This period of church history begins at Pentecost when the Apostles went out preaching and ends when the Christian leaders that directly interacted with the Apostles died. The New Testament accurately and authoritatively records the founding of the church and how it developed in the first century. Early Christian theologians known as the Apostolic Fathers show us how the church continued on after the Apostles.
C. 30-33 AD: Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event marks the foundation of the Christian faith and is followed by the Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.
C. 34-37 AD: Conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Saul, later known as Paul the Apostle, was pivotal to the spread of Christianity among Gentiles and authored 13 New Testament letters.
C. 37-41 AD: James leads the Jerusalem Church. James, the brother of Jesus, becomes a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church, as depicted in the Acts of the Apostles and other historical sources.
C. 40-60 AD: Period of Pauline missions. The Apostle Paul undertakes several missionary journeys across the Roman Empire, establishing churches and writing letters to these communities.
C. 48-49 AD: The incident at Antioch. Paul confronts Peter over the issue of Gentile Christians following Jewish customs.
C. 48-50 AD: Council of Jerusalem. Early church leaders, including Peter and James, got together to discuss Gentile conversion and Christian practice.
C. 51-52 AD: Paul appears before the Proconsul Gallio in Corinth.
C. 64-67 AD: Nero's persecution of Christians. Following the Great Fire, Christians are blamed and persecuted, marking the first major Roman persecution. The Apostles Paul and Peter are put to death under Emperor Nero.
C. 50-70 AD: Composition of the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are written during this period as well as several other New Testament texts.
70 AD: Destruction of the Temple. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman general Titus. This event, foretold by Jesus in detail, had a profound impact on both Judaism and the early Christian movement.
C. 98 AD: The death of the Apostle John. All New Testament writings are finished by this time.
C. 95-150 AD: Writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna write letters and texts that provide insights into early Christian theology, governance, and practice.
96 AD: Clement of Rome writes a letter to the Corinthians. This is possibly the earliest Christian letter outside the New Testament.
C. 107-116 AD: Ignatius of Antioch writes seven letters en route to his martyrdom in Rome.
C. 107-155 AD: Polycarp serves as bishop of Smyrna.
C. 125 AD: Aristides writes the first early church "Apology." This was a defense of the faith presented to Emperor Hadrian.
132-136 AD: The Bar-Kokhba Jewish Insurrection against Hadrian takes place.
The origins of the Church are intricately linked to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, show how Jesus' ministry laid the foundation for the Church. His teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection are central to Christian faith and were foundational for the establishment and growth of the early Church.
The book of Acts, authored by Luke, offers a detailed account of the Church's inception, particularly at Pentecost. After Jesus' ascension, his disciples received the Holy Spirit, as described in Acts 2. This event is often considered the official birth of the Church. The disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, began preaching the gospel, marking the start of the Christian mission.
Central in the early Church were the Apostles, particularly Peter and Paul. Peter played a crucial role in establishing communities of believers, as seen in various parts of Acts. Paul, once a persecutor of Christians, experienced a dramatic conversion and became a key missionary, spreading Christianity beyond Jewish communities to Gentiles, as extensively documented in his epistles.
Christianity spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. Despite persecution and challenges, the message of Jesus found a receptive audience across diverse cultures and social classes. The Epistles, letters written by Paul and other leaders to various Christian communities, record the theological foundations and practical challenges of the early Church.
The Apostolic Fathers are a group of early Christian theologians who are believed to have had direct or close contact with the Apostles of Jesus Christ. Their writings, composed in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, are among the earliest extant Christian documents outside the New Testament. While the works of the Apostolic Fathers are instructive and beneficial for understanding the development of Christian doctrine, practice, and history, they should not supersede or be equated with scriptural authority.
Clement of Rome is also known as Pope Clement I. The term "pope," as it is understood today, did not exist in the first century. The structure and authority of the early Christian church were more decentralized, and the concept of a single supreme pontiff as the head of the church was a later development. The title "pope" (from Latin "papa," meaning father) became more distinctly associated with the bishop of Rome several centuries later. Clement is said to have served as bishop from around 88 AD until his death in 99 AD. These dates, however, are not certain and vary among sources.
The First Epistle of Clement, or 1 Clement, is traditionally ascribed to Clement of Rome and was likely written around 96 AD. It is addressed to the Christian church in Corinth and is one of the oldest pieces of extant Christian writings outside the New Testament. This letter was written from the body of Christ followers in Rome to those in Corinth.
The Second Epistle of Clement, or 2 Clement, was traditionally believed to have been an epistle written by Clement of Rome to the Christian Church in Corinth in the late first century. However, 4th-century bishop Eusebius expressed doubt about the authenticity of this second epistle, and it is now widely accepted that 2 Clement was not written by Clement of Rome but by an anonymous author. Moreover, 2 Clement is considered to be not a letter but an early Christian homily or sermon, and it focuses on different themes such as almsgiving and church wealth distribution, distinct from the issues of church leadership and schism addressed in 1 Clement. This text was probably composed around AD 150.
Ignatius of Antioch lived between around 50 AD and 110-140 AD and is known for his letters before his martyrdom in Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajan. These letters were written during his transport to Rome as a prisoner, where he was condemned to die for his beliefs. Ignatius is believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John.
The Letters of Ignatius are addressed to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp. In the late 20th century, scholarly consensus largely accepted the authenticity of seven original epistles, although some debate continues.
Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 69-155) was a Christian bishop of Smyrna. He is celebrated for his martyrdom where he was bound and burned at the stake, and then stabbed when the fire failed to consume his body. Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle.
The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians is the only surviving work definitively attributed to Polycarp. The letter is an exhortation to the Philippians to maintain faith and righteousness, and it echoes the teachings and scriptural interpretations of the early Church.
Papias of Hierapolis (AD 60-130) was an early Christian author and the Bishop of Hierapolis, a Phrygian city. Eusebius of Caesarea, a 4th-century bishop and historian, and Irenaeus of Lyons, a 2nd-century theologian, provide the primary historical accounts of Papias. Irenaeus described Papias as "a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp," while Eusebius was more critical, questioning Papias's intelligence due to his chiliastic views.
Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord is known only through fragments preserved in later writings. Papias's work is significant for its early accounts of the authorship of the Gospels. He provides the earliest extant account of who wrote the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, with Mark's Gospel being depicted as a compilation of Peter's recollections and Matthew's as a collection of Jesus's sayings originally penned in Hebrew or Aramaic.
Quadratus of Athens (died c. AD 129) was one of the first Christian apologists, renowned for presenting an apologetic discourse to Emperor Hadrian around 124-125 AD during Hadrian's visit to Athens. The period of his life is sometimes confused, with some sources incorrectly associating him with the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161–180) rather than Hadrian (117–138).
Most of Quadratus's writings have been lost, but he is acknowledged for his argument for Christ’s deity, which was a direct response to challenges Christians faced during that time. He is mentioned in the writings of early church historians like Eusebius and Jerome, who provided insights into his life and work.
The Epistle to Diognetus is a distinguished work of Christian apologetics from the early Christian period. There is also scholarly debate regarding the authorship of the 'Epistle to Diognetus.' It was initially attributed to Justin Martyr, but later some suggested that it could be the work of Quadratus. The last two chapters often considered later additions from the 3rd century, possibly written by Hippolytus or Pantaenus. Ultimately its authorship and provenance remain unknown. It is considered one of the earliest examples of apologetic literature, with estimates of its dating being as early as AD 130, which would make it contemporaneous with figures such as Melito of Sardis, Athenagoras of Athens, and Tatian.
The Epistle to Diognetus is attributed to an author identified only as Mathetes, a Greek term meaning "student" or "disciple," and not a proper name. The content of the epistle suggests that the author was a Johannine Christian, one who particularly emphasized the concept of the Logos. This epistle is known for defending the doctrines and practices of Christianity against the critiques of the time, addressing questions about the nature of God and the Christians' disregard for worldly concerns and death.
The Didache is considered to be from the early second century. The authorship and the precise origin of the Didache remain unknown, but it is thought to be the oldest patristic document, probably originating from Syria, although some suggest Egypt as a possible source.
The Didache is a composite work with various sections, including the "Two Ways" of life and death (chapters 1-6), a liturgical manual (chapters 7-10), instructions on the reception of traveling prophets (chapters 11-15), and a brief apocalypse (chapter 16).
The Epistle of Barnabas is an early Christian text, composed in Greek between AD 70 and 132. This epistle is distinct from the pseudepigraphical Gospel of Barnabas and is sometimes referred to as Pseudo-Barnabas due to uncertainties regarding its authorship. Some speculate that the writer was an Alexandrian Jew from the times of the Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian. He might have been a layman who was mistakenly associated with the apostolic figure of Barnabas due to sharing the same name.
The Epistle of Barnabas employs the term "gnosis," or knowledge, and tackles how the “Old Testament” should be interpreted in contrast to Jewish interpretations, as well as how Christians should define themselves in relation to non-Christian Jews. It argues that the Law's teachings were not meant to be followed literally. It also argues that God's covenant was for all people, not exclusively with the Jews, and refers to practices such as circumcision as "the work of the devil."
The Shepherd of Hermas was composed in Rome in the early 2nd century and attached to the Codex Sinaiticus, a major fourth-century manuscript. Its influence is evident in the many languages it was translated into: Latin, Ethiopic, Coptic, Middle Persian, and Georgian. Its quasi-canonical status was debated, with some church fathers valuing its teachings while others, like Athanasius and Jerome, placed it outside the canon or were unaware of it. Hermas, the author, is only known through autobiographical details in the Shepherd. He was a former enslaved Christian who gained freedom, became a wealthy merchant, lost his wealth, and did penance for past sins.
The Shepherd of Hermas is divided into three sections: five visions, twelve moral commandments, and ten parables. The initial visions portray the Church as an elderly matron who becomes progressively younger, symbolizing renewal through repentance. Hermas is shown a vision of a tower representing the Church, with different stones symbolizing various Christians. A prominent aspect of the Shepherd is its focus on penance and forgiveness for post-baptismal sin, a significant topic of debate in early Christian communities.