Early Christianity

Ichthys as adopted as one of the earlier Christian symbols

Early Christianity, defined as the period of Christianity preceding the First Council of Nicaea in 325, typically divides historically into the Apostolic Age and the Ante-Nicene Period (from the Apostolic Age until Nicea).

The first Christians, as described in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, 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[by whom?] 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]

As the existence of the Christians became more widely known, it became increasingly clear that they were (a) antisocial, in that they did not participate in the normal social life of their communities; (b) sacrilegious, in that they refused to worship the gods; and (c) dangerous, in that the gods did not take kindly to communities that harbored those who failed to offer them cult. By the end of the second century, the Christian apologist (literally, 'defender' of the faith) Tertullian complained about the widespread perception that Christians were the source of all disasters brought against the human race by the gods. '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!"[11]

Persecution was on the rise in Anatolia towards the end of the first century,[12] and in 111, emperor Trajan issued regulations about the conduct of trials of Christians under the Roman governor of the area.[13] 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]

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.[14]

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