When Did Christianity Begin to Spread?

Churches are among Biblical archaeology findings that hold the answer

When Did Christianity Begin to Spread?

When did Christianity begin to spread? The cross-shaped marble baptistery is one of the new archaeological discoveries at the fourth-century church in Laodicea that shows just how old is Christianity in Turkey. There was already a well-established Christian community here for hundreds of years by the time this magnificent church was built. Photo: Dr. Celal Şimşek/Laodikeia excavation.

How old is Christianity? When did it stop being a Jewish sect and become its own religion? As reported in “Crossing the Holy Land” in the September/October 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, new archaeological discoveries of churches are crucial to helping answer those questions. But when did Christianity begin to build these churches? Early Christian gathering places are difficult to identify because at first Christians met together mostly in private homes. Even as Christian populations grew, distrust and persecution by their Roman rulers forced the early church to stay out of the public eye.

The situation changed in 313 A.D. when the emperor Constantine made Christianity a licit religion of the Roman Empire. With this acceptance came the construction of large public buildings, or churches, to serve the worship needs of Christians. Remains of these churches are now turning up in Biblical archaeology findings around the world, helping to answer the questions: How old is Christianity in places like Turkey and Egypt? And when did Christianity begin to spread beyond Israel throughout the Roman Empire?
 


 
In the free ebook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, top Biblical scholars examine the controversial role of Jewish law and tradition in early Christianity.
 

 
In early February 2011 the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced some Biblical archaeology findings, including a large Byzantine Church at Horvat Midras southwest of Jerusalem. The structure, which was used as a church in the fifth–seventh centuries, was among many new archaeology discoveries at the site and was located inside an earlier Jewish compound. The highlight of the basilica is the mosaic carpeting. The colorful geometric patterns and images of fish, peacocks, lions and foxes are rare in both the level of craftsmanship and the state of preservation.

But then disaster struck. Someone attacked these mosaics with a hammer. In the wake of the vandalism, the IAA covered the Biblical archaeology findings, stating that they hoped the mosaics could be mostly preserved, although it will now require significantly more time and money.

But how old is Christianity’s presence in Turkey? Given the importance of Asia Minor to the apostle Paul and other early followers of Jesus, it should come as no surprise that a church from the fourth century was among the new archaeology discoveries there. Turkey announced at the end of January 2011 that a large, well-preserved church had been found at Laodicea using ground-penetrating radar. According to the excavation director the church was built during the reign of Constantine (306–337 A.D.) and destroyed by an earthquake in the early seventh century.
 


 
New from BAS: Partings—How Judaism and Christianity Became Two. Never before has this multi-faceted process been documented so engagingly and so authoritatively by so many eminent scholars.
 

 
Laodicea is mentioned several times in the New Testament, in both Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the Book of Revelation. Paul’s letter suggests that Laodicea had a very early Christian community. A bishop’s seat was located at Laodicea very early on, and it remains a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church today, although the city is uninhabited and the bishop’s seat has been vacant since 1968. In 363–364 A.D., clergy from all over Asia Minor convened at the regional Council of Laodicea. It is possible that the newly discovered church is the very same building where Asia Minor’s clergy met to hold the influential Council of Laodicea.

For more about these and other recent church discoveries, read “Crossing the Holy Land” by Dorothy D. Resig in the September/October 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
 


 
How did Christianity become a religion distinct from its Jewish origins? Read The Origin of Christianity in Bible History Daily.

Read more about Laodicea in Laodicea Columns Reveal the Grandeur of an Early Christian Center.

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25 Responses

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  1. anthony says

    I think it would be more appropriate to use the designation Asia Minor and not Turkey. Nomenclature is not always interchangeable and is by no means unimportant.

  2. Chris says

    It is erroneous to suggest or imply, as this article does, that the age of Christianity is according to the age of the oldest known places where they met to worship. Moreover, the Lord’s “church” is NOT the place where Christians lived, nor the structure in which they worshiped. Rather, CHRISTIANS THEMSELVES are the church. And “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and the practice of that faith, constitutes Christianity.

    This insidius practice of linking the age of Christianity to the oldest known place or structure where they worshiped, is FALSE to the core.

    Christianity began in the 1st century in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, ca. 30-33 C.E. (A.D.), and has existed continually ever since. Perhaps not always visibly in the eyes of the world because of times of extreme persecution, but wherever, and at whatever point of time, on this earth a disciple of Jesus Christ has lived and worshiped the Lord Christ, Christianity has existed.

    Christianity did not start in the 3rd or 4th century in Turkey or Greece or any other place. It began as stated above, and the divinely inspired and historic account of it is found in Acts 2.

  3. John says

    The line of thinking that “the people are the church” is correct but having said that it’s only part of the equation of what it means to be a Christian. The Apostle Paul set up churches “of people” that met in house churches, worshipped in a liturgical fashion (as we see in 1Corinthians) and told them to hold on to their traditions. So we have many things going on here: people, church, worship, and traditions.

    Even before the New Testament Bible was written and put together, Christians used the Old Testament and the traditions that the Apostles left behind. These buildings are important in that they are a physical manifestation of those traditions. The other Apostolic traditions mentioned above can be found in the Orthodox Church today.

    It is not a coincidence that this church had Greek inscriptions in it. The early church or the church of the first thousand years spoke Greek and was largely a phenomenon of Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East and not Western Europe. This is very important in understanding the early church and the mindset of early Christians.

    One very incorrect item in the article is that Laodicea (in Asia Minor) was never part of the Church of Rome. It was part of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, which as we see in the Book of Acts is a church of councils in the Apostolic tradition.

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  5. True says

    Lmfao, its like a atheist wrote some of this passage. Christianity started in 4 AD the following of the Lord jesus’s death. Anthony is also right though, it should be called asia minor not turkey because turkey had not yet been a full “Country”. Many stupid mistakes.

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  19. Stalker49 says

    How old is Christianity? When did it stop being a Jewish sect and become its own religion? As reported in “Crossing the Holy Land” in the September/October 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, new archaeology discoveries of churches are crucial Biblical archaeology findings that help answer those questions. But when did Christianity begin to build these churches? Early Christian gathering places are difficult to identify because at first Christians met together mostly in private homes. Even as Christian populations grew, distrust and persecution by their Roman rulers forced the early church to stay out of the public eye.

    The situation changed in 313 A.D. when the emperor Constantine made Christianity a licit religion of the Roman Empire. With this acceptance came the construction of large public buildings, or churches, to serve the worship needs of Christians. Remains of these churches are now turning up in Biblical archaeology findings around the world, helping to answer the questions: How old is Christianity in places like Turkey and Egypt? And when did Christianity begin to spread beyond Israel throughout the Roman Empire?

    In early February 2011 the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced some Biblical archaeology findings, including a large Byzantine Church at Horvat Midras southwest of Jerusalem. The structure, which was used as a church in the fifth–seventh centuries, was among many new archaeology discoveries at the site and was located inside an earlier Jewish compound. The highlight of the basilica is the mosaic carpeting. The colorful geometric patterns and images of fish, peacocks, lions and foxes are rare in both the level of craftsmanship and the state of preservation.

    In the free ebook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, top Biblical scholars examine the controversial role of Jewish law and tradition in early Christianity.

    But then disaster struck. Someone attacked these mosaics with a hammer. In the wake of the vandalism, the IAA covered the Biblical archaeology findings, stating that they hoped the mosaics could be mostly preserved, although it will now require significantly more time and money.
    But how old is Christianity’s presence in Turkey? Given the importance of Asia Minor to the apostle Paul and other early followers of Jesus, it should come as no surprise that a church from the fourth century was among the new archaeology discoveries there. Turkey announced at the end of January 2011 that a large, well-preserved church had been found at Laodicea using ground-penetrating radar. According to the excavation director the church was built during the reign of Constantine (306–337 A.D.) and destroyed by an earthquake in the early seventh century.

    Laodicea is mentioned several times in the New Testament, in both Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the Book of Revelation. Paul’s letter suggests that Laodicea had a very early Christian community. A bishop’s seat was located at Laodicea very early on, and it remains a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church today, although the city is uninhabited and the bishop’s seat has been vacant since 1968. In 363–364 A.D., clergy from all over Asia Minor convened at the regional Council of Laodicea. It is possible that the newly discovered church is the very same building where Asia Minor’s clergy met to hold the influential Council of Laodicea.

  20. Stalker49 says

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  21. Samuel says

    Pentacost is the day when the new spiritual body was formed by the Holy Spirit in the presence of
    a myriad of witnesses, the Apostles and the disciples. In the presence of A man of God, The Holy Spirit, and the Word of God, the new body, set aside by God unto himself began to take shape.
    The first “believers” gathered together were Jews in Jerusalem. The Bible describes the spread
    of the Word of God (Gospel) from Jerusalem, through out Judea, Samaria, and out to the “..0uter most parts of the earth.” The Word was spread by the Apostles and their Disciples….The early believers were first called Christians in Antioch (Syria). They often met in homes, but the Word was
    preached from Synagogues. All the Apostles were Jews, and many of the first believers were Jews, The first leaders in Jerusalem were
    Pharisee believers, and other Jewish Disciples. The First Council of Believers was held in Jerusalem
    where Gentile believers and Jewish believers became united in the spread of the Gospel. Read
    for detail and historical accuracy the Book of Acts of The Apostles which is the bridge between
    The Gospels and the Epistles should be studied in detail, especially Chapters 13,14,15, and 16.
    Without proper context, all else is pre-text.

  22. Dylan says

    Well, if it weren’t for Constantine, a Pagan Roman ruler, Christianity wouldn’t be as “popular” as it is today. The roman empire ruled most of Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea, and it was in his best interest to make other religions become extinct, so everyone followed Christianity. Its funny how Christian’s think of themselves as so good, but if it weren’t for hundreds of years of forcing Christianity on people who had their own beliefs, their own gods and goddesses, and all the deaths that followed throughout Christian history because of the Kings and Rulers who believed God sanctioned it. Religion is a tough thing to call “Fact”. Christianity came from Judaism. Ancient Egyptian is even older. Hinduism is even older than that. There are some ancient Chinese religions dating back to 5000 BCE. And even Nordic religious followings go back to 9000 BCE. And the Nose had it right, gods from the cosmos…aliens :)

  23. True says

    “In early February 2011 the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced some Biblical archaeology findings, including a large Byzantine Church at Horvat Midras southwest of Jerusalem. The structure, which was used as a church in the fifth–seventh centuries, was among many new archaeology discoveries at the site and was located inside an earlier Jewish compound.” – You do not have to be a scientist to understand from this paragraph that this was a jewish temple and not a church as Jesus was Hebrew and he preahced mainly in Jewishs temples – Its a no brainer! Christians do not seem to understand that Jesus was not Christian he was a man who came only to the Children of Isreal as stated in the Gospels. We know the Bible does not exist any more and only the Gospels do, which is not Gods word but those that wrote if ie Matthew Like etc. Jesus was not accepted by his people so they eliminated the Bible hence there is no BIBLE in existence which most christian scholars agree. 3 question to the trinity believers:
    1. If Jesus was God why did Marry need to give birth to him??? After all God created Adam without a mother or father could he not just appear on the earth as a man. Did he need to come through Marry!
    2. If God was actually Jesus does that mean he died on the cross? if so who was mainting the world while he was dead???? It is absurd! God can never be seen as stated in the old testament he has now image, no shape or form. it also says in the new testament that Jesus came to reinforce the law not to bring new laws. if this is so how can the new testament go against the old testament???
    3. It states in the new testament that Jesus ate fish, he asked his companians to touch to see he has flesh. I was under the impression God maintained himself, he is the all powerful who needs nothing as stated in the old testament, if this is so why does the new testament state he needs to eat!
    These are standard question that anyone would ask about christianity. The gospels contain so many error how can it be the word of God. God does not make mistakes he is the creator! if someone told me this books states 1 and 1 = 5 I would question it as I have common sence. Please dont follow religion blindly. Lastly Christianity was spread through bloodshed through the Roman empire and the Crusaders if you look into its history it is very sad how they killed people to spread so called word of God!

  24. Varghese says

    I noticed in the photograph of baptistery that the pool of water where new Christians were immersed is in a structure that is in the shape of a Cross by which Messiah died sacrificially. This is very consistent with the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement which mean that Messiah died for the Christians in a substitutionary fashion in like the animal sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement (or Yom Kippur).

    “When you were buried with the Messiah in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” – Col 2:12
    “For through the Law (Torah) I died to the Law (Torah) so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with the Messiah.” – Gal 2:19

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Quiénes están enterrados en antiguo cementerio en Jerusalén linked to this post on October 10, 2011

    [...] las iglesias más antiguas en Asia Menor [...]


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