Christianity is one of the world’s most widespread religions. It was able to spread all over the earth and become a universal religion after it became the official religion of Rome. But what were the factors that caused it to become the official religion of Rome? I will be using sources from the Bible, the book Worlds Together, Worlds Apart by Elizabeth Pollard and others, along with some online sources. I believe the main reasons for Christianity being adopted by Rome as its official religion is the Roman context and Jewish culture where it originated, along with the efforts of missionaries to spread it and make it accessible to everyone.
The Jewish culture which Jesus grew up in and came from was very influential to Christianity. Jesus built off of a lot of the laws and teachings from the Jewish scriptures in his own teachings. This can be seen in his ideas on bringing peace, in which he builds off of the Jewish idea that one should repay another’s bad deeds against them with exactly what happened to them, not more, as can be seen in the Jewish Tanakh in Leviticus 24:20 which says, “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.” In its day, this idea was difficult to follow and not used by many cultures, but Jesus revolutionized it even further In the book of Matthew when he said that someone should not even seek out revenge as that would not bring peace. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well (Matthew 5:38-40).” In his day this was an idea unique to Jesus and it continues to be profound and difficult to live up to. These types of ideas were eye catching and began to spread quickly.
In addition Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount included the Beatitudes again found in the New Testament book of Matthew. The Beatitudes included many teachings that gave honor to and lifted up the poor and destitute. Matthew chapter five includes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the merciful… blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” According to some scholars, these ideas were deeply rooted in the Psalms which is found in the poetry of the Jewish Tanakh. Jesus’ teaching of lifting up the poor and destitute appealed to many common people who during this time of history were feeling oppressed under Roman rule.
Another way that Jesus’s Jewish background influenced Christianity is that the Jewish culture had a rabbi (teacher) and disciple mentorship in Jewish tradition. In this system, the disciples would spend years following their Rabbi everywhere to learn his habits and to have more face to face interaction. Jesus used this in his teaching and had many disciples, although the twelve apostles were the closest to him. This way of teaching, which used more interactions and talking, formed strong bonds between Jesus and his disciples. This greatly inspired them after his death to be strong leaders in the church and to spread christianity as missionaries.
This way of teaching also influenced the spread of Christianity in other ways. Jesus’ ways of trying to make Earth better by bringing Heaven to Earth butil off of the Rabbi’s way of teaching Disciples, which by teaching with words while also going around and trying to do what they would talk about. This way of teaching differed from the Greek way which was used by Plato and Aristotle and greatly influenced the Roman’s way of teaching things. Plato tried to achieve a better world by having very intelligent people try to teach others on how to be good people in a classroom setting. Unfortunately, this did not improve things much, so Plato’s student, Aristotle, decided that it might work out better if the Government made everyone participate. This too did not succeed in making people happier and the world more just. Jesus did not take this approach in trying to make the world better, but instead tried to lift up the poor and bring more equality not as much by teaching with words, but by teaching with actions. This approach was very inspiring to his disciples who would then try to do that with him. This helped his disciples learn through doing, not just by hearing which helped them learn better and inspire them more as they were able to apply what they learned as they travelled with Jesus. This helped them after his death to follow what he did because they had already been doing it beside him. This lead to them having disciples themselves and influencing many others as others saw them doing these things rather than just talking about how to help others and were inspired.
Missionaries were vital to spreading and shaping Christianity. Paul of Tarsus (a town in modern day Eastern Turkey) was a well known missionary who played a big role in expanding Christianity. According to the book of Acts in the New Testament, Paul went on at least three, possibly four separate missionary journeys to various parts of the Mediterranean Roman Empire. One reason that Paul was very influential in spreading Christianity outside of Judaism was because he was a Jew and a Roman citizen. This helped him spread and form Christianity to be more accessible to the Romans. Because he was making Christianity more available for the Romans, he helped shape Christianity to have some Roman aspects while excluding some of the more Jewish traditions that had excluded non Jews. For example, circumcision was a Jewish practice that early Jewish Christians were practicing. Paul said that Gentiles (non Jews) who had converted did not have to follow some of the more Jewish traditions like this. This had a big impact in making Christianity a religion outside of Judaism rather remain a sect within Judaism. It was due to this and Paul’s enthusiasm that helped Paul’s journeys spread Christianity all over the Roman Empire and establish it as a universalizing religion.
The spread of early Christianity was also influenced by the Roman culture. The Roman Empire at the time of early Christianity did not give many of its subjects as many rights or privileges as it gave male Roman citizens and there were many people who were oppressed, poor, or did not have many freedoms or rights. This made Christianity appealing to many in the Roman Empire at the time as it was a religion which had a more egalitarian view than the Roman culture. Christianity’s more egalitarian view can be seen in Galatians 3:28 which says, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ This perspective lead to many of these people, such as women, slaves and other marginalized people. to convert to Christianity. An example of how this view lead to these people converting comes from the New Testament where it notes Pricilla (in Acts 18:26 and Romans 16 3:5), Onesimus a slave (Philemon 15-17) and several other marginalized people who became early leaders in the church or influential converts.
Another reason that Christianity was able to spread was that at the time that Christianity originated, the language that everyone spoke in the Roman Empire was Greek. This was due to the conquests of Alexander the Great which happened in 336 BC to 323 BC and Hellenized the lands surrounding the Medditeranean. The common language that Hellenization spread was Greek. This made Greek the main language of many of the lands that Alexander conquered and many of those lands continued to speak Greek for centuries after Alexander’s conquests. This meant that many of the Romans at the time that Christianity originated spoke Greek. This made it easier for missionaries to spread Christianity within the Roman Empire because the missionaries did not need to learn a new language in order to reach many people and the Bible did not need to be constantly translated as it spread across Rome. Even when Greek was no longer was the main language of Rome, everyone still spoke one language, which had become Latin. So it was still much easier to spread Christianianity because everyone continued to share a common language.
The spread of Christianity was not only influenced by the people in the Roman Empire but also in the way that the Roman Empire ruled. The Roman empire wanted to have more control over their empire while trying to make their empire bigger and more successful by encouraging trade. While they used many things to try to achieve this, one thing they did was to make trade routes, over both land and sea, safe and accessible. Missionaries such as Paul used these routes to spread the Gospel around and beyond the Roman Empire.
Another reason that these roads which connected Rome were so influential to early Christianity was that much of Paul’s teaching was in the form of letters which he sent to the various churches he started. These letters would not have been able to be sent to various parts of the Roman Empire if it had not been for these safe and accessible routes that connected the Empire. These letters ended up becoming a major part of the Bible and have guided many Christians. Without this ability to safely travel, send, and receive letters, Christianity would not be what it is today.
Another way that the government of the Roman Empire influenced the spread of Christianity was that the Roman Empire did not tolerate rebellion and often used force to stop rebellions quickly. This was how they stopped the Jews’ rebellion by destroying Jerusalem. This caused many Jews to be dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, which became known as the Jewish Diaspora. While this event was unfortunate for the Jews, it helped introduce more Romans to the Jewish scriptures and culture which Christianity was built upon. It also aided the spread of Christianity because Christianity had also been centered at Jerusalem. Due to this, the Jewish diaspora also assisted the expansion of Christianity.
The factors that made Early Christianity popular and caused it to spread played a big role in helping it become the official religion of Rome. However, the Romans did not adopt Christianity immediately and without opposition. In fact it was persecuted by several Roman Emperors such as Nero in 64 CE. It eventually became popular and widespread enough that it was no longer persecuted by the Romans and was made legal by Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 CE. After that, Constaine called for the council of Nicea in 325 CE, during which the Christians settled on what they believed to be true about Jesus and Christianity. This unified more of Christianity and gave it a clear doctrine that everyone could follow which caused it to become more popular. Eventually, it was made the official religion of Rome in 480 CE with Emperor Theodosius’s Edict of Thessalonica. After this, because it had the Roman Empire’s support, it was able to spread much farther than before and outlasted the Roman Empire. It has since spread to millions of people and its lasting influence can be seen in many societies, cultures, and countries across the world today.