The Biggest Myths About the First Christians
Did early Christians have Bibles? Hide in catacombs? Oh, and as far as why Peter was crucified upside down...
Whether you like it or not, if you live in Western Europe or North America your world is shaped by Christianity. But Christianity was not inevitable. Jesus was not the only Messiah executed by the Romans for sedition. His impact is felt and the religion founded in his name exists today because of the work of his followers—the Apostles and first disciples who spread his message. We know a little about their work from the Bible (Acts of the Apostles) and there are some almost cartoonish portrayals of them in stories composed decades, even hundreds of years after their deaths. But it’s largely a murky period. Most of what we think we know about the earliest Christians comes from later traditions, Hollywood epics and, sadly, The Da Vinci Code.
1. They weren’t Christians.
Jesus and his disciples were Jews: Their scripture was Jewish, their religious rituals were Jewish, and their conception of the Messiah was Jewish. It’s certainly true that in the Gospel of John, a text written at the earliest around 90 CE, Jesus says some pretty vicious things about Jews (spoiler alert: He didn’t actually say those things). And it’s true that Paul discouraged Gentile converts from embracing the full demands of Jewish law, including circumcision. But neither Paul nor any of the evangelists know the name Christian or use it to describe followers of Jesus.