Christianity after the Apostles
This chapter presents developments prior to the conversion of Constantine, when Christianity finally gained legal toleration. “Early Christianity” could be thought of as the period from Jesus to Muhammad. In several branches of the Christian tradition, the patristic writings have a special prestige because of their formative role in shaping the Christian tradition. During the patristic period, Christianity assumed many of the classical features that mark it as a distinct religion separate from Judaism: its biblical canon, with a Christian New Testament that complemented the Jewish scriptures, known as the Old Testament. During the second and third centuries, Christianity developed its distinctive identity. Three circumstances shaped this development: the gradual break with Judaism; the delay in Christ’s return; and Christianity’s encounter with the Greco-Roman world. The Didache shows a very early state of affairs when traveling prophets, teachers, and “apostles” outranked local bishops and deacons.
The Christian Theological Tradition, 4th ed.