As one of the world’s most prominent religions, Christianity has had significant influence over most regions, reaching every major continent and finding places in culture, art, and politics. Many practicing Christians, as well as members of other religions, may not fully know the history of Christianity’s origins or its development over time. While knowing the history of Christianity may not be essential in everyday life, being aware of how it came to be the major religion it is today can help shed light onto why it is so popular in countries around the globe.
Emerging from a small sect of Judaism, Christianity came about in the first century of the current era. As Christianity formed into its own religion, it also drew from Greco-Roman cultural influences.
In the Jewish faith, practitioners abide by laws or codes that guide their daily lives; these rules are believed to be from their god, Yahweh, as dictated through prophets. The Jewish people were involved in a number of religious wars and suffered several defeats. At this point, around 587 BCE, Jewish prophets announced that their god would send a messiah (a Herbrew word meaning “anointed one”) to bring Israel independence once again.
By the time the first century of the current era rolled around, many individuals had come forward, claiming to be messiahs and rallying the Jewish people to rebel against Greek and Roman rule. In 70 CE, a group of Jewish individuals known as Zealots led a revolt against Rome, resulting in the defeat of the Jewish people and the destruction of Jerusalem.
There are notable similarities between Judaism and Christianity, from the belief of a singular god and the acknowledgement of Jesus as a notable figure.
Jesus in History
Christianity has always focused on the life and teachings of Jesus. Most scholars believe that Jesus was a real, living person. The religious interpretations of this figure, however, vary. In the Christina faith, it is believed that Jesus was the son of God, born to the virgin Mary, who died on the cross and came back to life three days later. This differs from the modern Jewish understanding in which Jesus was a mortal man.
Despite these discrepancies, there are some common understandings pertaining to the life of Jesus. It is believed that he was raised Jewish and aimed to reform Judaism rather than establish an entirely different religion. His teachings, recorded in the Bible as parables, discuss morality, ethics, and humanity, highlighting kindness, generosity, and charity among other values. These parables also featured lessons that were more religious in nature, encouraging listeners to love God, ask God for forgiveness, and acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah and had been granted the power to forgive human sin.
Beyond his teachings, Jesus’ death by crucifixion remains an important part of Christianity to this day. It is believed that he died somewhere around the year 30 of the current era. Accusing him of blasphemy among other crimes, Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death after other Jewish leaders pressured him. However, the Christian faith maintains that, three days after being buried, Jesus’ body went missing from his tomb; subsequent records suggest that other individuals saw him following this incident, and it is then believed that, following his resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven.
After the end of Jesus’ life, his stories, messages, and legacy were passed around, primarily by his 12 disciples, in an effort to spread the word of God and convert others into believers of the religion. Now, more than 2 billion individuals around the world consider themselves to be of the Christian faith.
The Early Days of Christianity
The first Christian church allegedly formed just 50 days after the death of Jesus. Most of the initial followers had converted to Christianity from Judaism, but it did not take long for Gentiles to convert, as well. These early followers believed it to be their duty to convert as many individuals to Christianity as they could.
One of the earliest, and arguably among the most influential, converts to Christianity was a man named Paul, a Pharisee, who had initially persecuted early Christians. He traveled in Asia, Africa, and Europe, establishing churches and spreading messages about Christianity after proclaiming that he had had an enlightening experience, as described in the book of Acts. With his change of heart and beliefs, Paul worked to increase exposure of Christianity and is also believed to have written multiple books in the New Testament himself.
The Bible also has its origins in these early days. Written by 66 different authors, the Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written prior to Jesus’ death and is also recognized as a holy text by the Jewish people. However, the New Testament was a later addition inducted following Jesus’s death, documenting his life, teachings, and death.
The history of Christianity is relatively young when compared to some religions, particularly those in Asia, but it has compelled billions of people around the world to abide by its codes and moral lessons.