What is Christianity?
A monotheistic religion founded on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (as presented in the New Testament), who is believed by Christians to be the son of God and the messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible
What does "Christ" mean?
"Christ" comes from "christos," the ancient Greek word for "messiah" or "anointed one." It is a title, not a name.
When and where was Christianity founded?
Around 33 A.D. in Palestine, not long after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth
How many Christians are there in the world today?
Approximately 2 billion, making Christianity the world's most popular religion
What are the two main parts of the Christian Bible?
The Old Testament and the New Testament
What is the Old Testament?
The first section of the Bible
- Nearly identical to the Hebrew Bible
- Narrates history beginning with the creation of the world
- Also contains poetry and the writings of the Jewish prophets
- Christian interpretation of the Old Testament often involves finding signs that predict the coming of Christ
What is the New Testament?
The second section of the Bible, consisting of 27 books
- Begins with the four gospels, which narrate the life of Jesus Christ
- Acts of the Apostles describes the actions of Jesus' followers shortly after his death
- The Pauline Epistles are a collection of letters written by the Apostle Paul to specific churches
- The Catholic or General Epistles are a collection of letters addressed to a general audience
- Ends with the Revelation of John, a vision of the apocalypse
What are the Apocrypha?
Selection of religious writings that have been accepted as canonical by some Christian denominations but not by others
When included, they are placed between the Old and New Testaments.
Briefly outline the life of Jesus.
- Born around 4 B.C.
- Grew up in the city of Nazareth in Palestine
- At age 30, baptized by John the Baptist
- Began a ministry that flourished for three years
- Stressed God's compassion and criticized social hierarchy
- Often taught others by telling stories, or "parables"
- Arrested and crucified by Roman authorities at age 33
What is the Annunciation?
Announcement made by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she was to give birth to the Messiah
Who was Saint John the Baptist?
Jewish prophet who led a baptismal sect during Jesus' lifetime
- By some accounts (like the Gospel of Luke), a relative of Jesus
- Recognized Jesus as the messiah and baptized him, beginning Jesus' ministry
- Herod Antipas, king of Galilee, promised his stepdaughter Salome anything she wished; she requested the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter, and Herod obliged
What is the Sermon on the Mount?
Longest section of Jesus' teachings in the New Testament, found in the Gospel of Matthew; frequently quoted, and the source of many common sayings, including:
- The Lord's Prayer: "Our Father, who art in Heaven..."
- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"
- "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth"
- "Cast not your pearls before swine"
- "Consider the lilies of the field"
What is the parable of the Good Samaritan?
In reference to the commandment "Love thy neighbor as thyself," a man asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"
The parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus' reply:
- A Jew was robbed and left to die at the side of the road
- A priest and a Levite saw the wounded man but passed him by
- Finally, a Samaritan (from Samaria, a nation hostile to the Hebrews) stopped and helped the man
- "Good Samaritan" now refers to anyone who performs an act of kindness for a stranger
What is the parable of the Prodigal Son?
One of the parables of Jesus:
- A wealthy man had two sons: the younger one ran off with the father's money and squandered it on a debauched life
- Years later he returned penniless to beg his father for work
- The father welcomed him back, dressed him in fine robes, and ordered a celebratory feast
- The older son complained that he had always been loyal and disciplined, but had never received such a celebration
- The father replied that the celebration was appropriate, for his lost son had returned
- The message is that God's love and forgiveness are boundless
- "Prodigal son" is now commonly used to refer to a rebellious child
Who was Judas Iscariot?
Disciple who betrayed Jesus to the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities for 30 pieces of silver
- He identified Jesus to the soldiers by kissing him
- Wracked with guilt, Judas hanged himself the next day
- A "Judas kiss" is a false act of friendship that masks a betrayal
Briefly describe Christian beliefs regarding the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus is a central tenet of Christian theology
Jesus was bodily resurrected three days after his crucifixion
His tomb was discovered empty by a group of his female disciples, including Mary Magdalene
For 40 days, he made several appearances to his disciples
On the fortieth day after his resurrection, he ascended into Heaven
What is Pentecost?
Christian feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit
- A few months after the death of Jesus, his followers were gathered in an "upper room" in Jerusalem
- Suddenly tongues of fire appeared over each follower
- They began to speak in tongues and were filled with the Holy Spirit
- This event added the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son, completing the Trinity
- Now an important feast celebrated 50 days after Easter
Who was Paul the Apostle?
Early Christian missionary whose writings make up a large portion of the New Testament
- Originally a Jew named Saul (Latinized to "Paul") who was a persecutor of Christians
- Experienced a vision of Christ as the risen messiah and subsequently devoted his life to spreading Christianity
- His writings (or writings falsely attributed to him) make up a large part of the New Testament
What symbol did early Christians famously use to direct worshippers to their underground meetings, and why?
A fish, with its head pointing toward the location of the secret meeting
This symbol was chosen because the ancient Greek word for "fish" (ichthys) contains the initials of the phrase, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."
What role did Emperor Constantine play in Christian history?
He converted from the official pagan religion to Christianity after seeing a vision of the cross in the sky with the words, "In Hoc Signo Vinces" (In this sign, you will conquer)
In 313 A.D., issued the Edict of Milan, establishing religious tolerance throughout the empire
Persecution of Christians ended almost overnight, and Christianity spread rapidly
In 380 A.D., Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire
What is the doctrine of the Incarnation?
A doctrine common among all major Christian sects
- Jesus was God in human form; he was not half-man and half-God, but fully both
- As God incarnate, Jesus provides the perfect example of a life properly lived in subservience to God's will
- What was wildly new about this idea: a God concerned enough about human affairs that He was willing to take human form and suffer human agony
What is the doctrine of the Trinity?
A doctrine common among all major Christian sects that stipulates that God is one, but has three forms: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost
Because of this doctrine, people sometimes question whether Christianity is truly monotheistic.
What is original sin?
The doctrine stipulating that Adam and Eve's fall from grace has stained humanity with sin
- Therefore, all humans are born with an inherently sinful nature
- Christian sects interpret and respond to original sin in different ways
- It is most prominent in Protestantism
What are the three major divisions in Christianity?
When did Christianity split into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy?
List some of the distinguishing characteristics of Roman Catholicism.
Dominant Christian sect in the Western world: over 1 billion adherents, about half of all Christians
Head of the Church is the Pope in Rome
The saints and the Virgin Mary are honored
Belief in purgatory
Doctrine of transubstantiation
Use of rosary beads in prayer
List some of the distinguishing characteristics of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Dominant sect of Eastern Europe (Greece, Romania, Slavic countries)
Head of the Church is Patriarch of Constantinople
Places authority in the Seven Ecumenical Councils, all convened before 787 A.D. to interpret scripture
Encourages followers to find personal truth, rather than subscribe to Church-mandated doctrines
Elements of mysticism
List some of the distinguishing characteristics of Protestantism.
A reaction to medieval/Renaissance practices of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the sale of indulgences
The Bible is the final source of authority, not church officials
Salvation through faith alone, not through good works
Sacraments are unnecessary
What is the doctrine of papal infallibility?
God prevents the Pope from making any mistakes when speaking officially on matters of faith and morals
- Central doctrine of Roman Catholicism
- This is often misconstrued to mean that the Pope never makes mistakes in any way
- In fact, his infallibility applies only to faith and morals, and only when he has consulted thoroughly and is making an official statement
What is the Immaculate Conception?
The conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain of original sin
- Roman Catholic doctrine
- NOT the conception of Jesus
- Uncorrupted by sin, Mary was able to give birth to a savior who was also uncorrupted
What are the seven sacraments?
Rituals that mark important life milestones in the Catholic Church:
- Holy Communion
- Holy Matrimony
- Holy Orders (dedication of life to God)
- Sacrament of the Sick (preparation for death)
- Reconciliation (confession of sins)
When did the Protestant Reformation begin?
In 1517 A.D., with the publication of Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses
What is apostolic succession?
Doctrine that all ordained bishops have inherited the spiritual authority of those who came before them, stretching all the way back to the Twelve Apostles who received their authority from Jesus Christ himself
- Upheld by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as the Anglican Communion and some Lutheran Churches
- Opposed to apostolic succession is the belief, held by most Protestant churches, that the authority of the apostles belongs to them alone, and cannot be passed on to others
What is Gnosticism?
A persecuted sect of Christianity that emerged in the first and second centuries A.D.
- Believed that the God from the Bible was actually an ignorant, imperfect being (the demiurge), unaware of the true God
- Gnostic myths turned the story of creation on its head
- Emphasis on gnosis, personal knowledge of God, rather than faith
- Information about Gnosticism had been almost completely lost until discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945
What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?
A collection of writings found between 1947 and 1956 in caves near the shore of the Dead Sea
- Most scholars believe the scrolls were written by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that chose to withdraw from life under Roman rule
- Oldest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible
- Also include some known apocryphal texts and some previously unknown texts
- Contributed to an understanding of how accurately the Bible has been translated over time