How did the extent of Christianity in A.D. 325 compare to that in A.D. 476?
After Jesus' death, the apostles and other disciples spread his message. At first, they preached only among the Jews of Judea. Others traveled to the communities of the Jewish diaspora, including Rome. According to tradition, the apostle Peter traveled to Rome to spread the word of Jesus.
At first, a few Jews accepted the teaching that Jesus was the messiah, or the Christ, from the Greek word for “anointed one.” They were the first Christians. These early Christians remained a small group within Judaism. Then Paul, a Jew from Asia Minor, began the wider spread of the new faith, and Christianity took root across the Roman world.
Paul had never met Jesus. In fact, he had been among those who persecuted Jesus' followers. According to his own writings, Paul had a vision in which Jesus spoke to him. He immediately converted to the new faith and made an important decision. He would spread Jesus' teachings beyond Jewish communities to gentiles, or non-Jews.
Paul's missionary work set Christianity on the road to becoming a world religion. A tireless traveler, Paul journeyed around the Mediterranean and set up churches in Asia Minor and Greece. In long letters to these Christian communities, Paul explained Christian teachings. He answered questions from believers and judged disputes.
Paul emphasized that Jesus had sacrificed his life to atone, or make amends, for the sins of humankind. Paul taught that those who believed Jesus was the son of God and complied with his teachings would achieve salvation, or eternal life. His letters became part of the New Testament.
Rome's tolerant attitude toward religion did not extend to Christians. Roman officials suspected Christians of disloyalty to Rome because they refused to honor the emperor with sacrifices or honor the Roman gods. When Christians met in secret to avoid persecution, rumors spread that they were engaged in evil practices.
In times of trouble, persecution increased. Roman rulers, like Nero, used Christians as scapegoats, blaming them for social or economic ills. Over the centuries, thousands of Christians became martyrs, or people who suffer or die for their beliefs. According to tradition, both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero.
Despite the attacks, Christianity continued to spread throughout the Roman world. The reasons were many. Jesus had welcomed all people, especially the lowly, the poor, and the oppressed.