Beginnings of Christianity

Read the following and complete the activity that follows.

Jesus and His Teachings
In the land of Judea, a part of the Roman Empire, a child was born to a Jewish woman named Mary in the village of Bethlehem. For much of his early life, Jesus lived in the town of Nazareth. Later there were reports that he was teaching new ideas and performing miracles.

As he traveled through Judea, Jesus taught belief in one God and in the Ten Commandments just as other Jewish teachers did. Yet in some ways his teachings were very different from theirs. Jesus told of the coming of the kingdom of God. He called on people to turn away from sin, or going against the word of God, so that they could be a part of God’s kingdom. Jesus explained that God was loving and world forgive those who were sorry for their sins.

Jesus also encouraged his listeners to love one another, saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Enemies, too, were to be forgiven and loved. He said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”

To make his ideas clear, Jesus often used parables. A parable is a story that teaches a religious idea. One of Jesus’ parables is about a prodigal, or wasteful, son. It tells the story of a young man who demanded his share of his father’s wealth. With this wealth the young man left home to travel. After he had spent all his money, the young man realized that he had acted foolishly. He decided to return home and seek work on his father’s farm. The father forgave his son immediately and welcomed him back into the family. Jesus used the parable of the prodigal son to make the point that God forgives and that people should do the same.

Wherever Jesus spoke, he gained new followers. One belief of Judaism is that a messiah will come to bring justice to the world. Some people believe Jesus was the messiah, or the savior who would lead people to heaven.

Many people, however, did not believe this and did not accept Jesus’ ideas. Some Jewish leaders disliked the fact that Jesus and his disciples, or followers, did not strictly follow Jewish law. Often the teachings of Jesus caused great debate among the Jewish people living in the Roman Empire.

Jesus’ Teachings Spread
Like Jewish leaders, Roman leaders also became concerned as more and more people listened to the words of Jesus. They thought that Jesus might take over the empire and set up his own kingdom. In about A.D. 30 Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, ordered that Jesus be put to death by crucifixion. This meant that Jesus was to be nailed to a cross and left to die.

Jesus’ message did not end with his death, however. On the third day after his death, Jesus’ disciples reported that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them. The disciples were sure from this that Jesus was the messiah. They began to tell of Jesus’ resurrection, or return from death, as well as his teachings.

Soon the Roman roads that connected the empire carried the story of Jesus and his teachings far and wide. Wherever Jesus’ disciples traveled, they gained new believers. Later followers preached in Greek in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.

The Greek for messiah was christos. Jesus became known as Jesus Christus, or Jesus Christ. His growing number of followers became known as Christians and their religion as Christianity.

Among the first to spread the word of Jesus were the apostles, a group of twelve men who had been Jesus’ closest followers, plus one who joined them later. Peter, the leader of the apostles, was very courageous in spreading the word of Jesus. He talked first to the Jews in Jerusalem and non-Jews in other parts of the empire.

Paul, a later apostle, was another important teacher of Christianity. Paul was a new believer in Christianity. After he became a convert, he spent the rest of his life explaining the teachings of Jesus to others, converting both Jews and non-Jews to Christianity. Wherever he went in the empire he began Christian communities.

Christianity continued to spread throughout the Roman Empire even when Christians were persecuted, To persecute someone is to punish him or her for following certain religious beliefs. Many Christians became martyrs, or people willing to die for their beliefs.

The persecution of Christians ended in A.D. 313 when Roman emperor, Constantine converted to Christianity. Constantine had converted before he became emperor. During a major battle, he ordered his soldiers to paint crosses – symbols for Jesus - on their shields before going into battle. Constantine won the battle and became emperor.

Because of his victory, Constantine believed that the God of the Christians was a powerful god. As a result, he made Christianity an accepted religion.

The Growth of Christianity
In A.D. 392, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under the rule of emperor Theodosius.
Writings by Christians played an important role in the growth of the new religion. Many of the letters that Paul wrote to members of the communities he founded were shared with other Christians.

Other Christian writings were grouped to form the Gospels, which describe Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The word gospel means “good news.” The Gospels are made up of four books: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. These and other Christian writings were combined to form the New Testament. This part of the Christian Bible tells about the life and teachings of Jesus and about his followers. The first part of the Bible, the Old Testament or Torah, contains the books of the Hebrew Bible.

As Christianity grew, it became more organized. Each group chose a single leader called a bishop. It is thought that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome. Over time, the role of the bishop of Rome grew into the position of pope, the leader of all the bishops. Today, the pope is the head of the Roman Catholic church.

Christianity continued to change and grow throughout the centuries. The Catholic Church was split in half between the Roman Catholic Church in the west and the Greek Orthodox Church in the east. Another split came in the 1500’s when Martin Luther, a German monk led the Protestant Reformation and the beginnings of the Protestantism. Even with all of this, Christianity continued to grow. Today around 2 billion people around the world follow the religion of Christianity.

Activity - Copy the following words on your own paper and write the definitions.
1. parable
2. mesiah
3. Pontius Pilate
4. crucifixion
5. resurrection
6. apostles
7. persecute
8. martyrs
9. Gospels
10. New Testament
11. Old Testament
12. pope

Answer the following questions using complete sentences on your own paper.
13. Where was Jesus born?
14. What religion was Jesus?
15. What did Jesus teach people to believe?
16. What did Jesus explain about God?
17. How did Jesus teach people to treat each other?
18. What did Jesus use to make his ideas more clear?
19. What did some people believe about Jesus?
20. Who ordered Jesus to his death?
21. How was Jesus killed?
22. What did Jesus’ followers become known as?
23. What were the apostles?
24. How did the teachings of Jesus continue to spread after his crucifixion?
25. Why was Constantine important to the spread of Christianity?
26. What are the Gospels?
27. Who wrote the Gospels?
28. What were the Gospels combined into?
29. What is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament?
30. How many Christians are there in the world today?