Paul as a Persecutor of the Church

The questions of what early Christianity originally *was* and of how it got *started* are closely related to one another.   Both questions are also closely tied to the life, beliefs, and writings of Paul, for one very good reason: Paul is the first Christian author whose writings survive.   Any discussion of Christianity before his time needs to consider at some length what he has to say.  I should point out as well that a lot of modern people (including some ...

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How Many Christians Could Read?

How many Christians by near the end of the New Testament period – say, 100 CE – could read and write?   In his intriguing article “Christian Number and Its Implications,” Roman historian Keith Hopkins tries to come up with some ball park figures.

As you may recall, he is assuming that there were Christian churches in about 100 communities in the world at the time (we have references to about 50 in our surviving texts, and he is supposing that maybe ...

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How Many Churches? How Many Letters?

In his important and stimulating article, “Christian Number and Its Implications,” Roman historian Keith Hopkins next begins to think about the implications about the size of the Christian church at different periods.  One point to emphasize is that there was not simply one church.  There were lots of churches in lots of places, and it is a myth to think that they were all one big cohesive bunch.  On the contrary, they were often (as we see in our records) ...

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How Significant Was Early Christianity?

I return now to Roman historian Keith Hopkins’s fascinating and influential article “Christian Number and It’s Implications.”   As I pointed out, for the sake of his article, and after checking it out for plausibility, Hopkins accepts the calculations of Rodney Stark that if Christianity started with 1000 believers in the year 40 CE, and ended up being 10% of the empire (60 million believers) by the time of the Emperor Constantine, you would need a growth rate of about 40% ...

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Whom Do We Consider a Christian?

Who counts as a Christian?   When I was a hard-core evangelical at Moody Bible Institute, we had a pretty clear and straightforward answer:  if you have not been born again and accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you were not a Christian.  No matter what you believed or where you worshiped or how you lived.

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Playing with the Numbers (of Christians)

I have been musing on the rate of growth of the Christian church during the first three hundred years, and have pointed out some problems with Rodney Stark’s discussion.   I won’t go over all that again here.   I will say that his argument tends to be very convenient for his … argument.  What he points out is that a growth rate over time of about 40% grows the church from about 1000 Christians in the year 40 (that’s a number ...

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How Many Christians Were There?

There are a lot of things that I’m really very interested in that I’m not very good at.  As a kid I was passionate about baseball.  I was an All Star every year up to high school, but I really wasn’t all that great.  I was just better than most of the other kids, who *really* weren’t great.  It was a rather low bar.  Same with tennis.  Same with a lot of things – even into adulthood.

As an adult I’ve ...

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The Rate of Christian Growth

I have been discussing the fascinating article by Keith Hopkins, “Christian Number and Its Implications,” about how many people converted to Christianity at certain points of time (say, from ten years after Jesus’ death to the time the emperor Constantine converted in the year 312).  As we have seen so far, the first problem Hopkins deals with is how to count – that is, who counts as a Christian?  Hopkins takes the (in my opinion) justifiable and sensible view that ...

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Christians and their Exaggerated Numbers

I have started discussing the fascinating article by Keith Hopkins, “Christian Number and Its Implications” (see my post of two days ago).   After discussing some of the problems with knowing how to “count” Christians (i.e., who counts as a Christian), he reflects for a bit on the problems presented to us by our sources of information.   The basic problem is that our sources don’t *give* us much information!   No one from the early Christian church was a statistician and no ...

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Who Counts as a Christian?

To start on my reflections on the rise and spread of Christianity, it might be useful to talk for a while about a particular article that has been highly influential both for my own thinking and more broadly in the contemporary discussion among scholars.   The article was written by a prominent and deservedly acclaimed British historian, Keith Hopkins, a long-time professor at Cambridge University.  It was called “Christian Number and Its Implication,” and it appeared in the Journal of Early ...

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