The Roman Empire: the Defender of Early First Century Christianity
By John Toone
Honors Thesis, Liberty University, 2011
Abstract: All of the events, authors, and purposes of the books in the New Testament occurred under the reign of the Roman Empire (27 B.C.—A.D. 476). Therefore, an understanding of the Roman Empire is necessary for comprehending the historical context of the New Testament. In order to fully understand the impact of the Roman Empire on the New Testament, particularly before the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70, Rome’s effect on religion (and the religious laws that governed its practice) must be examined. Contrary to expectations, the Roman Empire emerges from this examination as the protector (not persecutor) of early Christianity. Scripture from this time period reveals a peaceful relationship between the new faith and Roman authorities.
Introduction: The history of the Roman Empire’s persecution against Christianity and its adherents is well known and thoroughly documented. However, this official persecution did not manifest itself in the early years of the movement. In fact, throughout most of the first century, Christianity grew peaceably within the Roman Empire. This security was due to Christianity’s relationship to Judaism. As long as Christians were identified as members of the Jewish nation, they were tolerated. But how did Judaism rise to such a privileged position in the Roman Empire? The answer can be found by examining the history of the Jewish people and Rome and observing the support the Jews gave the Romans, when the latter first began venturing out into the Eastern Mediterranean. After looking at this history, the next natural question is what benefits did the Jews receive that made their position so enviable? Thus, the exact benefits and privileges granted to Judaism’s practitioners will be considered. Having a proper understanding of Judaism’s history with the Roman Empire and the benefits the Jews received from this relationship is necessary for accurately comprehending the historical background of the New Testament.