Christianity or Christianities, Will the real Christian Please Stand Up

Bart D. Ehrman in his book "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never New" wrote on page 1 "It may be difficult to imagine a religious phenomenon more diverse than modern-day Christianity. There are Roman Catholic missionaries in developing  countries who devote themselves to voluntary poverty for the sake of others, and evangelical televangelists who run twelve-step programs to ensure financial success. There are New England Presbyterians and Appalachian snake handlers. There are Greek Orthodox priests committed to the liturgical service of God, replete with set prayers, incantations, and incense, and fundamentalist preachers who view high-church liturgy as a demonic invention, there are liberal Methodist political activists intent on transforming society, and Pentecostals who think that society will soon come to a crashing halt with the return of Jesus. . . Many of  these Christian groups, of course, refuse to consider other such groups Christian.
          All this diversity of belief and practice, and the intolerance that occasionally results, makes it difficult to know whether we should think of Christianity as one thing or lots of things, whether we should speak of Christianity or Christianities." - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

I wrote the Following paper for a college class. Please do not copy without permission.

The Rise of Christianity

Seth Todd

History 4A
Professor Sanchez
March 18, 2011
            Some Christians don’t have any understanding of their own Bible and how it came to be.  A false proposition that some may have is that Christianity grew from a single group that was coherent in their beliefs.  Another notion many have is that the original manuscripts exist or that there is no conflict among the manuscripts.  Missionary work, social conditions, and laws of Rome allowed for a single group among many to emerge.  As diverse as Christianity was then it is just as diverse today.  Read “Christianity Today” and try to explain what is a “Christian.”  The only thread that unites this diversity is a belief in a non-biblical Triune God which resulted from Early Christianity and its debates.   This belief satisfied the monotheism that Romans craved and Christians wanted.
Basic leadership of the church: The Structure
Jesus Christ, while on the earth chose twelve apostles.  To them he gave power and authority along with the command to preach His gospel to all of the world.  Even after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus another apostle was chosen by the remaining eleven to take his place.1 Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, is mentioned as an apostle.2  So it seems that the twelve apostles should have continued replacing those who died.  However, that was not the case. “Most of the apostles are said to have suffered martyrdom; but John is believed to have died a natural death.”3 There was no continuation of that apostolic authority and the several churches were left basically to themselves.  Thus one sees Christian groups under names like Gnostics, Marcionites, Ebionites, “proto-orthodox” (a claim by some that they were inherently right) as well as a long list of others.  Therefore Bishops of the various established churches took control or tried to take control through forged and/or authentic documents in the name of apostles or bishops.  Hence we see the ante-Nicene Father Origen praised in one period of time and dismissed in another.  The battle was on for who was right and who was wrong.
As is the case with most other large cities in the Roman Empire, the
person who first brought Christianity to Rome is unknown, but the Roman church has traditionally looked back to the two leading figures in first-century Christianity as its founders: Peter and Paul. Although neither apostle was the literal founder of the church in Rome, both Peter and Paul made their way to Rome sometime before the mid-60s, and both perished during the Neronian persecution of Christians. Peter was widely recognized as the leader of the original twelve disciples, and some saw him in a sense as Christ’s successor.  Despite being a Jew himself, Paul was the leading protagonist of Gentile Christianity, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Having these two men associated with the earliest days of the church in Rome gave the church there great authority in its debates with its rivals over the right to assert the correct form of Christianity. This authority was recognized outside of Rome as well; for example, Irenaeus of Gaul, one of the leading apologists for Christianity. . ., writes in his book Against Heresies, “It is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [Rome], on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere...” (Against Heresies 3.3.2).4
            Various offices were overseen by the apostles. In the Bible, it mentions deacons, teachers, evangelists, prophets, seventy elders, etc. The apostles preached their gospel and organized churches in areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. When the apostles died, the church was left rudderless as a ship on the sea.  
The Methods Used To Spread the Religion
I. Caring For the Sick, Needy, Purchasing of Slaves and Prisoners.
            According to Roman law, slaves and prisoners were able to be freed by means of purchasing their freedom. These early Christians often took care of the afflicted and poor. By this means, many were converted to Christianity.
In his Apologeticus, Tertullian clarified how these community chests functioned: Even if there is a chest of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in entrance-fees, as if religion were a matter of a contract. Every man once a month brings some modest coin – or whenever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering. You might call them the trust funds of piety. For they are not spent upon banquets nor drinking-parties nor thankless eating-houses; but to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old and ship-wrecked mariners; and any who may be in mines, islands or prisons, provided that it is for the sake of God’s school, become the pensioners of their confession.5
The apostles established churches then often left on their journey to other places. Those left in charge appointed others to spread the religion in surrounding areas. The apostle for that area may travel and return later on such as the apostle Paul did according to the Acts of the Apostles. Writing letters was another form of communication. Some of these letters were collected and read in the churches. Unfortunately, sometimes there were forgeries that were penned in the name of an apostle. Some of these are mentioned in Professor Bart D. Ehrman’s book Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. After the apostles died, bishops started claiming authority over the churches.
Note that it was not until the end of the second century that a general consensus emerged with respect to the scriptural canon of the New Testament and a ministry based on the episcopate. Paul’s epistles testify to the theological and behavioral issues that threatened the growth, and in some cases, the survival of the various churches clustered in the eastern Mediterranean. Paul’s missionary strategy, as detailed in his letters and The Acts of the Apostles, was to preach in select cities in different provinces and in the process to establish Christian communities, whence knowledge of Christ’s teachings were spread by elders to outlying settlements.6
II. Roman Law, Social Conditions and Changing Mores
            As we have seen, the charitable acts of the Christians and the various regions where they spread their religion brought in great numbers of the poor. The danger here is they were converting pagans who may have a different understanding of religion and its purpose; for instance, the worship of idols and the gods of the Roman Empire. Mithraism was one of the pagan religions of the east where they worshipped Mithra, the sun god.

 . . . outcasts did contribute largely to the spread of Christianity (and Mithraism). It brought hope and a sense of human dignity to the despised and rejected of the earth. Of the immense numbers of lesser officials who carried on the vast organization of the Roman Empire, most perhaps, were taken from the ranks of the freedmen and quondam slaves, drawn from a great variety of races and already familiar with pagan cults of all kinds--Egyptian, Syrian, Chaldean, Iranian, and so forth. This fact helped to give to Christianity--under the fine tolerance of the Empire--its democratic character and also its willingness to accept all. The rude and menial masses, who had hitherto been almost beneath the notice of Greek and Roman culture, flocked in; and though this was doubtless, as time went on, a source of weakness to the Church. . .7
                Manuscripts had to be handwritten because the printing press had not been invented. The laborious task of copying large documents was time consuming and allowed for mistakes to alter the originals. Also, a scribe might delete, add, or make notes in the margin that might be later inserted by other scribes. With the conversion of so many pagans, whose understanding might be questioned, the thoughts or intents of the original author could be distorted.
The rise of Christianity between 150 and 800 c.e. is the story of millions of pagans who contributed as much as Augustine, Eusebius, and other well-known theologians to Christianity. The “masses” did not get to author the historical record or Christian literature. This silence should not be mistaken for a lack of agency. Lost to history are thousands of pagan converts, many of whom became clerics and monks, who interpreted Christian theology and ritual in accordance with pagan traditions. This is perhaps most apparent in the cult of the saints, which was central to the Christianity embraced by pagan Europe. The cult of the saints shifted the focus of Christianity from a somewhat distant God to local heroes who once “dead,” continued to act as protectors.8
            I do not want to imply that Roman Catholics worship idols. Prayers to saints are like asking a friend to pray for you. However, with the rise of Christianity after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, these saints took the place of local deities and possibly worshipped by converted pagans like their ancient gods.
Some of the Church fathers, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Lactantius, admitted that pagans believed in the unity of God. The philo-
sophic monotheism of Plato, in which the idea of Good and God coincided, was widely spread as Platonism became a spiritual force in the Empire.9
                The belief by pagans in the unity of God combined with the philosophy of Plato and the influence of Judaism’s belief in Yahweh was a driving force behind Christianity justifying monotheism of a Triune God.
            Decadence ran rapid in the Roman Empire.  They sought for things that would not satisfy their wants or needs.  Like an addiction to cocaine or pornography, a fulfilled life escaped them.
The Graeco-Roman world came slowly to itself, through confusion and pain. Greece, in the Peloponnesian war, lost her once joyful faith and cast off the last restraints in the Alexandrian epoch. From the second Punic war Rome found herself religiously destitute. Self-indulgence following upon restraint brought its inevitable fruits, especially among the Romans. We can detect from the
beginning of the first century B.C., until the end of the first A.D., a widespread disgust with life--a taedium vitae. A rising sense of personality brought pain. Self-indulgence was one of the many antecedents of satiety. While men were healthily occupied in public and national affairs, the cry of the individual was not heard. The misery and poverty caused by the Roman conquests and civil wars destroyed the basis of a regular social life. Idleness brought its concomitant--weariness. Amusements began to pall, and means of excitement were exhausted.10
            Many Romans were “hitting bottom” in their personal lives. In other words, life was becoming void and meaningless. Many were searching for something to fill their souls with joy and happiness. The old gods weren’t cutting it anymore. Many Greeks and Romans were becoming desensitized to the pains of common humanity. Something had to change but it would take time.
A belief in the unity of God was one of the most marked advances. Of this the Jews were the first missionaries, who 'had a passion for monotheism in their blood.' A movement set in toward monotheism from the earliest days of Greek philosophy and in Greek tragedy. The first problem that Greek thought set itself was to discover the One amid the many, unity amid plurality.11
            This would be later a matter of contention among the Christians. They questioned the divinity of Christ. They also had to somehow incorporate the Holy Spirit into a meaningful description of monotheism. This type of god was what the Greeks and Romans eventually sought.
III. Martyrdom
            Martyrdom was one way of spreading the beliefs of Christianity.  Christians were originally thought of as atheists.  They had no idol or temple.  They would not serve the Roman gods.  If there was an epidemic then the Christians were blamed.  If the Romans lost a battle then it was the fault of the Christians.  Therefore, Christians either denounced their faith, or were made slaves or killed by violent means.  Christians who were brought to Rome proclaimed their “good news” along the way.  What was meant to stifle Christians became a means of missionary work.
In his personal aphorisms, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who being a Stoic approved suicide, complained of the theatrical publicity of Christian martyrs. That publicity was the consequence of the Roman decision to condemn Christians to face hungry wild beasts in the lately built Coloseum or provincial amphitheaters, providing entertainment for crowds of spectators twenty or thirty thousand strong, an astonished audience of huge size for the martyrs’ witness.  By the third century everybody knew the outlines of Christian belief and believers’ willingness to die for the faith.12
Conversion of Constantine
            The Emperor Constantine began in the year 313 to attribute his success on the battlefield to the God of the Christians. Professor and author Harold Bloom, a Jew, recognized a parallel between the Roman religion and Christianity.
Jesus Christ is a new God on the Greco-Roman model of Zeus-Jove usurping his father, Chronos-Saturn.  The Emperor Constantine, in establishing Christianity as the religion of Roman authority, shrewdly recognized in Jesus Christ a continuation of pagan tradition. Yahweh, like an outworn Saturn, retreated to the remnants of Jewry, until he returned as the Allah of Islam13
Jesus Christ, himself a Jew, worshipped the God of the Jews. He referred to
 himself as his Only Begotten Son. Although some Christians accepted the records of former Hebrew prophets who foretold of the coming of Christ, there seemed to be a transition to Jesus Christ versus the Old Testament God, Yahweh. 

Council of Nicaea
            There was much contention among various Christian groups and bishops.  Almost three centuries after the death of Jesus Christ, a council was formed with bishops invited to reconcile beliefs particularly with respect to God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.  Even before Constantine was baptized as a Christian he attended the council of 300 bishops and made a proposal.  Isn’t there some irony in this?
Constantine proposed that the Greek term homoousios, “of the same substance,” be used to describe the common faith, and the churches of the West immediately accepted the proposal, for they had long used Tertullian’s Latin formulation “three persons in one substance.” The term was less popular with the bishops from the East, in part because the same term was used by the adoptionist bishop of Antioch Paul of Samosata, a contemporary and opponent of Origen, but because the emperor insisted on using the term, all but two eventually accepted it.14
Here then we see an emperor, who is not a bishop, formulating doctrine for the
whole of Christianity.  He sides with the “proto-orthodox” (those whose orthodoxy would be seen as the unerring truth to Christians).  This wasn’t the only idea proposed but because the emperor weighed in on the issue the “proto-orthodox” of Rome would win this doctrinal battle.  It would be well worth for Christians to study the other proposals and know which of various manuscripts would become the canon of scripture. Also a study of the differences between the different found manuscripts shows how variables have crept in or had been removed. No originals exist.  We can only piece together what might have been the original but that would still remain questionable.
Triune God as one God
Jesus said: I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.15It is one thing to say you are the Father; it is another to say that you come in the name of the Father. Like an ambassador representing his/her president, doesn’t make that person the president.  Bloom takes a strong stand on the monotheism of the Triune God. “If the Trinity truly is monotheistic, then its sole God is Jesus Christ, not Yeshua of Nazareth but his hyperbolic expansion into usurper of his beloved abba.”16 Abba is Aramaic for “dad” or “daddy.”  It takes on a personal intimate tone as a child to his father.  On the cross, Jesus, cries out to “Abba” his Father.  This is what Bloom is talking about.  Christians, in his opinion, began to center everything in Christ and not in the Old Testament or “covenant” God, Yeshua.
            A summary of how the Christian Church rose to prominence by the proto-orthodox Christians is given by the well-known scholar and debater, former Evangelical turned agnostic, Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
(1) The proto-orthodox claimed ancient roots for their religion-unlike, say, the Marcionites-by clinging to the Scriptures of Judaism, which, they insisted, predicted Christ and the religion established in his name. (2) At the same time they rejected the practices of contemporary Judaism as taught in these Scriptures-unlike, say, the Ebionites-allowing their form of Christianity to be a universal faith attractive to and feasible for the majority of people in the ancient world. (3) The proto-orthodox stressed a church hierarchy-unlike, say, some Gnostics, who believed that since everyone (in Gnostic communities) had equal access to the secret knowledge that brings salvation, everyone had an equal standing in the faith. The church hierarchy was invested with an authority that was used to determine what was to be believed, how church affairs (including worship and liturgy) were to be conducted, and which books were to be accepted as scriptural authorities. (4) The proto-orthodox were in constant communication with one another, determined to establish theirs as a worldwide communion. Witness the allies who met Ignatius on his way to martyrdom and the letters he wrote in return, the letter written by the church in Rome to the church in Corinth, and the accounts of Christian martyrs sent out by the church of Smyrna on the occasion of the death of their beloved pastor, Polycarp. The proto-orthodox were interested not only in what happened locally in their own communities but also in what was happening in other likeminded communities. And they were interested in spreading their understanding of the faith throughout the known world.17
           Hyppolytus and Tertullian, ante-Nicene fathers, raised these concerns about the trinity of God. “Together they raised a number of biblical and logical objections: Why does Scripture say that God sent his son, rather than that he sent himself? How can anyone be his own father? To whom is Jesus speaking when he prays? How can Jesus talk about going to his Father (John 20:17) if he is the Father? And is it really conceivable that God the Father was killed?”18
And what about Jesus himself?  What was he implying when he prayed for his disciples: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”19 Were they at some point in the heavens to be a single conglomerate essence as a god?
The ante-Nicene Father Origin had this to say: “And they are two separate persons, but one in unity and concord of mind and in identity of will; so that he who has seen the Son, ‘radiance of glory’ and ‘expression of the being’ of God, has seen God in him who is the image of God.”20 So you see not everyone was in agreement about the nature of God in the Early Christian Church.
            I do not mean to offend Christians nor do I think they need to turn from their faith like Dr. Ehrman but I do think that the rise of Christianity has bearing on their beliefs and should cause some introspection and discovery of Christianities’ past and the current confusion today; i.e., homosexuality, abortion, prophecy, authority, mega-churches, small churches, blaming Americas ills on sin, etc.  Christianity was born out of confusion and continues to be confused today.


1.      Acts 1:25-26 Authorized (King James) Version.

2.      Acts 14:14 ibid.

3.      John Walter Wayland and Walter B. Young. The Twelve Apostles: Who They
Were and What They Did. (Mount Morris: Brethren Publishing, 1907 Original from the University of Virginia Digitized Jan 5, 2009), 163. Accessed March 7, 2011.

4.      James Adair. Christianity: The Ebook. (Journal of Buddist Ethics Online
Books: 2007), 192. Accessed March 3, 2011.

5.      T. R. Glover and Gerald H. Rendall, trans., Tertullian [Apologeticus and De
Spectaculis] Minucius Felix [Octavius] (Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1931), 175–176.

6.      Edward Carpener. Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning.
(Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Library, 1998), 64-65.

7.      Ibid. 220-221.

8.      Daniel T. Reff. Plagues. Priests, and Demons: Sacred Narratives and the Rise
of Christianity in the Old World and New. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 120.

9.      S. Angus. The Environment of Early Christianity. (New York: Charles
Scribner’s and Sons, 1919), 95.

10.  Ibid. 71.

11.  Ibid. 94.

12.  Henry Chadwick. The Early Church. Revised ed., (Penguin:1993 Series,    Originally published: Pelican, 1967), 5.

13.  Harold Bloom. Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. (New York: Riverhead
 Books, 2005), 98.

14.  Adair. Christianity: The Ebook, 242. Accessed March 3, 2011.

15.  John 5:43 Authorized (King James) Version.

16.   Bloom. Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, 96.

17.  Bart D. Ehrman. Lost Christianities: The Battles For Scripture and Faiths We
 Never Knew. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 179-180.

18.  Ibid. 153.

19. John 17:21 Authorized (King James) Version.

20. Henry Bettenson. The Early Christian Fathers. (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 336.


Adair, James. Christianity: The Ebook. Journal of Buddist Ethics Online
Books: 2007 Accessed March 3, 2011.

Angus, S. The Environment of Early Christianity. New York: Charles
Scribner’s and Sons, 1919.

Bettenson, Henry. The Early Christian Fathers. London: Oxford University Press, 1956.

Bloom, Harold. Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. (New York: Riverhead
Books, 2005.

Carpener, Edward. Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning.
Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Library, 1998.

Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. Revised ed., Penguin:1993 Series,Originally
 published: Pelican, 1967.

Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles For Scripture and Faiths We
Never Knew. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 179-180

Glover, T. R. and Gerald H. Rendall, trans., Tertullian [Apologeticus and De
Spectaculis] Minucius Felix [Octavius] Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1931.

Wayland, John Walter and Walter B. Young. The Twelve Apostles: Who They
Were and What They Did. Mount Morris: Brethren Publishing, 1907. Original from the University of Virginia Digitized Jan 5, 2009. Accessed March 7, 2011.