The Persecution of Christians in the First Century -- By: Eckhard J. Schnabel

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:3 (Sep 2018)
Article: The Persecution of Christians in the First Century
Author: Eckhard J. Schnabel


The Persecution of Christians
in the First Century

Eckhard J. Schnabel

Abstract: The Book of Acts, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation attest to numerous incidents of persecution, which are attested for most provinces of the Roman empire, triggered by a wide variety of causes and connected with a wide variety of charges against the followers of Jesus. This essay surveys the twenty-seven specific incidents of and general references to persecution of Christians in the NT, with a focus on geographical, chronological, and legal matters.

Key words: persecution, mission, hostility, opposition, Jerusalem, Rome, Peter, Paul, Acts, Hebrews, Revelation

This essay seeks to survey the evidence in the NT for instances of the persecution of Jesus’ earliest followers in their historical and chronological contexts without attempting to provide a comprehensive analysis of each incident. The Greek term diōgmos that several NT authors use, usually translated as “persecution,”1 is defined as “a program or process designed to harass and oppress someone.”2 The term “persecution” is used here to describe the aggressive harassment and deliberate ill-treatment of the followers of Jesus, ranging from verbal abuse, denunciation before local magistrates, initiating court proceedings to beatings, flogging, banishment from a city, execution, and lynch killings.

I. PERSECUTION IN JUDEA, SYRIA, AND NABATEA (AD 30–38/40)

1. Persecution in Jerusalem, Judea (I). Priests in Jerusalem, the captain of the temple, and Sadducees arrested the apostles Peter and John who spoke to a crowd of

people in Solomon’s Portico (Acts 4:1–22). The two apostles are imprisoned and taken to the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court in Judea, whose members conduct a legal investigation. They order the apostles to stop spreading their message about Jesus, threatening further action if they disobey. Then they release the two apostles. These events probably happened in AD 30, perhaps in mid-April, given that Jesus had been executed by crucifixion on April 8 (Nisan 14).3

2. Persecution in Jerusalem, Judea (II). The high priest (Joseph Caiaphas) and the Sadducees arrested the twelve apostles who were active in Jerusalem, teaching and preaching in Solomon’s Portico in the temple (Acts 5...

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