christianity to cities throughout the Hellenistic world and even beyond the Roman Empire. The relationship of Paul the Apostle and Judaism is still disputed although Paul's influence on Christian thinking is said to be more significant than any other New Testament author.[5]

Early Christians suffered under sporadic anti-Christian policies in the Roman Empire as the result of local pagan populations putting pressure on the imperial authorities to take action against the Christians in their midst, who were thought to bring misfortune by their refusal to honour the gods.[10]

Persecution was on the rise in Anatolia towards the end of the first century.[11] In 111, emperor Trajan issued regulations about the conduct of trials of Christians under the Roman governor of the area.[12] The first action taken against Christians by the order of an emperor occurred half a century earlier under Nero after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.[10] Towards the end of the 2nd century Tertullian wrote: "They think the Christians the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction with which the people are visited. If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, 'Away with the Christians to the lion!'"[13]

Early Christian writers used their knowledge of Hellenic language and literature to oppose Hellenocentrism. Though early Christian apologetics certainly tackled the issue of Greek religion, the criticisms of early Christian early writers also extended to what The Oxford Handbook to the Second Sophistic describes as the "cultural privilege that was deemed to accrue from the mastery of the Greek language".[14] Tatian, a pupil of Justin Martyr, believed that Hellenic civilization was evil.[15][16] He wrote about the privileged place of Attic Greek amongst the Greek dialects and mocked Greeks, comparing their minds to "the [leaky] jar of the Danaids". In a more muted polemic text called the Legatio, Athenagoras contrasts what he believes is the goodness of illiterate Christians with those who “reduce syllogisms, and clear up ambiguities, and explain etymologies".[14]

During the Ante-Nicene Period following the Apostolic Age, a great diversity of views emerged simultaneously with strong unifying characteristics lacking in the apostolic period. Part of the unifying trend was an increasingly harsh anti-Judaism and rejection of Judaizers. Early Christianity gradually grew apart from Judaism during the first two centuries and established itself as a predominantly gentile religion in the Roman Empire.

According to Will Durant, the Christian Church prevailed over paganism because it offered a much more attractive doctrine and because the church leaders addressed human needs better than their rivals.[17]

Other Languages
العربية: مسيحية مبكرة
azərbaycanca: Erkən xristianlıq
Deutsch: Alte Kirche
한국어: 초기 기독교
Bahasa Indonesia: Gereja perdana
Nederlands: Vroege christendom
Nedersaksies: Vrogge Kristendom
日本語: 初代教会
norsk nynorsk: Oldkyrkja
Simple English: Early Christianity
slovenčina: Rané kresťanstvo
српски / srpski: Рано хришћанство
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Rano hrišćanstvo
Tiếng Việt: Kitô giáo sơ khai