A Historical Overview of Christianity
Christianity is not one faith in its practice, but a diverse array of faiths that have evolved over two thousand years. What these faiths share in common is the central figure of Jesus Christ. In his day, Jesus was a polarizing figure.
He was born and raised in the Jewish tradition, but was shunned by many when he proclaimed himself to be the long awaited messiah. How could a messiah come from such humble roots? He was not the image of the messiah most people at the time expected.
For the Romans, Jesus posed a threat to their rule. Jesus never set out to upend the Roman state, but his growing popularity was seen as a threat none the less. Eventually he was arrested on trumped-up charges and brutally crucified.
In the decades following his death his small group of apostles began constructing what we now know as the New Testament. They related the events of his life including the miracles he performed, his crucifixion and his resurrection. These writings were combined with the much older Jewish Torah and Talmud to form the Christian Bible of today.
The Apostles also formed the early Christian church as a separate entity from traditional Judaism. In its remarkable history that church would suffer centuries of persecution then would rise to the heights of political and social power. It also would endure many splits. The largest single denomination within the Christian church is Catholicism.
The Protestant Reformation of the middle ages would eventually spawn hundreds of new denominations. The history, theoretical perspectives and rites of each of these denominations differs from the others. All are ultimately focused on Jesus Christ as the savior through which man can be given eternal life in heaven.
• Subtopic 1: theoretical perspectives and development of the theology
Traditional Christian theology views God as a three-faceted entity. God the Father, God the son (Jesus) and God as the Holy Spirit comprise what is known as the godhead.
In 675 A.D., The Council of Trent concluded that “Although we profess three persons we do not profess three substances but one substance and three persons (Stanford University, 2008). Judaism, by contrast, does not recognize Jesus as God. Although many first century Jews viewed Jesus as a heretic or even a false prophet, most now accept that he was a prophet but not that he was the messiah.
Christianity is heavily influenced by Judaism. The books of the Torah form Christian conceptions of the beginning of the world, the sinfulness of man and the promise of a coming messiah. Jesus himself preached in the Jewish synagogues and often cited Old Testament prophecy.
St. Augustine of Hippo, argued that philosophical reflection complemented theology, but only when these philosophical reflections were firmly grounded in a prior intellectual commitment to the underlying truth of the Christian faith.
(Stanford University, 2008)
The Jews of the first century doubted that Jesus could be the messiah that had been promised in the book of Isaiah. He was a carpenter from humble origins. His parents were unmarried at the time Mary began pregnant with Jesus.
The family faced ostracization as a result. Joseph, the baby’s earthly father, had considered sending his wife away before the baby was born. Since he and Mary had not yet had sex, Joseph suspected that the pregnancy was the result of an affair. According to the Christian bible, Joseph was convinced not to send her away by a vision from God and consultation with Jewish elders. The baby was to be the messiah born of a virgin.
If the Jewish community doubted the humble beginnings of the young messiah, some of his early teachings raised even more concern. While Jesus recognized that the Jewish people were the chosen people of the Old Testament the messiah was not to be reserved to them. Jesus came to atone for the sins of all people. Those of any culture who accepted him in faith could receive this atonement.
Judaism had already existed for centuries by that time. During this p of time theologians had created hundreds of specific rules regarding worship and everyday life. For many Jews piety was judged in concordance with obeying of these rules. Jesus challenged this assumption.
By working on the Sabbath and performing other acts that broke the rules, Jesus sent a clear message that true faith was about much more than obeying the rules. He told the elders that they could not “earn their way” in to heaven. In doing so he challenged the well-established social order.
As Jesus had faced skepticism and outright hostility, so too would the early Christian Church. Theologians such as St. Paul would face resistance from all sides. The Jews, particularly the elite classes, strongly disagreed with the proposition that Jesus was the messiah.
The ruling Romans saw a threat that could erode their empire from within. There was also dissent within the early church as it struggled to find its theological underpinnings.