Interesting Church History 1st to 4th Century


The First Century – Conflicts With Judaism & With Rome

Justification is not by law-keeping but by faith in Jesus Christ alone (Romans chapters 3-8, Galatians)

We have died to the Law

(Romans 7:1-6, Galatians 2:19)

If we go back under the Law we are cut off from Christ
(Galatians 5:1-11)

The Law no longer has any power over us, therefore there is no condemnation from the Law for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1,2)

These doctrines caused major conflict esp. between Paul and the Jews

Clean / Unclean

Jesus touched many unclean things and was not defiled by them (dead bodies, lepers, woman with an issue of blood etc)

Christ more powerful than ritual uncleanness

Jesus declares all foods clean (Mark 7)

Peter told not to call unclean what God has called lean (Acts 10)

Romans 14 – still to act according to our conscience

1 Corinthians 8 & 10 – we are not to eat in idols temples but neither are we to see the meat as ‘defiled’. Rather we are to stay away from it so as not to stumble others Jacob’s Ladder Spirituality

The Jews had an understanding of spirituality as vertical and that you proceeded upward one step at a time toward heaven.

Rich, obviously blessed people, teachers priests and prophets were at the top and common people and ‘sinners’ at the bottom.

When Jesus said ‘the tax-gatherers and sinners will enter the Kingdom ahead of you’ He upset this understanding

John 3- Nicodemus, John 4 – woman at the well. Both ‘ends of the ladder’ – no difference. Ladder demolished!

The Circumcision Debate

Many Jewish Christians insisted that Gentiles Christians be circumcised as part of entering into the blessings of Abraham

Paul insisted that the blessings of Abraham were by faith and that all who were of faith were sons of Abraham and that circumcision / uncircumcised was nothing but rather faith working through love

It was resolved at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 – that circumcision was not necessary for salvation

The Sabbath

The Sabbath was the Jewish day of rest and was strictly observed by the Jews as part of the Ten Commandments

Yet Jesus frequently ‘worked’ on the Sabbaths and declared Himself Lord of the Sabbath – (Mark 2:27,28)

The New Testament Sabbath is our Sabbath rest in God (Hebrews chapters 3&4) and is not a particular day of the week

We are not to let people judge us about Sabbath observance (Colossians 2:16)

Inclusion of Gentiles

The Gentiles were seen as so sinful that it was ‘not possible’ for them to become Christians

If was thought that if Gentiles were righteous they would become Jews first, clean up their lives and then become Christians

Spirituality and culture were tightly connected as were spirituality and ‘respectability’

Grace reaches down even to those with highly dysfunctional lifestyles and this outraged the Jews who strove for works-based righteousness

Angels vs. Christ

In the Jewish view the Law was infallible because it was delivered through angels and was mediated by them (Acts 7:25, Hebrews 2)

Christ being greater than the angels was able to revoke the Law

The supremacy of Christ over the angels is the starting point for the book of Hebrews (chapter 1)

Paul even tells us that we shall judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:1-3)

The Gnostics again tried to place Christ as lower than the angels

But the Bible asserts that Jesus Christ  is above all heavenly powers and that they will bow to Him (Ephesians 1;20, Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:5-11)

Therefore Christianity is superior to Judaism as it has not an angel but God’s Son as its Mediator

Temple Worship

Acts 7:48, 17:24…God does not dwell in temples made with human hands. First said to the Jews, then to the Greeks.

Jesus ‘spoke of the Temple of His body’ (John 2:21)

Our bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Temple worship ceased in 70AD and has never resumed


Jesus was the ‘once for all’ sacrifice – for all people, for all time… (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10)

Sacrifices of bulls and goats were the shadow but Christ is the reality and has replaced them!

The Aaronic system has been replaced the priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7&8)

The only sacrifice now required is praise and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15)

Holy Spirit vs. Tradition

In the NT the Holy Spirit replaces law and tradition as the inner guidance of the believer Hebrews 8:8-13, 10:15-17 Matthew 7:8, Colossians 2:8

We do not need traditional rabbinical instruction: Matthew 7:29, 16:17, John 6:45, 8:28, 14:26; 1 Thessalonians 4:9,
1 John 2:20,27

Revelation comes via the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 2:9-16

Tensions With Rome

Refusal to say Caesar is Lord

Seen as atheists because of the lack of temple observance and ‘meet adoration of the household gods’ (refused to participate in ancestor worship)

Seen as cannibals for ‘eating the flesh of Jesus Christ’

Makers of idols fomented riots against Christians

Pleasing the Jews (by persecuting the Christians)

A convenient minority to blame / persecute

Church History – 3rd & 4th Centuries

Persecutions, Heresies and Growth


Persecution By Rome

Christians seen as atheists for having no visible gods

Christians seen as ‘anti-social’ – haters of society, for not participating in pagan festivals

Christians seen as secretive, unpermitted assemblies, Communion misinterpreted as literal cannibalism

Many thought that Christian neglect of the ‘old gods that made Rome strong’ was causing the decay of the Roman Empire

Lack of loyalty to the Emperor as a god and as Kurios – Lord of all the earth, would not bow to the Roman Standard

The Ten Persecutions

 The First Persecution, Under Nero, A.D. 64-67

The Second Persecution, Under Domitian, A.D. 81

The Third Persecution, Under Trajan, A.D. 108

The Fourth Persecution, Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 162

The Fifth Persecution, Commencing with Severus, A.D. 192

 The Sixth Persecution, Under Maximus, A.D. 235

The Seventh Persecution, Under Decius, A.D. 249

The Eighth Persecution, Under Valerian, A.D. 257

The Ninth Persecution Under Aurelian, A.D. 274

The Tenth Persecution, Under Diocletian, A.D. 303

Reactions To Persecution

Some gave up being Christians and sacrificed to idols (apostasy)

Some bribed the officials to give them certificates (libelli) saying they had sacrificed when in fact they had not done so.

Others paid pagans or friends to sacrifice for them

Others hid and fled the persecutions ‘flee to the hills’

Some volunteered themselves as martyrs believing that if they did so all their sins would be instantly forgiven

Others did not volunteer for martyrdom but accepted it when it came to them

Through martyrdom and the witness of the character of the Christians the Church grew mightily ‘the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church’ (Tertullian Apologeticus)

Theology of Persecution

What to do with those who lapsed under pressure?

Was volunteering for martyrdom a form of extremism?

Could you commit (sometimes gross) sins prior to martyrdom and have them expunged  by your death?

Did the relics of the martyrs have spiritual power e.g. to drive out demons?

Types Of Apostasy


Sacrificati Those who had actually offered a sacrifice to the idols. Christians that made sacrifices, especially to Roman gods, were only offered absolution on their deathbeds.

Thurificati Those who had burnt incense on the altar before the statues of the gods. From Latin thurificare – “burn incense“

Libellatici Those who had drawn up attestation (libellus), or had, by bribing the authorities, caused such certificates to be drawn up for them, representing them as having offered sacrifice, without, however, having actually done so. A two year sanction was imposed as penance. From Latin libellus – “little book; letter; certificate“

Acta facientes Those that made false statements or other acts to save their lives. From Latin – “those doing the acts”

Traditors & Donatism

Traditor, pl.traditores (lat), is a term meaning the one(s) who had handed over. This refers to bishops and other Christians who turned over sacred scriptures or betrayed their fellow Christians to the Roman authorities under threat of persecution. During the persecution of Diocletian between 303–305 A.D., many church leaders had gone as far as turning in Christians to the authorities and had handed over sacred religious texts to authorities to be burned. Later some traditors would be returned to positions of authority under Constantine, sparking a split with the Donatist movement.

While many church members would eventually come to forgive the traditors, the Donatists were much less forgiving. They proclaimed that any sacraments celebrated by these priests and bishops were invalid. They refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution. As a result, many towns were divided between Donatist and non-Donatist congregations.

Church Organization

At first apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – itinerant ministries that founded the churches and which held churches to a common faith
Later – bishops, presbyters (elders) and deacons – locally based, administered the already established church in a particular city

Some Early Theologians





Jesus was created.

The Son has a beginning but God is without beginning

Saw the Trinity as pagan or “Sabellianism” (three gods, or one god in three modes)

Arianism became popular and the dispute led to the Council of Nicea

The Holy Spirit?

A spiritual force

A creature? (e.g. an angel?)

Or God?

Much debate surrounded this issue as the Arians did not see the Holy spirit as God.

Eventually ‘the Cappadocian theologians’ defined this position, defeating the Arians and showing that the Holy Spirit was indeed God.