Christianity is characterized by a number of reported miracles
attributed by Christians to Jesus and his followers.
Origins of Christianity
Christianity originated in the first century. According to Acts
11:19 and 11:26 in the New Testament, Jesus' followers were first
called Christians by non-Christians in the city of Antioch, where
they had fled and settled after early persecutions in Judea.
After Jesus' death, early Christian doctrine was taught by Paul
of Tarsus and the other apostles.
Jesus, a descendant of Judah, is reported to
have declared himself to be the long awaited Messiah (John
8:23-24, John 14:11), but
was rejected as an apostate by the people generally considered
to be the Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:63-64). He was condemned
for blasphemy and executed by the Romans around the year 30. The
formal charge cited in his execution was leading a rebellion (Luke
23:1-5): he was called the "King of the Jews" by Pontius
Pilate (John 19:19-22, Luke 16:8) on the titulus crucis or
statement of the charge hung over the condemned on the cross.
The Gospels indicate that the Roman charge was actually an attempt
to appease the Jewish authorities, although some scholars argue
that it was an ordinary Roman trial of a rebel. According to Christians,
the Old Testament predicted the death and humiliation of Jesus
as recorded in the New Testament. Examples include the book of
Isaiah that alludes to the slapping (Matthew 26:67-68, Isaiah 52:14-15,
Isaiah 50:6, Mark 14:65, Luke 23:63-64), whipping (Isaiah 53:5,
John 19:1, Matthew 27:26) and general humiliation that is centered
on the given references.
Jesus' apostles were the main witnesses of his life, teaching
and resurrection from the dead, although some of the early traditions
of the church name numerous disciples (as many as 70 including
James Adelphos, Mark, Luke, Mary Magdalene, etc) who also followed
Jesus in his travels and witnessed his miracles and teachings.
After his crucifixion, his apostles and other followers claimed
that Jesus rose from the dead, and set out to preach the new message.
The original apostles are believed by most Christians to have written
some of the New Testament's Gospels and Epistles.
Many of the New Testament's twenty-seven books were written by
Paul of Tarsus. Twelve Epistles name him as writer, and some traditions
also credit him as the writer of the book of Hebrews. The Gospel
of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are stated as having been
written by Luke, whom many believe to have been under Paul's direct
influence. Acts cites Paul as a student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3),
a leading figure amongst the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34-40) and
a noteworthy authority in his own right (Acts 28:16-22) considering
that the Jews of Rome sought his opinion on Christianity. Paul
was the principal missionary of the Christian message to the Gentile
The Early Christian Church
Christianity spread rapidly over the first three centuries aided
by the relative internal peace and good roads of the Roman Empire:
There were two main communities of Christians,
the Jewish Christians and the Hellenistic Christians. Jewish
Christians were those Jews
and Gentile converts who stuck closely to the Judaic beliefs including
male circumcision, dietary restrictions and the concept of purity.
Hellenistic Christians were those who were more influenced by the
Greek-speaking world and believed that the central message of Christianity
could be re-presented in ways more appropriate for Gentiles. Both
these groups contributed to the New Testament and both contained
within them a wide spectrum of beliefs.
The first great writer of Christianity, Tertullian,
sums this up in a rhetorical address to a Roman governor with
the fact that,
as for the Christians of Carthage that just yesterday were few
in number, now they "have filled every place among you— cities,
islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes,
companies, palaces, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you
but the temples of your gods" (Apologeticus written at Carthage,
Over the course of the first few centuries after Christ, classically
trained theologians and philosophers such as Origen and Augustine
developed Christian theology and Christian philosophy, which some
argue was a synthesis of Hellenic and Early Christian thought.
During this period of first organization the Christian church
had to deal mainly with occasional, but sometimes severe persecutions.
The life of the martyr, who would rather die than renounce his
faith, became the highest virtue. The canonical books of the New
Testament were agreed, early translations appeared, and a church
hierarchy emerged: the Bishops of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome
assumed the title Patriarch.
The Roman Emperor Constantine I was converted in 312 and with
his Edict of Milan (313) he ended the persecution of Christians.
Persecution was briefly revived during the reign of Julian the
Apostate (361-363) who tried to restore paganism to the empire;
Christianity was later made the officially favored religion in
about 382 by Emperor Theodotius. Similar events took place in neighbouring
Georgia and Armenia. But in Persia, which was at constant war with
Rome, the Christians struggled under the oppresive Sassanids, who
tried to revive the Zoroastrian religion.
In the Persian empire, at the synod of Seleucia in 410, the bishop
of Seleucia was pronounced Catholic and replaced the Patriarch
of Antioch as the highest authority of the Assyrian Church of the
East. Soon after, during the Nestorian Schism, this church broke
all ties with the West. It would be the dominant church of Asia
for more than a millennium, with bishopries as far away as India,
Java, and China.
Emergence of national Churches
The question of Jesus's divinity was central to early Christians.
A wide range of early writers, including Justin Martyr and
Tertullian testify to belief that Jesus was God. At the same
Christian groups did not share that belief. The situation came
to a head with the teaching of Arius, who brought large numbers
of bishops and faithful to his belief that Jesus was a created
being. The issue was settled by vote at the First Council of
Nicaea, convened by Emperor Constantine I, where the teaching
championed by Athanasius, trinitarianism, was enshrined as
dogma. Although Constantine ordered
all Arian books burned and Arius exiled, Arianism continued
to exist and thrive in the empire for several decades, and
the Germanic tribes for almost two centuries, after the decision
of the council.
This was only the first of several ecumenical councils for resolving
doctrinal issues. These councils sought to unify Christianity,
and were supported by the Byzantine Emperors in order to promote
political stability. Some of the theological terminology of these
councils may have been misunderstood by those Orthodox whose main
language was Syriac, Armenian, or Coptic. As a result differences
in later theological constructs lead these national branches of
the church to break away from the rest, forming Oriental Churches,
sometimes called the Monophysites.
By the second millennium, Christianity had spread
to most of the Western world, the Middle East, parts of Africa,
small inroads into the Far East as well. For the most part it had
remained fairly unified in its fundamental beliefs with major theological
disagreements being resolved in council. But as the millennium
approached, certain major differences in theology and practice
became increasingly troublesome. The Great Schism of 1054 split
the Church into Western and Eastern churches: the Western church
gradually consolidated into the Roman Catholic Church under the
central authority of Rome, while the Eastern church adopted the
name "Orthodox" to emphasize their commitment to preserving
the traditions of the church and resistance to change. This Eastern
Church refused to be consolidated under a single bishop, as this
was completely alien to the structure the church had hitherto enjoyed.
The Eastern Church recognized the Patriarch of Constantinople as
the "First among equals" of the numerous bishops in charge
of its autocephalous churches.
In the European Reformation of the 1500s, Protestants and numerous
similar churches arose in objection to perceived abuses of growing
Papal authority and to perceived doctrinal error and novelty in
Rome. Key questions in the Reformation controversy are summed up
in five famous 'solas': Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone - does
the church's authority derive solely from correctly interpreting
the Scriptures, or does it have a separate authority?), Sola Fide
(Faith alone - is a man saved through faith in Christ alone, or
do the Church, good works and the sacraments contribute?), Sola
Gratia (Grace alone - is a man's salvation purely and exclusively
due to God's unmerited grace, or do individual works make a contribution?),
Solus Christus (Christ alone - is Jesus the only mediator between
man and God, or does the Church and its priests play a part?) and
Soli Deo Gloria (To the glory of God alone - does 100% of the glory
for man's salvation belong to God, or are the Church and its priests
eligible for a part?). The Reformation sparked a vigorous struggle
for the hearts and minds of Europeans. Disputes between Catholics
and Protestants sparked persecution and were caught up in various
wars, both civil and foreign.
Catholicism and Protestantism arrived in North America (and later
Australasia) with European settlement. Lacking any central authority
in either Rome or national governments, Protestants worshipped
in hundreds, and later thousands, of independent denominations.
Protestantism was taken to South America and Africa by European
colonists, especially in the 16th to 19th centuries. Orthodoxy
first arrived in North America via Russian settlers in the Alaskan
region in the 18th century; they came to North America from Europe
in much greater numbers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
In the 19th and 20th centuries many Christian-oriented nations,
especially in Western Europe, became more secular as science and
technology captured the imagination of the people. Most communist
states were governed by avowed atheists, though only Albania was
officially atheistic. Adherents to Fundamentalist Christianity,
particularly in the United States, also perceived threats from
new theories about the age of the Earth and the evolution of life.