Student Papers



Summer Sumner 2013

Paul wrote the book of Romans during the early First Century.  During the early First Century, the gospel spread quickly all across the Roman Empire, and beyond. This spread of the gospel was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  But there were also social, political, and religious conditions in the early First Century that were perfect for the spread of the gospel.  In the early First Century, Rome was the center of the known world.  There were many ethnic groups represented in Rome, and each brought their own ideas and beliefs.   Christianity rapidly spread outward from Rome despite persecution because of the ideal conditions in the early First Century.

Rome in the first century was home to many different people groups from many different regions of the Roman Empire.  These people groups tended to live in separate areas of the city from other people groups.  Each people group had their own customs and religions; so Rome was very tolerant of new religions and ideas, as long as the Roman gods were worshiped as well.  Many people from different regions of the Roman Empire also traveled to and passed through Rome; so new ideas could spread from Rome out to other places.  Information and ideas could spread out from Rome along the well-made Roman roads, or along sea trade routes.  Early Christians could easily travel from place to place where people were tolerant of new religions (Holzapfel).

The Jews in Rome tended to live together in the same area of the city, but there was no internal structure.  There were many Jewish synagogues in Rome; but they were independent of each other.  The synagogues were not organized under a central Jewish religious government the way they were in Israel.  This situation was perfect for the spread of Christianity in Rome.  Many of the early Christians were Jews, so they started preaching the gospel in synagogues.  Because the synagogues were not organized, there was no religious government dictating what could and could not be preached in the synagogues.   According to New Testament scholar Richard Holzapfel, “Only central authority could have revoked permission for Jewish-Christian missionaries to remain in the independent congregations. Because Roman synagogues had no such authority, Christian missionary activity was possible with little effective hindrance” (Holzapfel).

Although Judaism was not popular among the Roman upper-class, there was a significant number of non-Jew Romans who were attracted to the teachings of Judaism.  They were called as “God-Fearers” by the Jewish Population (Holzapfel).  God-Fearers were people who believed in God, but who had not fully converted to Judaism.  The many rules and requirements of Judaism kept them from fully converting, but they read the scriptures and prayed to God.  Many of these God-Fearers converted to Christianity because it was a faith they could follow without adopting all the rigid rules and practices of Judaism.  Christianity was a way they could follow God without all the burdens of following the Old Testament law. 

The Romans were also very tolerant of new religions, as long as the Roman deities were worshiped as well.  The Romans worshiped a variety of gods and goddesses.  The Roman Emperor was also worshiped as a god.  Religious devotion was viewed as loyalty to Rome and the Emperor. According to New Testament scholar Richard Holzapfel; “Roman religion focused on the public or state priesthood, personal expression, and household and family observance” (Holzapfel).  As long as people acknowledged the Roman gods along with their own religious practices, Rome was very tolerant of different religions.

However, there were limits to the Romans tolerance of other religions. Christians had church services in homes and often held services in secret, so there began to be rumors about Christian religious practices. Christians were distrusted because of the rumors about their practices.  Christians were accused of being cannibals because of a rumor that Christians literally ate the flesh and drank the blood of Christ during communion services.  There were also rumors of incest because Christians greeted each other as brother and sister.  Christians did not sacrifice to the Roman gods; which was thought to put the state in danger by invoking the wrath of the gods. Christians were also thought to be traitors because they refused to demonstrate loyalty to Rome by sacrificing to the Emperor (Lunn-Rockliffe).

Christians in Rome were first publically persecuted in 64 A.D.  A terrible fire broke out that destroyed a large portion of the city.  Nero was the Roman Empire at this time; and he was very unpopular with the people of Rome.  There began to be rumors that Nero started the fire himself.  Nero did benefit from the fire; he built a large palace for himself where the other buildings had been burned down.  Rome was so crowded with grand architecture that there was hardly any free space left in the city; without the fire, there would not have enough room in the city for Nero to build such a large palace (Sumner).

To divert the people’s anger away from him, Nero accused the Christians of starting the fire. Christians were already viewed as traitors to Rome because they did not sacrifice to the Roman gods; so it was easy for the people of Rome to believe that the Christians were responsible for the fire.  Nero ordered many Christians to be killed.  Many Christians were killed in the arena for entertainment; they were killed by wild animals and burned alive (Lunn-Rockliffe; Sumner).

Despite persecution, Christianity kept growing and spreading.  In fact, persecution seemed to make Christianity stronger and spread faster.  People saw that Christians were willing to die for their faith; and wondered how their faith could be that strong.  Many people in Rome must have started thinking that Christianity must be the truth if so many people were willing to die for what they believed in.  Persecution made the Christians stronger in their faith because they had to consider whether or not they were willing to die for Christianity.  Even though they were persecuted, Christians kept spreading the gospel.  “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10: 13-14, the Holy Bible).

In this day and age, Christians are not persecuted in many parts of the world.  There are still places where Christians are persecuted, but those places seem very remote to us here in America.  In America, we have freedom of religion.  Christians get made fun of sometimes, but we do not have any real danger to worry about at this point in history.  The church in America is not really growing; it has become lukewarm. “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.  Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done” (Ezekiel 16: 49 – 51, the Holy Bible).  Christians in America have become content and complacent; and many people are unconcerned about the suffering in other parts of the world.  Americans have become arrogant, and they feel like they do not need God in their lives.

In places where Christians are persecuted, like China, the church is growing quickly.  Persecution should not be necessary in order for the church to grow.  The church should be able to grow even more in America because Christians are not persecuted.  The reasons Christianity was able to spread so quickly in ancient Rome was because of good transportation and tolerance of new religions as long as people still sacrificed to the Roman gods.  In America today, we have planes, cars, cellphones, and internet; as well as total religious freedom. There is no reason why the church in America should not be growing. In order for the church in America to grow, we need to be as on fire for God as the early Christians were in the First Century.  “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37, the Holy Bible).

Works Cited

Holy Bible, The. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1990. Print.

Holzapfel, Richard Neitzel. The Maxwell Institute. “The Social Context of First-Century

Roman Christianity.” n.d. Web. 10 Apr 2013.

Lunn-Rockliffe, Dr. Sophie. BBC History. “Christianity and the Roman Empire.” 17 Feb

2011.  Web.  10 Apr 2013.

Sumner, Laura. (Homeschool Teacher).  Personal Interview. 8 Apr 2013.