Here is a quick history of the early Church, one that you might have never heard.
2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2
On pages 102-105 of “Person of Interest,” is information about the early church that I had never heard or read. It is the first category at which we will look concerning how Jesus impacted the world. It’s a little long, but worth it! If you don’t have time, at least skip down to the ** near the end of the post and read to the end.
In the first three centuries of the Common Era (AD), early believers lived cautiously within the Roman Empire and–depending on the emperor at the time–experienced some form of hesitant tolerance, general disdain, or intense persecution. Roman authorities would have allowed their citizens to embrace Jesus as yet another regional deity, but Christians worshiped Jesus as the one true God, to the exclusion of other gods in the Roman pantheon. This refusal to worship the Roman deities often led to Christian martyrdom. But that changed when two edicts were issued in the fourth century.
In 313 CE (AD 313) emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, proclaiming religious tolerance and ending the persecution of Christians. By 380 CE emperors Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II issued the Edict of Thessalonica, declaring that citizens of the empire “should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter.” This edict firmly established Nicene Christianity as the religion of the empire, culminating in an amazing transformation of national worship.
Even before Rome embraced Jesus as God, Christians…were writing about their Master. The students of the apostles were the first to describe what their teachers told them about Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp, for example, described the Jesus they learned about at the feet of the apostle John, and Clement of Rome described the Jesus he learned about from the apostle Paul. For the next two hundred years, even before Christianity was accepted as the state religion, Christian leaders reiterated the claims of Christianity in letters and manuscripts written to local congregations and to each other. From Barnabas in the late-first century to Arnobius of Sicca in the late third century, the ante-Nicene [before the Council of Nicene] church fathers wrote about Jesus, repeatedly citing the earliest descriptions offered by the gospel authors.
Unsurprisingly, the story of Jesus had a tremendous impact on early believers, resulting in a significant collection of early literature. While admonishing local congregations, encouraging one another, and writing about the impact Jesus had on their lives, these leaders often quoted from the New Testament. In fact, much of the data the gospel authors offered can be found in the early church literary fallout.
Letters from Christian leaders in the first three hundred years of the Common Era reveal 935 verse quotations from the gospel of Matthew (87.3 percent of the text), 453 verses from the gospel of Mark (66.9 percent of the text), 990 verses from the gospel of Luke (86.0 percent of the text), and 859 verses from the gospel of John (97.8 percent of the text). In addition, church leaders also quoted from many other New Testament documents.
Even without any details from the New Testament manuscripts from antiquity, we could reconstruct the gospel authors’ claims from the citations, quotes, and descriptions found in this ancient, explosive body of literature. In fact, if we limited our investigation to the earliest leaders who are believed to have had personal contact with the gospel eyewitnesses and authors (Barnabas, Ignatius, Clement of Rome, the Didache authors, Papias, and Polycarp), we could retrieve the important details related to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
**A robust description of Jesus, his teaching, mission, and followers is available before the early second century, and by the end of the third century, Jesus followers would quote or reference 3,237 verses from the New Testament gospels. That’s the kind of early impact Jesus had, and this was before Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire.
If someone truly wanted to erase Jesus from history, they would have to do far more than destroy the New Testament; they would also have to destroy every copy of the many letters and books written in the early centuries of the Common Era by Christians who liked Jesus.
As we get to know Jesus and His importance to the world, I pray that He will begin to make more and more of a difference to you. If He is indeed Lord, then we must recognize Him as Lord of our lives every day and in every way.
Abba, the hunger and thirst for You and Your righteousness that I read about in the early church is something that I want for my life. May I hold as dear to my heart Your holy Scriptures as these men and women did. Even though my physical life is not threatened by upholding it, it is vital to my soul that I adhere to it just as faithfully. Keep us strong in the faith, O Lord. Amen.