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The spread of Christianity

After Jesus, the two most significant figures in Christianity are the apostles Peter and Paul/Saul. Paul, in particular, takes a leading role in spreading the teachings of Jesus to Gentiles (non Jews) in the Roman Empire.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] The central figure in Christianity is, clearly, Jesus, but it's important to note that he does not establish the religion all by himself. In fact, at the time if his crucifixion, and, according to Christian beliefs, resurrection and ascension, the number of followers he has numbers in the low hundreds. The actual work of spreading and creating the church falls on his disciples, and, particular, the ones that are referred to as apostles. When we looked at the Gospels, which are the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the first four books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we talk about the 12 disciples, those primary followers of Jesus. They're often referred to as the 12 Apostles, as well, because according to Christian beliefs, between the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus, he tells the apostles, look, go spread the word. Apostle comes from Greek for the one who spreads the word. These were the first Christian missionaries. Now, first amongst these apostles is often considered Peter. This is Peter, right over here. He is mentioned in the Gospels. He is beside Jesus at the time of the Transfiguration. Amongst Roman Catholics, he is viewed as the first Pope, and he is really the head of the church of the Christian followers, and they're not even called Christians at this point, in Jerusalem, right over here. But we're gonna talk about another significant apostle, as well, in this video, and that is Paul. As we'll see, Paul is not mentioned in the first four books of the Bible, he wasn't a contemporary of Jesus, or, at least, he didn't know Jesus during his life. He did live at the same time, and you can see it on this timeline where Jesus is born slightly before the Common Era, I start at year one, because there isn't a year zero, and you can see that Peter is born, historians believe, around 1 AD, and Paul would have been born shortly after that. What's interesting about Paul is, Paul starts his life as a very conservative Pharisee. He starts his life persecuting Christian people, and then he has a fairly dramatic switch. You'll often hear Paul, or you might also hear the name Saul, or Paul of Tarsus, these are all referring to the same person. Tarsus is right over here, in modern day Southern Turkey. Paul, as I mentioned, he grows up in a conservative Jewish family, but he also has Roman citizenship. That's why he has this Roman name, Paul, and he has his Hebrew name, Saul. He's educated in Jerusalem. He doesn't enter into the story until we get to the fifth book of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles talks a lot about Peter, how he spreads the church, how he is persecuted, how he performs various miracles, but it also is where we get introduced to Paul. When we first see him, as I mentioned, he is persecuting Christians. As this Church of Jerusalem starts to get established, Peter puts a fellow by the name of Stephen in charge of distributing alms to widows that are coming to them. Stephen, and this is a narrative that you'll hear often in the New Testament, he starts to get on the nerves of the religious establishment, the Jewish religious establishment, who think that he's a blasphemer, that his beliefs are threatening them, and so there's this famous trial, once again, with the Sanhedrin, and the trial of Stephen. Here I have an account for him, of that trial, or near the end of that trial, from the book of Acts, and during that trial Stephen goes into this long account of what the teachings of Jesus are, and how they're justified by what is mentioned in the Old Testament. He actually does a fairly long account of it. He also is fairly rebellious. He says, look, you, the establishment, what prophet have you not persecuted before? This really angers them, and so we read from the book of Acts, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses lay their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul, and we see him right over here, depicted in this painting. Saul approved of their killing him. On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem. All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. He is a pretty fervent persecutor of Christians. It goes even further. Then, we read, we go on to read in the book of Acts, Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, so this is going to be interesting thing. He's so fervent, he goes to the high priest, and says, I wanna persecute these Christians wherever they are. I wanna go to Damascus, and see if I can persecute them there. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" This is an image of that, this narrative in the Bible. "Who are you, Lord?", Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city," the city being Damascus, "and you will be told what you must do." Paul is blinded by this event. He's blind for three days. He goes to Damascus, and he is healed by a follower of Christ. At that moment, he completely does a 180. He goes from being one of the chief persecutors of the Christians, to being one of the chief believers, and he starts to aggressively spread the faith. So that brings us, so let's go to this map, because what's significant about Paul is Peter was, you can really view him as the first head of the church, especially after Jesus, but he primarily viewed it as something to spread amongst the Jewish people. There are events, for example, in Acts where he does realize, hey, maybe I should be, the word of Jesus should go beyond the Jewish people. It should go to the non-Jews, who are referred to as Gentiles. But Paul, and you can see on the map here, he has this revelation, I guess you could say, as he's approaching Damascus. He goes back to Jerusalem, and he tries to convince the other followers, and you can imagine they're quite skeptical of this person who is shortly before persecuting them. But he eventually convinces them, and he goes on multiple missionary journeys, spreading the faith. His center of operations is at Antioch, and he's a significant figure who helps build the church at Antioch. What's interesting about the Church of Antioch, it ends up being a very significant church, is that at Antioch, the Christians, or the Christian faith, is not just spread to the Jewish people, they're spread to the non-Jews, to the Gentiles. It's actually at the Church of Antioch that the followers of Jesus Christ, according to Biblical accounts, were first referred to as Christians. What you see on this map, here, are the various missionary journeys that Paul, who is a Roman citizen, was able, or Saul, depending on which name you want to use, was able to do through, especially the Eastern Roman Empire. In that mid 40s here, let me, in the mid 40s, right over here, he does a missionary journey. Once again, Antioch is his base, he goes to Cyprus, and southern, mid, what we would call Turkey today. In the early 50s, he goes on this fairly long journey through modern day Turkey, through Macedonia, through Greece. As he's doing this, he's spreading the word of Jesus Christ. He's starting to help establish churches in these significant places, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, all of these various places. You see his third journey, here, very similar in path in yellow to the second journey. He does that in the late 50s CE. Once again, he's constantly establishing these churches. The important thing to realize about Paul, it's a controversy. To what degree should the teachings of Jesus be spread to the Gentiles, to the non-Jewish people? There are these famous debates, and Paul's view is, no, we should not force the Gentiles to do everything that the Jews have to do, the circumcision, the Jewish dietary laws. You could imagine, this doubly angers the church leaders. Not only is he spreading the word of Jesus, that has annoyed them to no end, but he also wants to spread it to the Gentiles, but he doesn't think that the Gentiles need to perform all of the things that the Jewish leaders believe are dictated by the laws of Moses, by the Jewish faith. And circumcision is actually a major debate. Circumcision, the dietary habits, et cetera, et cetera. Eventually, he goes back to Jerusalem to face this leadership, and now this is in the early 60s, and they, once again, they put him on trial. As a Jewish citizen, he says, hey, I have a right to see the Emperor. He is taken to Rome, and along the way they get caught in a storm, but eventually he makes his way to Rome, where he is held prisoner. It is believed that both Peter and Paul were killed by Nero. We talk in previous videos, the fire in 64 CE in Rome that destroys a large chunk of the city. Some people think Nero actually set the fire to clear some land so that he could build his palace. He famously blames the fire on Christians. There's a large purge of Christians that occur after that. A lot of accounts say that Peter was crucified by Nero. He requests, according to these accounts, to be crucified upside down, because he doesn't deserve to get the same crucifixion as Jesus, and Paul, some accounts say, that he was beheaded. Once again, they're dying in these Christian purges that Nero is performing. You can see it right over here, if those accounts are true. Now it's really interesting, I already talked about Paul being this missionary to the Gentiles. He is the one, especially at the Church of Antioch, where Christianity starts to really separate from Judaism, starts to become a faith in it's own right. That was even further accelerated in a few years after their death, or it might have been roughly coincident with their death, depending on when their deaths were. From 66 to 70, you have the Jewish rebellion, sometimes called the First Roman-Jewish War, and it ends with the Roman Empire destroying the temple at Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith. The second temple of Jerusalem, the one that was rebuilt, partially, by Cyrus the Great. So this causes the Jewish people to have to leave, and they no longer have this center of their people. You have the Jewish diaspora that gets spread throughout the Roman Empire, and other empires, like the Parthians in Persia. They really, there's a famous battle in 73 of Masada, this mountain fortress, where the Romans, essentially, well, it's a mass suicide, but it's this bloody extermination of the Jewish people in and around Jerusalem, so they are spread. That's, obviously, a significant series of events for the Jewish people, but it's also significant for Christianity, because Jerusalem was a center of the Christian faith. Now the Christian followers are going to be spread around, and many of these other places that Paul spread the Gospel, becomes centers of Christianity. Now to emphasize the importance of Paul to Christianity, this is a listing of the books of the Bible. Jesus, his life and teachings, is primarily coming from the Gospels, right here. Most of what I told you in this video, this is excerpts from the fifth book of the New Testament, Acts of the Apostles. Then, most modern orderings of the Bible, the next several, or many books, are called epistles, or letters. They're primarily the epistles of Paul, letters that he wrote to his followers in different places. You can see most of these names, these are cities that you see where Paul was a missionary. Corinthians, Corinth is right here, these are letters that Paul is sending to the church there. Galatians, you see Galatia right over here in central modern day Turkey. Ephesians in Ephesus, Philippians in Philippi, right over here, Colossians in Colossae, Thessalonians in Thessalonica, right over here. This is a major chunk of the Bible that is either written by Paul, or some people think it was written by Paul, or is ascribed to Paul. What I have here in this deeper orange, these are the books that historians think were actually written by Paul. This lighter orange, there are some debate, and the yellow ones are the ones where people think it probably wasn't written by Paul. As you can imagine, this is a significant chunk of the New Testament that was actually written or ascribed to Paul. He was really the significant missionary that created the Christian faith beyond the Jewish people.