When, where, and how did the religion begin?
by Kendra Hotz
began early in the first century of the common era when Jesus of
Nazareth began his ministry of preaching and healing in the Roman-ruled
region of Palestine known as Galilee.
was raised in a Jewish family and when he began his public ministry
at about the age of 30, he did so in the custom of a rabbi, or teacher
of Torah. He gathered disciples and taught them and the crowds who
gathered around them wherever they traveled. He healed the diseased,
called sinners to repentance, and offered forgiveness for sins.
upholding the importance of the Law of Moses as an expression of
the will of God, he also challenged conventional ways of interpreting
it, especially when that interpretation marginalized social outcasts
and those without power. While never directly challenging
the authority of the Roman Empire, he called people to remember
that their ultimate loyalty rested with the Kingdom of God. He healed
those who were diseased and raised others from the dead. He ate
and conversed with the intellectuals and social elites of his day,
but also with those deemed unworthy of his attention such as women,
tax collectors, and sinners.
Gospel According to Mark, one of the oldest written accounts of
the birth of Christianity, says simply that “Jesus came to
Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The
time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent,
and believe in the good news’” (Mark 1:14-15 NRSV).
the end of his short public life, Jesus and his disciples traveled
to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. While there, Jesus challenged
the religious authorities and came to the attention of the civil
authorities, probably because of his teachings about a “kingdom”
other than that of the Roman Empire. This attention from the Romans
eventually led to his execution by crucifixion.
Christians have long blamed the Jewish leaders for the death of
Jesus, in fact, he was executed for a political crime, sedition.
The charge against him, posted on a placard over his head on the
cross, read “King of the Jews.” The early Christian
community, eager to deflect negative attention from the Romans,
muted the political nature of Jesus’ crime and thereby contributed
to what has become a long, horrible history of blaming the Jews
for the death of Jesus and of persecuting them because of it.
the third day after his death, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared
to his followers: first to the women, then to the twelve disciples,
and finally to the crowds. After a time, he ascended bodily into
life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus form the founding
narrative of the Christian faith. The earliest followers of Jesus
proclaimed his message of good news and proclaimed Jesus himself
as the content of that good news when they affirmed that he was
more than a wandering rabbi and healer. For
Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ or Messiah, which means
“the anointed one.” Jesus came to be
understood as the Son of God, as God Incarnate, as God-in-our-midst.
Nicene Creed, an early Christian affirmation of faith declares that
Jesus is “very God of very God.” His mighty works point
to the presence of the Kingdom of God and to Jesus as the one who
initiates it. The “good news” that the Gospels present
is that through Christ, humanity can be reconciled to God.
early Christians gathered in private homes on the first day of the
week, Sunday, the day of the resurrection, to share a meal commemorating
the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, to read and proclaim
scripture, and to prepare themselves for Christ’s return.
They baptized new members into their fellowship, spread word of
the gospel, and made provisions to care for the widows in their
the Romans crushed a Jewish rebellion in the year 70 and destroyed
the Temple in Jerusalem, Christianity along with Judaism lost its
status as a tolerated religion within the Roman Empire. Christians
became subject to sporadic persecution that made it necessary to
meet in secret and dangerous to proclaim their faith publicly.
the early fourth century, however, the emperor Constantine had a
vision of the cross and heard a voice saying “in this sign
conquer.” Under the banner of the cross he won a decisive
battle to become the sole Roman emperor and soon after issued an
edict of religious tolerance that ended persecution of the Christian
church. He later made Christianity the favored religion of the empire.
faith that began as a small, persecuted sect became the religion
of the powerful. One result of this dramatic change in status has
been that Christians have always struggled to understand and articulate
how their faith ought to be related to culture.
©2007 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
This excerpt from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions
and Answers on Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein,
Kendra Hotz, and John Kaltner is used with permission from Westminster
John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. To
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