Text 1. The Early Christians



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Text 1. The Early Christians



Read the text and do the tasks that follow.

One day in about A.D. 36, a Jew named Saul was on the road to Damascus, a city in ancient Syria. He was tracking down Christians, the followers of the Jewish teacher Jesus. Saul was one of many Jews who believed these Christians should be persecuted,or punished, for their failure to obey all the Jewish laws.

According to the New Testament, Saul was blinded by the light from heaven. He did not regain his sight until a follower of Jesus touched him. At that moment, Saul’s life changed forever. Once a persecutor of Christians, Saul now became one of the most devoted followers of the new faith.

Saul’s conversion,or change from one belief to another, came a few years after the death of Jesus. At the time of Saul’s conversion, Christianity was not a separate religion. The Christians were a sect,or group, among Jews.

Judaism was one of many religions practiced in the Roman Empire. The Romans themselves followed a number of religions. Romans were even willing to accept the gods of other people alongside their own. They also allowed a great deal of freedom to different religious groups, so long as the groups respected the gods of the Roman state.

Nevertheless, the beliefs of the Jews (and of the Christians) clashed with those of the Romans. The Jews believed in one god, and they were unwilling to worship the many Roman gods. The Jews also lived by the laws of their god, as set forth in the Torah, and the teaching of their prophets. The Romans believed in serving their gods by following certain rituals, such as sacrificing animals. They believed that keeping their gods happy would keep the empire strong.

Even so, Judaism was a legal religion in the Roman empire. Jews and Romans disagreed mainly on political grounds. However, Jews and Christians began to disagree on religious grounds. As a result, Christianity slowly became a separate religion. The growth of Christianity had a lasting impact on Western civilization.

At first, however, few people in the Roman Empire took much notice of this small band of believers, the Christians. This is why there are few written accounts of the history of early Christians. Much of what we know comes from the part of the Christians Bible called the New Testament, a collection of books that tells the story of Jesus and his followers.

Besides telling stories about Jesus, the New Testament tells about the birth and early development of Christianity. It also includes the story of Saul and his conversion to Christianity.

The New Testament books were collected between A.D. 100 and 200 to teach and to inspire Christians. As a result, the New Testament tells the story of Christianity from the point of view of the Christians only – not the Romans or the Jews.

The Christians felt that their faith was the fulfillment of Judaism. The Jews and early Christians shared the same basic beliefs. But their ideas differed on the messiah, or savior. The Jews believed that the messiah had not yet come. They expected the messiah to overthrow the Roman governors and reunite the Jews. The Christians believed that Jesus was the messiah. Instead of bringing freedom from Rome, Christians believed he would bring eternal life.

Nevertheless, the Jewish roots of Christianity ran deep. In addition to sharing many beliefs, Jews and Christians lived in the same communities. Since the Diaspora, the scattering of Jewish settlements throughout the Mediterranean that began in the 500s B.C., Jews had been gathering together in communities within the cities of the Roman Empire.

Jews saw themselves as the chosen people of their god. Jews, including sects such as the Christians, saw the world as divided into two groups – Jews and Gentiles, or non-Jews.

The Jews and Gentiles did not always get along. In fact, at times violent hatred led to open conflict between them.

The early Christians concentrated on trying to convert other Jews. However, Jewish leaders opposed their efforts. They charged that Christians were not obeying Jewish law. The Christians insisted that belief in Jesus and Jesus’ love was more important than strict obedience to Jewish law. As Christians spread their message, tensions grew between Christians and Jews.

The friction led to a serious debate within the early church: Should Christians reach out to all people, or just to other Jews? According to the New Testament, the turning point came in about A.D. 48. That was when Peter, a disciple who had been chosen by Jesus to spread his teachings, was instructed in a vision from God to break some of the Jewish rules. Jewish law prohibited Jews from eating food that was not prepared according to their rules.

According to the book of Acts, Peter went to the house of a Roman soldier and visited with a group of Gentiles. Peter said to the Gentiles:

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”

Acts 10:28

From that point on, Peter and other Christians decided to preach Christianity to all people. One of the first to set off on this mission was Saul, the former persecutor of Christians. Saul who came to e known by the Roman name Paul, traveled throughout the Roman Empire spreading the word about Christianity.

Paul played an important role in early Christianity. Because he was a devout Jew, he could speak to fellow Jews and be heard. He was also a Roman citizen. Not only could he claim all the benefits of citizenship, but he could be seen by the Romans as one of their own. Finally, he was a passionate supporter of the new faith, and he devoted his life to this cause.

From about A.D. 47 until his death in about A.D. 64, Paul made three long journeys during which he spread Christian teachings. He also established Christian communities.

Paul’s journeys were not easy. His preaching angered many Jews. After all, he was challenging the very foundations of Jewish belief. For centuries, Jews had lived by the commandments of God as given to them in the Jewish scriptures. Now Paul was telling them that simply obeying God’s laws was not enough. Paul said that people needed to accept Jesus as their savior.

Many Jews rejected the ideas that Paul preached, and some Jews even attacked him. They believed that Paul was trying to spread ideas that went against Jewish beliefs.

Paul also insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity did not have to observe all the Jewish laws. This angered the Jews, and it also angered some Christian leaders whose backgrounds were Jewish.

Paul was becoming a troublemaker in the eyes of the Roman authorities. He was eventually arrested in Jerusalem and sent to Rome to stand trial. For two years, he remained there, continuing to preach and teach. According to Christian tradition, Paul was executed in about A.D. 64.

By this time, Christianity had become a religion that was separate and distinct from Judaism. In the centuries to come, the gulf between the two faiths would continue to widen.

 

Word Check

Ex. 1.Word extension

1. to take notice of – to pay attention to;

2. fulfillment – doing smth. to the required standard;

3. to get along – agree; to be friendly or in harmony;

4. obedience – doing, willing to do what one is told to do, submission to the law;

5. to preach – to teach;

6. to prohibit – to forbid, say that smth. must not be done;

7. to observe – to follow, to keep;

8. devout – paying serious attention to religious duties, sincere;

9. commandment – one of the ten laws given by god to Moses.

Ex. 2.Match the words in column A with their definitions in column B.

A 1) the New Testament; 2) the messiah, savior; 3) the Diaspora;   4) Gentiles; 5) conversion; 6) a disciple; 7) to persecute; 8) a trouble-maker. B a) one of the twelve personal followers of Jesus Christ; b) non-Jews; c) change from one belief to another; d) a collection of books that tells the story of Jesus and his followers; e) a person expected by the Jews to come and set them free; f) to punish, treat cruelly, esp. because of religious beliefs; g) a person who stirs up discontent; h) spreading out of Jewish settlements among the gentiles after their period of exile.

Ex. 3.Complete the sentences, use the words and expression from the text.

1. At first few people in the Roman Empire … much … of this small band of believers.

2. Besides telling stories about Jesus … tells about the birth and early development of Christianity.

3. The Christians felt that their faith was the … of Judaism.

4. Since the … the scattering of Jewish settlements throughout the Mediterranean that began in the 500s B.C.

5. The Jews and Gentiles did not always … .

6. The early Christians concentrated on trying to … other Jews.

7. The Christians insisted that belief in Jesus and Jesus’ love was more important than strict … to Jewish law.

8. That was Peter, a … who had been chosen by Jesus to spread his teachings.

9. Jewish law … Jews from eating food that was not prepared according to their rules.

10. One of the first to set off on this mission was Saul, the former … of Christians.

11. Because Paul was a … Jew he could speak to fellow Jews and be heard.

12. Paul said that people needed to accept Jesus as their … .

13. Paul also insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity did not have to … all the Jewish laws.

14. Paul was becoming a … in the eyes of the Roman authorities.

15. For centuries Jews had lived by the … of God.

_______________________________________________________________

Words for reference: trouble maker, observe, savior, take notice, New Testament, fulfillment, Diaspora, Gentiles, get along, to convert, obedience, disciple, prohibited, devout, persecutor, commandments.

Comprehension

Ex. 1.Answer the following questions.

1. Why are there few written accounts of the history of early Christians?

2. Where does the information come from?

3. What does the New Testament tell about?

4. How were Judaism and early Christianity alike, and how were they different?

5. Why did tension grow between Jews and Christian?

6. Why did Jews oppose the preaching of Paul?

7. How did Paul help spread Christianity?

Ex. 2.Speak on the following points:

1. New Testament;

2. Jews and Gentiles;

3. the work of Paul.



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