The First Five Centuries
By G. Lee Southard, PhD/ September 12, 2019/Spiritual Heritage
Cumulonimbus clouds are the largest clouds and span all of the atmosphere layers. Of all the clouds they have the highest energy often producing the greatest impact through storms, tornadoes and heavy rainfall. Hebrews 11 talks about a great cloud of witnesses that were spiritual forerunners to the first century eyewitnesses to Jesus. We know them as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel. Then in Hebrews 12 it tells us that since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of these witnesses that we should run the race of life with endurance, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of the Christian faith.
It is time to examine this growing cloud of witnesses and add to the list the Christian witnesses. This cloud now resembles the Cumulonimbus cloud packed with the energy of the Holy Spirit as a result of Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Without them you would not be reading these words.
We know some of the earliest eyewitnesses from the first century New Testament; the twelve disciples and the Gospel authors. We know the writers of Acts and the Epistles Luke, Peter, Paul and James. After that most of us know little because Christian history is not taught in the church. The first century is only the beginning because it spawned this great new cloud.
In the second century there were the Apostolic Fathers who were important to continuity of the chain of information from the eyewitness accounts. They also defended the faith against false teachings and heretical sects. They were instrumental in first establishing the entire New Testament as we know it today. They were Clement of Rome (d. AD 95), the first of the Apostolic Fathers taught by Peter or Paul. His letter to the Church at Corinth is one of the earliest Christian writings; Polycarp (AD 80-167) Bishop of Smyrna (modern Turkey) and a disciple of John and like Paul wrote an early Epistle to the Philippians; Papias (AD 60-130), bishop at Hierapolis (modern Turkey) was the earliest to write about the Gospel’s origins, excerpts of which are found in the works of Irenaeus and Eusebius He affirmed that Mark and Matthew had indeed written their Gospels and testified to Mark’s accuracy; Ignatius (ca. AD 50-117) was a disciple of John and third Bishop of Antioch (in modern Turkey). He contributed to early Christian theology; Irenaeus (ca. AD 125-202) was bishop in Gaul (modern France) and a student of Polycarp. His five-volume work Against Heresies, written in AD 180 bears solid witness to the authorship of the Gospels and challenges heretical sects such as Gnosticism; Tertullian (AD 150-240), a vigorous defender of the faith against heresies such as Gnosticism. His extensive writings in Latin helped give that language prominence over Greek in theological literature; Origen of Alexandria (AD 184-253) is considered a is regarded as one of the most important Christian theologians of all time. He was instrumental in refuting Gnosticism; Eusebius (AD 263-339), the Greek bishop of Caesarea Marittima, wrote the first history of the church that survives to this day and is referenced by all subsequent histories; Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 296- 373) led the fight against Arianism (Denied the divinity of Christ) and instrumental in the outcome of the First Council at Nicaea. He was the first to identify the 27 books of the New Testament we have today; The Three Cappadocians, resulting from Paul’s ministries, were Basil, bishop of Caesarea (330-379), Gregory (335-395) bishop of Nyssa and Gregory (AD 329-389), Patriarch of Constantinople advanced the development of early theology including the doctrine of the Trinity. They are highly respected as saints in the Western and Eastern Orthodox churches; Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) was a thought leader on grace, salvation, the Trinity, and original sin. His writings, The City of God and Confessions profoundly influenced the development of Western Christianity and philosophy.
There were numerous others, perhaps thousands in the first century alone. Most of them were martyred along with their predecessors for their faith. They were martyred because they were unaccepting of Roman pagan religion, a decadent culture but more importantly their unwavering faith resulting from their eyewitness connection to the life of Christ. Their martyrdom is perhaps the strongest evidence for the life and work of Christ that birthed the Christian faith. Faith of the Bible is defined as “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” Hebrews 11: 1. But I submit to you that faith was seen in the First Century by eyewitnesses. We cannot see today what they saw but we can hope because we have the assurance that the evidence not seen today was seen and has been passed down to us through the new great cloud of witnesses in an unbroken chain of information and documentation.
For more information consult the book To Know With Certainty; Answers to Christian Students Questions on Leaving High School. Available from Amazon or Westbowpress.com but to order a signed copy go to toknowwithcertainty.com.