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     Gentile Christianity of the Second Century

Gentile Christianity of the Second Century

1. By the year 100 Christianity was represented in Asia Minor, Syria, Macedonia, Greece and the city of Rome. By 130 AD it was present in Egypt. The most christianized territory was Asia Minor, where, in 111-113 Pliny the Younger, governor of Bythnia reported to the emperor Trajan that "the contagion of the superstition [Christianity] has penetrated not only the cities but also the villages and country places" and that the pagan temples had been "deserted" (Pliny, Epistle 96).

2. During this time there developed a body of literature traditionally referred to as the "Apostolic Fathers", a name which dates back to the 17th century when it was believed that these writings had been written by the immediate disciples of the church's founders. Among these a place of honor has always been given to 1 Clement written around the year 95. This is the earliest known piece of Christian writing which failed finally to be included in the NT canon. It is attributed to Clement, a prominent presbyter of the Roman church. It deals with problems of church order in the face of a rebellion in Corinth against the authority of that church's presbyters. Alongside 1 Clement there are seven letters written (ca 113) by Ignatius bishop of Antioch, to churches which had received him while he travelled under guard to Rome to be tried for his faith. He urges unity in Christ through obedient fellowship with the bishops, presbyters and deacons of the local church, and in the process argues against Docetic and Judaizing doctrines. The Epistle of Barnabas, written by Polycarp is a treatise which by allegorical methods explains the "true" (Christian) sense of the Jewish Law. Added to this list is also an early Christian sermon of Alexandrian origin mistakenly called the Second Epistle of Clement.

3. Later eras appended to this collection the apocalypse or revelation call The Shepherd, written ca 200 AD by a Roman Christian prophet called Hermas who was troubled by the moral state of his community and the question of whether there could be a "second repentance". Also added to the list was the so-called Letter to Diognetus, and much more recently was the addition, as a result of a discovery in Constantinople in 1883, of The teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles, otherwise known as the Didache.

4. A survey of this literature makes one thing clear: that Christianity in the opening decades of the second century was beset by debate and conflict. At the same time, this literature makes clear that the churches were working toward common solutions to these problems. This fact is attested to not only by, for example Ignatius reference to the "catholic" [universal] church, but also by their habit of writing each other letters of rebuke, advice and exhortation, a habit of which we find no other parallel.


Sources utilized in these pages may include:
  • Everett Ferguson's: Backgrounds of Early Christianity
  • Walker's: History of Christianity (out of print)

    (These links will take you to book detail pages at Amazon.com)

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