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 scholars) claim that it was Paul himself who started Christianity. I think that is going too far, in fact maybe way too far, for reasons that will become apparent in this post and the next.
Occasionally Paul will give us some clues about pre-Pauline Christianity. One of the most important passages is in Galatians 1, where he discusses his own “about face,” when he turned from being a persecutor of the faith to being its great apostle. In Gal. 1:13 Paul reminds his readers that they know what he was like before he had come to believe in Christ: “For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, that I was persecuting the church of God beyond all measure and trying to destroy it.”
Paul here indicates that his first contact with the Christian church was hostile. He persecuted it to the extreme and was attempting to wipe it off the map. There are a couple of conclusions that can be drawn from this brief statement (Paul is reminding his hearers of what they already knew, so he doesn’t need to explain any further what he has in mind; but how we wish we ourselves knew!). One is that “the church of God” (which for Paul always means the *Christian* church) existed before he belonged to it. Otherwise he couldn’t persecute it. Moreover, he gives no indication that the church that he was persecuting was located in Judea. In fact, several verses later he indicates that the Christian churches “in Judea” did not know what he even looked like (1:22). That suggests …
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