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How long has Christianity been around? Not how or why -- just when did it start:

  1. As a religion?
  2. As a name?
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Could you give a little more details on what you are asking? Some of the answers are very theological, rather than historical. Did you mean historically or theologically? –  DJClayworth Sep 5 '11 at 22:40
    
@DJClayworth I don't see the two aspects as very separate although there is certainly an aspect, less of Christianity as a whole and more of the scope of 'Church' as we know it that hasn't been written up here yet. It would be interesting how to see how you would break it down. –  Caleb Sep 5 '11 at 22:45
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Two kinds of people could ask this question, requiring two different kinds of answers. One is the person who knows nothing about Christian history, and needs to be told that it was a Jewish offshoot and is centred round Jesus, and began in around 33AD. The second is the kind of theological stuff given in the answers so far - with foreshadowing and messianic prophecies. Those answers will be very confusing to the first kind of person. I know from your other questions that you are not the first kind of person, but if you added detail you would avoid confusing later first-kind visitors. –  DJClayworth Sep 5 '11 at 22:49
    
when you write the date on anything(i.e. - a check), look at the year you just wrote, that's about it... –  Greg McNulty Apr 6 '12 at 16:21
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2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

1. Christianity as a religion

The central point of the whole Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 15:19-20 (ESV)
19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

This happened ~30 AD, that is 33 years after Jesus's birth, the exact year of which isn't certain.

But the central point is not the same as the beginning. Hebrews 11 tells us that the patriarchs of the Old Testament era were already waiting for Christ, living in the hope of the promise.

Hebrews 11:24-26 (ESV)
24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

The Old Testament era was building up for the coming of Christ (John 1:1-18, Romans 5). When Adam and Eve originally rebelled against God, the plan to save humankind began. What we call Christianity is really that plan. Adam, the first man, already is a symbol of Christ:

Romans 5:14-15 (ESV) [emphasis mine]
14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

It makes sense to say that Christianity began at the Resurrection, ~30 AD, but it makes even more sense that Christianity began at the Fall of man.

2. Christianity as a name

The first mention of Christians was of the group of believers in Antioch:

Acts 11:25-26 (ESV)
25So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

This was obviously after Jesus's resurrection, but also during the reign of king Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1 mentions this). From Herod Agrippa's period of reign we know this was probably between 41-44 AD.

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Thanks to Caleb and wax eagle for some important pointers on the answer! –  dancek Sep 5 '11 at 19:34
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Genesis tells us of Abraham's dealings with Melchizedek:

Genesis 14: 18-20

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:

20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

So we see that Melchizedek was a priest of God, and him bringing out bread and wine in conjunction with being a priest of God. (Sound familiar?) And also that he blessed Abraham and Abraham paid tithes to him.

In Hebrews 7, we see that Melchizedek was not just any priest, but a priest after the same order of priesthood as Christ himself! Verse 12 is particularly interesting, as it establishes a solid connection between priesthood orders and the laws they administer. The Aaronic order administered the Law of Moses, but the order of Melchizedek is the order of Jesus, and the law associated with him is the law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So we see that priests authorized to administer the law of the Gospel have existed at least as far back as Melchizedek, and probably much further. We don't have any record of any other priesthood order and its associated law, and the Law of Moses and its priesthood did not exist until the time of Moses, and yet we have records of humanity's dealings with God since the time of Adam.

The title "Christians" may have originated at Antioch in the first century AD, but the knowledge of the Gospel is much, much older than that.

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+1, the Melchizedek tie in is an important one to help understand how the OT and NT fit together. –  Caleb Sep 5 '11 at 21:18
    
I don't think this is a helpful answer. The questioner is probably asking from a perspective outside Christianity, and Melchisedek is going to confuse him. –  DJClayworth Sep 5 '11 at 22:39
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@DJClayworth: I don't think so. The questioner is Caleb, who certainly does not come from a perspective outside Christianity! –  Mason Wheeler Sep 5 '11 at 22:52
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We're trying to be a reference site as well as an answerer of personal questions. –  DJClayworth Sep 6 '11 at 18:30
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There is way too much speculation in this answer. Rather than Melchizedek being "the same order as Jesus" we find that Jesus is "of the order of Melchizedek". Bread and wine had other significances than the Last Supper (that's why Jesus used them). Saying that Melchizedek was "authorized to administer the law of the Gospel" is highly speculative. –  DJClayworth Sep 6 '11 at 18:32
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