This chapter has been published in the book ROMAN EMPIRE 30 BC to 610. For ordering information, please click here.
With the possible exceptions of Buddha, Confucius, and Socrates, Jesus is probably the most influential teacher of ethics in human history so far. As with those three, we have no direct writing from him but extensive descriptions of his life and teachings by his disciples. No contemporary report survived, as the gospels were probably written about thirty years or more after his death. Since these accounts can be treated as both history and literature, I will discuss the ethics of Jesus as presented by Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Thomas in that order, avoiding repetition of what was already discussed. Immediately preceding Jesus was John the Baptist.
Luke introduced John the Baptist, born six months before Jesus, as the son of Mary's relative Elizabeth and the elderly Zacharias. He was expected not to drink alcohol and to be guided by the Holy Spirit. He began teaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River about 27 CE. Probably influenced by the Essenes, his baptism differed as a single transformative experience rather than a daily ritual of purification. He preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, telling people to change their minds because the sovereignty of heaven is near. He saw himself fulfilling prophecies of Isaiah with his voice in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord by making crooked paths straight and rough roads smooth, leveling the mountains and the valleys. People came from Jerusalem and all around Judea to be baptized by him. He called the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers trying to flee from the coming wrath. He challenged them to produce fruit worthy of repentance and implied that being sons of Abraham was not sufficient for salvation. When people asked him what they should do, he told them to share their clothes and food. He told tax collectors not to collect more than they were required and the soldiers not to shake down nor harass anyone but be satisfied with their pay.
John baptized Jesus in the Jordan and suggested that he was preparing people for the greater teachings of Jesus. Those baptized by John more willingly accepted the teachings of Jesus on the justice of God. The disciples of John fasted, while those of Jesus apparently did not. John criticized Herod Antipas for marrying his niece Herodias because she had been the wife of his brother Philip. Herod imprisoned John, as Herodias wanted him killed. Herod, though he feared he might instigate rebellion, liked to hear his ideas and thought him a just and holy man. However, to please the daughter of Herodias, Herod ordered John beheaded. The historian Josephus wrote that some Jews believed Herod was punished for this by the destruction of his army.
Mark wrote that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John. The Spirit came down upon him like a dove, and a voice from heaven called Jesus beloved son. He went into the desert for forty days, was tested by Satan and ministered to by angels. After John was arrested, Jesus preached the same good message that the sovereignty of God is near and that people should change their minds. By the Sea of Galilee Jesus called the fishermen brothers Simon and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, James and John; he told them to follow him and that he would make them fishers of people. Jesus amazed the people of Capernaum, because he taught with authority, not like the scholars. In their synagogue he commanded an unclean spirit to come out of a person, and his fame soon spread in Galilee. He cured Simon's mother-in-law of her fever, healed many who were ill and expelled demons. Jesus cleansed a leper and sent him to his priest. As the crowds grew, he could no longer enter the towns openly and taught out in the desert. When he forgave the sins of a paralytic in Capernaum, some scholars accused him of blasphemy. To show that a human son has the authority to forgive sins, he healed the paralytic.
Seeing Levi at a tax office, Jesus told him to follow him. Dining in his home, the Pharisees asked why he was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus replied that the ill are those who need a physician, that he did not come to call the just but the sinners. Jesus explained that his disciples do not fast while the bridegroom is with them, but they will fast when the bridegroom is taken away. Unshrunk cloth is not sewed into an old garment, nor is new wine put into old wineskins. Jesus had a fresh approach. On a Sabbath his disciples picked wheat in a field, but Jesus explained that David ate the consecrated bread when he was hungry. The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. Angry at those who objected to his healing on the Sabbath, Jesus restored a person's withered hand. This led the Pharisees to consult with the Herodians how they might destroy him.
Jesus appointed twelve disciples. In addition to Simon and his brother Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, there were Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (Levi), Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. Some scholars from Jerusalem said Jesus expelled demons by the ruler of the demons. Jesus asked how Satan could expel Satan. A divided sovereignty cannot stand. To rob property from a house, one must first bind the strong. Jesus warned them that although slanders will be forgiven humans, slandering the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven because it is an eternal sin. When his mother and brothers came to see him, Jesus said that whoever does the will of God is his brother, sister, and mother.
Jesus taught the parable of the sower. Some seeds fell along the way, and the birds ate them up. Others fell on rocky ground, where they dried up. Others fell among thorns, which choked them. Others fell in good earth and produced fruit. Jesus explained to his disciples that the sower sows the word. Those along the way have the word immediately taken by Satan (negativity). Those on rocky ground accept it gladly for a while but are offended by oppression or persecution. Those among the thorns have worries and desires for things that choke the word. Those sown in good earth welcome the word and bear fruit. A lamp should not be concealed but put on a lampstand out in the open. For what is hidden may be manifested. Jesus told them to examine what they hear, because they will be measured by the measure they measure. Whoever learns will be given more; but those who do not, will lose what they have. The sovereignty of God is also like a person throwing seed on the earth. By itself it grows and bears fruit, though one does not know how. It is like the mustard seed, the smallest seed, that becomes greater than all the vegetables with great branches for the birds of heaven.
While in the boat during a storm, Jesus commanded the wind to become calm, asking his disciples why they are cowards and have no faith. He sent a legion of unclean spirits out of a Gerasene demoniac; they went into pigs and drowned in the sea. This frightened people, and they begged Jesus to go away from their region. A woman with a flow of blood for twelve years was healed by touching the clothes of Jesus; he said her faith had saved her. Then he brought back to life the daughter of Jairus who had just died. Jesus taught in his homeland; but he could do little there because of their lack of faith. Jesus sent out his twelve disciples in pairs, giving them authority over unclean spirits and instructing them to take nothing with them but a staff. They were to stay with whomever welcomed them. They preached repentance, expelled demons, and healed the sick.
When a large crowd gathered in the desert, Jesus said they were like sheep without a shepherd. He told his disciples to give them something to eat. They had only five loaves and two fish; but after Jesus blessed it, there was enough to feed five thousand. Jesus went alone to the mountain to pray and later came toward the boat by walking on the sea. He was going to pass by; but since they thought he was a phantom, he got into the boat. At Gennesaret Jesus went into towns and farms, where he healed many.
Pharisees from Jerusalem asked why his disciples ate without washing their hands. Jesus criticized them for letting go of God's commandments while holding to popular traditions. Moses said to honor father and mother; but they say to their parents whatever they may have benefited is a gift, and so they do not do anything for father and mother, nullifying the word of God. Jesus said that nothing outside of a person can defile one, explaining to his disciples that what defiles are the evils that come out of the heart such as fornicating, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, the evil eye, slander, arrogance, and foolishness. In Tyre a Syrophoenician woman asked Jesus to expel a demon from her daughter; although she was a foreigner, because of her humility and persistence, her daughter was healed. In the Decapolis region he cured a deaf person so that he spoke correctly. After a crowd was with him three days in the desert, Jesus empathized with them and told his disciples to give them the seven loaves and a few small fish they had. With his blessing about four thousand people ate and were satisfied. He warned his disciples to watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. At Bethsaida Jesus cured a blind man.
Jesus asked his disciples whom they say he is, and Simon (called Peter) said he is the Christ; but Jesus warned them not to tell anyone. Then he began to teach them that the human son must suffer, be rejected by the priests and scholars, be killed and after three days rise up. When Peter reprimanded him, Jesus called him Satan and told him to get behind him, because he thought not of God but of humans. Jesus told his disciples that whoever intended to come after him should deny oneself, take up one's cross, and follow him. For whoever tries to save one's life will lose it; but whoever loses one's life for the good message will save it. What benefit is it to gain the whole world and lose one's soul? For what can one get in exchange for one's soul? Whoever is ashamed of his words, the human son will be ashamed of when coming in glory with the holy angels. On a high mountain Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transformed into light as he spoke with Elijah and Moses. When they asked why Elijah must come first, Jesus implied that he had come as John the Baptist.
Jesus expelled a particularly difficult spirit to show that all things are possible to the one believing through prayer. Jesus again predicted that he would be given over to people, who would kill him; but he would rise up on the third day. On the way to Capernaum the disciples were discussing who is greater. Jesus said that whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all. Whoever welcomes a child in his name welcomes him and the one who sent him. Jesus told them not to forbid someone expelling demons in his name, because whoever was not against them was for them. Whoever gives them water because they are Christ's will not lose one's reward; but for the one offending the small ones believing it would be better if that one were drowned with a millstone around one's neck. It is better to cut off an offending hand or foot or eye than having hands, feet, and eyes to go into the hell of worms and fire. Everyone will be salted with fire; but salt can become tasteless. Therefore have salt in yourself and be at peace with each other.
In Judea the Pharisees asked him if divorce was permitted. Jesus said divorce was for the hard-hearted, but that male and female can become one flesh joined by God. Jesus told his disciples that to divorce and marry another is adultery. Jesus let the children come to him, for the sovereignty of heaven is for those who welcome it like a child. To one who practiced the commandments and called him good, Jesus said that only God is good. Jesus told him to sell whatever he has, give to the poor, and follow him; but he went away distressed because he had many possessions. Jesus said it is hard for those with property to enter the sovereignty of God; it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the sovereignty of God. With humans this may be impossible, but not with God. Jesus said that anyone leaving family or fields for his good message would receive a hundred times more with persecutions and then eternal life.
Jesus told them that in Jerusalem the human son will be given over to the high priests and the nations, will be mocked, whipped, and killed, rising after three days. Jesus would not grant that James and John may sit next to him in glory. He said those thinking to rule nations lord it over them and exercise authority; but to become great they should be servants, for the human son did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. In Jericho Jesus cured a blind beggar. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt as the people cheered. The next day he cursed a fig tree and came into the temple, where he threw out those buying and selling and overturned the tables of the money-changers, saying the house of prayer had been made a den of robbers. The frightened high priests and scholars planned to destroy him. Passing the withered fig tree, Jesus spoke of the power of faith. When praying he said to believe you are receiving it and forgive if you have anything against anyone so that your Father will forgive you.
In the temple the priests and scholars asked Jesus by what authority he acted. So he asked them if the baptism of John was from heaven or people; but they were afraid to answer because the crowd considered John a prophet. Jesus told them a parable of a person who planted a vineyard and rented it to farmers. He sent servants for the fruit; but they beat and killed them. They even killed his son so they could take over the inheritance. Will the lord of that vineyard not destroy those farmers? The rejected stone became the corner-stone. They tried to arrest Jesus, but he left. Pharisees and Herodians tried to catch him by asking if it is permitted to pay tax to Caesar or not. Aware they were hypocritically testing him, he asked whose image is on the coin. He suggested they give Caesar's things back to Caesar while giving God's things to God. They knew he opposed paying tax for a military empire; but he cleverly avoided offending Rome openly by implying they not use the Roman money system at all.
The Sadducees did not believe in reincarnation or resurrection and so asked about the wife of seven brothers. Jesus explained that all souls live just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still do, but that in heaven there is no marriage. A scholar asked Jesus what is the foremost commandment. Jesus answered,
The foremost is, "Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,
and you shall love the Lord your God
from your whole heart and from your whole soul
and from your whole intelligence and from your whole strength."
Second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
There is no other commandment greater than these.1
Jesus told them to watch out for scholars wanting to walk in robes and have the best seats in the synagogues and at dinners, while devouring the houses of widows and making long prayers in pretense. Seeing a poor widow putting two copper coins in the contribution box, he pointed out that she gave more than any, because she gave all she had.
As they were going out of the temple and looking at the great buildings, Jesus predicted they would all be thrown down. His closest disciples asked him what would be the sign of these things happening. Jesus told them not to be led astray by anyone saying, "I am he." Do not be disturbed by wars and rumors of wars, for nation will be raised against nation. Earthquakes and famines will be the birth pangs. They will be given over to councils, governors, and kings to give testimony. He assured them not to worry about what to say, because the Holy Spirit would speak through them. Families will be divided, and they will be hated; but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they see the devastating abomination standing, they should flee to the mountains. If anyone says here or there is the Christ, they should not believe it, because false Christs will appear. They will see the human son coming in clouds of glory, sending angels to gather the chosen ones. Jesus said this generation may not pass away until these things happen, though no one knows the time. Therefore they should be alert. In fact about forty years later the Temple at Jerusalem was completely destroyed in a devastating war between the Jews and the Romans.
The high priests plotted to arrest Jesus deceitfully so as not to disturb the people at the feast. In Bethany a woman came and poured expensive perfume on the head of Jesus. Some complained that this could have been sold to help the poor; but Jesus explained she was anointing his body for burial. Judas Iscariot went to the high priests and said he might give over Jesus; they promised him silver. Jesus instructed his disciples where they would celebrate the Passover. At the meal he said one of them would give him over and that it would have been better for him if he had not been born. Then Jesus blessed the bread and gave it to them as his body, and they drank the wine as his blood of the covenant. He said he would not drink any more until he drank it anew in the sovereignty of God. They sang a hymn and went to the Mount of Olives. Jesus told them they would all fall away. Peter said he would not; but Jesus said he would deny him three times that night before the cock crowed. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed with Peter, James, and John; but they fell asleep. Jesus asked that the hour might pass, but he surrendered his will to his Father's. Judas arrived with a crowd carrying swords and clubs from the high priests. He kissed Jesus, and they arrested him.
Jesus was taken to the high priest, while Peter followed. The testimony against Jesus did not agree, because many testified falsely. Finally Jesus admitted that he is the Christ and that they would see the human son sitting in power and coming with heavenly clouds. They condemned him to death for blasphemy, spit at him, asked him to prophesy, and slapped him. Three times people asked Peter if he was with Jesus, and each time he denied it. Then the council bound Jesus and led him away to Pilate. Pilate asked if he was king of the Jews, and Jesus answered, "You say it." But Jesus did not answer the many accusations of the high priests. Pilate released one prisoner at the feast and asked if they wanted the rebel Barabbas or the king of the Jews. The high priests urged the crowd to ask for Barabbas, and Pilate had Jesus whipped and given over to be crucified. The soldiers took Jesus inside the palace and mocked him as though he were a king.
Jesus was crucified at Golgotha during the third hour between two robbers. High priests and scholars said he saved others but could not save himself. They asked him to come down from the cross so that they might believe. At the sixth hour it became dark for three hours, and then Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This is the first line of the 22nd Psalm and describes his plight. Then with a shout Jesus expired. A centurion said he was the son of God, and the women who had followed Jesus and ministered to him in Galilee were watching from a distance. Joseph of Arimathea got Pilate's permission to put the body in a rock tomb. After the Sabbath Mary Magdalene and another Mary took spices to anoint him, but at the tomb they found a youth in a white robe, who told them he was raised and that he would lead the disciples to Galilee. He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had expelled seven demons. Then he appeared to two men traveling in the country. Later he appeared to the eleven while they were dining, reproaching them for not believing those who had seen him. He told them to travel and preach the good message, baptizing, expelling demons, and healing the sick. Finally according to Mark, Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God.
Matthew added to the account of Mark a narrative of his birth and many more ethical teachings. Jesus was born to Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, in Bethlehem during the reign of King Herod. He was visited by magi (astrologer-priests) from the east. His parents were warned by an angel to take the child to Egypt, because the paranoid Herod ordered all the infants in the region killed. After Herod died in 4 BC, they took Jesus to live in Galilee. In the desert Jesus fasted for forty days and was tested by the devil, who asked him to turn stones into bread, to throw himself down from a pinnacle, and offered him sovereignty over the world; but Jesus responded by quoting scripture loyal to God. To the Pharisees he quoted, "I wish mercy and not sacrifice." To those questioning his healing on the Sabbath, Jesus asked who would not retrieve a sheep that fell into a ditch, and how much does a person differ from a sheep!
The heart of Jesus' ethical teachings are found in the sermon he gave on the mountain. He blessed the poor, the mourning, the gentle, those hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and those persecuted for the sake of justice; for they receive heavenly rewards. He told them to let their light shine in their good works.
He said he did not come to abolish the Jewish law or prophets but to fulfill them. Whoever performs and teaches the commandments will be called great in heaven. The ancients said not to murder; but Jesus warned against being angry with a brother. He suggested seeking reconciliation with your brother before offering a gift at the altar. Agree with an opponent before they turn you over to the judge to be put in prison. They said not to commit adultery; but Jesus warned against looking at a woman with desire. The ancients said not to break an oath; but Jesus told them not to swear at all; just say yes or no. They said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; but Jesus taught not resisting. Turn your other cheek to the one striking your right cheek. Give your coat to the one who tries to take your shirt. Go two miles with the one forcing you one mile. Give to those who ask, and do not turn away from those wishing to borrow from you. They said love your neighbor and hate your enemy; but Jesus said love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you in order to become children of God; for the sun rises on the bad and good, and it rains on the just and unjust. Even tax collectors love those who love them. Therefore be perfect like your heavenly Father.
Be careful not to do what is right in order to be seen by people, or you will have no heavenly reward. Do not trumpet charity like the hypocrites to gain praise; but give secretly, and your heavenly Father will give back to you secretly. Do not pray in public like the hypocrites, but pray to your Father in your room secretly. Jesus recommended praying thus:
Our Father in heaven:
holy be your name;
may your sovereignty come;
may your will be done,
as in heaven also on earth.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgave also our debtors;
and do not bring us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil.2
For if you forgive people their transgressions, God will also forgive you. When fasting, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites; do not show people you are fasting, but your Father. Do not lie, and do not do what you hate; for everything will be revealed.
Do not store up treasures on earth, where they decay and thieves steal, but in your heart. If your eye is clear, your whole body will be illuminated. No one can serve two lords, because to love one is to hate the other, and to hold to one is to disregard the other. You must choose to serve either God or money. So do not be anxious about what you are to eat or drink or wear. Is life not more than food and the body more than clothes? Does not your heavenly Father feed the birds and clothe the grass? People strive for all these things, and God knows that you need them; but seek first the rule of God and its justice, and everything will be provided for you. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for each day has enough trouble.
Do not judge and condemn lest you be judged and condemned. Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye but do not consider the log in your own? First take the log out of your own eye so that you will see clearly to take the speck from your brother's eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs lest they trample on it and tear you apart. Ask, and you will receive; search, and you will find; knock, and it will opened to you. Who would not give bread to a son who asks? If you know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God give good things to those who ask. Enter the narrow gate, for broad is the road many take to destruction. Watch out for false prophets clothed like sheep, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes and figs are not picked from thorns and thistles. Every good tree produces good fruit; but the rotten tree produces bad fruit. Not everyone saying, "Lord, Lord" will enter heaven, but those doing the heavenly will. Those hearing these teachings and practicing them will be like a sensible person who built a house on rock; but those not practicing them will be like a fool building on sand. Rain, rivers, and wind will cause that house to fall.
When they heard that John was put in prison, Jesus praised his work and said he is the predicted Elijah. Jesus lamented the current generation saying John had a demon because he did not eat nor drink, and the human son is a gluttonous drunkard and friend of sinners because he eats and drinks. Jesus reproached the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, because they did not repent after powerful deeds were performed among them. Jesus called to those who labor and are burdened that he might refresh them.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble of heart,
and you will find rest for your souls;
for my yoke is kind and my burden is light.3
To the Pharisees accusing him of expelling demons by Beelzebub, Jesus said they spoke bad things from the bad treasure in their hearts, while the good person puts out good things. Everyone will be justified or condemned by their words. When asked for a sign, Jesus said a bad generation would only be given the sign of Jonah, who was in a sea monster for three days. He told how an unclean spirit cast out may return and find the house put in order, bringing seven more worse spirits. So the final state of a bad generation may become worse than the first.
Jesus told the parable that the sovereignty of heaven is like a person sowing good seed. While they slept, an enemy came and sowed weeds. The master told the servants to let both grow until the harvest; then the reapers gather the weeds to burn them but gather the wheat into the barn. To his disciples he explained that the sower of good seed is the human son; the field is the world; the good seeds are the children of heaven; weeds are the children of evil; the enemy sowing them is the devil; the harvest is the completion of the age; and the reapers are angels. So at the end of the age the human son will send angels to gather the wrong-doers and throw them into a fire; but the just will shine out like the sun in heaven. The sovereignty of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field; a person finding it gladly sells everything to buy that field. Or it is like a merchant finding one very precious pearl. The sovereignty is like a net cast in the sea gathering everything; on shore what is good is gathered in baskets, and the bad is thrown out. For this reason every scholar who becomes a disciple of heavenly sovereignty is like a master of a house bringing the new and old out of one's treasure. To one asking to bury his father first, Jesus said to follow him and let the dead bury the dead.
As the harvest was large and the workers few, Jesus told his disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest will put out more workers. Jesus sent out his disciples as sheep among wolves and told them not to acquire money nor a bag nor clothes nor a staff, for the worker is worthy of his food. He advised them to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. When they are persecuted in one town, they should flee to another. What he tells them in the dark, they may say in the light; what they hear in their ear, they may proclaim on the housetops. They should not fear those killing the body but the one able to ruin both soul and body in hell. Everyone who acknowledges Jesus before people will be acknowledged by his heavenly Father; but whoever denies him before people will be denied in heaven. Jesus warned them that he did not come to bring peace, but there would be division in families. Whoever loves father or mother or son or daughter more than him is not worthy of him. Whoever finds life will lose it, and whoever loses life for his sake will find it. Whoever welcomes a disciple welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the one who sent him. Those welcoming prophets and the just will be rewarded.
When Simon Peter said that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus blessed him, because this was revealed not by flesh and blood but by his Father in heaven. He called him Peter and said that on this rock he would build his church, giving him the keys of heavenly sovereignty so that whatever he bound or released on earth would be bound and released in heaven. According to Matthew, Jesus sent Peter to catch a fish with a four-drachma coin to pay the two-drachma tax for them so as not to offend the kings of the earth. Jesus told his disciples not to offend the small ones, because their angels in heaven see the face of the Father. A person is more glad to find the one wandering sheep than the ninety-nine not wandering. Thus the Father's will is that not even one small one should be lost.
Jesus said that if your brother sins, correct him yourself. If he does not listen, take along one or two more witnesses to establish every word. If he ignores them, tell the congregation. If he ignores the congregation, let him be as a national and tax collector. Jesus assured them that if two or three agree on any request, his Father will grant it; for where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there with them. Peter asked if he should forgive his brother's sin up to seven times, but Jesus said up to seventy times seven. The heavenly sovereignty is like a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. He forgave a debtor ten thousand talents (equal to millions of dollars) because he pleaded with him; but that servant insisted a fellow servant pay back only a hundred days' wages and threw him in prison. The fellows servants complained to the lord, and he sent the servant to jail for not having mercy after having been forgiven. Thus also will the heavenly Father do if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Jesus told his disciples that some become eunuchs because of the sovereignty of heaven.
Jesus said the sovereignty of heaven is like a master of an estate who hired workers in the morning for a day's wage. Then he hired others at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours for the same wage. When the last were paid first just as much, those hired in the morning complained. Yet the master had kept his agreement even though he made the last first. He told another parable of a person who asked two children to work in the vineyard. One said he was going and did not go; the other said he would not but later went. Jesus asked which did the will of the father. Then he said the tax collectors and prostitutes would go to heaven ahead of them, because they did not believe John, while the tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Another parable compared the heavenly sovereignty to a king who gave a wedding for his son. He sent his servant to invite people to the banquet, but they would not come. He sent more servants, but people went elsewhere or seized, insulted, and killed the servants. The king became angry and sent his armies to destroy their city. Then he told his servants to invite everyone they found on the streets, but one who came without wedding clothes was thrown out. Jesus concluded that many are called, but few are selected.
In Jerusalem Jesus criticized the scholars and the Pharisees, telling people to do what they say but not what they do; for they put heavy burdens on people but will not lift a finger to help. They like to be seen and called teacher; but Jesus said they have one teacher and are all brothers. He also advised them not to call anyone father on earth, for there is one heavenly Father; nor be called leaders because the Christ is their leader. The greatest serves. Whoever exalts oneself will be humbled, and whoever humbles oneself will be exalted. The hypocrites travel to convert one person and then make him twice the son of hell they are. Blind guides say it is nothing to swear by the temple or the altar, but swearing by its gold or the gift obligates one. Yet the temple sanctifies the gold as the altar does the gift.
The scholars and Pharisees tithe mint, dill, and cumin but have left out justice, mercy, and faith. While straining out the gnat, they swallow the camel. They clean the outside of the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Clean the inside first. The hypocrites are like white-washed tombs that appear pleasant outwardly, but inside they are full of everything unclean. Outwardly they appear just, but inside they are hypocritical and lawless. They build the tombs of the prophets and think they would not have shed the blood of the prophets, but even now they are persecuting and killing them. Jesus wished to gather the children of Jerusalem, but they were not willing.
Jesus said they should be alert like the master of the house who does not know when the thief is coming. Blessed is the servant providing food when the lord comes; such will be put in charge of much. But the bad servant who hits fellow servants and gets drunk will be put with the hypocrites when the lord comes. Then the rule of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five foolish virgins did not take oil and asked for some from the wise. The wise told them there may not be enough and told them to go buy some. Meanwhile the bridegroom came and joined those who were ready, but the others were shut out. When the human son comes in glory with the angels, he will sit on this throne before all the nations and separate the sheep from the goats. This king will give sovereignty and eternal life to the blessed, who gave the thirsty a drink, welcomed strangers, dressed the naked, and visited the ailing and those in prison, because by doing these things to others they did it to him. But the cursed who did not do these things will go away into eternal punishment.
At this time the high priests and elders were plotting with the high priest Caiaphas how to arrest and kill Jesus by deceit. At the Passover meal Judas asked Jesus if he was the one giving him over, and Jesus confirmed it. When one of those with Jesus cut off the ear of the high priest's servant while Jesus was being arrested, Jesus told him to put away his sword, for all who take a sword will die by a sword; also he could have called on legions of angels. Matthew's account tells how Judas returned the thirty silver coins to the high priests and hanged himself. Also Pilate's wife warned her husband to have nothing to do with the just Jesus because of a dream she had, and Pilate washed his hands to assuage his guilt. On the day after the crucifixion the high priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to order the grave guarded, and he did so. They also gave silver to the soldiers to say that his disciples at night stole him while they slept.
Similar to the narrative of the ministry and teachings of Jesus found in Mark and Matthew, Luke recounted several additional parables. When he was twelve, Jesus was discovered listening and questioning the teachers in the temple. Jesus was about thirty when he began his public ministry. Jesus asked if the blind could lead the blind. He said a student is not above the teacher, but everyone prepared will be like the teacher. The good bring forth good treasure from the heart, and the bad bring forth bad things, for one speaks out of the abundance of the heart. At Nain Jesus raised the dead son of a widow.
When a Pharisee inwardly criticized Jesus for letting a woman kiss his feet and anoint him with perfume, he told a parable of two pardoned debtors, asking which would love the creditor more. This woman loved more because the sins forgiven her were greater. Several women traveled with Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had been expelled. To the one asking that he be permitted to say good-bye to those in his house, Jesus said that no one putting his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for God's sovereignty. Jesus reprimanded James and John for asking if he wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village which did not welcome them. Jesus also sent out seventy-two in pairs ahead of him, saying the harvest is large, but the workers are few.
To the lawyer who asked him who is his neighbor, Jesus said a person traveling was stripped and beaten by robbers. A priest on that road passed by, as did a Levite; but a Samaritan was compassionate, bound up his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid the innkeeper to take care of him. Jesus told the lawyer to do like the one who demonstrated mercy. Yet to the actively serving Martha, Jesus said that she is worried about many things, but Mary in listening to his word had selected the good part. Jesus told of a man who goes to borrow bread for his visiting friend and gets him to unlock his door because of his persistence. If humans know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. Of those who said that he expelled demons by Beelzebub, Jesus said that whoever is not with him is against him, and whoever does not gather with him scatters. More blessed than his mother are those who hear the word of God and keep it.
Warning against greed and the abundance of possessions, Jesus told the parable of a wealthy citizen, who decided to tear down his barns to build larger ones so that with many goods laid up he could rest, eat, drink, and be merry; but that night his soul was demanded, and the things he prepared would belong to someone else. Rather than treasuring for oneself it is better to be wealthy in God. Jesus said to be ready for the lord with lamps burning, because the human son is coming when they do not think. Jesus said the faithful and sensible manager the lord put in charge of his attendants to give out food will be blessed when the lord comes, and he will be put in charge of all his possessions. But if the servant starts to beat the children and get drunk, the lord will come when he does not expect and cut him in two. The servant who is aware of the lord's will and does not do it will be beaten much, but the servant who is not aware will be beaten a little for doing things deserving blows. To those who are given much, much will be demanded.
Jesus noted those being killed and warned people to change their minds or they will die the same way. He told a parable about a farmer of a fig tree, which had not borne fruit for three years. The gardener urged him to leave it for another year so that he could fertilize it and see if it would bear fruit; but if it does not, cut it down. When a synagogue ruler complained that Jesus healed a woman of her ailment on the Sabbath, Jesus called him a hypocrite because they feed their ox or donkey on the Sabbath, and this woman had been bound by Satan for eighteen years. Why should she not be released on the Sabbath?
Jesus said many would come from east and west to recline in the sovereignty of God. When Pharisees told him that Herod Antipas intended to kill him, Jesus told them to tell that fox that he expels demons and performs cures and on the third day he would be perfected. He lamented Jerusalem killing the prophets when he wished to gather their children like a bird gathering her brood under her wings. Jesus cured a person with edema. Noticing how they selected the best seats, Jesus suggested they not sit in the best seat so that the host can give them a better place. When giving a dinner, do not invite your friends and relatives and wealthy neighbors so that they may pay you back, but invite the poor, crippled, lame, and the blind so that you will be blessed because they have nothing to repay you. This will be repaid in the resurrection of the just. When a person invited many to a great dinner, the first asked to be excused because he bought a farm, another because he bought five yoke of oxen, and another because he married a woman. So the angry master had his servant go into the streets and invite the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.
Jesus said that whoever does not bear one's cross and come after him cannot be his disciple. To build a tower one must first calculate the cost so that one will be able to finish it. A king must decide if he can oppose his enemy's army; if not, he sends an embassy to make peace. Just as the shepherd is glad to find the lost sheep and the woman the lost coin, so too do the angels of God rejoice over one sinner repenting.
A younger son asked his father for his share of the estate and moved away, squandering his property in profligate living. After spending it all he suffered in a severe famine and was hired to feed pigs. Hungry, he decided to return to his father and told him he had sinned, asking to be treated like a servant. His father put his best robe on him and sacrificed a fat calf to celebrate, because his son was found. While they were celebrating, the older son coming in from the field was angry, because they had never celebrated with him but were doing so with his brother, who ate up his living with prostitutes. The father told him everything was his, but they must celebrate because the lost brother was found.
A rich person told a manager, who squandered his possessions, that he must give back his account and no longer be manager. So the manager called the lord's debtors and reduced each of their debts so that they would welcome him into their houses. The lord commended the unjust manager for acting shrewdly in making friends from the money of injustice. The important value here is shown in the following teaching that a domestic cannot serve two lords - God and money. Because of this the money-lovers sneered at him, but Jesus said that God knows the hearts and that what is highly valued by people is an abomination before God. There was a rich person who celebrated every day while the poor Lazarus suffered at his gate. When they both died, the rich one suffering in Hades saw Lazarus with the angels and asked Abraham to send him to cool him down with water, because he is in pain from the flame. But Abraham said he had his good things during life and Lazarus the bad things. Now it is reversed. The rich man asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers. Abraham said they have Moses and the prophets. If they do not listen to them, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.
When Jesus healed ten men of leprosy, he found only one foreigner turning back to praise God. To show them the need to pray and not despair, Jesus told a parable about a judge who did not regard God or any person; but a woman persisted so much that he vindicated her. To those who were confident they are just and despise others, Jesus told a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. The Pharisee thanked God he is not like the sinners, that he fasts and tithes; but the tax collector confessed he was a sinner. The latter was justified rather than the other.
In Jericho Jesus stayed with Zacchaeus, who was eager to serve him. He told a parable of a noble person who went abroad to receive a kingdom and gave ten servants ten minae to do business until he returned. The citizens hated him and did not want him to be king over them. When he returned, the first servant said his mina had earned ten minae, and he was put over ten cities; the servant with five minae was put over five cities; but the servant returning the one had it given to the servant with ten. Then this king ordered those enemies not wanting him to be king over them to be slaughtered. Jesus told this parable when he was near Jerusalem to those who were thinking the sovereignty of God was about to appear. I suggest that this king does not represent God but an unjust and murdering king of this world.
As he approached Jerusalem, Jesus wept and mourned that they did not know the things for peace. He predicted their enemies would attack them on all sides and raze the city to the ground, because they did not know the time of their visitation. At the last supper he asked the disciples to eat the bread as his body in remembrance of him. According to Luke, after predicting that Simon would deny him three times, Jesus told them now to take a purse and wallet and buy a sword. When the ear of the high priest's servant was cut off, Jesus said no more of that and healed it. Before Pilate the high priests and elders accused Jesus of perverting their nation by forbidding them to pay taxes to Caesar. Pilate told the crowds he found no guilt in Jesus. Discovering he was Galilean, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas. Herod was glad to see him but was disappointed he did no miracles, nor did he answer his questions. After the soldiers mocked him, Herod had Jesus sent back to Pilate. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd insisted he be crucified. So Pilate released Barabbas, who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder.
On the way to being crucified Jesus told the daughters of Jerusalem not to weep for him but for themselves, because if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? One criminal on a cross asked Jesus to save them, while the other said Jesus did nothing wrong; Jesus told the latter he would be with him that day in paradise. Dying, Jesus cried out, "Father, into your hands I entrust my Spirit."4 After the resurrection, Luke described the conversation Jesus had with two men walking to Emmaus and also Jesus eating broiled fish with the disciples.
Probably written some time later than the versions of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, John added theological concepts such as identifying Jesus with the Logos (Word) or the lamb of God and emphasizing love. Jesus called Nathanael by showing he could read his mind. At a wedding in Cana he provided wine by transforming water. According to John, Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem at an earlier Passover festival. Jesus taught the elder Nicodemus that he must be born of the Spirit from above to enter the sovereignty of God. Jesus said that the judgment is that the light has come into the world, but people loved the dark rather than the light, because their actions were bad. Those doing evil hate the light, because it exposes their actions; but those doing what is true come to the light so that it may be clear their actions are accomplished in God. In Samaria Jesus was not afraid to talk with a woman even though Jews did not associate with Samaritans. He perceived that she had been married five times. He offered her living water and said that true worshippers worship in spirit and truth. For two days Jesus taught the Samaritans. At Capernaum Jesus healed the son of a royal official from a distance.
At another feast in Jerusalem on a Sabbath Jesus healed a man who had been ailing for 38 years. Jews objected because he broke the Sabbath and called God his own Father. Jesus explained that he does what he sees the Father doing. Soon the good will come to a resurrection of life and the bad to a resurrection of judgment. Jesus criticized those rejecting him for not having the love of God in them. Yet if they believed in Moses, they would believe in him. After feeding people Jesus warned them not to work for food which spoils but for eternal life. When they asked him what they should do, Jesus said to believe in the one God sent. Jesus said he is the bread of life come down from heaven to do God's will, and that he would not lose any but raise them up on the last day. He quoted the prophets that everyone would be taught by God. The Spirit gives life, but flesh benefits nothing; his sayings are Spirit and life. After this Jesus left Judea and went to Galilee, because the Jews were trying to kill him.
Later Jesus went to the feast of tabernacles. Some said he is good; others said he misleads the crowd. Jesus said his teaching came from the one who sent him. Jesus asked them, if they practiced the law, why were they trying to kill him? Since he spoke openly, some wondered if he was the Christ. So they tried to arrest him, but he escaped. On the last day of the feast Jesus asked those who were thirsty to come and drink. The crowd was divided, and Nicodemus said their law does not judge a person without first hearing from him and knowing what he does.
The next day Jesus sat in the temple and taught. When they brought a woman caught in adultery, he told anyone without sin to throw the first stone. Jesus did not condemn her either and told her not to sin anymore. Jesus said they judged according to the flesh, but he did not judge anyone unless the one who sent him did by truth. While he taught in the treasury, no one arrested him. Jesus said he would be going and that if they did not believe in him, they would die in their sins. Yet those continuing in his word are his disciples; they will know the truth, and the truth will free them. Some said as Abraham's seed they have never been enslaved; but Jesus said slaves of sin do not stay in the house forever; but the son stays forever and can really free them. If they knew God, they would not be trying to kill him but would love him, because he came out of God, sent by that one. They perform the desires of their murdering father and do not stand in the truth but lie. Jesus is saying the truth; but they do not believe him and think he has a demon. Jesus answered he does not have a demon but honors his Father. Those keeping his words will not see death at all ever. Jesus not only said he knew Abraham but existed before Abraham. For this they picked up stones to throw at him; but he escaped out of the temple again.
As he was going, Jesus healed one born blind. Jesus said he came into the world so that those not seeing may see, while those seeing become blind. Jesus told the allegory of himself as the noble shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Other sheep will also hear his voice, and they will become one flock.
At the dedication festival in winter at Jerusalem Jesus also taught that the works he does in the name of the Father testify about him. He asked them why they want to stone him, and they answered it was because of blasphemy. Jesus quoted the law where it said, "You are gods." Jesus asked them to believe his works so they would know the Father is in him; but they tried to arrest him again.
Jesus went to Bethany, where he met the sisters Martha and Mary and then brought the dead Lazarus back to life. When the council of the Pharisees was told this, the high priest Caiaphas prophesied that one person would die on behalf of the nation. To Greeks Jesus used symbolism similar to the Eleusinian mysteries to explain eternal life as being like a grain of wheat that dies and bears much fruit. Jesus said that whoever loves one's life loses it, but whoever hates one's life in this world will preserve eternal life. Jesus said that the judgment of this world is that its ruler is thrown out; but by being lifted up from the earth, he will draw everyone to himself. Many rulers believed in Jesus; but they did not admit it lest they be put out of the synagogue by the Pharisees. Jesus said he did not come into the world to judge the world but to save the world.
When Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume, it was Judas Iscariot who complained it could have been sold and given to the poor. According to John, he was a thief and stole from the money box. At the Passover feast Jesus put aside his clothes and washed the feet of his disciples. He told them to wash each other's feet according to his example. No servant is greater than his lord, and the messenger is not greater than the one sending him. Jesus told Judas Iscariot to act quickly. Then Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment, that they love each other as he had loved them. By this everyone will know that they are his disciples, if they love each other. He told them not to be troubled but to trust in God and him. He will go to prepare a place for them and will welcome them to himself.
Jesus declared himself the way, the truth and life; everyone can come to the Father through him. Those believing in him will do the works he does and even greater, because he is going to the Father. They can ask for things in his name. If they love him, they will keep his commandments, and he will send as an intermediary the spirit of truth. Jesus will not leave them orphans but will come back to them. Whoever loves him will keep his word and be loved by his Father. The Father will send the Holy Spirit to teach them everything. Jesus said he leaves peace with them. Jesus called himself the true vine, and they are the branches; those connected to him may bear much fruit. Jesus loved them, as the Father loved him. Their joy will be fulfilled. No one has greater love than laying down one's life for friends. If the world hates them, it hated him first; but they are not of the world, because he selected them out of the world. If they persecuted him, they will persecute them also. The intermediary will testify about him. Jesus told them these things so that they would not fall away. There is more to tell them, but the spirit of truth will guide them into all truth. Their grief will turn into joy like a woman giving birth. Whatever they ask the Father in his name they will receive. Jesus told them to have courage, because he overcame the world. Then Jesus prayed to the Father.
According to John, when the cohort and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus, they took him to the high priest Annas first. Jesus told him he had spoken openly; but an official slapped him for speaking confidently to the high priest. When Pilate went outside and told the crowd to judge him according to their law, the Jews replied they were not allowed to put anyone to death. When Pilate asked Jesus if he is king of the Jews, Jesus answered that his sovereignty is not of this world, but he came into the world to testify to the truth. Later the Jews said Jesus should die because he made himself son of God. Jesus said Pilate would not have any authority unless it was given to him from above. Jews argued that to release him would not be friendly to Caesar, because everyone making himself king speaks against Caesar. They did not want him to write "King of the Jews" but that he said he was king of the Jews. The soldiers divided the clothes of Jesus and decided by lot for the tunic. Seeing his mother, her sister, and Mary Magdalene, Jesus while on the cross implied that the beloved disciple (John) should take care of his mother.
The soldiers did not break the legs of Jesus, because he was already dead; but one pierced his side with a spear. (According to the recently discovered Gospel of Peter, they did not break his legs so that he would die in torment.) When Mary Magdalene was weeping outside the tomb, she saw two angels and then Jesus standing there. When he spoke her name, she recognized him. She went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord. Jesus appeared to the disciples in a locked room and told Thomas to touch his side. Jesus manifested himself again to seven of the disciples while they were fishing in the Sea of Tiberias. He told Simon Peter to feed his sheep.
Three letters attributed to John are included in The New Testament, and scholars believe they were written about the same time as his gospel about the end of the first century. John proclaimed fellowship with his readers and "with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." He suggested that God is light and that they can have fellowship with one another while walking in the light. To say they have no sin is to deceive themselves; but if they confess their sins, they will be forgiven and cleansed. John put forth Jesus Christ not only as the expiator of their sins but for the sins of the whole world. To say one is in the light while hating a brother is to be in darkness still. Whoever loves a brother abides in the light. The world and its lust passes away, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. John exhorted them to love one another, for love is of God, and whoever loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Love has no fear, because perfect love casts out fear. Whoever says they love God while hating a brother is a liar, for whoever does not love a brother, who is seen, cannot love God, who is not seen.
The book of Revelation is also attributed to John and was probably written near the end of the reign of Domitian (81-96), who banished John to the rocky island of Patmos. John sent this description of his vision to the seven churches of Asia in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The angels promise to search their mind and heart and give to each what their works deserve. The violent imagery may reflect John's resentment toward Rome for its persecution of him and other Christians. The four horseman bring death by war, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. He warned against a beast in authority not allowing anyone to buy or sell unless they have its mark, the name of the beast or its number. The Roman empire is symbolized by Babylon, the mother of harlots and of earth's abominations. The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn when no one buys their cargo anymore, including slaves that are human souls. The great city will be overthrown with violence.
The devil Satan will be bound for a thousand years while Christ reigns. Then Satan will be loosed from prison to deceive nations. The dead will be judged by what they have done. Those whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown in the lake of fire. John saw a new heaven and a new earth with no death and no night; but God will be their light and reign forever. Finally Jesus as the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, promises to come soon. John generally but correctly prophesied the fall of the Roman empire, though the following millennium of Christian culture was far from ideal. In my view the final vision refers to higher realms of light than the physical universe where souls go after death.
According to tradition the disciple Thomas was chosen to go to Parthia, and he later took the good message as far as India. A Coptic Gnostic library of apocryphal books that had been buried in the fourth century was found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. The Gospel According to Thomas with its 114 secret sayings of Jesus was written by the disciple called twin Judas Thomas probably about the same time as the four canonized gospels. Used in Syria, Egypt, and other places, this and other texts rejected later by the church are called Gnostic because they emphasize knowledge more than belief. According to Thomas, when they suggested he fast, Jesus asked them what sin he had committed or whether he had been overcome. When his disciples asked Jesus if they should fast, he told them not to lie and not to do what they hate, for everything is manifest before heaven. Jesus said to search and not cease searching until one finds. Finding, one will be troubled but will marvel and reign over the All. Jesus said to know what is before your face, and what is hidden will be revealed.
According to Thomas, Jesus said the Father's sovereignty is like a woman carrying a jar full of flour a long way. The handle broke, and the flour spilled without her knowing it. When she got home, she found the jar was empty. This parable implies the need to be careful. Similarly the sovereignty is like a man who sold a field with a hidden treasure; the buyer plowed, found the treasure, and lent money to whomever he wished. Jesus said that whoever knows the All but fails oneself fails everywhere. Jesus suggested that those with riches or power should renounce. Jesus wondered how the great wealth of the Spirit made its home in the poverty of the body. Jesus said the sovereignty is spread upon the earth, but people do not see it. It is not found in the sky with the birds or in the sea with the fish, but inside you and outside you. By knowing yourself you will be known and will know that you are children of the living Father; but if you do not know yourself, you are in poverty.
The Dialog of the Savior was also probably written in the same period. Jesus warns his disciples about the power of darkness and tells them not to fear the ruling authority of tyrants. Jesus suggests they will overcome even the rulers in heaven. When they remove envy, they will be clothed in light and enter into the bridal chamber, a place of secret initiation. The Apocryphon of James concludes the sovereignty of heaven can be received; but unless one understands it through knowledge, one will not be able to find it. Therefore they should understand what the great light is, pay attention to the Word, understand knowledge, and love life. No one will persecute or oppress them other than themselves. Epiphanius criticized The Gospel of the Ebionites for changing some details to imply that John the Baptist and Jesus were vegetarians.
In his long work Against Heresies written late in the second century Irenaeus criticized some Gnostics for believing their spiritual knowledge placed them above the "animal men" who could only be saved through good works. He also criticized those who yielded to lusts of the flesh, maintaining that their carnal nature could be separated from their spiritual nature.
When the disciple Simon recognized Jesus as the Christ, Jesus named him Peter and said that on this rock he would build his church. Yet right after that when Jesus mentioned he would suffer because of the elders, high priests and scholars and be killed, Peter reprimanded him. Jesus then called Peter Satan for tempting him. Thus the infallibillity of Peter is questionable, to say nothing of those claiming to be his successors. The forming of the church based on the life and teachings of Jesus is described in The Acts of the Apostles by Luke. After the departure of Jesus the eleven remaining disciples returned to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer along with the women and the mother and brothers of Jesus, about 120 in all. Two men were nominated to replace Judas Iscariot, and Matthias was chosen by lot. On the day of Pentecost seven weeks after the Passover a sound from heaven was heard, and they all began to speak in different languages as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Many heard the powerful works of God described in their own languages. Peter spoke to the congregation about Jesus and how he was fulfilling the promise by pouring out the Holy Spirit. He announced to the house of Israel that God had made Jesus Lord and Christ.
Hearing this, people asked Peter and the apostles what they should do. Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. On that day about three thousand were baptized, and they joined the fellowship of the apostles, sharing their teaching, breaking of bread, and prayers. All the believers worked together and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and distributed their goods to all according to need. They ate together, praised God, found favor with people, and increased in numbers.
Going into the temple with John, Peter saw a lame beggar. Saying he had no silver and gold, Peter gave him what he had by telling him to walk in the name of Jesus Christ. The man stood up and walked into the temple with them, praising God. People were amazed, and Peter began preaching to them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had glorified his servant Jesus, whom they had delivered and denied when Pilate decided to release him. Thus the author of life was killed, but God raised him from the dead. Peter said they acted out of ignorance and asked them to repent so that their sins might be blotted out. As they were speaking, the priests and the Sadducees were annoyed, and the captain of the temple arrested them. When they asked Peter by what power he acted, he explained that the man was healed by the name of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified and God raised. Since the healed man was standing there, they could not deny this. So they charged them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered that they were judging them to listen to them instead of God; but they spoke of what they had seen and heard. The authorities did not punish them because of the people praising God for what happened; but they threatened them and let them go.
The company of believers had one heart and soul, sharing all their possessions so that there was no needy person among them. Joseph Barnabas sold his field, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold their property but kept some of the proceeds. Peter asked Ananias why he lied to people and God, causing Ananias to fall down dead. Three hours later the same thing happened with his wife. As the apostles gathered in Solomon's Portico, many brought the sick to be healed. The Sadducee high priest had the apostles arrested and put in a common prison; but at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and led them out, telling them to speak the words of life in the temple. Once again the captain and the officers brought them before the council; but Peter said they must obey God rather than men. Some were angry and wanted to kill them; but the teacher Gamaliel noted that Theudas and four hundred followers were slain and that Judas the Galilean died and his rebels were scattered. He said if this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, they cannot overthrow it, and they might even be found opposing God. So they beat the apostles, charged them not to speak of Jesus, and let them go. Every day they continued teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Some Hellenists complained that the Hebrews were neglecting their widows in the daily distribution. So the twelve, preferring to preach instead of serving tables, appointed seven men led by Stephen to perform this duty. Stephen accomplished many wonders; but some including Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and Asians argued with Stephen. Unable to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which Stephen spoke, they accused him of blasphemy and instigated elders and scribes to bring him before the council with false witnesses. Stephen responded by reviewing the spiritual history of Israel from Abraham to Solomon, and he accused their fathers of persecuting the prophets. Then Stephen said he saw the human son standing next to God. For this they threw him out of the city and stoned him to death, while Saul stood by with their garments approving.
That day began a great persecution against the Jerusalem church, and they scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul devastated the church and, entering house after house, dragged off men and women to prison. Philip preached in Samaria, expelling demons and healing the lame. Peter and John went to Samaria to baptize people, who had received the word of God. A powerful magician named Simon offered them money so that by laying on hands he too could dispense the Holy Spirit. Peter told Simon his heart was not right in trying to buy the gift of God and asked him to repent. Philip was guided to meet an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza, and Philip explained to him how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah. Philip baptized him and took the good message to Caesarea.
Saul threatened to murder the disciples and from the high priest he got letters to arrest believers in the synagogues at Damascus. As he approached that city, a heavenly light flashed, and he fell to the ground. A voice asked Saul why he was persecuting him, Jesus. Then Saul was told to rise, enter the city, and he would be told what to do. For three days Saul was blind and fasted. Then Ananias was guided to lay his hands on Saul so that he could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then Saul was baptized and ate food. In the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus as the son of God. After several days Jews plotted to kill him, but Saul escaped when his disciples let him down over the wall in a basket. In Jerusalem Barnabas took Saul to the apostles, and he told them how the Lord spoke to him on the road and how he preached in Damascus. Saul preached and argued with the Hellenists, who sought to kill him. So Saul went to Caesarea and then to Tarsus.
At Lydda Peter healed a paralyzed man, and in Joppa he brought the woman Tabitha back to life. While the centurion Cornelius at Caesarea was guided to send his men to Joppa to get Peter, Peter had a vision in which a voice told him to eat all kinds of animals because God has cleansed them. When Peter visited Cornelius, he interpreted his vision as God showing him that no person is unclean. Peter perceived that God shows no partiality; but in every nation those who do right are acceptable to God. As Peter preached about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word even though they were not Jews. Then Peter commanded that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him for eating with uncircumcised men. Peter explained about the vision he had three times and how the Holy Spirit came to the Gentiles in Caesarea.
King Herod Agrippa had John's brother James killed with the sword. When this pleased some Jews, he had Peter arrested; but an angel helped Peter to escape. Shortly after being proclaimed a god, Herod died of illness in 44 CE. In Jerusalem Pharisees charged that believers should be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. Peter spoke to the brothers that God had guided him to preach the good message to the Gentiles and had given to them the Holy Spirit, cleansing their hearts by faith. He asked why they should try God by putting on their necks a yoke hard to bear. Then Barnabas and Paul related the wonders God did among the Gentiles. After they spoke, James, the brother of Jesus, recalled how God visited the Gentiles and how this fulfilled prophecies of Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. The judgment of James was that they should not trouble the Gentiles but write them to abstain from pollutions of idols, from fornication, and from meat not ritually butchered. The church agreed with James and sent Judas Barsabbas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas with these instructions to the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia.
Little is known of Peter after this. Eusebius believed that Peter preached to Jews in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia, and according to tradition he was crucified upside down in Rome during Nero's persecution of the Christians following the fire in 64. The first letter of Peter included in The New Testament was probably written shortly before his death. Peter wrote to exiles of the dispersion in Asia, urging them to be holy and not conform to the passions of their former ignorance. Purifying their souls, they may love one another from the heart. Thus they should put away all malice, deceit, insincerity, envy, and slander. He encouraged them to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against the soul. By doing right they can silence the ignorance of the foolish. He urged them to live as free persons without using freedom as a pretext for evil but in order to serve God, honor people, love the community, reverence God, and honor the emperor. Thus Peter told them to submit to their masters even if it means suffering unjustly. They should follow the example of Jesus who was reviled but did not revile in return, who suffered but did not threaten; he trusted in the one who judges justly.
Peter also told the wives to be submissive to their husbands but that the husbands should likewise be considerate of their wives, honoring them as the weaker sex. In the unity of spirit they may love with a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not return evil for evil, but rather bless because they have been called to this and may so obtain blessing. Keep the tongue from evil and do right; seek and pursue peace, for the Lord sees the just and listens to their prayers. Even if they suffer for justice, they will be blessed. Thus they should not be afraid nor troubled. To anyone who calls them to account they may defend themselves with gentleness and reverence, keeping their conscience clear so that those abusing them for their good behavior may be put to shame. It is better to suffer for doing what is right than for doing wrong.
Those suffering in the flesh may cease from sin and live from then on free of passions by the will of God. The time for licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry is past, for the good message is preached so that they may live in the spirit like God. Because the end is near, they should keep sober for praying and maintain their love for one another, since love covers many sins. They should practice hospitality and employ the gifts they have received. In the fiery ordeal that proves them they should rejoice in sharing Christ's sufferings. Suffering as a Christian glorifies God. Thus they should do right and trust their souls to the faithful Creator. They should tend the flock of God, not by constraint or domineering but by being examples to the flock. Peter recommended they be humble, sober, and watchful. After they have suffered, God will restore them.
Although James was skeptical of his brother Jesus during his lifetime, after seeing him resurrected, James (with Peter and John) became a leader of the Jerusalem church. According to Hegesippus, James was universally called the Just; he drank no alcohol, ate no animal food, wore linen garments, and no razor touched his head; his knees became hardened by frequent praying. The Gospel of the Hebrews was mentioned more than any other by the early church. A quote from it by Jerome states that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to his brother James the Just. When Festus died about 61 CE, before Albinus arrived, the high priest Ananus accused James before the council and had him killed. Complaints about this to King Agrippa caused him to take the high priesthood away from Ananus.
A letter attributed to this James emphasizes that faith also requires works, though many scholars question whether it was written by James himself. It is written to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, encouraging them to be joyful because trials testing their faith can produce steadfastness. People are not tempted by God but by their own desires. James suggested they be quick to hear, but slow to speak or become angry; for anger does not work what is right by God. They should be doers of the word, not just hearers. The religious also need to bridle their tongues, because religion has more to do with visiting orphans and widows and keeping oneself unstained from the world. James exhorted his brothers not to show partiality to the rich over the poor, asking has not God chosen the poor to be rich in faith. Are not the rich the ones who oppress them and drag them into court? Fulfilling the scripture is loving one's neighbor as oneself; but showing partiality is to commit sin and transgress the law. They should speak and act as those judged under the law of liberty. Judgment is without mercy to those who show no mercy; yet mercy overcomes judgment.
James asked what benefit faith has without works. A little tongue can boast of great things, as a great forest is inflamed by a small fire. The wise will show good works in the gentleness of wisdom. Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition cause disorder and vile practices. The wisdom from above is pure, peaceful, gentle, open to reason, and merciful, bearing good fruit without uncertainty or insincerity. The harvest of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes wars and fighting among them if not passions? Not getting what they desire, they kill. Coveting without obtaining, they fight and wage war. They ask wrongly when intending to spend it on their passions. Whoever loves the world too much makes oneself an enemy of God. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Draw near God, and God will draw near you. Purify your hearts. Do not speak evil against one another, because this is to judge the law. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. Who are they to judge their neighbors? Knowing what is right to do but failing to do it is a sin. Be patient and do not grumble against one another so that you may not be judged. Therefore confess your sins and pray for one another so that you may be healed, for God is compassionate and merciful. James concluded that bringing back a sinner from error will cover a multitude of sins.
The anonymous letter to the Hebrews included in The New Testament was probably written before the temple was destroyed in 70 CE. It argues that the new covenant mediated by Jesus is better than the old covenant. This covenant in which the laws are written on their hearts and in their minds was prophesied by Jeremiah. The sacrifice of Jesus doing the will of God has replaced the animal sacrifices and burnt offerings. Chapter 11 is on faith, which is defined as the assurance of what is hoped for and the conviction of what is not seen. Chapter 12 discusses the discipline of the Lord which comes to all whom God loves. As earthly fathers discipline their children for a short time, so God does so for our good so that we may share in holiness. In the moment discipline seems painful, but it produces the peaceful fruit of justice to those it trains. Thus they should seek peace with all people and for holiness. Brotherly love includes showing hospitality to strangers, remembering those who are in prison and those ill treated. Marriage should be honored and the marriage bed undefiled by adultery. Do not love money, but be content with what you have, and God will never forsake you. They may bear abuse like Jesus for his sake, because such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Because of the dispersion caused by the persecution, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and preached to Greeks. Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch. When he saw a large company added to the Lord there, Barnabas went to Tarsus and brought Saul to Antioch for a year. This was about 46 CE, and the disciples in Antioch were the first to be called Christians. Agabus prophesied famine, and the Antioch disciples sent relief to those suffering in Judea by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. Barnabas and Saul were sent by the Antioch church to Cyprus. There Saul, now called Paul, reprimanded a magician named Elymas, causing him to become blind for a time. Paul traveled to Perga and preached at the Antioch in Pisidia until he and Barnabas were driven out by Jews. They traveled through Lycaonia of southern Galatia, where at Lystra Paul healed a man crippled from birth. Angry Jews persuaded people to stone Paul, and he was carried out of the city, going on to Derbe. They returned through Pisidia and Pamphylia, sailing back to the Antioch in Syria. After a time Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem and participated in the debate about circumcision, testifying to the wonders God had done among the Gentiles.
Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and Judas Barsabbas took the letter from the Jerusalem church to the Gentiles in Antioch. Paul asked Barnabas to go with him and revisit the brothers. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark; but Paul did not want to, because he had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia. So Barnabas went with John Mark to Cyprus, and Paul traveled with Silas through Syria and Cilicia. At Lystra Paul circumcised Timothy, because his father was Greek. Paul was guided to travel to Macedonia, and in Philippi he expelled a spirit from a slave girl, who had used it for divination. Her owners resented this loss and dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates; they were beaten and thrown into prison. An earthquake loosed their fetters and opened the doors, and Paul persuaded the jailer not to harm himself. The jailer took them home and was baptized. The magistrates ordered their release and apologized when Paul pointed out they were Roman citizens.
Paul traveled to Thessalonica and taught in a synagogue, but jealous Jews caused an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, whom they accused for receiving those challenging the decrees of Caesar by saying Jesus is king. Paul and Silas left at night and went to Beroea, where the controversy continued. Silas and Timothy stayed there while Paul went on to Athens. There he was questioned by Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Paul observed their statue to the "unknown god" and proclaimed the God who made the world as Lord of heaven and earth and who gives to all the breath of life. He quoted their poets that "In him we live and move and have our being" and that we are his offspring. Now God commands everyone to repent and has given assurance by raising a man from the dead.
From Athens Paul went to Corinth, where he met Aquila, who had left Italy with his wife when Claudius expelled the Jews in 49. Paul sent Timothy to encourage the congregation at Thessalonica, and then from Corinth Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians. Paul said he had not used words as flattery or to cover greed nor did he seek glory. He was gentle like a nurse taking care of children. Paul advised them to abstain from fornication, that they each take a wife in holiness and honor. They are taught to love one another. They should admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, and be patient with all. Do not repay evil with evil but always seek to do good to everyone. Paul tried to show by his work a good example and advised them not to feed those who will not work. They should have nothing to do with anyone who refuses to obey what is in the letters, not treating him as an enemy but warning him as a brother so that he may be ashamed.
Paul preached in Corinth for a year and a half. Jews brought Paul before a tribunal, but Gallio refused to intervene in questions of Jewish law. Then Paul returned to Antioch by way of Ephesus and Caesarea. After traveling through Galatia, Paul came to Ephesus again and stayed there more than two years. Paul baptized them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Many people burned their books on magic, and a riot occurred over the Ephesians' faith in the goddess Artemis.
From Ephesus Paul wrote to the Corinthians because it was reported to him that there was quarreling among them. He warned that the immoral person sins against the body; but the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit given by God. So they should glorify God in their bodies. The single who cannot exercise self-control should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Paul noted that knowledge "puffs up" but love builds up. Just as the body has many members, so they are the members of one body in Christ and drink of one Spirit whether they are Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. The famous 13th chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians emphasizes the importance of love. No sacrifice is worth anything if one does not have love. Love is patient and kind, not jealous nor boasting, not arrogant nor rude. Love does not insist on its own way, and it is not irritable nor resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrong but at what is right. Love bears all, believes all, hopes all, and endures all. Prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away, for these are imperfect; but love never ends. Faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest is love. Paul's patriarchal sexism shows when he holds it shameful for a woman to speak in church. He warned them not to be deceived, because bad company can ruin good morals.
In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul reminded them that we all will be judged by Christ and will receive good or evil according to what one has done in the body. Yet God in Christ has reconciled the world, and so he beseeched them on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. The day of salvation is now, and Paul commended them as servants of God through afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonment, tumult, labors, watching, and hunger that they endure by purity, knowledge, tolerance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God, using the weapons of justice. Treated as impostors, yet they are true; as unknown, yet they are well known; as dying, yet they live; as punished, yet they are not killed; as sorrowful, yet they are joyful; as poor, yet they are rich; and as possessing nothing, yet they have everything. Talking like a foolish madman, Paul recalled that he had been lashed by the Jews five times, was beaten with rods three times, and was stoned once.
While on this third missionary journey probably about 55 Paul wrote to the Galatians. Most of this letter emphasizes the importance of faith, but the last two chapters do not forget that ethics is important too. The whole law is fulfilled by loving your neighbor as yourself. But if they bite and devour each other, they may be consumed. Paul advised them to walk by the Spirit and not gratify the opposed desires of the flesh which include fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and so on. If they walk by the Spirit, they will not have self-conceit nor will they provoke each other nor envy each other. The spiritual should restore one found trespassing in a spirit of gentleness. They should bear each other's burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ. They should not be deceived, because God is not mocked: everyone will reap what they sow. Whoever sows in the flesh will reap corruption, while one sowing in the Spirit will reap eternal life. Do not grow weary of doing good, because if we do not lose heart, we shall reap in due season. So take the opportunity to do good to all, especially to those in the community of faith.
Paul's letter to the Romans was written before he went to that great city, but he was hoping to visit them on his way to Spain. He observed that God will render to everyone according to their works. Those patiently doing well will be given eternal life; but the factious who disobey the truth will find wrath and fury. The Gentiles, who act naturally by the law, have it written on their hearts. Paul found joy in suffering because it produces endurance, character, and hope that the Holy Spirit will be poured into our hearts. He gave thanks to God that those who were slaves of sin have obeyed the standard of teaching and have been freed of sin to become servants of justice.
Paul wrote about how carnal sin can cause one to do the evil one does not want to do. So when one wants to do what is right, evil lies close by; the mind serves God, but the flesh serves sin. Thus to set the mind on the flesh is death; but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the flesh is hostile to God and does not submit to God's law. But they can be in the Spirit rather than in the flesh. Though their bodies may be dead, their spirits may be alive because of the Spirit of Christ and justice. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. God works for good in those who love God and are called to this purpose. If God is for us, who can be against us? God justifies, but who condemns? Who can answer back to God? Will the one who has been molded question its molder?
In Romans 12-14 Paul discussed the duties of a Christian believer. They should not conform to this world but be transformed by the renewal of their minds to prove the will of God that is good, acceptable, and perfect. They may use their gifts in prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, contributing, aiding, and doing acts of mercy. Love one another and outdo each other in showing honor. Be aglow with the Spirit and serve God. Be glad in hope, patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute and curse you; rejoice with the joyful and weep with those weeping. Live in harmony with each other; do not be proud or conceited but associate with the lowly. Do not repay evil with evil, but consider what is noble in the sight of all. Live peaceably with everyone. Never avenge yourselves, for vengeance is God's. Rather if your enemy is hungry or thirsty and you feed them and give them drink, you will be heaping burning coals on their heads. Thus overcome evil with good.
Paul recommended they be subject to governing authorities and pay taxes, because he assumed the authorities were ministers of God. They should owe no one anything except to love them as oneself. They should put on the Lord Jesus Christ and not make provision for gratifying the desires of the flesh. They should not pass judgment on others, because all will stand before the judgment-seat of God. Thus put no stumbling blocks in the way of a brother. The sovereignty of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Happy is the person who has no reason to judge oneself.
Once again Paul traveled in Macedonia and Greece, quoting Jesus in Miletus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. On his way to Jerusalem Paul visited Philip in Caesarea. The prophet Agabus predicted that Paul would have his hands and feet bound in Jerusalem, and he would be delivered to the Gentiles. At Jerusalem Paul greeted James and told of his ministry to the Gentiles. After seven days Paul was dragged from the temple and beaten until the Roman soldiers arrested him and bound him with chains. The tribune allowed Paul to speak to the people in Hebrew. Paul said he was born a Jew at Tarsus and was educated in Jerusalem by Gamaliel. He had zealously persecuted believers in Christ, sending men and women to prison. He got a letter from the council and journeyed to Damascus to bring more in bonds to Jerusalem for punishment. Near Damascus he saw a great light, fell down, and heard the voice of Jesus ask him why he was persecuting him. Paul asked what he should do, and the voice told him to go to Damascus and do what he was told. He was blinded by the light until Ananias came and baptized him. At Jerusalem Paul was guided to take his testimony far away to the Gentiles.
At this point the Jews cried out against Paul, and the tribune ordered him into the barracks to be scourged. Paul asked the centurion if it was lawful to scourge a Roman citizen without a trial. The next day the tribune unbound Paul and sent him to the Jewish council. The high priest Ananias ordered Paul struck on the mouth. When Paul realized the council was divided between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, he said he was a Pharisee being tried for believing in resurrection. This caused dissension and brought the Pharisees to his defense; but some Jews plotted to kill him. The Roman soldiers took Paul to the governor Felix at Caesarea. Felix determined that he was accused in regard to Jewish law but was charged with nothing deserving punishment. Five days later the high priest Ananias and his spokesman Tertullus put their case against Paul before the governor. Paul replied that he did not stir up the crowd but was tried on the resurrection issue. Felix put off his decision and allowed Paul visitors.
When Festus succeeded Felix, he left Paul in prison as a favor to the Jews. Paul asked to be tried before Caesar's tribunal and appealed to Caesar, and so Festus decided to send him to Rome. The visiting Jewish king Agrippa II wanted to hear Paul, and Paul told him his story. Agrippa told Festus that Paul could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. On his journey Paul experienced a shipwreck and was considered a god for surviving a snake bite at Malta; there Paul also healed people. At Rome Paul stayed with the soldier who guarded him, and for two years he lived there preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. According to tradition Paul was beheaded in Rome during Nero's persecution of 64.
Paul wrote to the Philippians that they should not be selfish or conceited but in humility consider others better than themselves. Look to the interests of others and use the mind they have in Christ Jesus. They must work out their salvation in fear and trembling, for God is working in them. By not grumbling or questioning they will be blameless and innocent children in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation; holding fast to the word of life, they will shine as lights in the world.
To the Colossians Paul suggested they kill their fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and coveting, while putting away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk. When they put on renewed knowledge in the image of their creator they will no longer lie to one another. As holy and beloved of God they may put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven them. Paul advised the wives to be subject to their husbands and the husbands to love their wives and not be harsh with them. Children should obey their parents, but fathers should not provoke their children. They will receive reward for their work; for there is no partiality, and the wrong-doer is paid back for the wrong done. Slaves should obey their masters, and masters should treat their slaves justly and fairly, knowing they have a master in heaven.
Paul wrote Philemon on behalf of his slave Onesimus, whom he persuaded to return to his master. Paul would have kept him with him during his imprisonment, but he preferred not to do so without Philemon's consent so that his goodness would not be compelled but be by his free will. Paul urged Philemon to take him back not as a slave but as a beloved brother, asking him to receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul.
While still imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote to the Ephesians not to lose heart over what he is suffering. He asked them to lead a life worthy of their calling with humility, gentleness, and patience, tolerating one another in love, and eager to maintain the unity of Spirit in peace. He urged them to put off their old manner of life corrupted through deceitful lust, but renew their minds in the spirit of God in true justice and holiness. Put away falsehood and speak the truth, for we are members of one another. One may be angry but not sin; but do not let the sun set on your anger. Let the thief turn to honest work in order to give to those in need. Put away bitterness, anger, slander, and malice, being kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving. Do not participate in works of darkness but expose them to the light. Of marriage Paul wrote that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, the two becoming one. Let him love his wife as himself, and let the wife respect her husband. Finally they should be strong in the Lord by standing up to the wiles of the devil and against the ruling powers of the world in the present darkness.
The pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus attributed to Paul may have been written by a disciple. To Timothy he recommended love from a pure heart and a good conscience with sincere faith. Once again women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men, but they must keep silent. Anyone not providing for family relatives has disowned faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Those persisting in sin should be reprimanded before all so that others will be afraid. Those wanting to be rich fall into temptation, ruin, and destruction. "For the root of all evils is the love of money."5 This craving causes some to wander away from the faith. The rich are charged not to be proud nor to set their hope on what is uncertain but on God, who provides us with everything we enjoy. Be rich in good deeds by being liberal and generous in order to lay a good foundation for the future. To Titus he wrote that to the pure all things are pure; but to the corrupt nothing is pure, since their minds and consciences are corrupted. Those who profess to know God, but deny this by their actions, are disobedient and detestable.
Clement of Rome may have known Paul at Philippi. According to Eusebius, Clement was the third bishop of Rome from 92 to 101. His letter to the Corinthians urges repentance, which can be learned from past generations. He recommended humility and advised them to obey God rather than those who excite strife and tumult by adhering to those who truly cultivate peace and not to hypocrites who merely profess it. They should hold to God's will and let their children be trained as Christians. Clothing themselves in concord and humility and always exercising self-control, they may stand apart from evil-speaking. The good worker receives bread, but the lazy cannot look his employer in the eye. Cleave to the holy, innocent, and just, and they shall be made holy.
Clement was concerned that the church of Corinth was engaging in sedition against its ministers because of one or two persons. They should return to the practice of brotherly love, because love unites people with God. Love does not give rise to seditions but does everything in harmony. They should all pray for God's mercy and live blamelessly in love free from human partiality for one above another. He implored forgiveness for all transgressions and asked the leaders of sedition to respect the common hope. Clement urged them to do whatever the majority commands, that the flock may live in peace under its appointed ministers, concluding that those who caused the sedition should submit themselves to the ministers and receive correction.
During the reign of Trajan (98-117) fanatical Jews accused some Christians. The second bishop of Jerusalem, Simeon, son of Clopas, was crucified in 107. Either the same year or a few years later the Antioch bishop Ignatius was condemned to death, transported to Rome, and killed by wild beasts in the Colosseum. Authors of "The Martyrdom of Ignatius" wrote that while falling into a brief slumber they saw Ignatius suddenly standing by and praying for them.
In 112 the Younger Pliny, while representing the emperor in Bithynia and Pontus, wrote to Trajan about the problem of the Christians. He admitted he had little knowledge about them. He would ask those brought before him if they were Christians and would warn them they would be punished if they admitted it three times. Those persisting he ordered executed, unless they were Roman citizens, in which case he sent them to Rome for trial. Those who denied it he made repeat an oath to the gods, offer wine and incense before a statue of Trajan, and revile the name of Christ. He found that some had met regularly to chant verses honoring Christ as a god and taking an oath to abstain from robbery, adultery, and breach of trust. Those who said they gave up these practices he released except that he tortured two slave women who were deaconesses. Pliny brought this to the Emperor's attention because a great many people from every age and class were being brought to trial, and it was likely to continue.
Trajan wrote back to Pliny that Christians were not to be hunted down; but if brought before him and the charge is proved, they must be punished. Those denying they are Christians were to be pardoned. Trajan noted that anonymous pamphlets should play no part in any accusation, for this would be out of keeping with the spirit of his era. Hadrian (r. 117-138) wrote that Christians were to be sentenced if convicted of an actual illegality; but anyone who prosecuted them hoping for financial reward should be punished.
"The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" was probably written about 120 and summarized the ethics of Jesus and the new church. The two ways of life and death are differentiated. They way of life is loving God and one's neighbor, obeying the traditional ten commandments of Moses, and following the more subtle teachings of Jesus in regard to anger, lust, charity, and so on. The way of death went from the more crude violations of murder, adultery, theft, rape, false witness, magic and witchcraft to the more subtle infringements such as hypocrisy, deceit, arrogance, greed, jealousy, filthy talking, boasting, and vanity. Christians are encouraged to receive good teachers, apostles, and prophets of the way of life but to turn away from those who teach the opposite. They are warned against any prophet staying more than three days or asking for money, unless one is asking for those in need. Yet they should provide for the true prophets, for the worker is worthy of support. More detailed rules of Christian behavior were later developed in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles.
About 130 a letter by a "disciple of the apostles" was sent to Diognetus, who may have been the tutor of Marcus Aurelius. This letter describes Christian worship as having a common table but not a common bed. Though in flesh they should not live after the flesh but pass their days on earth as citizens of heaven. Obeying prescribed laws, they may surpass them in their lives. They love all even though they are persecuted. Though condemned to death, they will be restored to life. Though poor, they make many rich. Though dishonored, they are glorified. Though reviled and insulted, they are blessed and honored. Though punished as evil-doers, they are good.
The author of this letter compared Christians in the world to the soul in the body. They dwell scattered throughout the world but are not of the world. The godliness of the Christians is invisible. Just as the flesh hates the soul when it is prevented from enjoying pleasures, so the world hates the Christians because they abjure pleasures. Yet as the soul loves the flesh, Christians love those who hate them. Christians are imprisoned in the world; yet they preserve the world. Noting the example of the Christ, violence has no place in the character of God. As more of them are punished, their numbers are becoming greater still, showing the power of God. Happiness is not found in ruling over weaker people or in being rich or by violence towards inferiors, but in taking on the burden of one's neighbor and distributing to the needy what one has received from God. The author believed they will love and admire those who suffer punishment because they do not deny God.
About 155 the church at Smyrna was persecuted, and the martyrdom of its bishop Polycarp was described in a circular letter sent first to the church at Philomelium. Polycarp made little effort to flee. When he was arrested, he was allowed to pray for two hours, causing many to repent. Polycarp was taken by the Roman peacekeeper and had his leg dislocated when he was thrown from a chariot. He was asked to revile Christ in a stadium, but he confessed himself a Christian, refusing to repent from what is good in order to adopt what is evil. Polycarp gave thanks and prayed, but the flames only surrounded his glowing body. He was pierced with a dagger, and his blood extinguished the fire. Jews objected to the Christians being given his body, and so it was burned. By this account Polycarp was the twelfth Christian martyred in Smyrna and Philadelphia. Polycarp's witness and death checked the fury of people, and the proconsul suspended the persecution.
Perhaps written about 100, the epistle of Barnabas differentiated Christian worship from Jewish traditions. The epistles of Barnabas, Clement, and Polycarp, and The Shepherd of Hermas were read aloud in many churches in the second and third centuries. The popular allegory also called The Pastor of Hermas was probably written about the middle of the second century, although it was attributed to the Hermas mentioned in Paul's letter to the Romans. This book attempts to give the moral teachings of the church in a way the common people can understand.
The first book of The Shepherd of Hermas describes five visions of the narrator in which the church appears to him as a woman. He is saved for not departing from the living God because of his simplicity and self-control. The best fitting stones of the building represent the apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons who live purely and reverently. Those cut down and thrown away are the children of iniquity who believe in hypocrisy and do not depart from wickedness. The rough stones knew the truth but did not remain in it. The cracked stones are in discord and are not at peace with one another. The white and round ones that do not fit into the building are those with worldly riches who because of their wealth deny the Lord in times of tribulation; they cannot be made useful until their riches are cut down, like round stones made square. Other rejected stones represent those who refuse baptism because chastity is demanded. The tower is supported by seven women who symbolize faith, self-restraint, simplicity, honesty, chastity, intelligence, and love, which arise from each other in that sequence. Some corrupt their flesh through the abundance of food by not distributing to those who are needy.
After the narrator prays at home, a shepherd comes to him with twelve commandments, defined in the second book. They may be summarized as follows:
1) Believe in one God who created all things.
2) Be simple and honest and avoid speaking evil of anyone.
3) Love the truth and speak only what is true.
4) Guard chastity and do not think about fornication with another's wife.
5) Be patient and do not be overcome by anger.
6) Trust the attending spirit that is just, gentle, and peaceful, but disregard the spirit that is wrathful, bitter, and foolish.
7) Fear God and keep God's commandments.
8) Restrain yourself from the evils of adultery, fornication, wicked luxury, boasting, insolence, lies, hypocrisy, and slander.
9) Put away doubt and pray to God.
10) Remove grief and put on cheerfulness.
11) Test prophets by their actions and trust spiritual power which comes from God.
12) Put away wicked desires and put on the desire for justice.
The shepherd concluded that if he believed these commandments are easily kept, they would not be hard; but if he imagined they cannot be kept, then he would not keep them.
In the third book the pastor elucidates the teachings of the church with ten allegorical similitudes. Instead of buying lands, one should buy afflicted souls by visiting widows and orphans and spend one's wealth on them. The elm tree of riches does not give fruit; but it can support the vine that symbolizes the poor who intercede with God. As living trees cannot be distinguished from the dead in winter, so the just and unjust appear the same in this world; but in summer living trees bear fruit, and in the world to come the just are happier. The fasting the pastor recommends is keeping the commandments and precepts by abstaining from evil and serving the Lord with a pure heart. The voluptuous tear themselves away from God and will suffer, but the temperate are fed by the shepherd. The shepherd explains to the narrator that in repenting as the head of the household he must undergo some afflictions, but all the afflictions will end if he walks in the commandments. Eventually all will be rewarded according to their repentance and good works. Those who purify themselves with their whole heart will be healed of their former transgressions by the Lord. Yet some may become worse after knowing God, for such are more responsible for doing evil than the ignorant.
An allegory of twelve mountains categorizes believers into these groups: 1) apostates, blasphemers and those betraying servants of God; 2) hypocrites and teachers of wickedness; 3) the rich preoccupied with business; 4) the doubtful who have the Lord on their lips but not in their hearts; 5) the obstinate who learn slowly while pleasing themselves; 6) those who slander one another; 7) those who pity and help one another; 8) apostles and teachers who preach the word of God; 9) those who use the ministry to plunder widows and orphans to gain possessions for themselves; 10) bishops who gladly provide hospitality; 11) those who cheerfully lay down their lives for the son of God; and 12) those whose hearts are as pure as those of infant children. The shepherd urges everyone to heal themselves, for the Lord dwells in those who love peace. Curiously in the last section the shepherd sends virgins to live with them as sisters and brothers in a daring Christian experiment in communal living during this era.
Justin Martyr was born about 110 in Samaria although apparently he was not a Jew. He studied philosophy and became a disciple of Socrates and Plato before being won over to the good message of Jesus the Christ. His first defense of the Christian faith was addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius and his philosopher sons on behalf of all nations that are unjustly hated and abused. He began by pointing out that reason directs the truly pious and philosophical to love only what is true even if death is threatened. He adopted the Stoic idea that no evil can be done to one unless that person does evil. Justin wrote, "You can kill, but not hurt us."6 If they are not convicted of anything, reason forbids wronging blameless people. Justin considered it his obligation to inform authorities of Christian life and teachings so that he would not be complicit with their mental blindness. If those continue to do what is not just after learning the truth, they will have no excuse before God.
Nothing can be decided about good or evil merely by a name. They are accused of being Christians, but to hate what in Justin's view is excellent is unjust. They are not atheists because they believe in the one true God. Justin demanded that they be judged for their actions not simply for being Christians. Like Plato Christians believe in judgment after death, but by Christ instead of by Minos and Rhadamanthus. Justin argued therefore that Christians believe they cannot escape the knowledge of God; they live decently because of the penalties they would suffer if they did not. Formerly delighting in fornication, now they embrace chastity; formerly using magic, now they dedicate themselves to God; before they valued acquiring property, now they share with those in need; before they hated and destroyed one another, now they pray for their enemies and attempt to persuade those who hate them unjustly to live by good precepts. Justin noted that many have changed their violent and tyrannical dispositions to learn patience.
Justin noted that in the recent revolt the Jewish leader Bar-Cochba ordered Christians cruelly punished unless they would deny Jesus Christ. Justin learned from the prophets that chastisements and rewards are rendered to the merit of one's actions. He did not believe fate determined such things and argued that if it were fated to be either good or bad, one would not be capable of both opposites nor would there by so many transitions from one to the other.
In his second defense addressed to the Roman Senate, Justin compared Christ to Socrates, who was similarly accused of introducing new divinities. Justin himself had been converted from Platonism when he heard Christians slandered and saw them holding to their beliefs fearless of death. Justin prayed that his little book be published, because it is human nature to know good and evil. Those condemning Christians, whom they do not understand, and inflicting death on them are condemning themselves. In a long dialog with the Jew Trypho, Justin described how he studied Stoic, Peripatetic, Pythagorean, and Platonic philosophy and how these led him to God. A flame was kindled in his soul as he began to love the prophets and the friends of Christ. He then goes on to argue why Christianity is superior to many practices of Judaism.
Apparently the Cynic philosopher Crescens stirred up a persecution, which in 165 resulted in the martyrdom of Justin and six others who stated they were Christians. They were brought before the judgment seat of the prefect of Rome and were asked to obey the gods and submit to the Emperor. Justin replied that obeying the commandments of their savior Jesus Christ is worthy of neither blame nor condemnation. Justin explained they worship the God of the whole creation; they meet in various places; but Justin had been communicating the truth from only one particular home since he came to Rome. The prefect Rusticus asked him if he believed he would ascend to heaven after being beheaded, and Justin answered that he was convinced of that. When the prefect warned them that they would be punished if they would not sacrifice to the gods, Justin said they expected to be saved by their Lord Jesus Christ when they came before the more fearful and universal judgment-seat of their Lord. The other martyrs also refused to sacrifice to idols, and they were all led away to be scourged and decapitated according to the law.
Tatian (110-172) was an Assyrian who studied with Justin Martyr at Rome. After the death of his teacher he founded an ascetic sect emphasizing self-control referred to as the Encratites. Tatian harmonized the four gospels into one version. In his address to the Greeks Tatian wrote that humans are to be honored as fellow humans but God alone is to be feared. He suggested dying to the world by repudiating its madness while living in God by laying aside one's old nature. He believed we are not created to die, but we die by the fault of our own free will by selling ourselves into slavery through sin. God did not create evil, but we manifest wickedness. Because we have done so, we are able to reject it. We must seek and find what we have lost by uniting our soul with the Holy Spirit to attain union with God. God's perfection is without flesh, but humanity is flesh. The soul bonds with the flesh as it is enclosed within the body. Yet if the body is like a temple, God is pleased to dwell in it by its representative spirit; but if the body is not a temple, humans excel beasts only in articulate language.
Tatian criticized the profligacy of buying and selling human beings as gladiators, who kill and are killed for entertainment. Tatian turned from human slaughter and Roman religion to retire into himself so that he could discover the truth. Obeying the commands of God, Tatian rejected human opinion. Now not only the rich pursue this philosophy, but the poor are freely instructed. Thus they admit all who want to hear, including old women and the young, though the licentious are kept at a distance. Tatian eventually condemned all sexual connection as impure, thus rejecting marriage, as he did also eating of meat and drinking of wine.
Theophilus was born about 115 and was converted to Christianity by studying the holy scriptures. He was the sixth bishop of Antioch from 168 to his death in 181. According to Jerome he commented on the Gospels arranged in a harmony and on the book of Proverbs. His extant three books to Autolycus defend Christianity in much the same way as Justin Martyr did. When his friend Autolycus asked him to show him his God, he replied that if his person was shown, he would show him God. God may be seen and heard by the eyes of the soul and the ears of the heart when these are opened. Eyes of the soul covered by sin and evil deeds are blind. To see God the soul must be kept pure like a burnished mirror. Theophilus criticized the immorality of the Greco-Roman gods, citing Saturn for cannibalizing his children, Jupiter for incest and adultery, Hercules for burning himself, Bacchus for raging while drunk, and Apollo for fleeing Achilles, seducing Daphne, and neglecting Hyacinthus; Venus was wounded, and Mars pesters mortals.
About 170 Melito observed that Christians in Asia were being persecuted as never before by shameless, greedy sycophants. In 177 the churches in Lyons and Vienne of Gaul were subjected to various tortures and martyrdoms. Vettius Epagathus spoke in defense of the Christians and was executed himself for admitting he was a Christian too. The bishop Pothinus was thrown into a dungeon at the age of ninety and died after two days. In his History of the Church Eusebius included a detailed description of the martyrdoms of the virgin Blandina, Sanctus, Maturus, and Attalus by wild beasts in the arena; Roman citizens were beheaded. Because of their love of Christ and the Spirit of the Father they experienced martyrdom in joy; but the unfaithful were tormented by their conscience.
The Athenian philosopher Athenagoras is said to have been won over to Christianity while reading the scriptures in order to controvert them. He wrote a defense of Christianity and sent it to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus about 177. His treatise on resurrection also still exists. He complained to these emperors that their government allows Christians to be harassed, plundered, and persecuted for their name alone. He pleaded that they suffer unjustly, contrary to all law and reason, and he asked that this slaughter instigated by false accusers be stopped. The charge of atheism is easily refuted, because Christians worship the one God of all. Even the uneducated and old women are taught to do good works, not to strike back when struck nor go to law when robbed, to give to those who ask, to love their neighbors as themselves, and even love their enemies. Christians do not believe God requires bloody sacrifices. Athenagoras also criticized the absurd representations of the Greek gods.
In responding to outrageous charges of cannibalism and sexual orgies, Athenagoras noted that vice often has made war on virtue, citing the examples of Pythagoras and three hundred of his followers being burned to death, the banishment of Heraclitus and Democritus, and the Athenians executing Socrates. So far are the Christians from committing murder that they refuse to attend the spectacles of gladiators and believe that women using drugs to bring on abortion commit murder. Athenagoras argued that the Christian belief in immortality and an omniscient God who judges prevents them from doing wrong.
For if we believed that we should live only the present life,
then we might be suspected of sinning,
through being enslaved to flesh and blood,
or overmastered by gain or carnal desire;
but since we know that God is witness to what we think
and what we say both by night and by day,
and that He, being Himself light, sees all things in our heart,
we are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life
we shall live another life, better than the present one,
and heavenly, not earthly (since we shall abide near God,
and with God, free from all change or suffering in the soul.7
1. Mark 12: 29-31 tr. Sanderson Beck.
2. Matthew 6:9-13 tr. Sanderson Beck.
3. Ibid. 11:29-30.
4. Luke 23:46 tr. Sanderson Beck.
5. 1 Timothy 6:10 tr. Sanderson Beck.
6. The First Apology of Justin 2 tr. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, p. 163.
7. Athenagoras, A Plea for Christians 31 tr. B. P. Pratten in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2, p. 146.
This chapter has been published in the book ROMAN EMPIRE 30 BC to 610. For ordering information, please click here.