One Trait that Set Apart the Earliest Christians
by Michael J. Kruger
In the first century, while Christianity was still in its infancy, the Greco-Roman world paid little attention. For the most part, the early Christian movement was seen as something still underneath the Jewish umbrella.
But in the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice. And it didn’t like what it saw. Christians were seen as strange and superstitious—a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of decent society. Christians were, well, different.
So what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture? One distinctive trait was that Christians would not pay homage to the other “gods” (see my earlier article on this subject). This was a constant irritant to those governing officials who preferred to see the
pagan temples filled with loyal worshipers (temples earned a good deal of money from the tributes they collected).
But there was a second trait that separated Christians from the pagan culture: their sexual ethic. While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because they refused to engage in these practices.
For instance, Tertullian went to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out that Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need. But then he said, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why did he say this? Because, in the Greco-Roman world, people sometimes shared their spouses with each other.
In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author went out of his way…
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