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What Is the Didache & When Was the Didache Written

What is the Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay)? In the recent exchange that I posted on the blog (dealing with the existence of Q) the document known as the Didache was mentioned. Especially by guest contributor Alan Garrow, who thinks that the Didache was a source used by the authors of Matthew and Luke.  I think even Alan will agree that this is a highly anomalous view; I don’t know of any other scholar who accepts it (though if Alan knows of any who do, I’m sure he can tell us in a comment).  The Didache is almost always assumed to have quoted the Gospels – or at least the traditions found in the Gospels – not vice versa. I realized this morning that I haven’t talked about it much on the blog.  I better do so! What is the Didache I published a translation of the Didache (the title means “Teaching”) in my two-volume edition of the Apostolic Fathers in 2003, in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press).   In that edition, I talk about what [...]

More on Numbers of Converts

In case you didn’t read the post of yesterday, I include the final two paragraphs here.  Skip them if you remember what I said.  The issue I’m dealing with is how much and how fast did the Christian church grow over the first four centuries.   I would very much like your feedback, and if you’re a numbers person, I would love it if you would check my calculations to see if I’m making any egregious errors.   All of this is lifted, again, from a rough draft of ch. 6 of my book on the Christianization of the Roman Empire ****************************************************** Thus it appears that the beginning of the Christian movement saw a veritable avalanche of conversions.  Possibly many of these are the direct result of the missionary activities of Paul.  But there may have been other missionaries like him who were also successful.   And so let’s simply pick a sensible rate of growth, and say that for the first forty years, up to the time when Paul wrote his last surviving letter, the church grew [...]

Back to the Question of How Many People Converted

I want to return to the question of how quickly the Christian church grew in the first four centuries.  This will be part of chapter 6 of my book on the Triumph of Christianity.   If you want a fuller background to what I say in this post and the one to follow, see my earlier musings on May 16 of this year, at In two posts I’m going to lay out what I think we can say both about how many people became Christian and at approximately what rate.  For those of you who are math whizzes, I would love for you to check my calculations to see if I’m making mistakes.  For everyone I would love to hear your comments on my claims and hypotheses.   This is a draft of that part of my chapter, with part two to come tomorrow.  As you will see, I begin in medias res. *************************************************************** As a result of these considerations, I want to suggest some minor tweaks in the way we understand the rate of Christian [...]

The Resurrection and the Beginning of the Church

In my book on the Christianization of the Empire, I probably will not be talking about *how*, exactly, Christianity started.   That’s a very thorny issue and not directly germane to what I want to do in the book.   And I’ve talked about it a bit in a couple of my other books, especially How Jesus Became God and Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. In the former book my main interest was precisely what the title indicates.   There I argued that the key event that made the followers of Jesus come to think that he was a divine being was their experience of the resurrection.   Looked at from another angle, though, that moment can be considered the key not only to later Christian views of Jesus, but also to the question of when Christianity started as a distinct set of beliefs and practices.  Before the resurrection-belief, there was nothing about Jesus followers that would differentiate them in any truly significant way from other Jews.  After the belief there was. That may, of course, be granting too [...]

2020-04-03T03:37:18-04:00May 27th, 2016|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

How Did Christianity Start?

I wish we knew how many people “started” Christianity. Before I reflect on this issue, let me say some things about definitions and terms, specifically the terms “Christianity” and “Christian.” A lot of scholars object to using the term “Christianity” for the first followers of Jesus who came to believe that he got raised from the dead. Once they believed this, these scholars say, these people didn’t actually become “Christian.” They were still fully Jews, Jews who believed that Jesus was the messiah. “Christianity,” in this opinion, is a later development when these believers in Jesus developed their own religion that was distinct from Judaism. Christianity doesn’t exist, in this view, until you have some kind of set of distinctive Christian beliefs and practices (such as baptism, eucharist, weekly meetings, and so on). And so often scholars will talk about the “Jesus Movement” during the early years and decades after Jesus’ death. I see the force of this view, but I have to admit that for my part, I’ve never had qualms about calling the [...]

2024-03-06T21:07:45-05:00May 26th, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

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 there were twice as many as we have any evidence for); and he agrees that if Christianity started out with about 1000 believers in the year 40 then with a growth rate of 3.4% per year, by the year 100 there would be just over 7000 Christians in the world. That would mean the 100 churches would have an average of 70 believers.  (Some of course would be larger – think, Rome – others would be much smaller; we’re talking averages here.  And if Rome did have, say 120 believers, they would be meeting [...]

2020-04-03T03:37:36-04:00May 24th, 2016|History of Christianity (100-300CE), Public Forum|

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) often at odds with each other. But even more than that, even within one city – if it was large enough (think Rome or Antioch for example) there would have been more than one church.  And why?  Because there would have been too many people to meet in one place. The first time we have any evidence of a church “building” – that is, what we today normally think of as a church (the Baptist church on the corner; the Methodist church up the street) – is not until the middle of the third Christian [...]

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% per decade, or, as Hopkins prefers putting it 3.4%). Obviously, as I’ve stated, but need to stress again, we cannot be and are not really thinking that there was a steady rate of growth, that every year there was the same percentage of increase.   We’re talking big numbers over a long range of time, so the *average* rate of growth is just that, an average.  Some years there may have been a loss of numbers, other years a huge spike.  So take that as given.  But if we *were* talking about a steady rate, there [...]

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. This meant, among other things, that most people who called themselves Christian were not really Christian.   Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians – most of them were not really Christians.  Roman Catholics were certainly not Christians.   Greek Orthodox?  Not even close.  Mormons?  You gotta be kidding. At the time I knew people who had an even more rigorous definition: if you did not know the exact day and hour in which you had accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you hadn’t done so, and were not saved.   Some were even more strict: you not only had to have accepted Christ, you had to have been baptized by immersion – dunked in the water, as an adult.  Anyone who had not [...]

Dates of the Gospels

EMAIL QUESTION How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I've read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors? I've heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate? How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct period is) since it is usually described as independent of the other Gospels? RESPONSE This is a great question, and one that I get asked a lot.  How do we actually know when the Gospels were written?   It is actually a difficult question to answer, but the things you’ve already read and heard cover some of the important territory. So let’s start on some basics that I think everyone can agree on.   (Well, [...]

2020-04-03T19:43:50-04:00May 7th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|
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