I wonder what the early Christians were officially persecuted for by the high priests?

In the book of Acts we see that Saul, before his conversion, received some letters from the high priest that were giving him an official power to persecute early Christians (Acts 9:2). I wonder what was the official reason for that.

I mean, the Bible does let us know that the high-priests didn't want the new teaching to spread (Acts 4:17), that they were quite jealous witnessing the miracles performed by Peter and John (Acts 5:16,17), and even the fact that they were simply afraid of Jesus' blood being brought upon them (Acts 5:28). However, I don't think they would officially state something like "Christians must be persecuted because we feel jealous regarding their growing number". There must have been some "official" and "scientific" reason put forth, perhaps based on the books of law (Old Testament), in order to persecute the early Christians. So, what was that reason?

  • I don't think anybody is "officially" persecuted.
    – user3961
    Sep 25, 2013 at 22:49
  • @brilliant: yes, it was based on their laws, that Jesus was a false prophet and claiming to be God, one of the biggest breaking of Jewish laws! Why do you think Jews are not Christians today....? Jun 8, 2014 at 23:22
  • @GregMcNulty - "Jesus was a false prophet and claiming to be God, one of the biggest breaking of Jewish laws!" - Which points of the law did it exactly break?
    – brilliant
    Jun 8, 2014 at 23:51

4 Answers 4


1. The Jews persecuted Christians for Blasphemy

From the perspective of the High Priest, the followers of the Way were violating the primary profession of the Jewish Faith: "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One."

Jesus, in claiming to be God, was, according to the High Priest, blaspheming. Those who followed him would, to the Jewish mind, have been guilty of bifurcating God - of making God out to be polytheistic - of being two.

The disciples specifically were charged with teaching in the name of this "heretic" and "blasphemer." This had the effect of subverting the authority of the High Priest and causing social discord. And yes, sedition and insubordination are valid charges in a kingdom, regardless of whether or not they are in a democracy like ours today. Acts 5 records this exchange:

27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

2. The Romans persecuted Christians for Atheism

For the Romans, however, the charge was different. The Romans saw the Christians as being A-Theos (literally atheists) by denying the gods they grew up with, thus inviting destruction amongst everybody by their disbelief. In rejecting the "gods" of their land, they had become 'godless Christians' and atheists. Unlike the Jews, who had special exemption from the requirement that they believe in "gods," the Christians, to the extent that they were not being Jews, were not privy to these exemptions, because the Christians had no historical basis on which to base their 'religio'.

As an example, Acts 19 shows this in practice. To wit:

23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar.

Here you see the charge - 'he is saying our gods are no gods at all!' (and, incidentally, you're not very good for business either!)

3. The Jews persecuted the Christians by using Roman charges

Since the Jews had no law to put a man to death, the next best thing was to charge that these Jewish non-Jews (and the Gentiles that accompanied them) were not privy to the Jewish exemptions and were subject to the Roman penalties against Atheism. As such, they just had to differentiate the Christians from the Jews in order to aid in their persecution.

Since the Christians held that there was no God but God the Father, incarnated through God the Son, they were subject to the invective of Rome by means of the Jews.

  • 1
    Add the silversmith's views on competing economic interests and this is a perfect answer.
    – pterandon
    Sep 24, 2013 at 21:32
  • I am afraid your example of what happened in Ephesus is quite irrelevant as my question was solely about the reasons put forth by the Jews, namely the high priests, not Gentiles.
    – brilliant
    Sep 25, 2013 at 14:27
  • @brilliant Did you read my first two paragraphs? Sep 25, 2013 at 15:10
  • Yes, I did. The first section is absolutely relevant, the second one is not, the third needs some sources.
    – brilliant
    Sep 25, 2013 at 22:56

But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.

John 19:15

This is what they used against early Christians. Accepting Jesus meant they were accepting Him as king and God, instead of Caesar which was supposed to be just that. This was seen as high treason deserving of death.


In many accounts of martyrs during the first three centuries, Roman citizens were sometimes required to offer incense to the Roman emperor, and thus acknowlege the emperor's godhood. When Christians refused, they were persecuted and often executed. A well known example is found in The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 8:2 (written in the 2nd century):

And he was met by Herod the captain of police and his father Nicetes, who also removed him to their carriage and tried to prevail upon him, seating themselves by his side and saying, "Why, what harm is there in saying, Caesar is Lord, and offering incense," with more to this effect, "and saving yourself?" But he at first gave them no answer. When however they persisted, he said, "I am not going to do what you counsel me."


The problem was Jews in first century Israel followed their own doctrines instead of the written word of God.

In first century Israel, The sect of Pharisees (the Pharisees, the scribes, and all Jews who belonged to the sect of Pharisees) obeyed Traditions of the Elders.

Jesus Christ criticized the Pharisees and the scribes for obeying Traditions of the Elders which nullified the word of God (Matthew 15, Mark 7). That's why the biggest opponents of Jesus Christ were the Pharisees and the scribes (Matthew 23, Luke 11).

Apostle Paul called Traditions of the Elders as "Traditions of our fathers" in Galatians 1:14 and Jewish Priest Josephus calls "Traditions of the Elders" as "Tradition of our forefathers."

"What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers." (Antiquities of Jews Book XIII.X.VI).

Traditions of the Elders later came to be known as Talmud. This is also agreed by Jewish society.

Rabbi Michael Rodkinson - "The Talmud, then, is the written form of that which, in the time of Jesus, was called the Traditions of the Elders, and to which he makes frequent allusions" (Source - The History of the Talmud, Vol. II, page 70, Chapter IX).

As mentioned above by Josephus, the sect of Sadducees opposed Traditions of the Elders.

Although the Sadducees encouraged to follow the Old Testament, still the problem with the sect of Sadducees was that they followed their own doctrine.

The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit while Pharisees acknowledge all these things (Acts 23:8).

Josephus (Jewish Wars 2.8.14) on the Sadducees - "But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order, and take away fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil; and they say, that to act what is good, or what is evil, is at men's own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to every one, that they may act as they please. They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades. Moreover, the Pharisees are friendly to one another, and are for the exercise of concord, and regard for the public; but the behavior of the Sadducees one towards another is in some degree wild, and their conversation with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to them. And this is what I had to say concerning the philosophic sects among the Jews."

In Matthew 22:29, we see Jesus Christ telling the Sadducees about their lack of knowledge in the scriptures and in the power of God.

Jesus Christ points out that Jews didn't believe in him, because they never believed the laws of Moses and they also didn't keep the law of Moses. In Acts 7, Stephen also points out that Jews didn't obey the law and they persecuted and killed the prophets of God.

John 5:46-47 (NIV) - "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

John 7:19 (NIV) - "Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

Acts 7:52-53 (NIV) - "Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Jesus Christ and the followers of Jesus Christ opposed these Jews due to the fact that they followed their own doctrines instead of the written word of God.

That's why Jews persecuted early Christians. Apostle Paul wrote about the attitude of these Jews.

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (NIV) - "For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

The generation of first century Israel was extremely evil, because they followed their doctrines instead of believing God, his son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and in the written word of God.

On several occasions, Jesus Christ calls his generation in first century Israel as "wicked/sinful and adulterous generation" (Matthew 12:39, Matthew 16:4, Mark 8:38, etc.).

Jewish Priest Josephus agrees with Jesus Christ on the wickedness of that generation.

"I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: — that neither did any other city suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world." (Josephus' Jewish Wars V, 10:5).

  • 1
    Never even thought that the phrase "traditions of the fathers" could refer to a collection of writings. And, of course, didn't know that it could've been Talmud. Thanks a lot. Feel like I really need to read Josephus' books now.
    – brilliant
    Jun 8, 2014 at 23:47
  • Brilliant, I thought I should share this with you. In Matthew 5:43, it says that to love your neighbor and to hate your enemy. This is a pharisaic interpretation from traditions of the elders. Jesus Christ opposes "hate thine enemy" by teaching to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). Love thy neighbor is from Leviticus 19:18. Nowhere in the Old Testament teaches to hate thine enemy. "Hate thine enemy" also violates Exodus 23:4-5 and Proverbs 25:21 while Jesus Christ's teaching "Love your enemies" supports Exodus 23:4-5 and Proverbs 25:21.
    – konwayk
    Jun 9, 2014 at 1:27
  • "Nowhere in the Old Testament teaches to hate thine enemy" - in fact, I also thought about it, but was too lazy to check - just concluded that the O.T. hate-your-enemy teaching could be derived from numerous stories in Judges, when Israel suffered because of sparing some of those nations in Canaan. You seem to posses a golden bar of knowledge, especially when it comes to Aramaic primacy. I really wish this matter were given a full and objective review in academia instead of being treated like a "curious theory just for fun".
    – brilliant
    Jun 9, 2014 at 16:27
  • Sadly, Most of the historical truth is "deliberately" hidden from the public. Although this is off topic, still I thought I should share this documentary with you about the hidden truth of WW2 - archive.org/details/…
    – konwayk
    Jun 9, 2014 at 18:12

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