Roman Persecution of Christianity

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Christ’s Faithful Servants, copyright 2023

During the first three centuries after Christ’s death, the mighty Roman Empire repeatedly assailed Christianity in an attempt to destroy it, primarily for two reasons.

First, Christians were unswervingly opposed to the Romans’ pagan religions. Christians refused to worship or offer sacrifices to the Roman gods or the Roman emperors.[1] Many Christians considered such idolatrous sacrifices to be apostasy, for which no forgiveness was possible. To a Roman, sacrificing to the Emperor or to the traditional Roman gods showed a person’s loyalty and patriotism, like we do when we salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance. The Christians’ refusal to honor the gods aroused Roman suspicions. Their suspicions were heightened by the Christians’ refusal of military service on religious grounds (since most opposed war), and their opposition to many aspects of Roman culture, such as the Roman “games” (gladiator fights) and the Roman theater.[2]

But the second reason was by far the more important—the Christians were successful. . . .

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[1]. Beginning with Caligula in 37, emperors were often deified and worshiped as gods during their lifetimes. (Caligula was the Roman emperor from 37 to 41.) Caligula’s predecessors—Julius Caesar, Augustus (Octavian), and Tiberius—were honored as gods after their deaths, but were not worshipped as such during their lifetimes. (Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. Augustus ruled Rome from 42 B.C. to 14. Tiberius was the Roman emperor from 14 to 37.)

[2]. Christians condemned the Roman “games” for their violence and bloodshed, often involving fights to the death. Christians disapproved of the Roman theater for, among other things, its pagan themes, the erotic and violent elements in many of its plots (some of which included nudity), and its frequently obscene and profane language.