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OverviewChristianity And Secular Thought, Division, Ecumenism, Christianity And Modern Thought, Christianity And Secular Politics

According to the writers of the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth gathered a small group of disciples and went about for three years in first century Galilee, preaching a message of hope to the poor and healing the sick. John the "Baptist" had gone before him, calling people to repent and be baptized, promising the imminent coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. He recognized in Jesus a far greater preacher than himself, sent from God. Jesus and his disciples eventually set out for Jerusalem. He threw out those who were trading in the temple precincts. He prophesied that the temple would be destroyed. The Jewish leaders pressed for his punishment and the Roman authorities authorized his crucifixion, with a mocking title nailed to the Cross: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Three days after Jesus's body was buried it was discovered to be missing from the tomb where it had been laid. Some of the disciples said they had seen and spoken to the Risen Lord and later that they had seen him ascend into heaven. They began to declare him to be the Son of God.

The spread of Christianity toward the West, through the Roman Empire and eventually the whole world, began with the conversion of the Saul of Tarsus, known after his conversion as Paul. He had been determined to eradicate this new sect until he had a vision on the road to Damascus that took him from an energetic Judaism to missionary zeal for Christianity. It was he who persuaded Peter and the other disciples that it was God's will that they should preach the gospel of Jesus to everyone and not just the Jews.

Jesus wrote nothing, and the lack of contemporary accounts of his ministry makes the "historical Jesus" hard to be sure of. The Holy Scriptures of the Christian faith were composed after his death. The four Gospels, accounts of the life of Jesus, the Acts of the Apostles (a history of the early church), a series of pastoral letters to young churches by Paul and others, and an Apocalypse describing the end of all things came to be accepted by the end of the fourth century as a divinely inspired "New Testament" to be added to the Old Testament of the Jewish Scriptures to form the Bible. The Bible has always been used as authority, taken literally by fundamentalists but in most centuries figuratively interpreted as a means of resolving apparent contradictions within it and using it to answer questions it does not directly address.

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