Encountering the New Testament, 4th Edition

A Historical and Theological Survey

series: Encountering Biblical Studies


13. The World and Identity of the Earliest Church

Part 2 Intro Video

Chapter Intro Video

Chapter Objectives

  • Assess the role of the Roman emperor
  • List and characterize the key emperors of the New Testament era
  • Evaluate the reigns of the emperors of the New Testament era
  • Discuss the effects of the emperors on the early church
  • Define Hellenization
  • Identify the philosophies that the early church encountered
  • Explain the beliefs of early Christians

Chapter Summary

  1. The dominant military and political power of the first century was centered in Rome.

  2. The early church suffered at the hands of several of the Roman emperors, especially Nero and Domitian.

  3. The first century produced conditions that made the spread of Christianity possible: there was relative peace, Greek was the common language, social order made travel safe, and roads and sea routes were increasing.

  4. The Roman Empire was dominated by Hellenistic features that affected the growth of Christianity: the use of Greek as a common language, the development of cities, and religious syncretism.

  5. Religion in the world of the Roman Empire was characterized by belief in the occult and astrology.

  6. The early church had to deal with the influence of a variety of philosophies, especially Stoicism, Cynicism, and Skepticism.

  7. The disciples were transformed at Pentecost.

  8. The majority of early Christians remained in Jerusalem and worshiped there.

  9. Early Christians viewed themselves as the people of God and inheritors of Old Testament promises.

  10. Early Christians held a variety of distinctive beliefs, but the critical common beliefs were Jesus’s divine uniqueness and his saving death and resurrection.

Study Questions

  1. List five questions that knowledge of the first-century Roman world can help answer.

  2. Who are the Roman emperors mentioned by name in the New Testament?

  3. What is meant by the term “Pax Romana”?

  4. List some ways that Roman civilization was influenced by Hellenism.

  5. What was Stoicism? How did it differ from Christianity?

  6. Why did tensions arise between the early Christians, nearly all of whom were Jewish, and other Jews?

  7. In what ways were the Old Testament Scriptures foundational to the faith of early Christians?

  8. What were the main distinguishing features of early Christian belief? In what ways was Jesus Christ central?