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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: February 2019

16 - Theology in the patristic era (c. 100–500)

from PART III - HISTORICAL SURVEY OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY

Summary

THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIANITY

The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ initiated a new religious movement in human history. The band of followers attracted by “the Way” of Jesus (see Acts 9:2) quickly became a “church,” claiming to experience through the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit the liberating power of God. This new movement, however, did not arise in a vacuum, but sprouted from particularly Jewish roots within a Greco-Roman cultural matrix.

The Jewish roots of Christianity

The genesis of the Christian church is inseparably linked to the history of Israel, not only its classical period as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, but also the period known as Second Temple Judaism, which produced the intertestamental literature. Jesus was hailed by his followers as the Davidic kingly Messiah or Christ who would restore the fortunes of Israel, a nation that for centuries had labored under foreign rule. Christians saw in Jesus the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel by the God who chose the Hebrew people in Abraham, brought them out of Egypt, and pledged the nation's future vindication. NT writers therefore interpreted the life of Jesus by appeal to the Jewish scriptural texts, later known in Christianity as the “Old Testament.” By Jesus' time, the covenant people were known as the “Jews,” named after the descendants of the remnant of the southern tribes of Israel (i.e., Judah) who had returned to the promised land of Palestine after the Babylonian exile of 586 bce.