How much was Christianity influenced by the Roman world and culture that dominated the land around the Jewish nation of Israel? Needless to say, the Roman world only accepted Judaism as long as the Jews kept the Pax Romana and did not bother the Roman's with their religious ways. In this paper, I will look at two ways that the Roman Empire influenced the growth and shape of Christianity in its early years. First, I will define each influence and will then evaluate how they impacted Christianity either positively or negatively.
The first influence was between Christianity and the State of Rome. The Roman's allowed Christians to go on with their religious practices as long as they did not interfere outside of their circle of members. The one place where Roman's and Christians disagreed terribly was in the area of offerings to Caesar. In an article (n d.)entitled "Christianity in the Roman Empire: Enter the Christians" the author states that, "Just a couple of intransigent Christians who refused to make these offerings, could put everyonefrom the town to the province to the entire Roman stateat risk. For some, this made their very presence a danger." Why was this so? The author continues, "Polytheist's belief in the power of the gods, their desire and need to be worshipped by humanity, and the fear that society would lose the god's favor or be destroyed in retribution made this frightening prospect."
Could this be why, in Jesus' time, the Pharisees, hoping to trap Jesus as they had many times before, came to Jesus and asked Him whether the Jews should pay taxes to Rome or not. Jesus simply replied, "Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God" (Mk 12:17/GW). By saying this, Jesus kept the peace between the Jews and Romans by speaking the truth about this topic. He made sure that this remained a positive issue between both parties.
The second, negative influence of Rome on Christianity is in the area of the Catholic Church's vernation of the Madonna. In his article "Pagan Influences in Christian Culture: The Hidden Legacy," Douglas M. Painter (n. d.) states that "many believe that the worship of the Madonna in Catholicism had its roots in the veneration of the Goddess Diana from pre-Christian Roman cults." Mr. Painter continues to say that "The celebration of Easter, with eggs and bunnies, remains a holdover from former fertility rites celebrating the Pagan Spring. Such adaptions of superficial, crowd-pleasing, rites and pastimes merely suggest how pagan activities are hidden just beneath the surface of Judeo-Christian culture."
Today, the Roman Catholic Church continues to venerate the Madonna, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. To this day, the Catholic Church prays to Mary as if they were praying to God or Jesus. But, according to scripture, praying to anyone other than God or Jesus constitutes that other object of prayer as being an idol set up in place of God. Mary has become an idol to the Catholic Church as has asking forgiveness from a man who then tells the sinner how many Hail Marys to say, as if Mary could exonerate and forgive the sinner of their sins. This is one of the biggest negatives held over by any church since the days of Rome.
Fortunately, as far as Easter eggs and bunnies go, most biblical-following churches calls what the world calls Easter Sunday as Resurrection Day, the third day after Good Friday when Jesus was hung on the cross for our sins, and then resurrected taking sin and death with Him to the grave where they belong. As the early church grew, they began to throw off many of the Roman influences and turned to following a Holy God, the God of all creation.
When the Roman Empire fell, barbarian-led states began to take over the territories left by the fall of Rome. Again, the author of the article entitled "Christianity in the Roman Empire: Enter the Christians" states "By and large it was Christians mostly, literate clergy who stepped in to assist them (these barbarian-led states). The fields of education and law wholly fell into the hands of the church, with the cooperation of the various kings." With the fall of Rome came the increase in Christianity leading the way in the building of schools, hospitals, and law offices. Unfortunately today, the world has turned back to the ways of the past as it apostates away from God into a more Hellenistic way of life once more.
Christianity in the roman empire, part 1-3: religion in the greco-roman world. Retrieved from http://www.earlychristianhistory.info/
Painter, D. M. (n. d.). Pagan influences in christian culture: the hidden legacy. Retrieved from: http://www.litjournal.com/docs/fea_
Bobby Bruno was saved 15 years ago in a way that left him no doubt that Jesus wanted him to reach others with His great and abounding love. He started writing at the age of 12 and hasn't stopped since. He achieved Associates Degree in Biblical Studies from Ohio Christian University in early 2014.
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