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More on After the New Testament

The following is the continuation of my Introduction (chapter 1) of my book After the New Testament. In it I start to explain each of the chapters of the book, all of which deal with a variety of aspects of Christianity in the second and third centuries. I will give the remainder of the Introduction in my next post, since I don’t want to make these too long to be manageable. After that I will talk about what I’m doing new in the second edition that I’m producing now.


It might be useful to say a word about the nature of the rubrics under which the chapters of the book are organized, and the logic of their sequencing. This need not entail a lengthy discussion: each chapter begins with a sketch of the important historical aspects of the topic, and each individual text is introduced with brief comments concerning its historical context and significance.

One of the first things to consider about early Christianity is how it spread so far and wide in its early years. Starting out as a Jewish sect — a handful of followers of Jesus of Nazareth located in the Jewish homeland of Judea — it somehow managed to convert masses of people, so that in less than three centuries it could number nearly three million adherents. But how did this happen? What did the Christians say, and how did they make their message convincing — especially to audiences that were overwhelmingly non-Jewish, that is, who were Gentiles following the various polytheistic religions scattered throughout the empire? No complete answers can be found in our surviving texts, but it may at least be worth seeing what Christians themselves said about their message and the reasons for its success. Several texts that narrate conversions to Christianity — representative of the few such texts that survive — are given in Chapter 2.


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Final Bit of The Introduction to After the New Testament
My New Edition of After the New Testament



  1. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  January 14, 2014


    This is a very rudimentary question, but given the intensity and diversity of Christian (and anti-Christian) literary production at the time, how many Christians were there by the second and third centuries to merit and accommodate all this ? Do demographics alone explain it? Were the controversies just part of the natural history of the formation of a new religion or was Christianity unique in its repercussion?

    I’m not sure I worded my question right, but you’re a textual critic… maybe you’ll get to what I originally wanted to ask! :o)


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 14, 2014

      Well, the statistics are that Christianity was growing at about 40% every decade from the time there were a few dozen followers soon after Jesus’ death until the time Constantine converted in the early fourth century, when there were about 3 million of them. So I’m not sure how many were around at this or that time, but I suppose I could just do the math! 🙂 But no, not all religions had such serious controversies. for Christians the doctrinal stakes were higher than any other religion, since if you got your doctrine wrong, you were going to roast in hell. Pretty serious motivation not to subscribe to wrong views….

      • Avatar
        Hank_Z  January 14, 2014

        Bart, I did the math for you.

        Assuming 2 dozen followers at 30 CE and a growth rate of 40% each decade, there would have been about 210,000 followers at 300 CE. (All calculated numbers of followers rounded to the nearest 10,000.)
        Assuming 3 dozen followers at 30 CE…320,000 followers at 300 CE.
        Assuming 4 dozen followers at 30 CE…420,000 followers at 300 CE.
        Assuming 5 dozen followers at 30 CE…530,000 followers at 300 CE.

        So, assuming 2 to 5 dozen followers at 30 CE and a 40% growth rate per decade, the number of followers at 300 CE would have been roughly 200,000 to 500,000.

        I was a CPA and financial analyst during my career. I can send you the simple spreadsheet if you want it.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 15, 2014

          Hmmm, I need to look at how Rodney Stark gets to 3 million. I think he counts on 1000 Christians by the year 40, but I’m not sure….

          • Avatar
            Hank_Z  January 15, 2014

            If he starts with 1,000 Christians at 40 CE and assumes a 40% increase per decade, he’d get to 3.2 million at 280 CE and 6.1 million at 300 CE.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  January 16, 2014

            Well, we’re getting closer then….

          • Avatar
            Hank_Z  January 15, 2014

            P.S. If you assume 1,000 Christians at 40 CE, the total will approximate 3 million Christians at 300 CE if they growth rate each decade is 36%.

          • Avatar
            donmax  January 17, 2014

            Statistics are almost always unreliable and highly suspect. The conclusions frequently come from ill-defined, sometimes arbitrary presumptions that produce misleading and/or perfidious outcomes. With the right start they can easily be manipulated to a desired end, and vice versa. Does anybody really know how many “followers” of Jesus there were in the third decade of the first century? And as for “Christians,” I calculate the number in the neighborhood of “one.” 😉

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 14, 2014

    This is good stuff which has certainly not been taught in any of the dozens of churches I have attended where the main teaching seems to be that there was one Christianity and eventually divisions occurred.. Keep going.

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  January 15, 2014

      If there was one to start, it was James’ group at Qumran. Paul can be seen sniping at them in his letters and their comments on him as “Spouter of Lying” in Habakkuk Pesher, Nahum Pesher, and the Damascus Document. Read Robert Eisenman. Note that he repeatedly asserts that he “does not lie”, “I am not lying”, Romans 3:7, 9:1, 2 Cor. 11:31, Galatians 1:20, 1 Timothy 2:7, also a slew in 1 John showing that Pauline author nearly obsessed with ‘lying’. Paul was the ‘Liar’, he divided the Church. See this too. Del Tondo covers Genesis 49:27, Paul as the “Ravening Wolf”. JesusWordsOnly. com My website: judaswasjames.com

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 14, 2014

    Can I ask a couple questions that don’t pertain to this topic? The questions seem dumb even to me, but they keep bugging me.

    We know with reasonable certainty that Jesus was executed on the day preceding a Sabbath; and he’s said to have risen from the dead on the day after the Sabbath. We naturally refer to those days as “Friday” and “Sunday.” But what would Jesus’s Jewish contemporaries have called them? Did they even *have* names for specific days of the week?

    And…it’s always been my understanding that if Jesus’s supporters were allowed to claim his body, they had to bury it (or stow it somewhere) before the Sabbath. They couldn’t do such a thing *on* the Sabbath. But that preceding day was the Feast of Passover! It *was* permissible to bury someone on Passover? Even a day of that importance was considered less “sacred” than the Sabbath?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 15, 2014

      Great question! I didn’t know the answer, so I asked two of my colleagues who work in Ancient Judaism, and this is what they tell me:

      I think it is safe to say that ancient Jews would have followed the biblical Hebrew terms that are still used in Hebrew today – Sunday is “Day One” in Hebrew (Yom Rishon), Monday is “Day Two” (Yom Sheni), etc., until you get to Saturday which is Shabbat (presumably with something analogous in Aramaic). Friday would have been referred to as `erev shabbat, “Shabbat eve.” The day after Shabbat could have just been referred to as “after Shabbat,” ‘ahar ha-shabbat.

      On your second question: very good point!!

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