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History of Christianity
Timeline of Christianity
Jesus of Nazareth
The Apostles
Ecumenical councils
Great Schism
The Crusades

The Trinity of God
God the Father
Christ the Son
The Holy Spirit

Christian theology
Christian Church
Christian worship
Grace · Salvation
Sermon on the Mount
The Ten Commandments

The Christian Bible
Old Testament
New Testament

Christian denominations
Orthodox Christianity

Christian movements

Template:Portal Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on Jesus of Nazareth, known by Christians as Jesus Christ, and New Testament accounts of his life and teachings.

With an estimated 2.3 billion adherents<ref>Religions by Adherents</ref>, (2006 figure) Christianity is the world's largest religion.

Christianity began as as a Jewish sect, hence sharing much sacred text and early history with Judaism, specifically the Hebrew Bible, known in the Christian context as the Old Testament (see Judeo-Christian).<ref>While sharing the Hebrew Scriptures or "Old Testament", Christianity nonetheless disagrees with many points of the Jewish understanding of these texts, or their significance for practice, based on the understandings found in the "New Testament".</ref> Christianity is considered an Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism and Islam.

In the Christian scriptures, the name "Christian" (and so by implication "Christianity") is first attested in Acts 11:26: "And in Antioch Jesus' disciples were first called Christians" (Gr. χριστιανους, from Christ Gr. Χριστός, which means "the anointed one").



Within Christianity numerous distinct groups have developed with diverse beliefs that vary widely by culture and place. Since the Reformation, Christianity is usually represented as being divided into three main branches:

Other denominations and churches which self-identify as Christian but which distance themselves from the above classifications together claim around 275 million members. These include African indigenous churches with up to 110 million members (estimates vary widely), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called Mormons) with more than 12 million members<ref>Christianity (2005)</ref>, Jehovah's Witnesses with approximately 6.6 million members<ref>Witness Membership 2005.</ref>, and other groups<ref>Many Christians identify themselves as such not by the adherence to a set of religious rules or rites but instead by their personal relationship to Jesus Christ.</ref>. The early leaders of most of these groups were originally Protestant adherents.

These broad divisions do not themselves encompass unanimity. On the contrary, some branches contain vast internal disagreements, while in other cases the divisions overlook strong sympathies between and among the groups. Nevertheless, this tends to be the standard overview of distinctions, especially as viewed in the Western world.



Image:Cristo Velázquez lou2.jpg Enormous diversity of belief exists among Christians. Nevertheless, certain doctrines have come to characterize the mainstream of Christian theology.


Most Christians identify Jesus as the Messiah (Greek Christos, hence Christ) whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament.

Jesus as God and Man

Most Christians believe that Jesus is fully God (divine) and fully human. Jesus is believed to have become fully human in all respects, including mortality, to have suffered the pains and temptations of mortal man, yet without having sinned. The Chalcedonian Creed (not accepted by the Oriental Orthodox Churches) defined this as Christ having "two natures in one person", a doctrine known to theologians as hypostatic union (see Christology).

Holy Trinity

Template:Main Most Christians believe that God is one single eternal being who exists as three distinct, eternal, and indivisible persons: Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).


Christians believe that salvation from "sin and death" is available through the person and work of Jesus. Jesus' atoning sacrifice, completed with his death on the cross, is believed to have paid for the sins of mankind. Christian denominations have arrived at several explanations as to exactly how this salvation occurs. (See soteriology.)

Crucifixion and Resurrection

Most Christians believe that Jesus died on the Cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven after appearing to his disciples.

Second Coming

Template:Main Most Christians believe in the "General Resurrection", in which all people who have ever lived will rise from the dead at the end of time, to be judged by Christ when He returns.

The Afterlife

Christian views of the afterlife generally involve heaven and hell, with Catholicism adding an intermediate realm of purgatory. Except for purgatory (whose denizens will ultimately enter heaven, after "purification"), these realms are commonly thought to be eternal. There is, however, some debate on this point, for example, among the Orthodox.

It is generally unclear how the afterlife fits together with the doctrine of the General Resurrection —whether eternal life begins immediately after death, or at the end of time; and whether this afterlife will involve the resurrection of one's physical body (perhaps in a glorified spiritual form). Most Christians hold that one's consciousness, the soul, survives the death of the physical body, although the Jehovah's Witnesses, among others, reject this, saying that those who practiced righteousness will be resurrected to life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.

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Differences in beliefs

Nicene Creed

Template:Main One statement describing the beliefs of a majority of Christians is the Nicene Creed, ratified as the universal creed of Eastern and Western Christendom by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians disagree about the Filioque clause, which the Western Churches included later. Some Protestants reject the concept of formal creeds. The overwhelming majority of Christians accepts at least the content of the Nicene creed.

Central Christian beliefs which are affirmed in the Nicene Creed include, but are not limited to:

Some groups, however, deviate from tenets which most others hold as absolutely basic to Christianity. On account of these deviations they are considered heretical or even non-Christian by many of the mainstream Christian groups. Most such disputes center on the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, or both. The words of the Nicene Creed frequently target certain opposing beliefs of other early Christians, which the council regarded as heretical. Examples would include Adoptionist groups who denied Jesus' divinity, as well as Docetist groups who denied that Christ was a human being, and Arians, who denied that the Father and the Son were "of one being" (ομούσιος). Other early heresies included Simonianism, Marcionism, Ebionitism, Gnosticism and Montanism. Again, while some churches take exception to some of these articles, to the extent that they do so, this usually represents a conscious departure from the Christian mainstream. Some Christian traditions, such as those of the Baptists and the Churches of Christ, would accept these beliefs but not the creed itself, since they regard all creeds as unnecessary and even counter-productive.


Authority and different parts of the Bible

Virtually all Christian churches accept the authority of the Bible, including the Old Testament and the New Testament. Differences exist in the canons of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches — primarily their treatment of the Deuterocanonical books used by Catholic and Orthodox Churches but rejected by Protestants as Apocrypha. This issue affects doctrines only indirectly. More theologically significant is the Swedenborgian churches' rejection of the New Testament Epistles, a stance which has not won acceptance from any other denomination.

Whereas Jews see the Torah as the most important part of the Bible, most Christians regard the Gospels which tell of the life and teachings of Jesus, as central. Ornamental books of the four gospels are sometimes used in church liturgies. These may be carried into the church in procession, and laid upon the altar during the first part of the service. The "gospel" means the "good news" of the Christian message, which Christians regularly disseminate to others. This may include missionary work as well as the translation and distribution of Bibles, as practiced by Gideons International, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Jehovah's Witnesses and others.


Though Christians largely agree on the content of the Bible, no such consensus exists on the crucial matter of its interpretation, an issue which divides denominations from within as well as from one another. "Biblical literalism" or "Christian fundamentalism" describe well-known conservative Christianity hermeneutic stances with respect to Christian scriptures, and are mainly associated with Protestantism.

Catholics, the Orthodox, and some Anglicans consider the Bible as having been produced by one phase (albeit formative) of the development of church tradition, or "Holy Tradition." This Holy Tradition has been established and perpetuated through the decisions of the ecumenical councils, the writings of the Church Fathers, the lives and teachings of the saints, liturgical practice, sacred art, and papal statements (for Roman Catholics), and is thought to be alive today. Indeed, one Orthodox theologian has characterized Holy Tradition as "the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church."

Protestants, meanwhile, tend to strongly reject portions of "Holy Tradition" while readily accepting other portions. Most Protestants tend to accept Martin Luther's dictum of sola scriptura, which sees the Bible as the ultimate, or only, source of faith and doctrine. Protestantism also assumes that any Christian believer is capable of rightly interpreting the Bible. Even Protestants concede that this view raises difficulties, especially given the wide variety of practices and beliefs which have some arguable claim to biblical warrant. Based on these diverging interpretations Protestantism has produced a large variety of denominations and traditions.

Other books held sacred

Some Christians hold additional writings to be inspired scripture. Christian Gnostics recognized several books of scripture, such as The Gospel of Thomas. The Latter Day Saints hold three additional books to be the inspired word of God: The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Other works considered sacred but not held to be scripture are the works of Ellen G. White for the Seventh-day Adventists and Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.

The elevation of other writings to the same level as orthodox scriptures forms a major divergence between such groups and mainstream Christians. In history, the appearance of rival Gospels has contributed to the evolution of a Biblical canon.

Worship and practices

Orthodox and Catholic believers describe Christian worship in terms of the seven sacraments or "mysteries." These include baptism, the Eucharist (communion), matrimony, Holy Orders, confirmation or Chrismation, penance and reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick.

Many Protestant groups, following Martin Luther, recognize the sacramental nature of baptism and communion, but not usually the other five in the same way. Anabaptist and Brethren groups would add feet washing. Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Holiness Churches emphasize "gifts of the Spirit" such as spiritual healing, prophecy, exorcism, and speaking in tongues. These emphases are used not as "sacraments" but as means of worship and ministry. The Quakers deny the entire concept of sacraments. Nevertheless, their "testimonies" affirming peace, integrity, equality, and simplicity are affirmed as integral parts of the Quaker belief structure.

In general, Protestants tend to view Christian rituals in terms of commemoration apart from mystery. Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Old-Catholic and many Anglican and Lutheran Christians hold the commemoration and mystery of rituals together, seeing no contradiction between them.

Virtually all Christian traditions affirm that Christian practice should include acts of personal piety such as prayer, Bible reading, and attempting to live a moral lifestyle. This lifestyle includes not only obedience to the Ten Commandments, as interpreted by Christ (as in the Sermon on the Mount), but also love for one's neighbor in both attitude and action — whether friend or enemy, Christian or non-Christian. This love is commanded by Christ and, according to him, is next only in importance to love toward God; which includes obedience to such injunctions as "feed the hungry" and "shelter the homeless", both informally and formally. Christianity teaches that it is impossible for people to completely reform themselves, but that moral and spiritual progress can only occur with God's help through the gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within all faithful believers. Christians believe that by sharing in Christ's life, death, and resurrection, they die with Him to sin and can be resurrected with Him to new life.

Weekly worship services

Justin Martyr (First Apology, chapter LXVII) describes a second-century church service thus:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.

Justin's description, which applies to some extent to most church services today, alludes to the following components:

  • Scripture readings drawn from the Old Testament, one of the Gospels, or an Epistle. Often these are arranged systematically around an annual cycle, using a book called a lectionary.
  • A sermon. In ancient times this followed the scripture readings; today this may occur later in the service, although in liturgical churches, the sermon still often follows the readings.
  • Congregational prayer and thanksgiving. These will probably occur regularly throughout the service. Justin does not mention this, but some of these are likely to be sung in the form of hymns. The Lord's Prayer is especially likely to be recited.
  • The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper)— a ritual in which small amounts of bread and wine are consecrated, and then eaten and drunk. Some Christians say these represent the body and blood of Christ whereas Orthodox, Catholics, and most Anglicans say that they become the body and blood of Christ (the doctrine of the Real Presence). Churches in the "liturgical" family (Orthodox, Catholic, and some Anglican) see this as the main part of the service, while some Protestants may celebrate it less frequently. In many cases there are restrictions on who may partake, concerning which visitors should apprise themselves. For example, only Catholics free from unconfessed mortal sin may receive Communion in a Catholic church, though it is rare for the Eucharist to be denied to anyone.
  • A "collection" or "offering" in which the people are asked to contribute money. One common method is to pass around a collection plate. Christians traditionally use these monies not only for upkeep for the church, but also for charitable work of various types.

Several variations or exceptions exist. Sometimes these are due to special events, such as baptisms or weddings which are incorporated into the service. In many churches today, children and youth will be excused from the main service in order to attend Sunday school. Many denominations depart from this general pattern in a more fundamental way. For example, the Seventh-day Adventists meet on Saturday (the biblical Sabbath); not Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection. Charismatic or Pentecostal congregations may be spontaneously moved by the Holy Spirit, rather than follow a formal order of service. At a Quaker meeting, participants sit quietly until moved by the Holy Spirit to speak.

In some denominations (mainly liturgical ones), the service is led by a priest. In others (mainly among Protestants), there is a minister, preacher, or pastor. Still others may lack formal leaders, either in principle or by local necessity. In addition, there are "high" church services, characterized by greater solemnity and ritual, and "low" services at which a more casual atmosphere prevails, even if the service in question is liturgical in nature.

In Orthodox churches, the congregation traditionally stands throughout the liturgy (although allowances are made for human weakness). Many Protestant churches follow a pattern in which participants stand to sing, kneel to pray, and sit to listen (to the sermon). Roman Catholics tend to do the same, though standing for formal prayer is more common. Others services are less programmed, and may be quite lively and spontaneous. Music is usually incorporated, and often involves a choir and/or organ. Some churches use only a cappella music, either on principle (many Churches of Christ object to the use of musical instruments in worship) or by tradition (as in Orthodoxy).

In many non-denominational Christian churches, as well as some Protestant denominations, there is usually a worship music portion of the service that precedes the sermon or message. This usually consists of the singing of hymns, praise and worship music or psalms. Many churches believe that worship is important to usher in the Presence of God for the rest of the service.

A recent trend is the growth of "convergence worship" which combines liturgy with spontaneity. This sort of worship is often a result of the influence of charismatic renewal within Churches which are traditionally liturgical. Convergence worship has spawned at least one new denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church.


Catholics, Eastern Christians, and about half of the Protestants follow a liturgical calendar with various holidays (from "holy day"). These calendars include feast days (where special worship services are held, to mark a special anniversary) as well as days of fasting. Typically, a feast will be found preceded by a traditional fast. The best-known fasting period is Lent.

Even Christians who do not follow a liturgical tradition can generally be found celebrating Christmas and Easter, despite some disagreement as to dates. A few churches object to the recognition of special holidays and may object to the apparent pagan origins of Christmas and Easter.


The best-known Christian symbol is the cross, of which many varieties exist. For convenience of recognition, several denominations tend to favor distinctive crosses: the crucifix for Catholics, the crux orthodoxa for Orthodox, and the unadorned cross for Protestants. However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Other Christian symbols include the ichthys ("fish") symbol, or in ancient times, an anchor, as well as the chi-rho. In a modern Roman alphabet, the Chi-Rho appears like an large P with an X overlaid on the lower stem. They are the Greek initials of Jesus' name and the symbol is the one that is said to have appeared to Constantine prior to converting to Christianity (see History and origins section below).

History and origins

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Christianity began within the Jewish religion among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Under the leadership of the Apostles Peter and Paul it welcomed Gentiles, gradually separating from Rabbinical Judaism. Some Jewish Christians rejected this approach and developed into various sects of their own, while others were joined with Gentile Christians in the development of the church, in which there also existed great diversity of belief. Professor Bentley Layton writes, 'the lack of uniformity in ancient Christian scripture in the early period is very striking, and it points to the substantial diversity within the Christian religion.' A church hierarchy seems to have developed by the time of the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 3, Titus 1), and was certainly formalized by the 4th century <ref>See the canons of the Council of Nicaea, especially canon 6.</ref>.

Christianity spread across the Mediterranean Basin, enduring persecution by the Roman Emperors. As Christianity expanded beyond Palestine, it also came into increased contact with Hellenistic culture; Greek philosophy, especially Platonism, became a significant influence on Christian thought through theologians such as Origen. Elements of Mystery religions such as Mithraism may have been incorporated into Christianity, although scholars differ on the extent to which the developing Christian faith adopted identifiably pagan beliefs.

Theological disputes about the correct interpretation of Christian teaching led to internal conflicts; Church authorities condemned some theologians as heretics, the most notable being Christian Gnostics, and defined orthodoxy in contrast to heresy. Such disputes, especially in the field of Christology, intensified after the religion's legalization, leading to internal strife and to clearer dogmatic definitions through ecumenical councils.

Early in the 4th century, the Emperor Constantine the Greatlegalized Christianity, giving the church a privileged place in society, and in 391 Theodosius I established Nicene Christianity as the official and, except for Judaism, the only legal religion of the Roman Empire. From Constantine onwards the history of Christianity becomes difficult to untangle from the history of Europe. The Church took over many of the political and cultural roles of the pagan Roman institutions. The Imperial authorities, seeking unity through the new state religion, acted to suppress the old pagan cults, and groups deemed heretical by the Church, most notably Christians who held to Arianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "various penal laws were enacted by the Christian emperors against heretics as being guilty of crime against the State. In both the Theodosian and Justinian codes they were styled infamous persons ... In some particularly aggravated cases sentence of death was pronounced upon heretics, though seldom executed in the time of the Christian emperors of Rome." [1]

Various forms of Christian monasticism developed, with the organization of the first monastic communities being attributed to the hermit St Anthony of Egypt in around 300. The monastic life spread to many parts of the Christian empire during the 4th and 5th centuries, as many feltTemplate:Fact that the Christian moral and spiritual life was compromised by the change from a persecuted minority cult to an established majority religion, and sought to regain the purity of early faith by fleeing society.

The Christian Church of the Roman Empire divided into the Latin-speaking west, centered on Rome, and the Greek-speaking east, centred on Constantinople. There were also significant communities in Egypt and Syria. Outside the Empire, Christianity was adopted in Armenia, Caucasian Iberia (now Georgia), Ethiopia, Persia, India, and among the Celtic tribes. During the Migration Period, various Germanic peoples adopted Christianity; at first Arianism was widespread (as among Goths and Vandals), but later orthodox Catholic Christianity prevailed, beginning with the Franks. The Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe generally adopted the Byzantine form of Christianity, as in the Baptism of Kievan Rus' in Rus' Ukraine (Present day Russia, and Ukraine) (988). Cultural differences and disciplinary disputes finally resulted in the Great Schism (conventionally dated to 1054), which divided Christendom into the Catholic west and the Orthodox east.

From the 7th century, Christianity was challenged by Islam, which quickly conquered the Middle East and Northern Africa. Numerous military struggles followed, including the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista and the eventual conquest of the Byzantine Empire and south-eastern Europe by the Turks.

Western Christianity in the Middle Ages was characterized by cooperation and conflict between the secular rulers and the Church under the Pope, and by the development of scholastic theology and philosophy. Later, increasing discontent with corruption and immorality among the clergy resulted in attempts to reform Church and society. The Roman Catholic Church managed to renew itself at the Council of Trent (1545-1563, but only after Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517. This was one of the key events of the Protestant Reformation which led to the emergence of Christian denominations. During the following centuries, competition between Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states, while many Orthodox Christians found themselves living under Muslim rulers.

Partly from missionary zeal, but also under the impetus of colonial expansion by the European powers, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. As the European Enlightenment took hold, Christianity was confronted with the discoveries of science (including the heliocentric model and the theory of evolution), and with the development of biblical criticism (linked to the development of Christian Fundamentalism) and modern political ideologies such as Liberalism, Nationalism and Socialism. In the 19th and 20th centuries, important developments have included the rise of Ecumenism and the Charismatic Movement.

For the contributions of Christianity to the humanities and culture, see Christian philosophy, Christian art, Christian literature, Christian music, Christian architecture.


Main articles: Persecution of Christians, Historical persecution by Christians

Christians have frequently suffered from persecution. During the first three centuries of its existence, Christianity was regarded with suspicion and frequently persecuted in the Roman Empire. Adherence to Christianity was declared illegal and, especially in the 3rd century, the government demanded that their subjects (the Jews only excepted) sacrifice to the Emperor as a divinity —a practice that Christianity (along with Judaism) rejected. Persecution in the Roman Empire ended with the Edict of Milan, but it persisted or even intensified in other places, such as Sassanid Persia, and under Islam.

Christians have also been perpetrators of persecution, which has been directed against members of other religions and also against other Christians. Christian mobs, sometimes with the government support, have destroyed pagan temples and oppressed adherents of paganism (such as the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who was murdered by a Christian mob). Jewish communities have periodically suffered violence at Christian hands. Christian governments have suppressed or persecuted dissenting Christian denominations, and denominational strife has sometimes escalated into Religious wars and inquisitions. Witch hunts, carried out by secular authorities or popular mobs, were a frequent phenomenon in parts of early modern Europe and, to a lesser degree, North America.

There was some persecution of Christians after the French Revolution, during the attempted Dechristianisation of France.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> State restrictions on Christian practices today are generally associated with those authoritarian governments which either support a majority religion other than Christianity (as in Muslim states), or tolerate only churches under government supervision, sometimes while officially promoting state atheism (as in North Korea). For example, the People's Republic of China allows only government-regulated churches and has regularly suppressed house churches or underground Catholics. The public practice of Christianity is outlawed in Saudi Arabia. On a smaller scale, Greek and Russian governmental restrictions on non-Orthodox religious activity occur today.

Some people cite anti-abortion violence in the United States and the ongoing "troubles" in Northern Ireland as examples of 'persecution by Christians', despite the frequent condemnation of such activities by the vast majority of Christians. Complaints of discrimination have also been made of and by Christians in various other contexts.


There are many controversies surrounding Christianity as to its influences and history.

  • Some believe that Jesus of Nazareth may not have ever existed. The New Testament and related but non-canonical texts to date are the only texts verifying such a person existed. However, critics of this theory point out that, even if the stories aren't true, there is no need to make up a character when a real person could be glorified.
  • Some argue that the role of Jesus is similar to the role played by Osiris in Egyptian Religion, and that the tale of Osiris may have been the inspiration for Christianity. E. A. Wallis Budge said that Osiris was born mortal, was murdered, and was reborn as an underworld god equal to Ra, whom Budge considered the monotheistic God of Egypt. Mummification became popular in Egypt as the result of the belief in such an eventual Ressurection similar to the Christian Ressurection, according to Budge. Budge argued that the Egyptians may have been the best prepared for Christianity by such beliefs <ref>Template:Cite book</ref>. In opposition to this, the Coptic Church claims that the tale of Osiris was given by God to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. Template:Fact

See also

History and denominations


<references />

References and select bibliography

  • A World History of Christianity by Adrian Hastings (Editor) [2] (A through review of this book, in this Journal of Theology:[3]
  • Rubenstein, Richard When Jesus Became God, p. 179. [4]
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  • Oden, Thomas. Systematic Theology (an ecumenical trilogy)
  • Pelikan, Jaroslav (5 Volumes published between 1971-1989).The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.
  • Tolstoy, Leo (1894). The Kingdom of God is Within You. ISBN 0803294042.
  • Tomkins, Stephen (2005). A Short History of Christianity (Lion).
  • Ellegard, Alvar (1999). Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ.
  • Burton Mack (2001) The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy. Social formation of myth making.
  • Vermes, Geza and Martin D. Goodman, eds. The Essenes according to the Classical Sources. Sheffield: Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and JSOT Press, 1989.

External links

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