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16. The early church

16-1 A Taste Of The First Century: The Positive : 16-1-1 " With one accord" || 16-1-2 The Early Church Our Example || 16-1-3 Prayer Meetings || 16-1-4 Christ-centredness || 16-1-5 Radical Preaching || 16-1-6 Women In The Early Church || 16-1-7 The Joy Of Faith || 16-2 A Taste Of The First Century: The Negative: 16-2-1 Division In The Church || 16-2-2 Politics In The Church || 16-3 Unity And Division In The First Century : 16-3-1 Unity And Division In The First Century Church || 16-3-2 Oikonomia And Household Fellowships || 16-3-3 Rich And Poor In The First Century || 16-3-4 Unity In The Church || 16-4 The Obstacles : 16-4-1 The Obstacles To The Growth Of Christianity || 16-4-2 The offence of the cross || 16-4-3 The rejection of Caesar || 16-4-4 Women And Slaves In The First Century || 16-4-5 The Roman Empire And Christianity || 16-4-6 The Attraction Of Judaism || 16-4-7 Other First Century Objections To Christianity || 16-5 How They Succeeded: 16-5-1 Why Christianity Spread In The First Century  || 16-5-2 The Example Of The Community || 16-5-3 House Meetings In The First Century || 16-5-4 Witness In The Workplace || 16-5-5 The Witness Of Christian Unity In The First Century || 16-5-6 The Role Of Women   In The First Century || 16-5-7 Style Of PreachingIn The First Century || 16-5-8 Christian Ethics In The First Century || 16-5-9 The Exclusivity Of Christianity || 16-5-10 Early Christian Doctrine || 16-6 Where Things Went Wrong: 16-6-1 Doctrinal Apostacy || 16-6-2 The Rise Of Traditions || 16-6-3 Legalism In The Church || 16-6-4 Social Tensions In The Church || 16-6-5 Wealth In The Church || 16-6-6 Worldliness In The Church || 16-6-7 Lost Emphasis Upon Grace || 16-6-8 Loss Of Faith In The Church || 16-6-9 Poor Church Leadership || 16-6-10 Dogmatism And Legalists


16-4-2 The offence of the cross

The cross was foolishness to the Gentiles and an offence to the Jews. In Roman thought, the cross was something shocking; the very word ‘cross’ was repugnant to them. It was something only for slaves. Consider the following writings from the period (1).

- Cicero wrote: “The very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but…the very mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man…your honours [i.e. Roman citizenship] protect a man from…the terror of the cross”.

- Seneca the Elder in the Controversiae records where a master’s daughter marries a slave, and she is described as having become related to cruciarii, ‘the crucified’. Thus ‘the crucified’ was used by metonymy for slaves. The father of the girl is taunted: “If you want to find your son-in-law’s relatives, go to the cross”. It is hard for us to appreciate how slaves were seen as less than human in that society. There was a stigma and revulsion attached to the cross. This was the offence of the cross.

- Juvenal in his 6th Satire records how a wife ordered her husband: “Crucify this slave”. “But what crime worthy of death has he committed?” asks the husband, “no delay can be too long when a man’s life is at stake”. She replies: “What a fool you are! Do you call a slave a man?”.  

The sense of shame and offence attached to the cross was also there in Jewish perception of it. Whoever was hung on a tree was seen as having been cursed by God (Dt. 21:23). Justin Martyr, in Dialogue with Trypho,  records Trypho (who was a Jew) objecting to Christianity: “We are aware that the Christ must suffer…but that he had to be crucified, that he had to die a death of such shame and dishonour- a death cursed by the Law- prove this to us, for we are totally unable to receive it” (2). Justin Martyr in his Apology further records: “They say that our madness consists in the fact that we place a crucified man in second place after the eternal God”. The Romans also mocked the idea of following a crucified man. There is a caricature which shows a crucified person with an ass’s head. The ass was a symbol of servitude [note how the Lord rode into Jerusalem on an ass]. The caption sarcastically says: “Alexamenos worships God”. This was typical of the offence of the cross.


(1)   These quotes are from Martin Hengel, Crucifixion In The Ancient World  (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978) .

(2)   Quoted in Maurice Goguel, Jesus The Nazarene (New York: Appleton, 1926).