Sunday, October 25, 2015

THE INTENSE PERSECUTION OF THE EARLY CHURCH?: AN ODD VIEW? (so says Bart Ehrman)

I'm writing this series of blog articles specifically as a response to a statement made by Bart Ehrman in the second half of his online Debate with Tim McGrew on the Premier Christian Radio show "Unbelievable?" hosted by Justin Brierley (back on July 25, 2015). The debate can be found here, and I would encourage you to listen to it. 

But my interest in this issue precedes that and goes far beyond it. It relates to what I think is one of the most important evidences for the truth of Christianity and an issue which I have spent a lot of time studying over the last couple of years.

That being said, I will use a section of their debate to introduce this issue, break it down, and then explore it somewhat comprehensively. This half of the debate continues for about an hour and twenty minutes, but I want to zero in on an important issue that comprises just a few minutes of the total debate. Below is my transcription of the pertinent segment of the conversation beginning at the MP3's 51 minute mark. You will want to back up to at least the 49 minute mark to get a better idea of the context of these remarks. 


And please note how Bart appears to be shocked by the idea that the early Christians were actually persecuted for proclaiming the message of Jesus's resurrection--either he is making bald-faced lies in a public forum because he knows that this is a knock down argument against his assertions or he is truly out of touch with basic facts that pervade the New Testament and other literature of which he is supposed to be a scholar:

[The following section begins after Ehrman makes the assertion that we should accept the miracles claimed for Baal Shem Tov, an 18th Century Hasidic Rabbi, if we are to accept the miracles of the Gospels. McGrew responds by pointing to the fact that the first Christians were persecuted for their claims and those making claims about Baal Shem Tov were not. For more discussion about the vast difference between the quality of evidence for these two claims, see chapter 21 of David Marshall's Jesus Is No Myth!]

McGREW: "....Were these stories circulated at the time that the events were supposed to have occurred, among people who fervently hated the very idea, and who crucified people by the authority of the regional and omnipotent government for putting forth such stories?"

[Back and forth between Ehrman and McGrew that I am not transcribing.)

EHRMAN: "You have a very strange view of early Christian persecution! Where are you getting this from? You imagine that the early Christians were all being martyred the year after Jesus died?"

McGREW: No. I imagine that they were facing imprisonment....

EHRMAN: Really? What's your evidence for that?

McGREW: ....and that on account of their repeated assertion that Jesus had risen from the dead after being crucified by the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem where they were speaking.

EHRMAN: I'm not talking about Baal Shem Tov being crucified or raised from the dead.

McGREW: No. I know. But what I am pointing out is that when stories of miracles circulate only among people who would not be expected to subject them to any scrutiny, then that is--prima facie--a reason to doubt whether they happened. Whereas when they circulate among people who are violently inclined to disprove them, that is more interesting and puts it on the map for serious discussion. So what I am saying is that the cases are not at all analagous.

EHRMAN: You have a very odd view of early Christian history, I have to say. If you imagine that most people who knew Jesus were being subjected to imprisonment and torture and crucifixion, I don't know where you're getting that. Most people who knew Jesus are simply telling stories about him to friends and family.

McGREW: I am talking about the people who are talked about in the book of Acts. Come on. This is pervasive throughout the book of Acts....That looks to me like you're explaining away the book of Acts.

[Misc. back and forth between Ehrman, McGrew and Brierley that I am not transcribing]

EHRMAN: In the book of Acts, the people who tell stories about Jesus are not telling them to Jewish authorities who are looking and standing on every corner finding out if you're telling a story of Jesus because if you tell a story of Jesus we are going to throw you in prison. They're telling them to their friends and family in private homes. And they're not telling them on a street corner where someone is going to crack their head open and throw them in jail. So I don't know where you're getting this idea that the people telling stories about Jesus are doing so in threat of being imprisoned.

McGREW: Maybe your Bible doesn't have Acts chapter 2 in it.

The conversation about this continues for a bit after the break and Ehrman makes the assertion that in Acts there are 8000 converts and only two people are thrown in prison. It is as if Bart has not read past the first four chapters of Acts (and did not read them very carefully, as Dr. McGrew then shows).

1. EHRMAN'S ASSERTIONS

So let's break down Bart's main assertions here. Bart is really asserting three very mistaken claims (as especially seen in the two highlighted statements above):

  • a. Stories about Jesus were told only in homes and NOT in public preaching.
  • b. The authorities were not threatening Christians and hunting them down
  • c. Persecution of Christians was rare....just a couple of people.

Contrary to Bart's first assertion, the message of Jesus' death and resurrection was being preached quite publicly from the very beginning and in the very city in which Jesus had been crucified...and by people who claimed to be eyewitnesses of his resurrection (see Acts, chapters 2-5, etc.). 

Bart's second assertion is also quite patently false. And we have to look no further than the first 9 chapters of Acts to see the stark contrast between the evidence and Bart's words.

Once again, the evidence against Bart's third assertion is quite overwhelming. And once again, we have to look no further than the first 9 chapters of Acts to see this. The early church was under intense persecution for nearly 300 years (until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, in which an agreement was reached between the emperors Constantine and Licinius that Christianity should be tolerated). A basic summary of some of the evidence can be found in the timeline at the end of this article. For the purposes of this article, though, we will focus on the first three decades. These were the formative years of the early church. This is the time period during which the message of Jesus's resurrection was first being preached, Christianity spread throughout most of the Roman empire, most of the New Testament was written (everything except perhaps John’s Gospel, letters and Revelation), and the most important leaders of the church were martyred.

We will look very carefully at the overwhelming evidence against Bart's assertions, but first....

2. A FEW WORDS ABOUT CHRONOLOGY

Before we get started looking at the evidence for the intense persecution of the early church, it is important that we get a basic understanding of the chronology for this period in order to better understand the weight of the evidence, judge the intensity of the persecution, and see how this history all hangs together. So let me establish a few important dates around which we will construct this study:

A. THE DATE OF JESUS' CRUCIFIXION: According to Luke 3:1, John the Baptist began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, which would have been 29 AD. Jesus's ministry begins after that time and lasts a little over 3 years. Astronomical considerations determine that the year of Jesus' crucifixion must have been 30, 33 or 36 AD. It could not have been 30 AD, which would have been too soon after John the Baptist's ministry began (as well as several other reasons given by Hoehner). And it could not have been 36 AD, because (among other reasons) an examination of the chronology of Paul's life gives us a great amount of certainty that his conversion to Christianity took place in 34 AD. Therefore, it is nearly certain that Jesus' crucifixion took place on Friday, Nisan 14 (April 3) of 33 AD. [See chapter 5, Hoehner, Harold W. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, 2010); and pages 24-25, Barnett, Paul. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005).]

B. PAUL'S CONVERSION: Paul's conversion took place in 34 AD. If Paul's conversion took place at the very end of the year (for example December of 34 AD), that would still be no more than 19 months after the apostles' first declaration of Jesus' resurrection on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Jesus rose from the dead on the day in which Jews celebrated Firstfruits (see 1 Corinthians 1:20). Pentecost took place 50 days after Firstfruits, which would place Pentecost in the third week of May, 33 AD. Therefore, the events of Act 2:1 to Acts 9:2 cover a very short period of 19 months or less--and probably less. [For the dating of Paul's conversion, see pages 24-25, Barnett, Paul. The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005).]

C. THE BEGINNING OF PAUL'S MISSIONARY JOURNEYS: Paul's missionary journeys began in 48 AD. His letter to the Galatians was probably also written during that year. [See pages 122-23, Alexander, L.C.A. "Chronology of Paul" in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Hawthorne, Gerald F., et al (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993).]

D. THE END OF PAUL'S THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY & PAUL'S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS: Paul most likely wrote 2nd Corinthians around 56 AD, which corresponds closely to the close of his third missionary journey. [ See Page 283, Carson, D.A., Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).] I have chosen this date because of the abundance of information on persecution that is contained within both of the letters to the Corinthians and because it is the end of a significant period in which the message of Jesus' resurrection and life had been proclaimed.

E. THE MARTYRDOMS OF PAUL AND PETER: The apostles Paul and Peter were both martyred during Nero's reign (along with many other Christians) and the most likely year is 64 AD (though some scholars have argued for a slightly later date).

So then, a basic chronology of the Church's first three decades looks like this (and we will use this chronology to divide our study of the subject into 4 sections):

33 AD Jesus is Crucified on Friday, Nisan 14 (April 3)

34 AD Paul is converted after seeing Jesus on his way to Damascus

48 AD Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey

56 AD Paul's third missionary journey ends; Paul writes 2nd Corinthians

64 AD Paul and Peter (and many others) are martyred at Rome under Nero



With that chronology in mind, we'll divide our study into the following four periods:

  • A. 33-34 AD: THE FIRST 19 MONTHS (FROM JESUS’ CRUCIFIXION TO PAUL’S CONVERSION)
  • B. 34-47 AD: BETWEEN PAUL'S CONVERSION AND HIS FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
  • C. 48-56 AD: THE PERIOD OF PAUL'S THREE MISSIONARY JOURNEYS
  • D. 57-64 AD: THE PERIOD LEADING UP TO THE MARTYRDOMS UNDER NERO


3. PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS IN THE EARLY CHURCH: THE FIRST 30 YEARS

A. 33-34 AD: THE FIRST 19 MONTHS 
(FROM JESUS’ CRUCIFIXION TO PAUL’S CONVERSION)
As we saw in the transcript earlier, Bart Ehrman is quite adamant that Christians were not being thrown into prison and being martyred in the first year after Jesus' death and resurrection: "You have a very strange view of early Christian persecution! Where are you getting this from? You imagine that the early Christians were all being martyred the year after Jesus died?...." But the first Christians were in fact being imprisoned and martyred within a year after Jesus died. It began with just a few leaders; but within that year there was an organized campaign to destroy the church, and that campaign was being carried out with great intensity. Not only the leaders were being attacked, but anyone who dared to follow Christ.

Jesus’ Crucifixion Intended to Stop Jesus’ Followers
In April of 33 AD Jesus was crucified. The "chief reason" for using crucifixion was "its allegedly supreme efficacy as a deterrent" (p. 87, Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977; also see p. 49-50). For this reason, it was done publicly on busy roads or in arenas. And this was generally a very effective deterrent. Jesus’ disciples were the exception.

In Jesus' case, it was done along a busy road entering Jerusalem while hundreds of thousands of Jews were there to celebrate Passover from all over the Roman empire. And as the Romans practiced this form of torture quite regularly and freely, it was indeed seen as more than an empty threat. In other words, Jesus was crucified not only to bring shame to him but to deter anyone from continuing what he started. This is the situation in which the apostles find themselves in Acts chapters 2-8, when they begin to declare publicly that Jesus is alive.

Then the following events happen in relatively quick succession in the wake of Jesus' crucifixion--in a period of 19 months or less--and probably less:

Peter and John Arrested and Warned by Israel’s Highest Court
The first event involves Peter and John. Peter and John had followed Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry. They were chosen by Jesus to be among “the Twelve”; and even among “the Twelve,” they were among the three who were closest to Jesus. For three years, they had travelled with Jesus all over Galilee and Judea. They had watched him heal and perform many miraculous signs. And they boldly declared that they had watched him die and that he had appeared to them alive again afterwards (see Acts 1:21-22). And it was for this testimony that they were dragged in before the Sanhedrin: "The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day" (Acts 4:1-3, NIV; compare with Acts 3:15).

Being arrested and put in prison is a scary thing, but those who arrested Peter and John were no less than the "Feds." The Sanhedrin was the most powerful body among the Jews. They were the Supreme Court & the Executive Branch all wrapped up in one. They had control of their own military. And these were the very same people who had arrested Jesus and had him crucified just a few months earlier. They concluded their hearing of Peter and John by commanding them "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:18, NIV).

The Apostles (probably “The Twelve”) Were Arrested, Flogged and Warned
The apostles refused to remain quiet about Jesus's resurrection and things heated up. This time the whole group of the apostles (probably meaning the “the Twelve”; see Acts 1:15-26) were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:17-18) and this time they were all flogged (whipped a maximum of 39 times each) and once again ordered "not to speak in the name of Jesus" (Acts 5:40). Notice the significant escalation from the previous event.

Stephen is Stoned to Death by the Sanhedrin
Persecution quickly reached full intensity in Acts 6:9-12: Members of one of the Hellenistic synagogues at Jerusalem began to argue with Stephen (a newly chosen leader of the church). In their anger, they plotted against him and had him brought before the Sanhedrin. And by their authority, Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:57-60). The escalation reaches full steam at this point.

The “Great Persecution” Led by Saul
On that very day, "great persecution" broke out against the church and Christians fled the city of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). And "Saul [who would later become an apostle known by his Roman name, Paul, as he preached to Gentiles] began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison" (Acts 8:3).

If we look no further than Acts 8, we might get the impression that the persecution was serious but not really that serious: that people were being imprisoned and that is about it....and that Saul is trying to destroy the church--whatever that means.

But if we keep on looking, we will find out another key fact about this persecution (which I will emphasize with bold italics). Acts 9:1-2 (NASB) states: "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." Acts 22:4-5 concurs: “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” And finally Acts 26:9-12: “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.” [NIV is used except as noted]

So we see that people were in fact being put to death for their faith in Jesus within a year to a year and a half after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection—and not just Stephen, but many others.

There are a few other things to notice about the intensity of this "great persecution" (literally "mega persecution" = διωγμὸς μέγας): (a) People were so afraid for their lives that most of them fled their homes in Jerusalem and moved away (8:1). (b) They were being hunted down. Saul was going "house to house" (Acts 8:3). (c) It did not matter what your position or gender was (8:3; 9:2; 22:4). (d) Even though people were fleeing Jerusalem, Saul was hunting "them down in foreign cities" (Acts 26:11). And notice that the last city he went to was Damascus. Do you know how far away Damascus is from Jerusalem? It's a long trip! It's about 150 miles northeast over rugged terrain (think: mountains). It was probably about a 2-week trip just to get from Jerusalem to Damascus. Saul was truly going to great lengths to exterminate the church.

And Paul confirms the intensity of this persecution throughout his letters: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it ....'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.'” (Galatians 1:13, 23; also see 1 Cor. 15:9; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13). The Greek word that Paul uses in Galatians 1:13 and 1:23 for “destroy” (which, by the way, is the same Greek word used of Paul's activities in Acts 9:21) literally means to "sack, ravage,...lay waste" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament), “annihilate” (Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). It is “used of soldiers ravaging a city” (p.501, Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers. Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, 1980).

But this 19 months was just the beginning. In the following sections, we'll take a closer look at the rest of this 30 year period. 
In the first section, we looked at the intensity of the persecution that took place against the apostles and the rest of the Church during the first year (to as much as 19 months—until the time that Paul was converted on the road to Damascus). During this period, the apostles (the primary witnesses to Jesus' resurrection) were arrested, flogged and warned by the same powerful Jewish court that arrested Jesus and had him crucified. This was quickly followed by the stoning of Stephen and a very intense period of widespread persecution in which many were hunted down, arrested and even put to death. Yet, in spite of this intense persecution, the apostles and the Church as a whole maintained their testimony that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.

B. 34-47 AD: BETWEEN PAUL'S CONVERSION AND HIS FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
But what happened after Paul was converted? Was Paul the sole source of this persecution? Did the persecution cease? If not, what did it look like?

First, let's just note from the outset that we do not have a lot of information about the Church for the period between Paul's conversion (34 AD) and the time of his first missionary journey (48 AD). The book of Acts is our only source for this period (other than some very minor details that we can learn from Galatians 1:17-24, i.e., Paul's visits to see Peter and James). In Acts, the only thing that Luke tells us about this period is what happened to Paul immediately after his conversion, a couple of healings, a few minor details, and two other major events (Acts 9:20-12:25).

Paul is Persecuted by Other Jews Immediately After His Conversion (c.34 AD)
So what did happen immediately after Paul's conversion? He “immediately began to preach in the synagogues [at Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). And this soon resulted in a conspiracy by other Jews to kill him. His response was to sneak out of the city and flee to Jerusalem (Acts 9:23-26; cf., 2 Corinthians 11:32-33). At Jerusalem, the situation was the same: Paul spoke the message about Jesus, the Jews tried to kill him, and he fled for his life to Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30). So we can see clearly that this response of severe persecution was not simply because of Paul. Paul himself experienced it from other Jews after his conversion.

A Time of Peace Followed by the Martyrdom of James By Herod (41-44 AD)
Then Luke tells us that the persecution did generally cease for a period of time: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts 9:32). How long was this “time of peace”? Luke does not specify. It may have been for as long as nearly a decade (until 44 AD). Or it may have been much shorter. My educated guess is that it was probably about 5 to 7 years. But we don't know. What we do know is that during King Herod Agrippa's reign (41-44 AD), there is more intense persecution. King Herod arrests some believers to persecute them. James, brother of John, is put to death by the sword. Herod sees that this pleases the Jews and Peter is arrested with the intention of putting him to death, also. But Peter escapes. (Acts 12:1-3, 21-23).

Here again, the pressure is put on the apostles. Among the Twelve (the preeminent of the apostles), there were three who comprised Jesus's inner circle: Peter, James and John. All three of these experienced the severity of this persecution. James was put to death. Peter was arrested with the intention of putting him to death, also. And John, no doubt, experienced this persecution quite personally on many levels. Not only was he the third of this inner circle but watching his brother (with whom he was apparently very close) being put to death and his close friend Peter's life being threatened would have certainly been a grueling test of his profession of Jesus's resurrection. Once again, in the face of severe persecution, the primary witnesses of Jesus's resurrection do not recant.


C. 48-56 AD: THE PERIOD OF PAUL'S THREE MISSIONARY JOURNEYS
[This section is yet to be completed....but see timeline below for a summary of the evidence]

D. 57-64 AD: THE PERIOD LEADING UP TO THE MARTYRDOMS UNDER NERO
[This section is yet to be completed....
but see timeline below for a summary of the evidence]


4. TIMELINE OF PERSECUTION AND MARTYRDOM IN THE EARLY CHURCH

[Numbers at the left indicate the year AD]


33 JESUS IS CRUCIFIED


The Sanhedrin imprisons Peter & John & warns them not to speak in Jesus' name (Acts 4:1-22)

The Sanhedrin imprisons, flogs and warns the Apostles not to speak in Jesus' name (Acts 5:18, 40)

Martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7)

The “Great Persecution” (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 26:9-12; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13)

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:1-3) “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.“ (Acts 9:1-2, NASB) “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.” (Acts 22:4-5) ““I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.” (Acts 26:9-12) “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it....'“The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.'” (Galatians 1:13, 23) [NIV used except as noted]
34 PAUL'S CONVERSION (about 12-18 months after Jesus' crucifixion)

34/35 Jews at Damascus try to kill Paul after his conversion; Paul flees (2 Cor. 11:23-23; Acts 9:22-25)

Hellenistic Jews at Jerusalem try to kill Paul; Paul flees (Acts 9:28-30)

41-44 King Herod Agrippa arrests some believers to persecute them. James, brother of John, is put to death. Peter is arrested with the intention of putting him to death, also (Acts 12:1-3, 21-23).

48 PAUL'S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY (Acts 13:1-14:28) 
Jews of Pisidian Antioch stir up persecution for Paul & Barnabas and expel them (Acts 13:48-52) Jews & Gentiles at Iconium plot to stone Paul & Barnabas (Acts 14:5-6) Jews from Antioch and Iconium follow them to Lystra and have Paul stoned (Acts 14:19-20)

48 Paul speaks of persecution “for the cross of Christ” in his letter to the Galatians (6:12, 17)

49-50 PAUL'S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY (Acts 15:36-18:17) 
Paul & Barnabas are stripped, beaten, and imprisoned at Philippi (Acts 16:2-23; Phil. 1:29-30) Persecution at Thessalonica (mirrors that in Judea: 1 Thess. 2:14; Acts 17:5-9) Thessalonian Jews stir up trouble for Paul at Berea (Acts 17:13-14)

50-56 PAUL'S THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY (Acts 18:18-21:16) 
Jews of Corinth attack Paul and bring him before Gallio (Acts 18:12) Persecution at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-29)

Jews plot against Paul while he is in Greece (Acts 20:3)

56 Paul gives a very long list of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (also 1:8-10; 4:8-11; 6:9; 1 Cor. 4:9-13; 15:30-32)....which most likely took place during his 3 missionary journeys

54-68 THE REIGN OF NERO

57 Jews at Jerusalem beat Paul and try to kill him; he is arrested (Acts 21:27-32)

Jews swear an oath to kill Paul (Acts 23:12-17)

57-59 Paul is imprisoned for two years at Caesarea

59-62 Paul's trials and two-year imprisonment at Rome

62 Martyrdom of James, brother of Jesus and bishop of Jerusalem, and others (Josephus' Antiquities 20:9:1; 2nd Century account recorded by Hegessipus preserved in Eusebius' Church History 2:23)

64 Crucifixion of Peter & Beheading of Paul (Eusebius' Church History 2:25; 1 Clement ch. 5)

Martyrdom of many Christians by Nero, as recorded by the great historian Cornelius Tacitus (58-117 AD) in his Annals 15:44:
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed."
81-96 THE REIGN OF DOMITIAN
“Domitian, having shown great cruelty toward many, and having unjustly put to death no small number of well-born and notable men at Rome, and having without cause exiled and confiscated the property of a great many other illustrious men, finally became a successor of Nero in his hatred and enmity toward God. He was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us.” (Eusebius' Church History, 3:17; also see Tertullian's Apology, ch. 5)
98-117 THE REIGN OF TRAJAN
Summary of remarks by Pliny the Younger (died 113 AD) explaining to the Emperor Trajan how he deals with Christians (as summarized by Gary Habermas): "Pliny dealt personally with the Christians who were turned over to him. He interrogated them, inquiring if they were believers. If they answered in the affirmative he asked them two more times, under the threat of death. If they continued firm in their belief, he ordered them to be executed. Sometimes the punishment included torture to obtain desired information, as in the case of two female slaves who were deaconesses in the church. If the person was a Roman citizen, they were sent to the emperor in Rome for trial. If they denied being Christians or had disavowed their faith in the past, they “repeated after me an invocation to the Gods, and offered adoration . . . to your [Trajan’s] image.” Afterwards they “finally cursed Christ.” Pliny explained that his purpose in all this was that “multitudes may be reclaimed from error.” (Chapter IX of The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas, as found at Habermas' website)
c.110 Martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch

117-38 THE REIGN OF HADRIAN 
(See the First Apology of Justin Martyr, ch. 68; The Apology of Quadratus; Apology of Aristides)

132-135 During the Bar Kokhba Revolt:

"For in the Jewish war which lately raged, Barchochebas, the leader of the revolt of the Jews, gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments, unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy." (ch. 31, First Apology of Justin Martyr)
138-161 THE REIGN OF ANTONINUS PIUS 
(See the First Apology of Justin Martyr, ch. 1, etc.)

c. 155 The Martyrdom of Polycarp of Smyrna

161-180 THE REIGN OF MARCUS AURELIUS 
(See the First Apology of Justin Martyr, ch. 68)

165 Martyrdom of Justin Martyr at Rome


177 Pogrom in Lyons and Vienne: 48 killed

180 The Scillitan Martyrs (The Passion of the Scillitan Martyrs): 12 killed

193-211 THE REIGN OF SEVERUS
 
(See Eusebius' Church History 6:1)

203 Martyrdoms of Perpetua and Felicity and Origen's father

235-238 THE REIGN OF MAXIMINUS 
(See Eusebius' Church History 6:28)

249-251 THE REIGN OF DECIUS 
(See Eusebius' Church History 6:39)

284-305 REIGN OF DIOCLETIAN
 
(See Eusebius' Church History 1:1:3)



RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY...
*Audio: "Did the Apostles Really Die For Their Claims": An excellent STR podcast by J. Warner Wallace
*Christian History Magazine has an entire issue devoted to the persecution of the early church (which is FREE in PDF). The first article by Everett Ferguson (editor of the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity) is a significant summary of the first 300 years of persecutions.
*"Documents on the Persecution of the Early Church" by Michael Marlowe




"The Martyrdom of St. James the Greater" by Juan Fernández Navarrete (1571)

Image source: Wikimedia commons

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