Study the Church Resources for studying the Bible and Church History

Christianity:  A.D. 30 - 99

Overview: What happened in this century?

Timeline

AD 30 The First Century in Church History began in the year AD 30: the year Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.
  • More details: Why are the letters A.D. used to signify years? Go here.
  • More details: Read about three authors not in the Bible who lived in the first century and who mentioned Jesus here.
  • More details: Were James and Jude half- or step-brothers of Jesus? Go here.
  • More details: Why was Pilate in charge of Jerusalem instead of one of Herod's sons? Go here.
  • More details: Why did Judas betray Jesus? To read one theory, go here.
30 Right after the ascension of Jesus, Christianity consisted of approximately 1000 believers and was centered in Jerusalem. Within a year, Christianity increased to approximately 10,000 believers. To find out how this number was developed, go here.
30-40's During this time, Peter was the leader of the early Christian movement.
  • More details: Peter's house may have been discovered. Go here.
c. 30 The stoning of Stephen causes Christians to scatter. (The exact date is unknown.)
c. 32 Paul is converted. (The exact date is unkown.)
c. 40 The term "Christian" was first used in Antioch around this date.
41 The Emperor Caligula announced that he would erect a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem. He is assassinated before he can do so.
44 The Apostle James martyred. From Acts 12:1-2: "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword."
48-49 Paul's first missionary trip. Paul began to teach that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised in order to become Christians. Click here to see an eyewitness, physical description of Paul.
49 Suetonius, a Roman historian, reported that "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [the Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome." This may have been a reference to Christ. Priscilla and Aquilla were a part of this expulsion, as described in Acts 18:2. Find out more about Priscilla and Aquilla here.

The Big Picture: Where did the Christians meet?
The first churches were not built for at least 200 years after Jesus, so during this time period Christians frequently meet in people's homes, called house churches. II and III John are prime examples of letters written to house churches. [In 303, the Emperor Diocletian decreed that all churches should be destroyed. This is the first written evidence of buildings set aside for worship by Christians.]
50 Council of Jerusalem called to determine whether or not Paul's belief that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised in order to be Christian; decision is made that Paul is right, see Acts 15.
50 also By this year, Christians may have begun to worship on Sunday instead of the Jewish Sabbath, which is Saturday. To learn more, go here.
50-58 Paul's second and third missionary trips: Christianity moves into present-day Turkey and Greece. Paul writes most of his letters in this time period.
52 Thomas probably went to India. Read the evidence that substantiates this claim here. Also, today membership in St. Thomas Churches numbers in the several millions.
60-62 Paul is arrested and taken to Rome. The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome.
64 Fire in Rome. Starting on July 18, a fire swept through Rome and burned up to 70% of the city over a period of a week. Some citizens accused the Emperor Nero of setting the fire. Nero accused the small group of Christians as the culprits (they were innocent). [Note: this persecution did not occur for religious reasons but because Nero needed to place blame for the fire.] Nero had so many Christians horribly tortured that some Romans began to feel sorry for them. Go here to read from Tacitius' account.

The Big Picture: The Extent of Persecutions
While Nero's persecution was the first Roman persecution of Christians, it did not occur for religious purposes. The first persecutions of Christians because of their faith did not occur until the 90s with Domitian. After Domitian, persecution of Christians was sporadic due to the Trajan letter (see the year 112). The first systematic, widespread persecution of Christians did not occur until the mid-Third Century.
66 Jews rebelled against the Roman occupation and regained their kingdom. Some evidence exists which suggests the Christians fled to Pella.
67 Perhaps in this year, Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome under Nero: Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded. Go here to read the account from the Acts of Peter and Paul.
  • More details: What happened to the other Apostles? Go here.
68 The Gospel of Mark is believed to have been written during the late 60s. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke may come from the same time period or perhaps as much as 10-15 years later. The Gospel of John was probably written after that, as late as the decade of the 90s. Therefore, Paul wrote his letters prior to the writing of the Gospels.
70 The Romans regained Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.
  • More details: Read the history of Jerusalem from the year 1950 B.C. Go here.
70-95 Knowledge of the spread and development of Christianity is scant during this time period.
81-96 Domitian was emperor. He began the first persecution against Christians because of their faith in the latter part of his reign.
  • More details: Many Christians used a fish symbol for Christianity; how did that start? Go here.
95 The Apostle John is on the island of Patmos because of the Domitian persecution; he wrote Revelation.
95 also Council of Jamnia. The Council was a meeting of Jewish leaders and made several decisions which are referred to as the 18 Benedictions. The Twelfth Benediction reads in part: "And may the Nazarenes [Christians] and heretics perish quickly." Therefore the Council drew a bright line between Christianity and Judaism. Any Jew who became a Christian was unwelcome in the synagogues.

The Big Picture: Christianity became mainly Gentile
In the year 30, Christianity mainly consisted of Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah. By the year 100, Christianity consisted mainly of Gentiles. This was due to the travels of the Apostles (go here) which increasingly focused on Gentiles, and because the Jews increasingly forced Jewish Christians out of the synagogues (see the year 95).
96 The Roman Emperor Domitian died and John probably moved to Ephesus where he probably died around the year 100. To read Eusebius' account of the reason John was able to leave the island of Patmos, go here.
96-98 Nerva was the Roman Emperor. No evidence of Christian persecution.
98-117 Trajan was Roman Emperor. Some persecution of Christians, but not widespread.
The Big Picture: The First Four Eras of Church History
Early Christianity developed through four eras, which over lapped. They are, in order: the Age of the Apostles (Apostolic Age), the Apostolic Fathers, the Apologists, and the Teachers. These groups of leaders reflect changes which occurred in the early church period.
  1. Right after Jesus, the Apostles were tasked to carry the word of God to the ends of the (then-known) world.
  2. The next leaders, the Apostolic Fathers, provided leadership in making decisions about practical and even theological ideas in the young and growing churches.
  3. The task of the next leaders, the Apologists, was to defend the faith.
  4. The task of the last leaders, the Teachers, was to develop more fully the theological ideas of Christianity. In this last group we see the beginnings of the Councils.
Think of the four eras in this way. Jesus had the vision; the Apostles spread His message and determined that it included the Gentiles (Paul). Next the Apostolic Fathers determined how these new churches would be run. By 100 years after Jesus, non-Christians had begun to attack the new faith of Christianity, and the Apologists combat the heresies. After the early heresies were defeated, the Christians could take the time to examine their own belief in more detail, thus the Teachers and the Councils.

The Big Picture: Who were the Apostolic Fathers?
The time period from Jesus to the late First Century is known as the Age of the Apostles. The next era in Church History is known as the Apostolic Fathers. These Christians were the next generation of leaders and helped solidify the new churches and church leadership. Think of the Apostles as the founders of a corporation and the Apostolic Fathers as the CEOs who run the corporation. The Apostolic Fathers wrote books which helped determine how churches ran and even tackled some theological ideas. The Apostolic Fathers are Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Shepherd of Hermas, Polycarp, and Papias, and the writings of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle to Diognetus, II Clement, and the Didache. To read a short description of each, go here.
late 90s Clement, the bishop of Rome (one of the Apostolic Fathers), wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth: it is known as I Clement. To find out more about I Clement and to read an excerpt go here.

The Big Picture: Books which did not make it into the New Testament
The Apostolic Fathers are not included in the New Testament, but only because they were not linked to Apostles or Jesus. The Apostolic Fathers did not contain heresy--teachings against the basic ideas of Christianity such as the Trinity--although they did contain some error--incorrect teachings about less important Christian ideas such as how to baptize a new Christian. On the other hand, many writings were made in the 120 years after Jesus that appeared to be Christian but were heretical, that is to say that they taught against core Christian ideas like the Trinity. These books are known collectively as New Testament Apocrypha.
mid- to late First Century Development of Christian Gnosticism and Docetism
The Big Picture: What was Gnosticism and Docetism?
  • Gnosticism predated Christianity and had many forms. It did have two constant ideas:
    1. Dualism, that physical-ness is evil while all things spiritual are good and
    2. A hierarchy of gods, where the highest god can be thought of as the spiritually purest god (or the "good" god). Different gods or spirits exist, with a "lower" or even evil god being responsible for creating physical-ness (think "earth"). Gnostics sought to communicate with this higher or good god in order to learn its wisdom.
  • Docetism is an offshoot of Gnosticism. It taught that
    1. The highest god sent a messenger to earth to teach spiritual truth.
    2. Jesus was a messenger sent from the highest god (or maybe a lower good god depending on the Gnostic system) to teach that wisdom.
    3. Since Jesus was a messenger from a pure spiritual god, that meant that he was spiritual and not physical. He appeared to be physical but was not; this state has been called a phantom.
These two were considered attacks on Christianity because they denied the Trinity and the Incarnation. Basically, some people could not accept the idea that God had come to earth in physical form (the incarnation), and so they married the idea of Jesus with Gnosticism and came up with Docetism. These heresies appeared in the First Century (as shown in I and II John), but will grow much stronger in the Second Century.
95 The only Apostle alive at the end of the First Century is John. He most likely died in Ephesus early in the next century.
A great story about the Apostle John when he was a very old man in Ephesus (after he was released from Patmos). (This story is not in the Bible, but it could be true (I think so or I would not have included it here)): John, as a very old man, had many visitors. Christians traveled from great distances to see the last living original Apostle. They also asked John questions. But John always gave the many different questions the same answer: "Love one another." Eventually someone was brave enough to ask John why he didn't answer the questions. John replied, "Because if you love one another, the questions don't matter."

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