Christianity is a faith observed by billions of people in the world. It is a faith established on the events of Jesus Christ’s life. It is also an Abrahamic faith as it descends from the worship of Abraham’s God. It is the belief in one God who exists as Trinitarian. However, it was not always the largest faith. It started and grew in the most unlikely of circumstances. It started after its founder’s death as a sect. It is a mystery to both theologians and historians how Christianity emerged and grew to become the largest religion without any supernatural assistance. This paper will discuss the origin of Christianity.
Christianity has either human or supernatural origin. Those who argue it is of human origin argue that it has borrowed heavily from other pagan religions. The supernatural theory is considered due to some factors. Firstly, its unlikely leader Jesus did not possess any traits of a leader neither in stately form nor appearance, (Isaiah). He was also a poor man. Secondly, its unlikely origin, the country of Palestine which is very small. Thirdly, the persecution Christians of the first three centuries faced should have extinguished Christianity. Therefore, Christianity is most likely of supernatural origin.
Jesus’ birth occurred in the year 4 BCE. An angel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she was chosen by the Lord and she would bear a son. An angel also appeared to her betrothed Joseph to warn him not to leave Mary as he was planning to after he noticed that she was pregnant. After Jesus was born, another angel appeared to shepherds to announce the birth. Shepherds also witnessed angels singing in celebration. A star appeared to wise men in the west who followed it to see Jesus. His conception and birth were surrounded by supernatural events, and it did not end there. Angels continuously appeared to Joseph to warn him of Herod’s intentions.
Jesus’ earthly father was carpenter, and Jesus took this profession until his late twenties when he began his ministry of healing and teaching. Jesus observed Mosaic laws and was a rabbi. At around 30 years of age, he underwent baptism by John a servant of God who claimed to prepare the way for the Messiah. After baptism, he took 12 apostles and went to the towns and villages speaking of good news, performing miracles, asking individuals to repent for the end is near, and calling out hypocritical Jewish leaders. Jesus tasked his apostles to spread the Good News to all nations.
Jesus’ ministry garnered a large following in the three years of his ministry. The first century was hard for Jews because of the continuous, increasing and oppressive rule of the Romans. This attracted people to the teachings of Jesus as they were messages of hope or good news. He also taught about the promise of eternal life to his followers which was particularly inviting. He performed miracles such as delivering people from death, turning water into wine, and so on. This was a promise of supernatural gifts to his followers.
Jesus gained more critics than followers. The Jewish leaders opposed him for his continuous attacks on their hypocrisy. Jesus criticized them for following the mosaic laws blindly without recognizing the core value of love of one’s neighbor, faith and hope. Jesus also ignored some rules which angered them even more such as when he let his disciples harvest and eat grain on a Sabbath. The roman rulers did not like Jesus’ uprising as they were opposed to Jewish guerilla sects which were common in these times. His claim to be the King of Jews was not well received by rulers. They called for his arrest.
Jesus was arrested after betrayal by one of his disciples Judas for 30 pieces of silver. This happened as he had foretold. He was beaten and dragged on the streets on the way to meet the Roman ruler in charge of Jerusalem. He knew that Jesus was not at fault but he was afraid to lose the favor of his subjects. He referred them to King Herod instead. This is the same King who sought to kill him when he was born. He had wanted to meet Jesus for so long. It is safe to say that King Herod was disappointed because the man who stood before him looked nothing like a ruler. He mocked Jesus, commanded his torture and then sent him back to Pontius Pilate. Pilate gave in to the peoples’ demands and released Barnabas, and ordered Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus died in the year 30 CE.
Jesus’ death marked the start of a movement. On Sunday, some women followers of Jesus went to visit the tomb where they found it empty. In the next few days, Jesus is said to have appeared to several people. On the 40th day after the resurrection, Jesus Christ is said to have ascended into heaven in the presence of some of his followers. 10 days later, as his disciples were gathered in a room, the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised them ascended in the form of tongues of fire. This was named the day of Pentecost. It is on this day that the first Christian preaching was done by Peter.
Peter and James the brother of Jesus spearheaded the movement after Jesus’ death. James was the leader of the church of Jerusalem where they concentrated their ministry. They spread the gospel to Jews, baptizing people and healing the sick. Their congregation was mostly Jewish- Christians. They also spread the good news to Gentiles living in Jerusalem. The baptism of a Roman centurion Cornelius is a crucial point in the spread of Christianity. The gentiles who joined this congregation were expected to follow Jewish culture and practice the Law of Moses.
The most significant figure in the spread of Christianity is Paul of Tarsus. The ministry of Jesus lay a strong foundation for Christianity, but it is Paul’s missionary work that Christianity became a success. Paul was a Jewish Roman citizen and an avid persecutor of Christians. He would go door to door arresting those who were followers of the ‘way’ and throwing them in jail. However, one day as he was on his way to Damascus, he was blinded by a bright light and he fell. A voice called him from the heavens asking him why he was cruel to the Lord. It was during this encounter with God that he was converted and tasked with spreading the gospel.
The ministry of Paul was to the Gentiles. Paul believed that the gospel was not just for the Jews as previously thought but to all nations who accepted Jesus Christ. He traveled through the Mediterranean province of the Roman Empire, Greece, Syria, and Asia Minor preaching and baptizing people in the name of Jesus Christ. He wrote many letters to churches he had established as a way of checking up on them and urging them to keep the faith. Paul’s teachings make up the majority of teachings for Christians. His teachings are based on his own understanding of the scripture and his perspective on the life, and ministry of Jesus.
The leaders of the church of Christ are another reason that Christianity is of supernatural origin. Ordinary men like Peter, James, Philip, Paul, and many others possessed supernatural powers. Peter was well known for healing people. The locals of Jerusalem brought their sick on the streets hoping that he would pass by and his shadow would fall upon them and they would be healed. He is also said to have raised Tabitha from the dead. All these gentlemen had the power to heal and cast out evil powers. Another supernatural gift these men also known as apostles enjoyed was miraculous prison breaks.
The Early Church which comprised of the ministries of Paul, Peter, and James experienced many challenges within itself. Firstly, there was confusion about the relevance of the continued practice of Judaism. Most Jewish-Christians practiced these religions simultaneously. The early Jewish-Christians also imposed upon the Gentile congregation to assimilate the Jewish culture and practices. This was not favorable to the gentiles and it brought division. This division led to the establishment and sitting of the first church council, The Council of Jerusalem. After this sitting, the James decree was issued which ended the requirement of gentiles to observe Judaism.
The greatest challenge the early church faced was persecution by the Jews. Most Jews did not want to acknowledge Jesus as their long-awaited messiah. The hard times the Jews were facing under the Roman rule made them think that the end times were close. It also made them hope for a literal king who would come from the line of David. When Jesus claimed to be the promised king, they found it blasphemous. He did not have any skill to lead them into battle. He also did not possess any armies or wealth to buy mercenaries. They refused to believe him instead and persecuted his followers to silence them.
The Romans, on the other hand, viewed Christianity as a Jewish sect. After the second Jewish revolt, the Romans declared all sects illegal and the punishment was death. What followed was a series of killings. Those days, crucifixions were a common method of punishment. While other criminals were granted a trial, those who were arrested on the grounds of Christianity were executed without trial. Many people died, but much to the bewilderment of the authorities, the sect persevered. People such as Stephen were stoned to death, others burnt alive, and others such as Peter and Paul were crucified in Rome in 64 C.E. This is why the first and the second centuries of the Common Era are known as the era of martyrdom.
Despite all the challenges the church faced, they remained strong. This can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, they possessed great unswayable passion which made them reject paganism and sexual immorality. High degrees of morality were expected of all followers and it set them apart from the rest of the people. Their union and constant fellowships were a source of strength and perseverance. Jesus had promised that he had gone to prepare a place for the church and he would be back for them soon. For this reason, the remained vigilant, hopeful, and full of faith. Many of them died due to persecutions but the spread of this movement was stronger than ever.
The growth of Christianity made a good turn when Emperor Constantine accepted it in the year 313. It was in this year that he legalized it and became patron and protector of the church. This ended persecutions and made Christianity a free religion. In the year 325, the emperor called the first church council, known as the council of Nicaea. This council served the purpose of unifying the church and solve the controversy of Arianism. In the year 380, Emperor Flavius Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of Rome. The collapse of Rome in the year 410 assisted in the growth of Christianity to more nations in the east and the west.
There are several influences that led to the success of Christianity. Paul of Tarsus is a significant figure. While Jesus did task his disciples to teach the good news of love, forgiveness, and hope, it is in Paul’s doctrines that Christianity is based. A second key influencer of Christianity is the culture of the early Christians; Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures. The Jewish culture is based on the belief on one God which is the primary belief of the Christians. Greeks brought their intellectual culture which has influenced the success of Christianity. From the Romans, the Christians borrowed their political systems and models. Paul’s doctrine and culture influence over the movement made it the religion it is today.
In conclusion, the growth of Christianity is best explained by the parable of the mustard seed that grew to become the largest tree. Christianity sprout from a small sect to the largest religion in the world. It is a religion of supernatural origin and yet historians and theologians argue that Jesus did not intend to start a religion. It all began with the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus. Jesus began his ministry in his late twenties, speaking of good news, performing miracles such as raising the dead, healing the sick and casting out demons. He attracted a large following of believers and critics alike. His critics and enemies were the Jewish and Roman leaders who pushed for his arrest and crucifixion. After his death, he resurrected and ascended into heaven and thereafter, sent the Holy Spirit to his apostles. The apostles then took over his work and continued the spread of Good news to all nations. They were persecuted by the authorities and other Jews like Paul. Paul later received a miraculous conversion and is the most significant figure in the spread and doctrines of the Christian religion. In the fourth century, it was legalized and made the official religion of Rome. It was also in this century that it was formalized as a religion through the Nicaea Council. Most Romans joined Christianity and after the fall of Rome, it spread to more nations in the east and the west.