The Powerful Love of Jesus & Early Christians That Spread Like Wildfire
The earliest Christian writings we have are the letters (Epistles) of Paul and then the four gospels of the New Testament: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. In them, you can find the powerful and captivating love that spread like wildfire in the first century after Jesus died.
The Baptism prayer of the early Christians emphasized the respect, unity, equality, and harmony of each member—a very radical idea.
In those days, a traditional saying already five or six centuries old quoted a man thanking the Fates everyday that he was born a Greek, not a barbarian; free, not a slave; and a man, not a woman.
Instead, the traditional early Christian Baptism prayer said:
“Baptized into Messiah,
you are clothed in Messiah,
there is no more Jew or Greek,
slave or free person,
man or woman,
For you are all one in Messiah-Jesus.”
This radically loving view dared to challenge the dominant Roman society built on slavery and male dominance.
It erased category, rank, privilege, boundaries, and hierarchies of power. The earliest Christians saw each other as equals in the Lord, including women and even slaves.
Clearly, this would be a thrilling idea to the poor, oppressed masses. During this time, there were no fancy cathedrals, bishops, or popes. Most of the apostles Jesus chose were married men.
Jesus didn’t care about traditional Jewish boundaries between the clean and unclean. He treated everyone, no matter the race, class, gender, or sexual history, with dignity, love, and justice.
Jesus welcomed a number of women followers to travel along with men to learn the ways of God, even though Jews at the time didn’t normally speak in public to women outside their families, much less travel around the countryside with them.
Paul’s letters, the earliest historical evidence of Christian life, long before the earliest gospels were written, show the earliest Christians considered men, women, and even married couples apostles.
When Paul writes to the Romans, he seeks the favor of 29 church leaders, 10 of which are women, with two—Phoebe and Prisca—heading the list. In Romans, he also names women missionaries and calls a woman Junia “foremost among the apostles.”
In Acts, either a woman or a woman working with a man establishes each of Paul’s original churches.
Women were prominent in the church in the first century of Christianity and to some degree in the second, when people worshipped in their homes and wealthy women often supported the church. These women often presided at Eucharistic meals sharing bread and wine.
During the second century, as more and more Romans joined, their patriarchal, male-dominant culture had a stronger influence and more people started complaining about women in leadership positions.
After the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, worship moved from private homes to public churches and church leaders began excluding women from positions of authority.
Profound Love, Compassion, & Service
Jesus constantly emphasized compassion and loving service to others, even strangers. He talks about loving and forgiving even enemies 53 times. He talks about loving and treating others as you would want yourself 19 times.
Jesus tells people to help the poor or reject wealth or rich people 128 times. He talks about mercy to the weak or needy 24 times. He told people not to judge others 34 times.
The Bible has over 2,000 verses on poverty and justice and emphasized caring for the poor and needy hundreds of times.
The earliest Christians took this central message of Jesus to heart. They focused on love—helping and supporting one another. Christians shared meals together, going from house to house. They provided health care to those who needed it.
They took care of the poor or homeless. They worked to take care of the weak or needy, such as sick people, orphans, and widows. Almost every ancient writing on how Christians acted emphasized taking care of orphans.
Wealthy Christians sold their possessions and used the money to take care of the others, so there were no needy among them (Acts 2: 44-45 and Acts 4: 32-37).
The philosopher Aristides in 125 AD says Christians don’t lie, give to the needy without boasting, protect orphans, and take strangers home and treat them like family.
Around the same time, Justin Martyr describes the more well off Christians giving money to take care of orphans, widows, the sick and needy, prisoners, and strangers from other lands.
One ancient writer says orphans have only three life outcomes: death, slavery, or Christian adoption. And at least in Smyrna, some people used church funds to buy the freedom of slaves!
In this spirit of respect, equality, love, companionship, and service to others, the early Christian church exploded in popularity.
Against Violence & War
Jesus taught compassion, peace, and the shockingly novel idea of loving your enemies. He was very clear about that. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Over the first 250 years, Romans sometimes, in brief periods, whipped, tortured, crucified, burned alive, boiled alive, impaled on spikes, hanged, or had gladiators, lions, bears, leopards, or other wild beasts kill the early Christians in ampitheatres.
Later Christian historians exaggerated the numbers of martyrs and wrote many of the stories during times of peace. When Romans did kill Christians in public spectacles, it didn’t make for good entertainment because the Christian martyrs refused to fight back.
Many of them went to their deaths with peaceful hearts. Some of them even sang hymns as they burned in stadiums or faced wild beasts in front of cheering crowds. You couldn’t help but admire the strength of these people’s hearts, filled with peaceful love.
The early Christians avoided war, killing, and military service. Early Christian writings over a period of many years make this very clear. Very often, they connect these ideas to Jesus teaching us to love our enemies or to the prophecy about swords being beaten into plowshares.
Every time any early Christian writes about killing, war, or joining the military, they reject it for all Christians. Not one writes that these things are acceptable.
Around 180 AD, Celsus, a pagan Roman, wrote that if everyone became Christian, the Roman Empire would collapse because Christians refused to join the army.
The Apostolic Tradition was an early church handbook of rules with a large circulation and impact, originally written in Greek and then translated into Arabic, Latin, Ethiopic, and Sahidic (a Coptic language). It is a composite of more than one author, with some materials dating to between 100 and 300 AD.
The Apostolic Tradition explains the Christian church must refuse to baptize soldiers who kill, gladiators, prostitutes, pimps, and anyone with the “power of the sword.” Any Christian who tries to join the military must be kicked out.
Later, after Christianity became legal and Emperor Constantine called a conference of church leaders to adopt uniform laws, they adopted many of their rules from the Apostolic Tradition.
The first evidence of a few Christians in the Roman army is in 173 AD. By the late 200s AD, their numbers were definitely growing, but even so, there is only clear evidence for 8 Christian soldiers before Emperor Constantine.
But when Constantine converted in 312 AD and made Christianity legal in 313 AD, he drastically changed the religion. Constantine was a brutal sociopath.
Even after he claimed to be Christian, he murdered his eldest son, decapitated his brother-in-law, and killed his wife by boiling her alive. He also continued worshipping the sun.
Constantine made it acceptable to be Christian and fight wars, putting Christian symbols on his soldiers.
Next the church fathers Saint Augustine in the early 400s AD and then Saint Thomas of Aquinas in the 1200s AD changed Christianity even more by arguing there were just wars.
What Jesus Was NOT Concerned About:
True Christianity means acts of charity, love, kindness, service, and respect, even toward the least and neediest of people. Christians who reject or hate immigrants or homosexuals are not following the teachings of Jesus.
Wealth (Prosperity Gospels)
The modern prosperity gospels believe God will reward faith, good acts, positive thinking and speech, visualization of riches, and/or donations to religious causes with material wealth or riches.
Jesus came from the lowest class in society, even below peasants socially and economically. The Bible calls Joseph a tekton, meaning one of those who most likely didn’t own any tiny plot of land and worked as a handyman or day laborer.
Jesus followed Joseph in this work, which scholars now agree would have meant perhaps some carpentry like building doors and tables but more often digging ditches and building stone walls.
The gospels even seem embarrassed over the social class of Jesus. In the earliest gospel of Mark, when Jesus reveals his divine nature, people ask, “Is this not the tekton?”
Matthew’s gospel a few decades later changes it to, “Is this not the son of a tekton?” By the later gospels of Luke and John, the embarrassing word tekton disappears completely and people just ask, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”
Jesus argued the love of money was a major problem and that God cursed wealthy people who accumulate treasure. He told people to invite only poor people to a party and not rich people.
Jesus repeatedly said the poor would go to heaven and he chased rich bankers and merchants from the Temple. He said rich people would have a harder time going to heaven than a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle.
Foreigners & Immigration
The Bible has over 100 verses about welcoming the immigrant and loving them as we love ourselves and our children. Jesus would rail in anger against our immigration hysteria and fear of Muslims.
The Parable Of The Good Samaritan makes this very clear. In the time of Jesus, Jews distrusted, feared, and perhaps hated Samaritans and their foreign ways and religion just like Trump supporters do Muslim and Mexican immigrants.
In the parable, robbers strip a man naked, beat him, and leave him half dead on the side of the road. Jewish holy men ignore the suffering man. But the kind Samaritan takes pity on him, bandages his wounds and then takes him to an inn. He even leaves money with the innkeeper, asking him to take care of the man, and promises to come back and reimburse him for any extra expenses.
Clearly, Jesus is standing up for accepting feared outsiders with strange ways and different religions and saying these people may be better than even our own holy men.
Masturbation, Oral Sex, & Homosexuality
Jesus never once mentions masturbation or oral sex. The Bible never specifically mentions these things either. The flowery poetry of the Song of Solomon does suggest oral sex with imagery of lovers tasting, eating, and drinking each other.
Jesus lived his whole life under Greek and Roman culture and Roman rule, living side by side with both Greeks and Romans. Greek culture had dominated Jewish life for over 300 years, ever since Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East. The New Testament was written in Greek.
Homosexuality was common and celebrated among both Greeks and Romans. Greek poetry, history, and literature described same sex relationships with love, honesty, integrity, honor, and courage. Roman religion and law also accepted same sex relationships.
That means people who not only engaged in homosexuality but also celebrated it surrounded Jesus all his life. Yet Jesus never even said a word about it.
Instead, Jesus constantly talked about kindness, forgiveness, loving service, helping the poor, sick, weak, forgotten, and strangers, and rejecting wealth. This shows what Jesus considered important.
Early Christians did emphasize honoring everyone. They argued against the momentary pleasures of the flesh and exploiting people like slaves for sex.
But as time went on, the church became anti-woman and extremely anti-sex. The early church leaders St. Augustine and St. Thomas of Aquinas had bizarre views of sex.
Both of them considered sex evil, sinful, shameful, and disgusting unless it was only penile-vaginal sex only for having children.
St. Augustine said sex with a prostitute was less sinful than sex with your wife just for fun! He also said an unmarried woman who has sex not for pleasure but just to have an illegitimate child is better than a married woman who has sex just for fun!
St. Thomas of Aquinas ranked masturbation a worse sin than consensual sex outside of marriage (fornication). He also ranked sodomy worse than incest or rape.
Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas of Aquinas argued prostitution was sinful but a necessary evil and should be legal. Otherwise, they believed, lust would run riot and destroy marriages and society.
Homosexuality did not become a crime until the church made it one in the 1200s. Over the centuries, people generally considered homosexual acts a sin and a choice, just like theft or some other crime.
Throughout history, of course, some people showed long-term homosexual preferences. Beginning in the late 1800s, however, medical authorities started classifying people as homosexual, starting the modern idea of this whole different kind of person.
Both Greeks and Romans practiced abortion. Doctors, lawyers, historians, philosophers, and poets in ancient times discussed it.
Yet Jesus never said a word about abortion and neither did St. Paul or the New Testament. The Jews believed life began AFTER birth, with breathing.
People against abortion often quote Exodus 21:22-23. Modern translations seem to suggest this passage means causing a premature birth is fine but causing a miscarriage requires the death penalty.
For at least 1,000 years, however, Jewish scholars have consistently believed Exodus 21:22-23 requires just a fine for causing miscarriage (loss of property) and the death penalty for causing the death of the pregnant woman.
The ancient, traditional Jewish Talmud laws permit abortion under certain circumstances and require it if a woman’s life is at stake.
For most of Western history, abortion was accepted and legal if it occurred before “quickening,” before the fetus moved in the womb between 4 ½ to 5 months into the pregnancy.
In most of colonial America, abortion was common and legal but people often kept it a secret because of laws against sex outside of marriage.
In the mid-1800s, approximately 20% of all pregnancies ended in legal abortion. The penny press widely distributed plenty of ads for abortion services.
States started making abortion illegal in the mid-1800s and by 1900, most states outlawed it. The hatred of abortion is a modern obsession and has nothing to do with the Christianity Jesus practiced.
If you believe God created the world as it is, God is by far the biggest abortionist. Between 1 and 2 out of 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage. The rate is likely even higher because many miscarriages occur so early in pregnancy the woman doesn’t even know she is pregnant. So you could say God aborts about 1 out of 5 pregnancies.
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