During the 2nd to 5th century, Christianity had started to gain traction in in the Roman Empire. With this new serge of religious development came the writings of the Bible and the Gospel of Matthew, which projected the words of Jesus and how a Christian Jew should behave and worship God in “The Sermon on the Mount.” Based on the written explanations recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, some may say that Christianity was easily accepted into Roman society, but the reality is is that Christianity had many ideals that were disagreeable with other groups: Christians having thought of Pharisees as hypocrites, arguing amongst themselves on how Christianity should be practiced, and Roman emperors being concerned about Christian influence on Roman society.
To Christians, Judaism was seen as a useless barrier when confronted with sins. In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew writes that Jesus goes over what his followers should do in order to become a better Jew, most of which is explained to be going against the Jewish laws at the time. Jesus exclaims, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart… if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (New King James Version, Matthew. 5. 27, 28). Jesus’ purpose here is to exemplify how surface level Jewish laws are made to be. By him saying that a man has already sinned by internally lusting for a woman, Jesus implies that Jewish laws can’t actually prevent someone from performing bad deeds, as they don’t deal with the internal conflict of a man. The also intense, hyperbolic explanation of “chopping off one’s own hand” in order to free themselves from “getting thrown into hell” further enumerates on how Jesus felt that the only way that a man can take care of their sinful nature is by ridding themselves from the thought of sin itself. From this excerpt, it can be seen that Christianity and its religious practices were based around almost breaking the laws of Judaism at the time, which then illustrates how Christian Jews wanted to separate themselves from Pharisees who practiced Judaism.
The topic of Christianity and how one should view and practice it was debated amongst early Christians. Varying topics, from whether Jesus was either purely divine or purely human, Mary being either the mother of God or of human Jesus, or whether Christian God was replacing Jewish God, was argued amongst Christians (Smarr, “Paul: Christianity for Greeks and Romans,” Jan. 18, 2019). These open ended questions were left for many Christians to interpret it however they felt was appropriate. The disagreements between Christians led to an unaligned understanding of what Christianity was. It wasn’t until the around 325 A.D. that Nicene Creed defined the orthodoxy of Christianity that the majority of the Christian community agreed on, and not until the 6th century that emperor Justinian made the orthodoxy the only legal interpretation of Christianity (Smarr, “Roman Response to Christianity,” Jan. 23, 2019). Based on the time gap between early Christianity bickering to the finalization of orthodoxy that almost all Christians acknowledged, it can be seen that the Christian community was not always on the same page. Even amongst themselves, Christian Jews hadn’t always had the same opinions and beliefs on certain aspects of their religion.
To the Romans in the 2nd and 3rd century, Christians were seen as suspicious and a political enemy. Christians would gather in congregations to pray in privacy, which already going against the Roman law of no associations. And by Diocletian’s time in the 3rd century, Christians had refused to recognize the emperor’s divine authority, to serve in the military, and had refused to participate in civic religion events (Smarr, “Roman Response to Christianity,” Jan. 23, 2019). Christians’ lack of participation in Roman society was mainly because of their ideological differences with the Romans. Because of these differences, it later led to religious persecution during Diocletian’s rein until Constantine gained power of the Roman Empire. But even after, the legalization of Christianity had gone back and forth for every other ruler until it solidified as the nation’s main religion in the 6th century (Smarr, “Roman Response to Christianity,” Jan. 23, 2019). Their inevitable persecution, liberation, and later the “see-saw” effect that Christians saw during the Roman Empire demonstrated how their relationship with Romans was inconsistent, and were based on the Roman Emperor’s ideologies of the time.
Early Christianity had faced difficulties while developing itself: being ignored by the Jews who still followed Judaism, having internal conflicts with its followers about its ideologies, and having Christians either being persecuted or freed every couple of Roman Emperors. But despite its initial run-ins with deviating ideas that didn’t exactly correlate with its doctrine, Christianity in the end prevailed by becoming one of the most established religions in the world.
- New King James Version. Bible Study Tools, www.biblestudytools.com/nkjv/matthew/5.html. Accessed 26 Jan. 2019.
- Smarr, Janet. “Paul: Christianity for Greeks and Romans.” MMW 12, Galbraith Hall, UC San Diego. 18 Jan. 2019. Lecture.
- Smarr, Janet. “Roman Response to Christianity.” MMW 12, Galbraith Hall, UC San Diego. 23 Jan. 2019. Lecture.