The First Christian CenturyThe Primitive Church - 30-100 A.D.
First Century Introduction
Christianity begins with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Church history begins on the Day of Pentecost. These Jewish Christians adopt a messianic theology and continue to follow the Law of Moses. Hellenistic Jews from all over the Roman empire were among the initial converts - conflict soon surfaced between the Palestinian Jews and the Hellenstic Jews. This represented the beginning of the church's struggle to reach out beyond it's original culture and race - the Great Commission.
The Hellenized Jews failed to take the gospel to the Gentiles in any appreciable way. It took a special man, Saul of Tarsus, a Hellenized Jew, to aggressively take the gospel to the Gentiles. Saul becomes "the apostle Paul" and is attacked on every side: the Jews attack him, the followers of James attack him, and the Romans arrest him.
In the early 60's, under Nero, the Roman government begins orchestrated persecution of Christians. By the 60's the Christian sect, especially under Paul, had separated from Judaism. In 62 AD both Peter and Paul are executed in Rome. Roman persecution will sporadically occur throughout the second, third, and the beginning of the fourth centuries.
In the late 60's Jewish Zealots in Jerusalem rise up in rebellion against the Romans. Titus, son of the emperor Vespasian, commands more than 60,000 Roman troops to wipe out these Zealots. The Jewish Temple is burned to the ground in 70 AD. This event marks a critical point in the development of Christianity - the struggle of the Church against Judaism almost completely disappears. From 70 AD forward Christianity becomes mainly a Gentile dominated movement.
Early gospel accounts had already begun to be circulated by 70 AD. Mark's gospel was probably written first, followed soon by the accounts of Matthew and Luke. Paul's various letters (written mainly from around 50-60) were also beginning to be circulated. Post apostolic writings that eventually do NOT become part of the New Testament canon attest to a growing negative attitude towards Judaism after 70 AD. By the close of the first century all the documents which are now contained in the New Testament had been written.
The first century ended with the persecution under Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). This is the historical backdrop for John's Revelation. The writer is urging fellow believers to stand firm against "Babylon," the Roman empire.
The Initial "Jesus" Movement
Immediately after the resurrection, on the day of Pentecost, a new Jewish sect is firmly established. According to Acts a supernatural event takes place that draws a crowd of Jews who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the great festival. Something like "tongues of fire" appear on over 100 believers; Jews from all over the Roman empire hear the message of the gospel in their familiar language, then hear Peter preach, and a few thousand of them respond.
This early sect of Jews continued to observe the Sabbath, but also meet together on the first day, Sunday, referring to it as "the Lord's day." These early Jesus followers were all Jews, many of them continued in strict observance of the Law of Moses. Even some Pharisees came to faith (Acts 15:5).
Even though Luke gives us a picture of harmony in this primitive Church, he also gives some hints that it was not trouble-free.
In Acts 6 we get the first sign of internal trouble. The Hebrew widows were being cared for while the Grecian widows were neglected. As we mentioned above, Jews from all over the empire had made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the great festival of Pentecost and had witnessed the strange, yet supernatural events described by Luke. Many had trusted in Jesus as the promised Messiah and made the decision to stay in Judea rather than make the trek back home (it is possible that these early believers were waiting for the apocalyptic return of Jesus).
- Hellenized Jews
Large numbers of Jews lived outside Palestine in the first century. These are the Jews of the Diaspora, the "scattering," or "exile" of the Jews throughout the Greek world - first in 722 BC when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, then in 588 BC the Chaldeans conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. The victors in both instances forced the Jews to be relocated, thus diluting their national and cultural strength. Over the next few centuries the Hebrew language was neglected and forgotten by these exiled Jews. Most diaspora Jews of the first century spoke Greek. In fact, sometime in the third century BC the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament, OT) were translated from Hebrew into Greek so that these Greek-speaking Jews could hear and understand the Law of Moses. This famous translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX), a reference to the legendary story that 72 scribes translated the various texts in a 72 day period with a divinely inspired perfection of agreement.
These Jews of the diaspora were referred to as "Hellenized" ("Greek influenced") by the politically important, Hebrew-speaking Jews of Palestine. Palestinian Jews despised these Hellenized Jews, believing they had compromised their religion. They could not speak Hebrew, God's language, nor could they understand the Law of Moses when read in Hebrew. When Hellenized Jews came to Jerusalem they were urged to attend Greek speaking synagogues so they could hear and understand Moses being read. They were not wanted in the Temple. We know that the Jews hated Samaritans, and were not fond of Gentiles. Luke tells us this prejudice found its way into the primitive church - Hellenized widows were being neglected.