“From its very beginning, the Christian message was grafted onto human history.” (Justo L. Gonzalez)
Prelude (Before Christ)
#1. When the nation of Israel was rescued from Egypt, Moses led them to the border of their new home where he died. Then Joshua, the son of Nun, led a military campaign to gain control of the trade route that merchants used to travel between Europe, Asia, and Africa.
#2. The period of the Judges was a struggle for the right to collect taxes along the trade route.
#3. When the nation of Israel chose David as their king, David was able to gain complete control of the trade route, and the taxes paid by traveling merchants would be used to pay for Solomon’s temple.
#4. Solomon had 700 wives, and used his influence to build a palace for each of them to live in. This put an economic burden on the Israelites. This policy eventually led to a civil war after Solomon died.
#5. During the civil war, the 12 tribes broke up into two separate kingdoms. These kingdoms often competed with each other and outsiders for complete control of the trade route.
#6. Eventually, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was invaded by the Assyrian Empire. Their goal was to control the trade route, and they almost succeeded. The Southern Kingdom of Judah barely survived the Assyrian threat.
#7. Eventually the Southern Kingdom of Judah was invaded and sent into exile. They were conquered by the Babylonian Empire who was able to gain complete control of the trade route. The Jewish people were unwilling to hand over the taxes they collected, which led to the second Babylonian invasion which destroyed Solomon’s temple.
#8. While the Jews were in exile, they began using synagogues. This would later give Jesus a place to preach and teach freely without being held accountable to the High Priest in Jerusalem.
#9. When the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Medes and the Persians, the income from the trade route changed hands again. The Medes and the Persians allowed the Jewish people to return from their exile, and they also used the taxes collected from merchants on the trade route to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
#10. The Medes and the Persians were conquered by Alexander the Great and the Greeks. The Greeks used the taxes collected on the trade route to pay for Hellenization: the spread of Greek language and culture throughout Europe.
#11. Hellenization was met with resistance in Israel. The group of priests known as the Maccabees started a rebellion and gained their independence from foreign powers for a short time, until Rome intervened.
#12. There were three Roman generals who were responsible for the rise of Rome. Their names were Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Pompei. Pompei actually conquered Jerusalem, and he actually went inside the Temple to see what the Jewish people worshiped.
#13. A short time later, Pompei was assassinated by Julius Caesar.
#14. After that, Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Senate. This led to a civil war. On one side were the assassins, and on the other was Marc Antony and Julius Caesar’s heir; a young man named Augustus.
#15. When the civil war was over, Marc Antony moved to Egypt; while Augustus made his home in the city of Rome. While he was in Egypt, Marc Antony began conspiring with Cleopatra to overthrow Augustus Caesar, and another war broke out.
#16. After the war was over, Augustus Caesar became the First Citizen of Rome, and he began rebuilding Roman infrastructure while he proclaimed a gospel saying “A New Roman Republic Is formed today!”
#17. Augustus Caesar’s policies were able to bring the threat of bandits and pirates to an end.
#18. Augustus Caesar also began promoting a form of religious pluralism that claimed all the gods, in spite of their different names, customs and back stories were all the same deity. He wanted all the different religions to co-exist.
#19. Augustus Caesar also began building a series of roads to connect every part of the Roman Empire.
#20. For anyone living in the city of Jerusalem, this meant there was a road that could take you north to modern day Moscow, south into Africa, east as far as India, and west as far as modern day Spain, Portugal and France.
#21. At that time, the time the roads connecting every part of the Roman Empire were finished, God “sent forth His Son…” (Galatians 4:4 ESV).
The First Century
#1. Augustus Caesar had defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra! Caesar proclaims a gospel of the New Roman Republic; and a time of peace and prosperity within the Roman Empire begins.
#2. Augustus Caesar begins promoting a new religious tolerance policy. He claims that all the differences between “the gods” were just a simple misunderstanding. The new official policy of the Roman Empire is to encourage people to believes the gods were all the same spiritual being.
#3. This new religious tolerance policy was embraced by some of the Jews.
#4. In the city of Alexandria there was a Jewish man named Philo who claimed the pagan Greek philosophers must have learned a lot from the Old Testament writings.
#5. Philo insisted the differences between Greek and Jewish culture could be resolved if people read the Old Testament as an allegory instead of a historical narrative. This allowed Philo to claim the “Immutable One” of the Greek philosophers was actually the God of the Jews.
#6. Augustus Caesar appointed a man named Herod the Great to be one of his representatives in the land of Israel. Herod became a very unpopular politician. He took Hellenism very seriously and began building pagan temples all throughout Israel’s land. Herod also started a riot in Jerusalem when he placed a Roman imperial eagle at the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem.
#7. While Herod was a Roman representative, Augustus Caesar ordered that a census be taken of everyone living inside the Roman Empire (see Luke 2:1-7). Shortly after the census was done, Joseph took his wife Miriam (Mary) and her son Yeshua (Jesus) and they moved to Egypt.
#8. While Joseph was living in Egypt, Herod the Great died. His son Archelaus was chosen by Rome to take his father’s place.
#9. One of Archelaus’ policies led to a rebellion which Archelaus suppressed by force. The survivors of the Jewish rebellion were all crucified, a punishment that required 2,000 crosses to be set up. This is probably why Joseph decided to move his family to Galilee – it was a place where Archelaus had no authority (see Matthew 2:22-23).
#10. When Augustus Caesar died, his son Tiberius took over. Augustus Caesar insisted on being known as the First Citizen of Rome, but Tiberius started some new policies.
#11. Tiberius changed his title from being the First Citizen of Rome to the Emperor.
#12. Tiberius also had Augustus declared to be a “god” and the cult of Emperor worship was formed. This caused the phrase “Caesar is Lord” to become a popular slogan, which hurt the Church that claimed Christ is Lord.
#13. In Rome, a group of assassins were discovered plotting to kill Tiberius Caesar. The leader of the assassins had been a close friend of a man named Pontius Pilate.
#14. Pontius Pilate managed to talk his way out of being executed for treason. This made Pilate very nervous about his public image. He did not want to have anyone claiming he “was no friend of Caesar’s” again (see John 29:12).
#15. During the time Pontius Pilate had been chosen to be the Roman representative in charge of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, the Roman Empire began posting notices in the area reminding people that grave robbing was a crime (see Matthew 28:11-15).
#16. In the city of Jerusalem, there was a conflict growing between the Pharisees and the Hellenistic Jews (who had embraced aspects of Greek culture). This conflict was being stirred up by a young man named Saul of Tarsus, and led many Hellenistic Jews to leave Jerusalem.
#17. The Jewish Sanhedrin gave Saul of Tarsus permission to travel to the city of Damascus to see if he could locate any Hellenistic Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah. His goal for the trip was to bring them back to Jerusalem, put them on trial and have them executed. This was all being done in the hope that it would help the Jewish people be prepared for their Messiah’s arrival.
#18. Just outside the city of Damascus, Saul of Tarsus had a change of heart and decided not to continue his mission to destroy the Church. He began telling people that the Messiah had appeared to him, and began working immediately as an evangelist promoting the faith that he had originally meant to destroy.
#19. Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, had James, the son of Zebedee executed. After realizing the Jewish Sanhedrin approved of his decision, he sent and had the apostle Peter arrested. The day before Peter was going to be executed, he escaped from prison and left town.
#20. Around that time, Tiberius Caesar died, and Caligula Caesar became the Emperor for about 4 years. Caligula’s most well known policy was to have his favorite horse appointed as a member of the Roman Senate.
#21. When Caligula died, Claudius Caesar became the Emperor for about 13 years. When Claudius was in charge of the Empire, the Jews living in Rome had a serious disagreement about “Chrestus” and Claudius decided to have them all banished from the city (see Acts 18:2).
#22. When Claudius Caesar died, Nero became the Emperor (in year 54 CE).
#23. On June 18, year 64 CE, a fire broke out in an oil warehouse and the city of Rome burned down, only to have the fire start up a second time when they were removing the smoldering ashes. Everyone living in Rome at the time blamed Nero for this turn of events.
#24. After an official investigation, Nero said the Christians were responsible for the fire, and Nero’s policies led to the deaths of Peter and Paul, and countless other Christians.
#25. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that “before killing the Christians, Nero used them to amuse the people. Some were dressed furs to be killed by dogs. Others were crucified. Still others were set on fire early in the night, so that they might illumine it. Hero opened his gardens for these shows…all of this aroused the mercy of the people, even against these culprits who deserved an exemplary punishment, for it was clear they were not being destroyed for the common good, but rather to satisfy the cruelty of one man.”
#26. In year 66 CE, a group of Jews known as the Zealots started a rebellion and seized control of Jerusalem. When Nero heard the report, he chose a Roman general named Vespasian (and his son, Titus) to gather the legions and go restore order.
#27. In year 68 CE, Nero committed suicide to avoid being murdered by his political enemies.
#28. Following Nero’s death, a man named Galba became the Emperor, marking the start of what became known as the Year of Four Emperors. The Throne claimed by Galba was passed to Otho, then to Vitellus when Vespasian returned from the siege of Jerusalem, having left his son Titus with the legions outside Jerusalem, fighting to restore order.
#29. When Titus managed to break through Jerusalem’s defenses in year 70 CE, two of the three leaders of the Zealots escaped in the confusion, and moved to a fortress known as Masada to start another armed rebellion.
#30. Titus was a personal friend of the Pharisee known as Josephus, the Jewish historian. Josephus sat outside Jerusalem during the siege and watched their sacred Temple burn to the ground.
#31. With support from Titus, Josephus received permission to re-organize the Sanhedrin, and the Pharisees became the dominant Jewish religious group. Part of their influence caused Jewish synagogues to exclude anyone who believed that Jesus was the Messiah so they could be prepared for the Messiah’s arrival.
#32. When Vespasian died, Titus became the Emperor and a period of peace was enjoyed by the Jews and the Christians living inside the Roman Empire.
#33. When Titus died, one of his relatives, a man named Domitian became the Emperor. Domitian set up a new tax policy: he gave the order that all the money the Jewish people would normally send to the Temple (which was recently destroyed) should be sent to Rome instead.
#34. Since Domitians’ new tax policy was unpopular, some local Roman officials began using persecution to discourage “Jewish practices” in their own assigned terrorities. This led to a very dark time in the life of the Church.
#35. In the city of Ephesus, Domitian’s policy was remembered by the Church as a time when “we endured patiently for Jesus’ name and did not grow weary” (Revelation 2:3).
#36. In the city of Smyrna, Domitians’ policy was remembered by the Church as a time when “we did not deny the faith even in the days of Antipas who was killed here” (Revelation 2:13).
#37. In the city of Thyatira, Domitian’s policy was remembered by the Church as a time when “our patient endurance” was well known (Revelation 2:19).
#38. In the city of Sardis, Domitian’s policy was remembered by the Church as a time when “we must strengthen what remains before it dies” (Revelation 3:2).
#39. In the city of Philadelphia, Domitians’ policy was remembered by the Church as a time when “we have little power, but kept the word and have not denied Jesus” (Revelation 3:8).
#40. In the city of Laodicea, Domitian’s policy was remembered by the Church as a time when “we were wealthy and weak in faith” (Revelation 3:19).
#41. In the city of Rome, Domitian’s policy was remembered by the Church at that time in the letter of First Clement, which speaks of “the continuous and unexpected evils that have come upon us.”
#42. After Domitian was murdered at home in his well guarded palace, a man named Nerva became the Emperor, and the Roman Senate decreed that the name of Domitian would be removed from all public records and forgotten.
The Second Century
#1. After Domitian, a man named Nerva served as the Emperor for two years, and died in year 98 CE.
#2. Following Nerva’s death, a man named Trajan became the Emperor. Trajan ruled the Roman Empire for 19 years (98 CE to 117 CE).
#3. In year 107 CE, a man named Ignatius of Antioch was condemned to death by the Imperial authorities. It was decided that he would be sent to Rome to die for the amusement of the people.
#4. During his trip to Rome to become a martyr, Ignatius was allowed to have guests. This allowed him to write seven letters, which were carried by the Christians who came to see him on his trip. We still have copies of the seven letters he wrote today.
#5. The seventh and final letter Ignatius wrote was written to the Church living in the city of Rome. He had heard a rumor that they were hoping to rescue him, and Ignatius sent them a letter sharing his thoughts on the matter.
#6. In his letter, he said “I fear your kindness, which may harm me. You may be able to achieve what you plan. But if you pay no heed to my request it will be very difficult for me to attain unto God.”
#7. Ignatius believed becoming a martyr would do more to promote the Gospel than being rescued or released. He told the Christians in Rome that “if you remain silent about me, I shall become a word of God. But if you allow yourselves to be swayed by the love in which you hold my flesh, I shall again be more than a human voice.”
#8. While Ignatius was traveling to Rome, he had written one of his seven letters to a man named Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna. After Ignatius arrived in the city of Rome, Polycarp wrote a letter asking for more information about what happened to Ignatius in Rome. There are no copies of the letter containing the response he received available to us today.
#9. While Trajan was still the Emperor, a man named Pliny the Younger was appointed by Rome to be in charge of Bithynia (which is located in modern day Turkey). When Pliny arrived there, he found out that the pagan religion(s) favored by Rome were unpopular among the people, including the cult of the Emperor because most of the people living in his jurisdiction were Christians.
#10. According to the social customs of the time, Pliny the Younger was a just man who celebrated Roman pop culture. This made him curious to know more about Christianity, because he understood this religion was illegal.
#11. Pliny received a list of names regarding who the Christians living in his jurisdiction were, and he began investigating the rumors told about the Church to discover if they had committed any serious crimes.
#12. Pliny’s methods for conducting his investigation were the same ones commonly used throughout the rest of the Roman Empire: imprisonment, torture and execution.
#13. During his investigation, Pliny confirmed that Christians sing to Christ “as a god” and joined in an oath not to steal, commit adultery, or participate in any other moral sins.
#14. Pliny also learned that they used to gather to have Communion, but they stopped doing that when the government officials made private meetings illegal.
#15. Pliny’s investigation only confirmed the things Pliny had already known to be true about the Christians, and he decided to stop his investigation and write a letter asking the Emperor for advice on what he should do next.
#16. Pliny wanted to know if Christians should be held to the same legal standards as everyone else, or was it okay to have them arrested, imprisoned, and executed for rejecting the Cult of the Emperor and the pagan religion(s) favored by Rome?
#17. The Emperor Trajan wrote him a letter, which we still have copies of today. Trajan’s letter offered three guidelines for Pliny to follow. (These three guidelines would be used throughout the rest of the Roman Empire for years to come).
#18. The Emperor told him there were no rules to follow. The first guideline told Pliny he could do whatever he thinks is best to maintain law and order within his jurisdiction.
#19. The second guideline told Pliny it was not a good idea to waste the time and energy searching for Christians. Their neighbors would have to present an accusation to the authorities against them, and if the accusation turned out to be true, it was okay to have the Christian imprisoned and executed.
#20. The third guideline was that all anonymous accusations should be ignored. It was not a good idea to have people arrested, imprisoned and executed immediately over unconfirmed rumors.
#21. When Trajan died, a man named Hadrian became the Emperor.
#22. During Hadrian’s reign, two somewhat new religions became popular enough to become rivals to the Christian Church. The first religion was known as Gnosticism. The second religion was based on the teachings of a man named Marcion.
#23. Some of the future events of Church History require an understanding of the beliefs being promoted by Gnosticism and Marcion. I will explain their belief system at the end of my notes on the Second Century Church.
#24. When Hadrian died, a man named Antoninus Pius became the Emperor (year 138 CE).
#25. In year 155 of the CE, a group of Christians living in the city of Smyrna were brought to the authorities under the guidelines of Trajan’s letter to Pliny the Younger and all of them were executed.
#26. The public records state that the reason they were executed by the local Roman authorities is because “resting in Christ they scorned the pains of this world” used to uphold the authority of the “gods” favored by the Roman Empire.
#27. One of them was a man named Germanicus. Since Germanicus was an old man, he had been told they wanted to let him go enjoy the last years of his life in peace. All he had to do was join the cult of the Emperor by admitting “Caesar is Lord” and he would be free to go.
#28. Germanicus told the local Roman official that he had no desire to live in a world where the kind of injustice he had seen happen to the earlier group of Christians were allowed to happen. As a punishment for dishonoring the Roman Empire they fed Germanicus to a pack of wild dogs.
#29. After seeing the honor of the Roman Empire insulted, the locals who watched Germanicus die became very angry at his courage, and began shouting “Bring Us Polycarp!”
#30. When Polycarp learned his hiding place was discovered, he decided to wait for the authorities to show up and arrest him. They took him and put him on trial immediately. During his trial, Polycarp also refused join the cult of the Emperor. He was told by the judge that if he continued to be stubborn about this, they would tie him up and set him on fire.
#31. Polycarp responded to that threat by basically saying “you may light a fire here that burns for a little while, but there is an eternal hell-fire waiting for you that will never go out.”
#32. While the Roman authorities were tying Polycarp up, he prayed his last prayer and said “Lord Sovereign God…I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that jointly with your martyrs, I may share in the cup of Christ…for this…I bless and glorify You. Amen.”
#33. The details concerning Polycarp’s death were recorded in a document known as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, which we still have copies of today.
#34. The events surrounding the death of Polycarp highlight a problem the Church was facing in the Second Century. The Church was divided on the issue of martyrs. Some Christians thought God alone should decide who should become a martyr. This first group was a little confused on how to respond to the Christians who turned themselves in to the authorities to be executed as martyrs.
#35. In year 161 CE, a man named Marcus Aurelius became the Emperor.
#36. Marcus Aurelius wrote a book called Meditations which we still have copies of today. In this book he explained his thoughts on how to live the good life, and basically admitted that it was good for people to live knowing they would die eventually.
#37. Marcus Aurelius believed it was honorable for the young to die in battle, and the old to die from their advanced age. The only dishonorable way to die in his mind was constantly chosen by the Christians, who stubbornly insisted on becoming martyrs when they were threatened with death.
#38. During the first ferw years of his reign, Marcus Aurelius struggled to find solutions to foreign invasions, floods, epidemics, and other disasters happening all over the Roman Empire. This led him to believe that the “gods” were angry with the people living in each part of the Roman Empire.
#39. This led to another round of persecution to appease “the gods.”
#40. There was a woman named Felicitas who was accused by some pagan priests of being a Christian and was put on trial. Felicitas was a consecrated widow, which meant she had all of her living expenses paid for by the Church in exchange for running errands.
#41. Felicitas and her seven sons were all executed on Marcus Aurelius’s orders.
#42. Another well known Christian was arrested and executed at this time. His name was Justin Martyr. He was arrested and executed after winning a public debate against a pagan philosopher (who decided to turn him in to the authorities).
#43. Outside the city of Rome another serious persecution began in Lyons and Vienne, which are located in modern day France.
#44. The first sign of trouble emerged when local authorities started a new policy saying Christians were not allowed to visit any public places (where you might go to buy food, for example). A short time later mobs began forming that followed Christians around constantly throwing rocks at them.
#45. This situation grew worse until a formal accusation was made to the local authorities in order to stop the riots in the streets. A group of Christians were formally arrested and put on trial.
#46. During their trial, someone came forward wanting to offer legal advice to the Christians. When this person was asked if he was a Christian, he confessed his faith and his name was added to the list of people they were planning on executing.
#47. The courage these Christians displayed only made the situation worse for everyone else, until the pagan mob got tired of all the killing.
#48. When Marcus Aurelius died, a man named Commodus became the Emperor.
#49. When Commodus died, the Roman Empire had a few civil wars break out, which ended when a man named Septimius Severus became the Emperor in year 193 of the Common Era (CE).
#1. The Gnostic faith claims that outside of our world, there exists an ascending hierarchy of spirits.
#2. Each spirit on the heirarchy at some point in time worked on creating a purely spiritual world that they were in complete control of. Part of the purely spiritual world each one made included another “creator” who was responsible for creating the next realm in a descending order.
#3. Eventually, one of these “creator gods” made a mistake. The mistake he made was to create the physical world we see around us today.
#4. The goal of the Gnostic faith is to learn the secrets of having a mystical journey which will allow you to be re-united with the inhabitants of the purely spiritual world(s) who did not make the mistake of creating a physical universe for us to live in.
#5. These secrets on how to begin your mystical journey as a Gnostic were for sale.
#6. Gnosticism became a serious problem for the Church because there some traveling Gnostic teachers who saw how popular Christianity was, and began telling people that Jesus was a part of their spiritual hierarchy.
#7. This way of thinking by the Gnostics eventually resulted in several documents being written. One of these documents is known as the Gospel of Thomas being written and used to make money from wealthy people who had questions about the Christian faith.
#1. Marcion took the basic story of the Gnostic faith and pointed people in a completely different direction.
#2. While the Gnostics had a constantly changing number of spirits on their spiritual hierarchy, Marcion promoted a version of the hierarchy that claimed there were only two spirits out there.
#3. The first spirit on the top of his hierarchy was a god of conditional love. This god would accept anyone, anywhere, anytime and also had (in some mysterious and mystical way) appeared as a man known as “Jesus” during the reign of Tiberius to share a message of love and brotherhood.
#4. The second spirit on Marcion’s hierarchy, holding the lower between the two, was the God of the Jewish people and the author of the Old Testament writings. This “god” hated humanity, and had been using the Jewish people to distract and discourage the pursuit of the message shared by “Jesus.”
#5. Marcion also encouraged racism and persecution against the Jewish people for their foolish loyalty to an “inferior god” who did not have humanity’s best interests in mind.
#6. While Gnostics had been using the Gospel of Thomas, Marcion produced a version of the Gospel of Luke as as a heavily edited collection of Paul’s Letters, both of which had been re-written to remove any “Jewish myths” being taught by the Church.
#7. The Christian response to Marcion and the Gnostics began in the second century and continued on into the third. We will look at how they dealt with these issues next time.
Concerning The Christian Response To Marcion and the Gnostics
#1. Since Marcion had produced a list of books, the Church leaders began to feel the need to do the same thing. This became known as the doctrine of the Canon of Scripture. Around year 170 CD, Melito, the Bishop of Sardis wrote this about the books of the Old Testament:
“When I came to the east and reached the place where these things were preached and done and learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, I sat down and sent them to you.”
#2. In response to Marcion and the Gnostics, Church leaders also begn communicating to discover which books were being used by God to bring people into the Church, and the list of books they came up with eventually became known as the New Testament.
#3. In order to exclude the followers from Marcion and the Gnostics, Church leaders begin using a series of questions to decide if someone should be recognized as a Christian and invited to attend the private “love feasts.”
The questions they asked were simple:
“Do you believe in God, the Father almighty? Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost and of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again on the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended unto heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?
Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh?”
#4. When asked these kinds of questions, Marcion and the Gnostics would say no.
The Third Century (Part 1)
#1. Within the Roman Em,pire, there was no Empire wide decision made to persecute the Church. The occasional outbreaks of persecution could be avoided by working to maintain public support.
#2. In order to win public support on the local level, there were some Christians who felt the need to engage in debate(s) to try and discourage people from believing all kinds of rumors being spread about the Church.
#3. Some of the rumors revolved around Communion, which the Christians of the time liked to call a love feast. Since the “love feast” took place in privage between people who openly referred to each other as brother and sister, it was easy for outsiders to think they were engaging in incest.
#4. There were also rumors of cannibalism because they claimed to be nourished by the body and blood of Christ. This was reinforced in the minds of their pagan neighbors who knew Christians had been taking abandoned children into their homes where the love feasts were held.
#5. There was also class prejudices involved. Many wealthy people in the Roman Empire spend their free time discussing and debating ideas. One of the questions being asked about the Christian faith was regarding God’s omnipotence. Why would an all powerful “god” visit every home to listen to every conversation and see what was being cooked for food?
#6. Some Pagans wondered by Jesus, being the Son of God, would not simply destroy all the people who wanted to crucify him. What is the point of being a “god” if you are just going to lay down and die when threatened by your enemies? That’s not a very “Roman” thing to do.
#7. In order to deal with the issues raised by these questions, Christians begin thinking of how to deal with the “Pop culture” of their times, which placed a high value on philosophical debate.
#8. One of the first Christians to try and answer these concerns was Justin Martyr, who lived in Rome around the year 165 CE and began teaching “the true philosophy of Christianity” to try and deal with these kinds of questions.
#9. Justin Martyr believed that when the best philosophers spoke of a supreme being, they were referring to the existence of the Christian God. When famous Greek philosophers like Socrates taught people there was an afterlife we would go to when we die, Justin Martyr gave the Christian God credit for that insight.
#10. There was one Greek philosophy called Stoicism, which taught there was a “law” we had to live by in order to survive in this world. Justin Martyr used this to promote Christianity by claiming that Jesus, the “Word” according to John’s Gospel was responsible for that law’s existence. This is the kind of thing Justin Martyr would say.
#11. Now we can look at the Third Century Church.
#12. In response to the questions and concerns being raised by their pagan neighbors and the heresies being promoted by Marcion and the Gnostics, there were some Christians who felt the need to start writing in response to those challenges.
#13. The names of the four men who did most of this work are: Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage, and Origen of Alexandria.
Concerning Irenaeus of Lyons
#14. Irenaeus of Lyons was taught the faith by Polycarp of Smyrna, who we saw earlier. We do not know the circumstances that led Irenaeus of Lyons to leave Smyrna for the city of Lyons in modern day France.
#15. Irenaeus of Lyons was not interested in philosophical debates. In his writings, he simply report the facts of what his basic Christian beliefs were. His main concern was the Church he was responsible for would develop a world view consistent with what he had learned from Polycarp.
#16. His writings began with a Creation story and continued on to the Gospel; which he believed was the most important event to occur in all of recorded human history. Irenaeus wanted to be sure others had a chance to know the basic plot points of the entire narrative.
Concerning Clement of Alexandria
#17. As a young man, Clement went searching for someone to teach him the discipline needed to be a Christian philosopher, and he ended up living in the city of Alexandria. Clement was being taught how to think through thee historical narrative of the Bible (especially the Old Testament) as an allegory.
#18. A man named Pantaeunus began teaching Clement how to do this, and when Pantaenus died Clement became the main Christian teacher in Alexandria. His understanding of the ministry was different than Irenaeus of Lyons.
#19.While Irenaeus of Lyons wanted to help people master the basics, Clement believed the best Irenaeus could accomplish was to help people remain children who were nourished by milk and never ate any form of solid food.
#20. Clement also wanted to convince the pagan philosophers that Christianity was not an ignorant superstition. This was the same kind of ambition Justin Martyr had, with one difference. While Justin Martyr tried to use philosophy as a tool for evangelism work, Clement of Alexandria used it for evangelism AND discipleship.
#21. Clement of Alexndria began teaching Christians that while God had made a covenant with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai allowing them to teach the Law and have prophets, God also made another covenant with the Greek entrusting them with philosophy and philosophers. In this way Clement of Alexandria believed that Moses the Prophet and Plato the Philosopher were equal in the eyes of God.
#22. Clement of Alexandria also referred to himself as a “true Gnostic” who believed anyone seeking Christian wisdom would replace the historical narrative of the Old Testament with allegory.
Concerning Tertullian of Carthage
#23. Tertullian appears to have been born and raised in Northern Africa. He had an incredible intellect, and had very little mercy to show anyone who disagreed with him. He was very harsh toward pagans, Gnostics and the followers of Marcion.
#24. While the Emperor Marcus Aurelius considered Christians who persisted in their faith unto death as being foolish and stubbon. Tertullian considered anyone who rejected Christianity as being foolish and stubbon (he was not afraid to let them know it either).
#25. While Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria were willing to believe anything good in the Greek culture favored by the Roman Empire was “Christian” Tertullian disagreed. Tertullian argued that bringing Roman pop culture into the Church was a really bad idea.
#26. Tertullian made some strong arguments against Marcion and the Gnostics. The main point Tertullian made against Marcion and the Gnostics was a legal term from Roman Law known as a Prescription. Within the Roman Court System, a Prescription simply meant if you had it first and you still have it right now, it belongs to you.
#26. A Prescription Also meant that since you had it first and you still have it right now, no one else can appeal to a judge and start a lawsuit against you to claim it as their own.
#27. Tertullian used a Prescription to defend the Church’s exclusive claim to Jesus and the Gospel as well as the Christian interpretation of the Bible. He wrote a “Prescription” against Marcion and the Gnostics, claiming the Church had the name of Jesus and the story of the Gospel a long time before Marcion and the Gnostics saw how popular it was and tried to borrow it.
#28. In a strange turn of events, Tertullian joined a Pentecostal group known as the Montanist movement, which was widely considered to be a heresy by many in the Church. The Montanism movement began because there was a man named Montanus who joined the Church and began prophesying and telling others he had been possessed by the Holy Spirit of God.
#29. Montanus taught that a new age of the Spirit equal to the one Jesus represented had begun among those who supported him and insisted his followers had a supernatural power to refrain from moral sin(s).
#30. Tertullian also provided an explanation on how to think about the Trinity. He wrote that Christians were to believe in “one substance and three persons,” an explanation that is still being used by the Church today.
Concerning Origen of Alexandria
#31. Origen of Alexandria’s father became a martyr during the persecution started by the Emperor Septimius Severus. When Origen was in his late teenage years, Demetrius (the Bishop of Alexandria) chose him to be in charge of training candidates for baptism (which they called catahumens).
#32. Origen eventually started his own school to train Christians to think like the classical Greek philosophers. Origen agreed with all of the points that Irenaeus of Lyons believed were important, but once those basics had been met, it was safe to use allegory to interpret the Old Testament. This led to the main emphasis of Church fellowship to be based on Greek philosophy instead of Hebrew narrative.
#33. In the Bible, Moses wrote two creation accounts. As a historical narrative, the first one displayed the glory of God, and the second one displayed the glory of mankind. Origen thought that as long as you believed God was the Creator, you could interpret the details any way you wanted.
#34. Origen taught that there were two creation events. Origen believed the first creation resulted in the existence of spirits who sat around all day studying philosophy. There were some spirits who did not want to do this anymore, and their decision led God to create the universe we see around us today.
#35. Some of the spirits who did not want to study philosophy became the evil spirits that we commonly call demons, which others were allowed to become human. Those who became human could become Christians and return to studying the philosophy they rejected before they were born as a part of the Church.
#36. The lives and ministries of these four men sent the Church in three different directions.
#37. Those who followed Irenaeus began emphasizing basic Christian beliefs as the foundation of a healthy local Church.
#38. Those who followed Tertullian (who spoke and wrote in the Latin language) began emphasizing good works and high moral standards as the foundation of a healthy local Church, which became really popular in Europe (and later on, America as well).
#39. Those who followed Clement and Origen spoke Greek and began emphasizing philosophy and allegory as Bible study tools we could use to build the foundation of a healthy local Church by replacing historical narrative with allegorical interpretation, which is used n some parts of the world today.
The Third Century (Part 2)
#1. In the Third Century, Part 1 we looked at 4 of the most important Church leaders of the time, but now I want to go back and look at the Emperors and the political circumstances in which Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian and Origen lived.
#2. The last years of the Second Century were a time of peace for the Church. While Trajan’s policies outlined in his letter to Pliny the Younger were still used as the standard by local Roman officials, there were bigger problems happening inside the Empire.
#3. A man named Septimius Severus became the Emperor at the end of the second century by ending a series of civil wars. Outside the borders of the Roman Empire, there were also barbarians who threatened border towns.
#4. In order to avoid another civil war, Septimius Severus decided to begin promoting the religious policies used by Augustus Caesar. The Emperor wanted everyone to join “Sol invictus” (The Unconquered Sun) who he claimed was the ruler of the spiritual realm and the Empire.
#5. When the Emperor start working on this policy in year 202 of the Common Era (C.E.), it met a lot of resistance among Jews and Christians. The resistance motivated the Emperor to destroy the Jewish and Christian living inside every part of the Empire.
#6. During this persecution, Irenaeus of Lyons stopped preaching and writing. He simply disappeared, and we have no historical records of what happened to him. In the city of Alexandria, Origen’s father was martyred as well. (Origen wanted to go with his father, but his mother hid his clothes form him).
#7. Clement had to leave Alexandria, an act for which he was criticized later.
#8. Tertullian wrote “The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas” which told the story of what happened to two Christian women, and a few of their friends. Felicitas was pregnant at the time she was arrested, and the local officials tried to use that to reason with her, but she persisted in her faith.
#9. When she was 8 months pregnant, she went into labor and gave birth to a daughter who was adopted by another Christian woman. When her jailers who saw her birth pains asked her how she expected to face the beasts in the arena she said “Now my sufferings are only mine. But when if ace the beasts there will be another who will live in me, and will suffer for me since I shall be suffering for him.”
#10. When Septimius Severus died, a man named Caracalla became the Emperor, and another persecution broke out in North Africa.
#11. When Caracalla died in year 218 CE, Elagabalus became the Emperor until he died in year 222 C.E.
#12. When Elababalus died, a man named Alexander Severus became the Emperor and held the throne 13 years (222 to 235 CE). Elagabalus and Alexander Severus both continued the religious policy used by Septimius Severus as a tool to maintain order, without any persecution.
#13. The next Emperor (Maximin) started a persecution in Rome because the local Church could not agree on who their Bishop was going to be, but this did not spread.
#14. When Philip of Arabia was Emperor during years 244 to 249 CE, the Church also enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity within the Roman Empire. During the third century up to this point, persecution had been so rare that by the end of Philip’s reign there were no living eye witnesses to the death of tghe martyrs.
#15. Then in year 249 CE, a man named Decius took the throne and the perfect storm began.
#16. When Decius became the Emperor, the Empire was struggling with border security. There was also a bad economy, and Decius believed the “gods” were angry with the Empire. In order to appease the “gods” Decius set up a new policy that took the Church by surprise.
#17. Decius made a decree that everyone living in the Roman Empire had to be summoned to the local authorities who would supervise them making an offering to the pagan “gods.” They would also require people to burn incense to the Emperor, effectively joining the cult of the Emperor (“Caesar is Lord”), and anyone who did these two things in the presence of witnesses would be given a certificate called a libellum to prove their loyalty to the Empire.
#18. The Church who lived in the peace and prosperity of the Roman Empire was not prepared for this, and became split up into several different groups based on their response to this challenge.
#19. The first group of Christians became known as “Confessors” who were put on trial and tortured without compromising their faith. (Decius did not want to create any new martyrs). Origen of Alexandria was a member of this group.
#20. The second group of Christians promised to be faithful unto death, only to deny the faith while they were being tortured. This group became known as the “lapsed.”
#21. The third group of Christians were summoned by the authorities and obeyed the imperial edict; at which point they were given libellums.
#22. The fourth group of Christians went and bought fake libellums on the black market and used them to avoid being summoned by the authorities.
#23. Decius sat on the throne for 2 years, and when he died, the policy he started was not continued by the next Emperor (a man named Gallus). When Gallus died, a man named Valerian became the Emperor and started a persecution, which ended when he was defeated in battle and taken as a prisoner of war by the Persian Empire.
#24. After Valerian’s defeat, the Church had a period of 40 years without any serious persecution, but it was not a time of peace and unity because Church leaders had to decide how to respond to the four different groupsa who emerged within the Church during Decius’ persecution. The conflict resulting from Decius’ policy focused on two Christian men whose named were Cyprian and Novatian.
#25. Cyprian became a Bishop in the city of Carthage before Decius took the throne. When Decius’ policy was decreed, Cyprian decided to leave the city and hide. He simply wrote letters to conduct his affairs as a Bishop.
#26. This caused people who lost their Bishop to question his authority. The confessors living in the city of Carthage claimed they had more authority than Cyprian when it was time to decide what should b e done about those who had compromised their faith.
#27. Cyprian decided to call for a Synod, which would allow him to sit down with other Bishops and talk about how to respond to the problems being raised by the Confessors who questioned his authority.
#28. During the Synod it was decided that Cyprian should only welcome those who compromised their faith back into the local Church under two conditions: 1) the person in question was dying, or 2) the person in question had suffered under another persecution.
#29. The reason Cyprian wanted to bring the “lapsed” back is because he believed “outside the Church there is no salvation” and that “no one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.”
#30. Cyprian had learned a lot from Tertullian, and had some serious concerns about how to respond to “Christians” who did not live up to the high moral standards and expectations that Tertullian had for the Church.
#31. Novatian believed that Cyprian was being too generous. Novatian thought the purity of the local Church should be a higher priority than the forgiving love shown to the lapsed.
#32. This shows us that the Church by this time could not agree on how to understand the relationship between struggling with sin and Christian living, a debate that eventually lead to Martin’s Luther’s protest in Germany.
(To be continued…)