Christianity developed as a combination of Jewish monotheism and Roman universalism. It developed this way because it started out in a society that was anti-Jewish and Roman, and ended in a society that was Roman and Christian. Christians were originally persecuted by the Romans along with the Jews, who also persecuted them. One of the earliest people to spread Christianity to Greece and Asia Minor at the same time was the apostle Paul. Pauline Christianity synthesized the role of Jesus as a divine figure with Greek traditions.
Christianity emerged from Judaism, but there are key differences to remember. The Jews view themselves as inheritors of a historical religious tradition that binds their society together no matter where it is. Christian eschatology does not view the coming of God as a historical event. The apostle Paul still left a definitive and lasting impression on Christian history and the way Jesus was thought of by the mass numbers that Paul was able to convert in Greece and Asia Minor.
Paul, who received a vision of Jesus that blinded him, and then was miraculously healed, became one of the first Christian evangelists, spreading the word of Jesus throughout his lifetime. His traditional pattern of teaching was to begin speaking at a local synagogue, get thrown out, and continue to preach to the masses in more bucolic areas, establishing small churches through the teachings of Jesus that were later expanded in other evangelical trips.
Through his wide travels, purposeful indifference to persecution, and the expostulation and sometime exhortation of the idea, still generally applied, that Christians cannot impose an ethnicity upon those who come into the faith, Paul spread the word of Christianity, performing exorcisms and miracles, guided by his concept of otherworldly forces while still being grounded in his ability to tell their voices from his own. Paul set a whole new precedent for participating in Jesus.
It is also arguable that the prevailing conception of Jesus changed with the social territory Paul covered, graded upon the inhabitants’ prior belief systems as adaptive mechanisms that accepted while changing the idea of Jesus in ways that were primarily Jewish (paternalistic, monotheistic), Greek (Dionysian), and Roman (universalist). As time went on, the idea of Jesus returning to earth became less popular and the religion shifted from being persecuted to being accepted, revitalized, and set in a system of official theology.
The idea of Jesus at this point changed as it was determined universally by council what was to be thought of Jesus; whether or not he was human or divine, submissive to the idea of the father, etc. It is easy for any society to take the parables of Jesus and do virtually anything with them, since many of the parables are so open-ended. Some of these confusions were cleared up by councilor definitions, and others were added.
All of the gospel writers had a different agenda in presenting the life of Jesus; this is perhaps the main reason, apart from the natural flux of a changing society, that the understanding of Jesus was capable of changing from age to age: the definitive texts on his message are often contradictory and are fairly open to interpretation. The formation of Christianity was basically a combination of Jewish monotheism and Roman universalism, perhaps with some Greek paganism as well. One of the earliest relationships between Christianity and the surrounding culture was highly influenced by the journeys of the apostle Paul. Paul went into different geographical regions as he spread the word of Christianity, as mentioned.
“Paul worked intensely to collect money for ‘the poor among the saints at Jerusalem…’ Considering the importance that Paul attaches to this mission, and also the stress on economic themes in Luke-Acts, it is very odd that Luke fails to mention either the poverty of the Jerusalem church or Paul’s Great Collection” (Schneider, 2002). All of the gospel writers had a different agenda in presenting the religion is not necessarily a whole and functioning world that is intrinsically separated from society; since it relies upon society to thrive, it must necessarily make allowances as this society changes.
When dealing with Christianity and conceptions of Jesus throughout the Christian age, one must take into account societal and religious shifts as they occur synchronously. For example, for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, Christians were not fully accepted, and were condemned and executed by the Romans. An exploration of the evolving understanding of Jesus at this point revolves around his parables and also the onset of Pauline Christianity.
Although some skeptics outside of Christianity attribute the apostle Paul’s states of grace to a disease the apostle himself perhaps mentions in the Bible, and even within the Catholic church some argue that his visions may have been hallucinations or perhaps the result of a CNS disorder which carried him to spastic heights of epiphany, Paul still left a definitive and lasting impression on Christian history and the way Jesus was thought of by the mass numbers that Paul was able to convert, thus changing the face of Christianity to its status as a scourge in early Roman times to an official state religion towards the fall of Rome.
Schneider, J.R. (2002). The Good of Affluence. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
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