Chapter 4 Christianity
Perspectives on the Christian Bible
Inerrancy: this word means exemption from error. It connects with the belief that the
bible is not subject to error. If we correctly translated the message there can’t be any
Literalism: it means that every word is literally true. If we believe in inerrancy we also
believe in literalism.
Historical- critical: it’s a method of interpretation. A Christian method to discover the
biblical author’s original intended meaning.
Mosaic: it means small pieces of tiles stuck together. Jesus is like mosaic. We don’t
know who he is. All religions have interpretations about him and we have joined every
piece to have a composite picture of Jesus.
Spiritual kingdom: forgiveness, atonement and loving others
Missionary tradition: more and more people traveling together to have universal idea.
Christianity has two commandments: love neighbors (Christians) and love god.
The Gospels and Jesus
In Mark’s biography, a Roman soldier calls Jesus, while he was being cruciﬁed, that He
as truly a son of God. It is ﬁtting that a roman soldier and not a Christian called Jesus a
son of God because within generations after Jesus, the Christians decided that their
message was for everyone, not just Jews. In that decision lay the seeds of Christianity’s
development as one of the world’s great missionary religions.
Since Jesus was born in a time when there were not formal records, most of what we
know comes from records of his followers produced a generation after his career. It is
widely agreed that Jesus was born in 4 BCE in a Palestinian town called Nazareth. He
learned his father’s trade of stone working or carpentry. At the age of 30 he began to
proclaim religious teachings and attract followers. At about 33, he went to Jerusalem
where he came into confrontation with the authorities. He was apprehended, tried and
executed by being nailed to the cross.
More than 3 centuries later, when Christianity became an established religion, church
leaders listed the writings acknowledged to be scripture. The standard list of boos and
letters is what Christians know as the New Testament. It includes the 4 gospels that had
achieved universal acceptance throughout Christianity. But in the late ﬁrst and early
second centuries, when these and some other gospels were written and circulated, the
situation was much more ﬂuid. It is helpful to think of each gospel coming from an
individual author with a particular interpretation and an intended readership.
It is the simplest and most straightforward gospel. It is also considered to be the earliest
of the gospels that eventually became a part of the canon. His account starts from Jesus’
mature life. It recounts how John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and Jesus begins his
preaching in the region of Galilee. His local reputation increases and he insists that
Sabbath is made for the people, not people for Sabbath. This creates a rift between
Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus selects 11 of his best followers and they go to Jerusalem.
During the course of a week, he disputes with the religious authorities, celebrates the
Passover and is betrayed by one of his followers, Judas. He is tried and executed.
German scholars came up with a hypothetical source that they presumed was not
recorded in History but was used by Mark and Luke when writing their Gospels. It contained teaching of Jesus. This document was named “Q” by the German scholars, the
initial letter of Quelle which is the German word for source.
Luke’s gospel contained two chapters not present in Mark’s gospel. It recounts that
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and when Jesus was born, Angels came to pay their
respects. Luke wanted to portray Jesus as a person who was destined to become the
messiah because the circles in which Luke was writing had a tendency to use messianic
themes. Declarations and Omens would serve well to strengthen any case that Jesus was
the long-awaited messiah. On the contrary, Mark portrayed Jesus as a person who
decided to preach as an adult decision after the baptism. Luke’s gospel attracted more
people because he presented Jesus as being important to the gentile world too. Luke
also has more details of the cruciﬁxion. He states that Jesus was charged for inciting
rebellion by claiming kingship.
As a writer, Mathew is clearly claiming a Jewish audience with his claims of Jewish
messiahship. Mathew claims that Jesus was a descendant of King David but his mother
Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit rather than Joseph. This sets the stage for
Christianity’s one of the more problematic teachings, the virgin birth of Jesus.
Despite their differences, the 3 gospels of Mark, Luke and Mathew have a fair bit in
common when compared with the one of John. The ﬁrst three are sometimes called the
“synoptic Gospel”. Compared with the others John’s Gospel is a theological essay. He
wanted to present not just the narrative but its cosmic signiﬁcance. John declared Jesus
as the divine present in ﬂesh and blood among us. In Mark’s narration, Jesus would
neither deny nor conﬁrm his kingship but in John’s narration, Jesus would openly state
it. John stated that salvation was the goal of humanity who needed to be delivered from
the constraints of our condition.
From Sect to Church
The small circle of Jesus’ disciples who were left at the time bears little resemblance to
the Church of Rome. After Jesus’ cruciﬁxion, his followers started to preach to different
people. Slowly Christians also reached a general consensus that circumcision was not a
requirement. After the destruction of the temple at 70, Christians started to distance
themselves further from the Jews.
The principle ﬁgure to shape the direction of the early church was not one of Jesus’ 11
followers but an educated and sophisticated convert who took the name Paul. Paul
learned about Christianity by reading Luke’s account and he started preaching in the
Eastern Mediterranean Diaspora Jewish communities. He preached a message that
gentiles alike were heirs in Christ to the promise of God. He stressed that salvation was
not obtained by following Jewish rules but through faith in Jesus as the messiah. It was
not through morally-correct action, but through trusting faith, that people could be
saved. Paul continued his correspondence with these scattered converted communities
with the means of letters. Paul’s letters which came at a time before the gospels are the
earliest Christian literature and had a formative effect on Christian Theology.
He contrasted life ‘in the spirit’, that is, life is centered on lasting religious values with
the life of the ﬂesh. He preached that we needed the grace the God if we were to live in
spirit. Paul left us the idea of taking our bodies negatively, as something to be repressed
and controlled which is a major issue in later Christian theology.
Under Constantine, came a shift of policy that forever changed Christianity’s place in the
world. He switched from persecuting Christians to issuing an edict in 313 giving them liberty to practice their religion, to later giving them state support and patronage. It is
often considered that Constantine had a vision of the cross right before a decisive battle
in 312. This inspired him to take up Christianity. However this is argued because he
allowed the inﬂuence of Christianity to grow in his empire before his vision. There was a
gradual increase of Christian inﬂuence couple with a gradual removal of pagan symbols
Whatever the religious motives, Constantine must have been politically shrewd to
recognize that the Church had the potential for stability that his empire needed. The
Church had dispersed throughout his empire and had developed a system of regional
government which were supervised by Bishops. It was arriving at a coherent sense of
teaching and its followers had remarkable sense of discipline, both institutional and
Still Christianity did not replace paganism overnight. Christianity spread in towns and
through trade routes while rural areas still followed the old ways. Christianity was made
the official language of the empire by Theodosius. The consequences of the official
religion were far reaching. People could practice Christianity freely. The practice of
baptizing infants became normal. No longer were bishops chosen they were appointed
by the ruler. The state’s enforcement of laws extended to areas of conduct that had
previously been only concerns of religion; what had been sins became crimes.
With state patronage Christians no longer worshipped in houses or in seclusion. Now
there was an emperor ready to erect sanctuaries and shrines appropriate to the Church’s
The cross, Christianity’s chief symbol was seldom found in buildings before
Constantine, but it came into widespread use during his time. Cruciﬁxion of criminals
Creeds and the Trinity
Christians have deﬁned themselves as followers of a creed: believing such-and-such
about Jesus or God and the word and they have expected other traditions to be
formulated in terms of belief as well. In the early third century a formulation known as
the Apostle’s Creed was coming into use. The apostles were the ﬁrst generation of the
Christian Church. The other best known formulation is the Nicene Creed, named for the
Council of Nicaea. Both of these two creeds covered almost the same topics. The Nicene
Creed was more speciﬁc and more inclined to mention the Spirit along with God, the
father and Christ, the son as part of a triadic list. This reﬂects the emergence of the
explicit doctrine of the Trinity, a central Christian teaching and a problematic one. Its
roots came from the insistently resisted monotheistic Judaic tradition, and Christians
wanted to resist the idea of plurality of distinct Gods. However they have wanted to
maintain a plurality of divine “persons” or divine manifestations.
Christianity today often think of the Trinity as a doctrine present in their tradition form
its very beginning, almost as though foreordained by God from the foundation of the
world. Actually, the Trinity as such is hardly mentioned in the New Testament. The text
there speaks of God as Father and Christ as Son and talks about God’s spirit but never
puts the three together in an explicit list. To settle of a doctrine that would hold the
three in balance but still preserve the monotheistic stance took the church several
The emerging doctrine of the Trinity dominated the discussions in the early fourth
century. Such importance came due to the politicization of doctrine as a consequence of
the emergence of Christianity as the empire’s established religion. Doctrinal issues were
rallying points around which regional and personal rivalries for Church leadership
In the context of doctrinal development, it is important to understand what is orthodoxy
and heresy. Heresy is when continues to preach an idea which has been rejected by the
community or society. Orthodoxy is the consensus one affirms with the wisdom of
hindsight as having been intended all along. What was permitted by consensus could change over time. For example, Paul of
Samosata was chosen as Bishop of Antichoh due to his theological insight. He believed
in the binitarian theology of God as Father and Son. However when Trinitarian theology
developed, the very idea that lead to his appointment was thought to be heretical and he
was removed. There were other conﬂicting ideas too. The bishop of Alexandria, Arius,
believed that the Son came after the Father. There was another bishop, Athanasius, who
believed on the coeternity and coequality of father and son. On the assumption that a
uniﬁed Church would promote stability in his empire Constantine called the bishops to
meet in Nicaea, with one of the agendas being the dispute between Arius and
Athanasius. Ultimately the ideas of Arius failed. Though they did not die out completely,
and they gained inﬂuence Teutonic Tribes. Ultimately the Teutonic Tribes converted to
Catholicism in 495.
Orthodoxy in the Greek world
The council of Chalcedon in 451 was composed almost exclusively of eastern bishops.
They believed that the incarnate Christ was one person but with both divine and human
nature. The main portion of the Eastern Empire remained orthodox within the term of
the Chalcedon’s doctrinal formulation. The Byzantine, or Eastern Roman Empire, was a
comparatively stable and prosperous religion and they were doing better intellectually
and culturally than the western Romans. Byzantium lasted for more than a thousand
years after Constantine until 1453. Even after the invasion by the Turks, the religion was
not wiped out.
Byzantine Art and Theology
The inﬂuence on the Byzantine imperial traditions can be seen in pictorial
representations of Jesus. After the patronage introduced by Constantine, Jesus was no
longer portrayed as a young shepherd but as an older bearded king, or a judge, attired
in robes reﬂecting the dignity of his office. There is also a more inﬂuence of the symbol
of glory, the halo or nimbus. The origin of the halo comes from the association of the
revered ﬁgure with the radiance of the unobscurred sun. the ﬁgure of Jesus is promoted
further in Byzantine Art. Christ is now represented as enthroned in the heavens the ruler
of creation. Such representations create a more distinguished appearance than the
carpenter from Nazareth who was cruciﬁed when only in his thirties.
The orthodox churches such as Greek and Russian, developed portraits of Jesus, Mary
and other religious ﬁgures which are called icons. It comes from the Greek word for
image. It can be an entirely two-dimensional painting, often on a piece of wood or it
might be overlaid in low relief, in wood or precious metal and ornamented with jewels.
While the robs of the ﬁgure were executed in relief, the hands and face characteristically
remained two dimensional so that the ﬂesh of the portrait peek through what amount to
openings in the relief.
In an orthodox sanctuary, a screen, three times the persons height shields the alter
which is called iconostasis or place for icons. Small icons are hung in private homes.
Rome and Constantinople
With the passage of time after the council of Chalcedon in 451, Greek and Latin
Christianity grew further and further apart. The underlying differences were mostly
language and culture, but again, theological formulation provided the rallying point for
primarily political differences. The issue was the single word “ﬁlioque” (Latin, “and from
the son”). The Greeks believed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the God, the Father
but the Romans believed the Holy Spirit came from the Father and the Son.