Christianity in the 1st century
Christianity in the 1st century deals with the formative years of the Early Christian community. The earliest followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic Jewish sect, which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity. The Apostles dispersed from Jerusalem, founding the Apostolic Sees, presumably following the Great Commission's decree to spread the teachings of Jesus to "all nations". Peter, Paul, and James the Just were the most influential early Christian leaders, though Paul's influence on Christian thinking is said to be more significant than any other New Testament authors, but the relationship of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism is still disputed today. The split of early Christianity from Judaism was gradual, as Christianity became a predominantly Gentile religion.
Life and ministry of Jesus
|Events in the|
|Life of Jesus|
according to the Gospels
Portals: Christianity BibleBook:Life of Jesus
The ministry of Jesus, according to the account of the Gospels, falls into a pattern of sectarian preachers with devoted disciples. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus preached for a period of one to three years in the early 1st century AD. Jesus' method of teaching involved parables, metaphor, allegory, sayings, proverbs, and a small number of direct sermons such as the Sermon on the Mount. His ministry was ended by his execution, by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman authorities by demand of the Jews in Jerusalem. His surviving disciples then followed the Great Commission to spread the teachings of Jesus to "all nations".
Christians believe that three days after his death, Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Early works by Jesus' followers document a number of resurrection appearances and the resurrection of Jesus formed the basis and impetus of the Christian faith. His followers wrote that he appeared to the disciples in Galilee and Jerusalem and that Jesus was on the earth for 40 days before his Ascension to heaven and that he will return to earth to fulfil aspects of Messianic prophecy, such as the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, though Preterists believe these events have already happened.
The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical gospels, and to a lesser extent the Acts of the Apostles and writings of Paul. Christianity's theology is largely founded and based on one central point found in these Gospels: that Jesus died and rose from death as God's sacrifice for human sins.
Early Christianity may be divided in two distinct phases: the apostolic period, when the apostles were leading the congregations, and the post-apostolic Ante-Nicene Period, when imperial persecution of Christians continued until the rise of Constantine the Great.
The years following Jesus until the death of the last of the Twelve Apostles is called the Apostolic Age. The Christian Church came fully into being on Pentecost when, according to scriptural accounts, the apostles received the Holy Spirit and emerged from hiding following the death and resurrection of Jesus to preach and spread his message. The apostolic period produced writings attributed to the direct followers of Jesus Christ and is traditionally associated with the apostles and apostolic times. This age is the foundation upon which the entire church's history is founded. Though congregations met in the houses of these followers of Jesus Christ, this Apostolic Congregation, also called the "Primitive Church", was the community led by Jesus' apostles and, it would seem, his relatives.
Acts of the Apostles
The principal source of information for this earliest period is the Acts of the Apostles. However, there are scholars who dispute the Historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles. Soon after the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Jerusalem church began at Pentecost with apostles and others totalling some 120 Jews and Jewish proselytes, in an "upper room," believed by some to be the Cenacle, and thus "the first Christian church." The Acts of the Apostles goes on to record the stoning of Stephen and the subsequent dispersal of the church, which led to the baptism of Simon Magus in Samaria; and also an Ethiopian eunuch. Paul's "Road to Damascus" conversion to the "Apostle to the Gentiles" is first recorded in Acts 9:13-16. Peter baptized the Roman Centurion Cornelius, traditionally considered the first Gentile convert to Christianity, in Acts 10. Based on this, the Antioch church was founded. It is also believed that it was there that the term Christian was coined.
Disputes over the Mosaic law generated intense controversy in early Christianity. This is particularly notable in the mid-1st century, when the circumcision controversy came to the forefront. The issue was addressed at the Council of Jerusalem where Paul made an argument that circumcision was not a necessary practice, vocally supported by Peter, as documented in Acts 15. This position received widespread support and was summarized in a letter circulated in Antioch. Four years after the Council of Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Galatians about the issue, which had become a serious controversy in their region. Paul considered it a great threat to his doctrine of salvation through faith and addressed the issue with great detail in Galatians 3
Although competing forms of Christianity emerged early and persisted into the 5th century, there was broad doctrinal unity within the mainstream churches. Bishops like Ignatius of Antioch (c.35-c.108) and later Irenaeus (d. c.202) defined proto-orthodox teaching in stark opposition to heresies such as Gnosticism.
In spite of intermittent intense persecutions, the Christian religion continued its spread throughout the Mediterranean Basin.
Worship of Jesus
The sources for the beliefs of the apostolic community include the Gospels and New Testament Epistles. The very earliest accounts are contained in these texts, such as early Christian creeds and hymns, as well as accounts of the Passion, the empty tomb, and Resurrection appearances; often these are dated to within a decade or so of the crucifixion of Jesus, originating within the Jerusalem Church.
The earliest Christian creeds and hymns express belief in the risen Jesus, e.g., that preserved in 1 Corinthians 15:3–41 The antiquity of the creed has been located by many scholars to less than a decade after Jesus' death, originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community, and no scholar dates it later than the 40s. Other relevant and very early creeds include 1 John 4:2, 2 Timothy 2:8 Romans 1:3–4 and 1 Timothy 3:16
From the beginning, Christians were subject to various persecutions. According to the Book of Acts in the New Testament, this involved even death for Christians such as Stephen (Acts 7:59) and James, son of Zebedee (12:2). Larger-scale persecutions followed at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire, beginning with in 64 AD, when Emperor Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome.
Several of the New Testament writings mention persecutions and stress endurance through them. Christians suffered persecutions for their refusal to give any worship to the Roman emperor, considered treasonous and punishable by execution.
Systematic persecution of the early Christian church caused it to be an underground movement. Of the underground churches that existed before the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity, some churches are recorded to have existed as the catacombs in Europe, Catacombs of Rome, Greece, and also in the underground cities of Anatolia such as Derinkuyu Underground City.
Jerusalem in Christianity
The Christian community in Jerusalem, where Jesus, many of the twelve Apostles and many eyewitnesses originally lived( St Marks monastery or House Of Mary), had a special position among Christian communities. The Desposyni (relatives of Jesus) lived in Nazareth during the 1st century. The relatives of Jesus were accorded a special position within the early church, as displayed by the leadership of James the Just in Jerusalem.
The destruction of Jerusalem, seen as symbolic by supersessionism, and the consequent dispersion of Jews and Jewish Christians from the city (after the Bar Kokhba revolt) ended any pre-eminence of the Jewish-Christian leadership in Jerusalem. Although Epiphanius of Salamis reported that the Cenacle survived at least to Hadrian's visit in 130, some today think it was rebuilt shortly after this first Jewish war. Early Christianity grew further apart from Judaism to establish itself as a predominantly Gentile religion, and Antioch became the first Gentile Christian community with stature.
Peter and the Twelve
Today, New Testament scholars agree that there is a special position to Peter among the Twelve. The official Catholic Church position is that Jesus had essentially appointed Peter as the first Pope, with authority over the entire Church. This is derived from his seeming primacy among the Twelve in New Testament texts on Peter, namely Matthew 16:17-19, Luke 22:32, and John 21:15-17.
The Christian Church, however, built its identity on the Apostles as witnesses to Christ, and its leadership was not restricted to Peter. Events such as Paul publicly rebuking Peter (Galatians 2) and Paul being sent for a mission to Samaria (Acts 15) indicates that the apostles acted as a body in giving direction to early Christians. Likewise, the New Testament does not contain any record of the transmission of Peter's leadership, nor is even the transmission of any apostolic authority clear. As a result, the New Testament texts on Peter have been subjected to differing interpretations even from the time of the earliest Church Fathers.
Irenaeus of Lyons believed in the 2nd century that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the Church in Rome and had appointed Linus as succeeding bishop. There is no conclusive evidence, scripturally, historically or chronologically, that Peter was in fact the Bishop of Rome. While the church in Rome was already flourishing when Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans about AD 57, he greets some fifty people in Rome by name, but not Peter whom he knew. There is also no mention of Peter in Rome later during Paul's two-year stay there in Acts 28, about AD 60-62. Church historians consistently consider Peter and Paul to have been martyred under the reign of Nero, around AD 65 such as after the Great Fire of Rome.
Liturgical services are based on repeating the actions of Jesus ("do this in remembrance of me"), using the bread and wine, and saying his words (known as the words of the institution). The church has the rest of the liturgical ritual being rooted in the Jewish Passover, Siddur, Seder, and synagogue services, including the singing of hymns (especially the Psalms) and reading from the Scriptures. Clement writes that liturgies are "to be celebrated, and not carelessly nor in disorder" but the final uniformity of liturgical services only came later, though the Liturgy of St James is traditionally associated with James the Just.
Earliest Christianity took the form of a Jewish eschatological faith. The book of Acts reports that the early followers continued daily Temple attendance and traditional Jewish home prayer. Other passages in the New Testament gospels reflect a similar observance of traditional Jewish piety such as fasting, reverence for the Torah and observance of Jewish holy days At first, Christians continued to worship alongside Jewish believers, but within twenty years of Jesus' death, Sunday (the Lord's Day) was being regarded as the primary day of worship.
The early Christians likely did not have their own copy of Scriptural and other church works. Much of the original church liturgical services functioned as a means of learning Christian theology later expressed in these works.
Christianity first spread in the predominantly Greek-speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire, and then extensively throughout the empire by Paul and others. Ecclesiastical historian Henry Hart Milman writes that in much of the first three centuries, even in the Latin-dominated western empire: "the Church of Rome, and most, if not all the Churches of the West, were, if we may so speak, Greek religious colonies [see Greek colonies for the background]. Their language was Greek, their organization Greek, their writers Greek, their scriptures Greek; and many vestiges and traditions show that their ritual, their Liturgy, was Greek."
The Biblical canon began with the Jewish Scriptures, first available in Koine Greek translation, then as Aramaic Targums. In the 2nd century, Melito of Sardis called these Scriptures the "Old Testament" and specified an early canon. The Greek translation, later known as the Septuagint and often written as "LXX," arose from Hellenistic Judaism which predates Christianity. Perhaps the earliest Christian canon is the Bryennios List which was found by Philotheos Bryennios in the Codex Hierosolymitanus. The list is written in Koine Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew and dated to around 100
The "New Testament" (often compared to the New Covenant) is the name given to the second major division of the Christian Bible, either by Tertullian or Marcion in the 2nd century. The original texts were written by various authors, most likely sometime after c. AD 45 in Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, though there is also a minority argument for Aramaic primacy.
Early Christianity and Judaism
Jewish messianism has its roots in the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, promising a future "anointed" leader or Messiah to resurrect the Israelite "Kingdom of God", in place of the foreign rulers of the time. This corresponded with the Maccabean Revolt directed against the Seleucids. Following the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom, it was directed against the Roman administration of Iudaea Province, which, according to Josephus, began with the formation of the Zealots during the Census of Quirinius of 6 AD.
The early Christians in the 1st century AD believed Yahweh to be the only true God, the god of Israel, and considered Jesus to be the messiah (Christ) prophesied in the Jewish scriptures. The first Christians were essentially all ethnically Jewish or Jewish proselytes. In other words, Jesus preached to the Jewish people and called from them his first disciples, known as the Limited Commission of Matthew 10:5-42, while the Great Commission issued after the Resurrection is specifically directed at "all nations".
Alister McGrath, a proponent of palaeo-orthodoxy, claimed that many of the Jewish Christians were fully faithful religious Jews, only differing in their acceptance of Jesus as the messiah. The book of Acts records the martyrdom of Stephen and James. Thus, Christianity acquired an identity distinct from Rabbinic Judaism. The name "Christian" (Greek Χριστιανός) was first applied to the disciples in Antioch, as recorded in Acts 11:26.
Early Christianity retained some of the doctrines and practices of 1st-century Judaism while rejecting others. They held the Jewish scriptures to be authoritative and sacred, employing mostly the Septuagint or Targum translations, later called the Old Testament, a term associated with Supersessionism, and added other texts as the New Testament canon developed. Christianity also continued other Judaic practices: baptism, liturgical worship, including the use of incense, an altar, a set of scriptural readings adapted from synagogue practice, use of sacred music in hymns and prayer, a religious calendar, and ascetic practices. Circumcision was rejected as a requirement at the Council of Jerusalem, c. 50, though the decree of the council parallels Jewish Noahide Law. Sabbath observance was modified, perhaps as early as Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians 16.1.
An early difficulty arose concerning the matter of Gentile (non-Jewish) converts as to whether they had to "become Jewish," in following circumcision and dietary laws, as part of becoming Christian. Circumcision was considered repulsive during the period of Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean. The decision of Peter, as evidenced by conversion of the Centurion Cornelius, was that it was not required, and the matter was further addressed with the Council of Jerusalem. Around this same time period, Rabbinic Judaism made their circumcision requirement even stricter.
The doctrines of the apostles brought the early Church into conflict with some Jewish religious authorities. Late 1st century developments attributed to the Council of Jamnia eventually led to Christian's expulsion from synagogues.
Jewish Christians were among the earliest followers of Jesus and an important part of Judean society during the mid to late 1st century. This movement was centered around Jerusalem and led by James the Just. They held faithfully to the Torah (perhaps also Jewish law which was being formalized at the same time), including acceptance of Gentile converts based on a version of the Noachide laws (Acts 15 and Acts 21). In Christian circles, "Nazarene" later came to be used as a label for those faithful to Jewish law, in particular for a certain sect. These Jewish Christians, originally the central group in Christianity, were not at first declared to be unorthodox but were later excluded and denounced. Some Jewish Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, were considered to have unorthodox beliefs, particularly in relation to their views of Christ and Gentile converts. The Nazarenes, holding to orthodoxy except in their adherence to Jewish law, were not deemed heretical until the dominance of orthodoxy in the 4th century. The Ebionites may have been a splinter group of Nazarenes, with disagreements over Christology and leadership. After the condemnation of the Nazarenes, "Ebionite" was often used as a general pejorative for all related "heresies".
Jewish Christians constituted a separate community from the Pauline Christians but maintained a similar faith, differing only in practice. There was a post-Nicene "double rejection" of the Jewish Christians by both Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. It is believed that there was no direct confrontation or persecution between Gentile and Judaic Christianity. However, by this time the practice of Judeo-Christianity was diluted both by internal schisms and external pressures. Gentile Christianity remained the sole strand of orthodoxy and imposed itself on the previously Jewish Christian sanctuaries, taking full control of those houses of worship by the end of the 5th century.
The Nasrani or Syrian Malabar Nasrani community in Kerala, India, is conscious of their Jewish origins. However, they have lost many of their Jewish traditions because of western influences. The Nasrani are also known as Syrian Christians or St. Thomas Christians. This is because they follow the traditions of Syriac Christianity and are descendants of the early converts by Thomas the Apostle. Today, they belong to various denominations of Christianity, but they have kept their unique identity within each of these denominations.
Split with Judaism
In or around the year 50, the apostles convened the first church council, known as the Council of Jerusalem, to reconcile practical (and by implication doctrinal) differences concerning the Gentile mission. While not numbered among them, this council has often been looked to as ecumenical and the model for later ecumenical councils.
At the Council of Jerusalem it was agreed that Gentiles could be accepted as Christians without full adherence to the Mosaic Laws, possibly a major break between Christianity and Judaism (the first being the Rejection of Jesus), though the decree of the council (Acts 15:19-29) seems to parallel the Noahide laws of Judaism. The Council, according to Acts 15, determined that circumcision was not required of Gentile converts, only to abstain from "food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (NIV, Acts 15:20).
There was a slowly growing chasm between Christians and Jews, rather than a sudden split. Even though it is commonly thought that Paul established a Gentile church, it took centuries for a complete break to manifest. However, certain events are perceived as pivotal in the growing rift between Judaism and Christianity. The Council of Jamnia c. 85 is often stated to have condemned all who claimed the Messiah had already come, and Christianity in particular. However, the formulated prayer in question (birkat ha-minim) is considered by other scholars to be unremarkable in the history of Jewish and Christian relations. There is a paucity of evidence for Jewish persecution of "heretics" in general, or Christians in particular, in the period between 70 and 135. It is probable that the condemnation of Jamnia included many groups, of which the Christians were but one, and did not necessarily mean excommunication. That some of the later church fathers only recommended against synagogue attendance makes it improbable that an anti-Christian prayer was a common part of the synagogue liturgy. Jewish Christians continued to worship in synagogues for centuries.
During the late 1st century, Judaism was a legal religion with the protection of Roman law, worked out in compromise with the Roman state over two centuries. Observant Jews had special rights, including the privilege of abstaining from civic pagan rites. Christians were initially identified with the Jewish religion by the Romans, but as they became more distinct, Christianity became a problem for Roman rulers. Emperor Nerva decreed that Christians did not have to pay the annual tax upon the Jews, effectively recognizing them as distinct from Rabbinic Judaism. This opened the way to Christians being persecuted for disobedience to the emperor as they continued to refuse to worship the state pantheon. It is notable that from c. 98 onwards a distinction between Christians and Jews in Roman literature becomes apparent. For example, Pliny the Younger postulates that Christians are not Jews since they do not pay the tax, in his letters to Trajan.
Spread of Christianity
Paul and the Twelve Apostles traveled extensively establishing communities in major cities and regions throughout the Empire. The first Christian communities outside of Jerusalem appeared in Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and the political center of Rome. The original church communities were founded by apostles and numerous other Christians, soldiers, merchants, and preachers in northern Africa, Asia Minor, Arabia, Greece, and other places. Over 40 churches were established by 100, many in Asia Minor.
Paul was responsible for bringing the Christianity to new parts of the world such as Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica. By the end of the 1st century, Christianity had already spread to Rome and to various cities in Greece, Asia Minor and Syria. Major cities such as Rome, Ephesus, Antioch and Corinth served as foundations for the expansive spread of Christianity in the post-apostolic period. Christianity spread very quickly throughout Asia Minor.
The Church Fathers are the early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. The earliest Church Fathers, within two generations of the Twelve apostles of Christ, are usually called Apostolic Fathers for reportedly knowing and studying under the apostles personally. Important Apostolic Fathers include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. In addition, the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas are usually placed among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers although their authors are unknown.
Clement of Rome
Clement of Rome was best known for his letter 1 Clement. which was held in high regard by later Christian writers and even cited as Scripture by Clement of Alexandria. In it, Clement calls on the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order. It is the earliest Christian epistle outside the New Testament; indeed it is even included in the Codex Alexandrinus and in the Canons of the Apostles and today is part of the Apostolic Fathers collection. Tertullian identifies him as the fourth Bishop of Rome, later called Pope. Some see his epistle as an assertion of Rome's authority over the church in Corinth and, by implication, the beginnings of papal supremacy.
Clement wrote about the order with which Jesus commanded the affairs of the Church be conducted, and the selection of persons was also "by His supreme will determined." Clement also refers the way "rivalry ... concerning the priesthood" was resolved by or through Moses and that likewise, the apostles "gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry."
The New Testament writers use the terms "overseer" and "elders" interchangeably. Clement also refers to the leaders of the Corinthian church in his letter as bishops and presbyters interchangeably, and likewise states that the bishops are to lead God's flock by virtue of the chief shepherd (presbyter), Jesus Christ. Bishops eventually emerged as overseers of urban Christian populations in the early church, and a hierarchical clergy gradually took the form of epískopos (overseers, bishops), then elders and presbyters (shepherds), and third were deacons (servants).
The Didache is the common name of a brief early Christian treatise dated by most scholars to the late 1st century. It is an anonymous work not belonging to any single individual and a pastoral manual "that reveals more about how Jewish-Christians saw themselves and how they adapted their Judaism for Gentiles than any other book in the Christian Scriptures." The text, parts of which may have constituted the first written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Christian lessons, rituals, and Church organization. It was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament (Deuterocanonical) c. 380 but rejected as spurious or non-canonical by others, and eventually not accepted into the New Testament canon. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church does include the later Didascalia within its "broader canon" (though only the "narrower canon" has printed since 20th century), and the Didascalia was influenced by the Didache.
- Ante-Nicene Period
- Apostolic Age
- Christian martyrs
- Christian monasticism
- Christianity in the 2nd century
- Chronological list of saints in the 1st century
- Church Fathers
- Development of the New Testament canon
- Early history of Christianity
- East–West Schism
- Gospel harmony
- Great Church
- History of Calvinist-Arminian debate
- History of Christian theology
- History of Christianity
- History of early Christianity
- History of the Eastern Orthodox Church
- History of the Roman Catholic Church
- List of events in early Christianity
- New Testament view on Jesus' life
- Persecution of Christians in the New Testament
- Timeline of Christian missions
- Timeline of Christianity
- Timeline of the Roman Catholic Church
- Hebrews 8:6
- "Sermon on the Mount." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
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- Acts 7:54-8:8
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- Acts 10
- The Catholic Encyclopedia says of Cornelius: "The baptism of Cornelius is an important event in the history of the Early Church. The gates of the Church, within which thus far only those who were circumcised and observed the Law of Moses had been admitted, were now thrown open to the uncircumcised Gentiles without the obligation of submitting to the Jewish ceremonial laws."
- McGrath, pp.174-175
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- On the Creeds, see Oscar Cullmann, The Earliest Christian Confessions, trans. J. K. S. Reid (London: Lutterworth, 1949); on the Passion, see Rudolf Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, 2 vols., Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 2 (Freiburg: Herder, 1976–77), 2: 519–20
- Neufeld, p.47
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- "Paul, St" Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
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- St-Paul-Outside-the-Walls homepage
- Historians debate whether the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva's modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in 96. From then on, practising Jews paid the tax, Christians did not.
- Wylen, pp.190-192
- Dunn, pp. 33-34
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- The traditional title is: The Divine Liturgy of James the Holy Apostle and Brother of the Lord; Ante-Nicene Fathers by Philip Schaff in the public domain
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- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Cornelius". newadvent.org.
- "peri'ah", (Shab. xxx. 6)
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- "Paul, St" Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
- Acts 19, 18:1-18a, 16:12-15, 17:1-9
- Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972
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- Athanasius, Festal Letter 39 (excludes them from the canon, but recommends them for reading) in 367
- The earlier Didache seems to have been an influence upon it too. Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Vol. I (Christian Classics, Allan, Texas, 1996, ISBN 0-87061-084-8), p. 37.
- H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, p.246
- John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew, v. 1, ch. 11
- H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, p.251
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- Kane, 10
- Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church 1959, p. 26
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- Walker, 27
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- New Testament Reading Room Extensive online NT resources (incl. commentaries), Tyndale Seminary
- Scholarly articles on the New Testament from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Library
- Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins
- Guide to Early Church Documents