Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Its members are split between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians, although there are literally thousands of denominations within each division, each with their own ideas about how Christianity should manifest itself.
Christianity originated in the first century CE and takes its name from Jesus Christ. Its scripture is the Old Testament and New Testament which together form the Bible. The gospels, which are the accounts of Jesus being incarnated killed and resurrected, are largely interpreted based on the writings of Paul the Apostle and the other epistles. Christianity originated as a reformed Judaism, which itself grew out of the earlier religions of the Canaanites, Egyptians and Zoroastrians . Christianity was also influenced by ideas from Neoplatonism. It is considered an Abrahamic religion along with Judaism and Islam.
"The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. [...] We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and the by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed."
- "There ought to be a term that would designate those who actually follow the teachings of Jesus, since the word 'Christian' has been largely divorced from those teachings, and so polluted by fundamentalists that it has come to connote their polar opposite: intolerance, vindictive hatred, and bigotry. "
Christianity grew out of Judaism in the 1st century CE in the western Levant region under Roman rule. Judaism of the time was very diverse in belief with disagreements on politics, theology and practices. At this stage, the Old Testament has not been edited to its current canonical version, so there was a wide variety of scriptures in circulation. There was an expectation of a messiah (a christ), possibly Elijah, to appear and liberate the Jews, often believed to be by a military victory. There were many messiah cults that appeared, possibly following an interpretation of existing Old Testament prophecy predicting an early first century messiah Daniel 12:11 . Many of these false messiahs were recorded by the contemporary historian Flavius Josephus. These messiahs where often suppressed by Roman authorities, which feared local uprisings. The region eventually rebelled in 66 CE leading to the First Jewish-Roman War, possibly fueled by messianic expectations. Jews before Christianity and Christians of the early church were often searching scriptures, and the broader set of texts thought to be inspired by God, such as the Psalms of Solomon and other texts that have not survived, for clues about the messiah. Jews at the time considered the Temple in Jerusalem, as the house of God, to be central to their religion. However, the temple administration was widely considered to be corrupt and as the reason God did not intervene to liberate the land believed by Jews to be promised by God. In Christianity, Jesus replaces the Temple as the means of salvation.
- "The Christian religion could in a sense be explained as an attempt to explain away Daniel's failed prediction of a divinely supported military victory for Israel over its Gentile oppressors (which continually didn't happen), by imagining (unlike Daniel) a 'spiritual' kingdom instead of an actual one [...]"
It is difficult to describe the early Christian church with confidence due to the lack of historical sources. However, we have some clues in the Acts of the Apostles, epistles, the biblical Apocrypha and early church writings.
Christianity began as an apocalyptic mystery cult (or group of related cults) that taught that their messiah (Jesus) had achieved spiritual victory by his death 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 . According to many historians, the early Christians did not regard Jesus as identical to God. Charismatic practices such as experiencing hallucinations or dreams and interpreting them as messages from God, and glossolalia (speaking in tongues) were common. In common with other mystery cults, early Christians appeared to have interpreted scriptures allegorically.
Paul's epistles describes a church that is active in several places but having divergent beliefs. Rivalry existed between leaders, including Peter and Paul, and between Jewish-Christianity and Gentile-Christianity, concerning doctrine and practices. Others had alternative Christ figures, such as John the Baptist. There is little reliably evidence of a single unified belief at the start of Christianity. It seems as if Christians have always disagreed over everything. It is possible that Paul's version of Christianity had no concept of an earthly Jesus but considered his existence to be entirely spiritual.
Based on the lack of discussion of Christianity by historians of the time, Christianity remained as a obscure cult for around two centuries. The spread of Christianity was greatly accelerated by the instability and eventual collapse of the Roman Empire. Religions like Christianity, which focused on the suffering and downtrodden, became more attractive in uncertain times. Christianity was adopted by the Roman Emperors largely due to political considerations and being able to repurpose the wealth of non-Christian temples, and then legally mandated giving it a substantial advantage.
- "Ultimately, Christianity succeeded in seizing the Roman Empire, and thus the western world, not because of the beauty of its teachings or any spiritual truths it fostered, but thanks to the most worldly of motives: power and money."
Following many schisms, Christianity split into a bewildering array of denominations. The main branches are as follows:
- History of the Biblical canon
- Polytheism in Christianity
- Modern Christianity does not fulfill biblical signs
- Selective use of Old Testament law
- Selective use of the New Testament
- Christian victimhood
- Christian attitudes to sexuality
- Christians disagree over everything
- Christianity at a glance on BBC Religion & Ethics
- Christianity on Faith in the Holy Land Series on Israel's Youtube channel
- 10 questions that every intelligent Christian must answer
- 40 questions to ask a Christian
- 10 Questions for Christians