The Life of Christians in the Early Roman Empire

Fr. Barnabas EichorFaith Formation

A class with Fr. Barnabas

Class begins in September…check back in August for class times!

Course Description

During the last few months I offered a class on “Thee World Jesus Knew,” which covered the historical background and setting of Israel at the time of Christ. The class covered the origins of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Samaritans and many other groups of people one finds referred to in the New Testament. That class also covered how Herod the Great came into power and why he rebuilt the Temple at his own expense, as well as many other topics that help the students understand the historical context in which the New Testament was written. The class was popular and the students felt that it helped improve their understanding of the New Testament. Because of the popularity of the class I have decided that, starting in September, I will “continue the story” by giving a class on what life was like for the first generations of Christians to follow after the passing of the Lord’s first twelve disciples and the death of St. Paul.

Saints Peter and Paul where martyred around 64 A.D., the other disciples, with the exception of John the Evangelist, had also all been martyred by this time. John the Evangelist died sometime in 80-90 A.D. After the deaths of the Lord’s disciples the first Christians were now on their own. What was life like for these first Christians? In a word, very hard.

Life was dangerous for the earliest Christians. For one thing, to be employed in the Roman Empire meant being a member of a labor guild. A labor guild had a specific Roman god that they were required to worship—doing so was illegal, Christians could not worship the gods of Rome—so they could not work. Further, Romans were required to worship and appease the gods of Rome and obtain the favors of the gods and that doing so is what made the Roman Empire so great and powerful. Christians, again, could not commit such idolatrous acts and so, as the Empire declined and Christianity grew, the Christians would increasingly be seen as the cause of Rome’s decline which then led to, at times, very intense persecution. So how did this “small, despised and illegal Jewish cult” of a few thousand members grow to the point that it would become the dominant cultural force in Rome by 325 A.D., the year Constantine would legalize Christianity and give it strong support? How that all happened will be the subject of my class beginning in September.

The main text for the Class will be the recent and important book Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado. I will also be drawing material from Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries by Bernard Green, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert L. Wilken, and the Didache, written around 70 A.D., making it the oldest non-biblical writing that we possess. Look for more information on class meeting times closer to September, and order your books any time!

Meeting TImes

The class dates are the following: August 29; September 5 & 9; October 3, 10, 24, 31; November 7, 14, 28; December 5, 12. All classes will be in the church basement from 7pm – 8:15pm. If you can’t make one evening, or have to miss an evening throughout the duration of the course, that’s okay! Come when you can.

Course Materials

Main Text:

Christianity in Ancient Rome
Bernard Green

Available at
in paperback or for Kindle.


Additional Texts:

Destroyer of the Gods
Larry W. Hurtado

Available at
in paperback or for Kindle.

The Christians as the
Romans Saw Them

Robert L. Wilken

Available at
in hardcover or paperback.

The Didache
The Twelve Apostles

Available at
in hardcover or paperback.