Rise of Christianity in the First and Second Centuries
Christianity is a terminology derived from the Greek word Khristos- commonly referred to as Christ. The word Christ, if it is to be defined plainly, means “the anointed one”, according to Spielvogel, 2011, p. 190. The religious book from where the tenets and principles of the religious belief of Christianity are found is referred to as the Holy Bible. Although the Holy Bible is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament, these two actually complement each other since the new is a fulfillment of the old. Christianity has its foundations in the teachings and philosophies of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is from Jesus’ name Christ, that His followers got their name “Christians”. The backbone of the Christian’s teachings and beliefs is that Jesus Christ was, and indeed still is, the son of the Most High God, who become human and was born of a woman so as to come into the world and save humanity from death and eternal destruction which is brought by the devil through sin. To achieve this redemption of humanity, Christians believe that Jesus suffered at the hands of those who did not believe, died and rose from the dead on the third day having triumphed over death, He then ascended into heaven and therefore sits and reigns with God the father, awaiting the day of judgment set apart for God for the sentencing of the world-each person according to his own actions (Edwards, 1997, p. 491).
When Christianity first came into being in the early first and second centuries, the Jews were still under the rule of the Roman Empire which had conquered in war much of Asia and many parts of present day Europe (Stark, 1996, p. 158). The Jews were suffering under the Roman Empire since they were more or less under slavery, although not in the strict sense of the word. The Romans had imposed on them heavy taxes which the Roman Empire needed to be able to run their big empire and take care of their massive military. The rights of the Jews were many times denied with many of them being beaten and thrown into prisons if they dared talk ill of or disobey the Romans. What kept them going was the hope they had in their God, who had promised to send them a Messiah or savior, who would rescue them from the brutal hand of the Romans who ruled them with an iron fist. Although many of them doubted Hhim when He came, Jesus Christ was the Messiah they had waited for, for so long (Kenchnie, 2001, p. 14); but then His own people did not believe in Him and they rejected and killed Him. The main reason for their rejection of Jesus was the fact that they had expected a military person; an army commander who would lead them into victorious war against the Romans like past Jewish heroes had done in the days of their ancestors. When Christianity first came into being, there were different and varying positions and mindsets of the Roman Emperors and their administrators towards the first Christians in the 1st and 2nd century, based on who the empire was at the time and what he deemed the best thing to do to with the Christian issue. Some emperors would just adopt an outlook of unresponsiveness towards the Christians while others would totally pursue and hound them for persecution (McKechnie, 2001. p. 221).
There were several factors that led to the sharp rise and increase of Christians in the first and second centuries. It is important to bear in mind that there were several historical, sociological and even topographical factors that caused this extraordinary expansion of Christianity. The Christians at that time were still under the Roman Empire Constantine, whose reign was characterized by frequent and regular disasters to his empire. Spielvogel, 2011, p. 202 informs us that Constantine was not aggressive with Christians because he even gave Christian leaders grants to empower them. Between 160 and 250 AC, the empire was hit by a distressing outbreak of disease which most modern medical practitioners suppose to have been the first occurrence of small pox in the world which was most times called the “Plague of Galen”; the plague led to the deaths of so many people, both juvenile and adults, that it has even been said there were people with carts who would be chosen and burdened with the task of loading their carts with corpses and dumping them out of the cities to avoid stench (Stark, 1996, p. 83). This epidemic, although a disaster, presented an open break that Christianity needed to rise to preeminence in quantity and also theologically due to several reasons. The first major reason has its foundation in the teaching of Christianity; the greatest commandment that Jesus Christ gave to His followers before ascending to heaven was that they should love the Lord God their God and love their neighbors as they love themselves. His teachings were very different from what the people had been hearing for years (Frend, 1984, p. 3). The Christian principles and tenets also advocate for kindness and assistance to those in trouble or undergoing sufferings. During and after the epidemic that broke out in the Roman Empire during this 1st and 2nd century, the Christians were on the front line taking care of the infected and affected; they did not discriminate against the pagans or gentiles but took care of any sick person in similar manner as they had been taught by Christ (Frend, 1984, p. 101). Their humanitarian actions eventually transformed to performances of communal service in that difficult time of calamity through their systems of health care. This attracted many people to the religion and the numbers of Christians continued to grow (McKenchnie, 2001, p. 78.).
Another factor that led to the growing of Christianity was the fact that unlike the other religions or cults and sects that were in existence in the 1st and 2nd century, Christianity put across more reasonable and acceptable rationalizations of the tragedies that were taking place throughout the Roman Empire at the time. It is worthy to note that while the originator and pioneer of Christianity, Jesus Christ, was in the world it is recorded that He performed many miracles and supernatural acts that can not to this day, be explained by the human mind or technology, no matter how wise and intellectual human have proved to be. After He rose from death and ascended into heaven, Jesus gave his disciples and followers the power and authority to do the same miracles and supernatural acts that He had done while on earth. Since most of these miracles included healing operations and solving of humanitarian crisis, the Christians continued to attract mass followings and the believers grew in numbers. It was also strange and unusual to the other people how little the Christians were affected by the outbreaks of disease or other catastrophes that were occurring in the Roman Empire (Stark, 1996, p. 13) ; many therefore opted to become Christians with the hopes that that the God of the Christians could protect them from calamities in similar manner. Other contributions that have been forwarded in recent years as to why Christianity could have ascended to such supremacy in such a short frame of time, is the fact that Christianity promises renaissance from the dead and eternal life in paradise later on. Although this could be true at the time, there were also other religions with almost the same if not similar beliefs at the time; again to achieve this eternal life of bliss in paradise there are many things that one had to do to according to Christian teachings.
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McKechnie, P.: The first Christian centuries: perspectives on the early church. (Apollos,
Spielvogel, J. J.: Cengage Advantage Books: Western Civilization, Complete. (Cengage
Stark, R.: The rise of Christianity: a sociologist reconsiders history. (Princeton University