Date of Defense




First Advisor

Dr. Deborah Deliyannis

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Maier


The Christian church faced many obstacles to its survival during the first centuries of its existence. The most overt difficulties came from the authorities in the cities where the church developed. The Roman Empire instituted a systematic, albeit sporadic, persecution of Christian communities during the first three centuries of the common era, accusing them of crimes ranging from sexual misconduct to atheism, and regularly put Christians to death as enemies of the state. Christian groups also faced opposition from their spiritual parents, the Jews. It was at the urging of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem that Jesus himself was put to death in about the year 33, and in the two decades or so that followed, the Jewish hierarchy began the first organized persecutions of the new sect. However, early threats to Christianity were not always so direct. The church also had to contend with a plethora of other mystery cults present in the Roman Empire, some of which resembled Christianity in the celebration of communal meals and the worship of a dying and rising god. By the end of the first century, the most prevalent and dangerous competition for the church was the group of sects called "gnostics." This secretive set of cults shared a common belief that knowledge of the nature of existence was the way to salvation, and that they alone held that knowledge. The ones that posed the greatest threat to the church were those which adopted a Christ-centered theology, and these are the ones with which we are concerned. Eventually, these heretical groups died out as the orthodox church gained strength in Greco-Roman society and solidified its doctrines and structure.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Campus Only