Persecution of Early Christians

By Sean Finnegan

Disclaimer: In order to do this subject justice, I need to describe some actions that are highly inappropriate for children. So, if there are little ones in ear shot, you should probably wait until later. To be honest, this material is traumatizing for all ages. Still, I think we need to know our own history.

Pliny the Younger (61-113)

- governor of Bithynia
- wrote and received letters from emperor Trajan
- Trajan forbade an assembly of firemen
- Pliny had heard Christians would not worship statues
- Christian lifestyle was morally upright, thought their refusal to comply with the government infuriated Pliny
- Pliny was worried about diminishment of worship at the temples

Criticisms of Christianity

- lump us in w/ Epicureans (atheists)
- stubborn and oppositional
- miracles were falsely reported or tricks
- gullible, easily deceived by charlatans
- anti-reason (blind faith)


- Christians ate babies
- Christians participated in incestuous orgies


- (155) Polycarp of Smyrna, Asia Minor
- (177) Blandina and Sanctus in Lyons, Gaul
- (203) Perpetua and Felicitas in Carthage
- (249-251) Decian Persecution
- (257-260) Valerian Persecution
- (303-313) The Great Persecution (Diocletian)

We Survived

- Jesus said to Peter after he confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Mat 16.18)
- death did not prevail against us
- not only did we survive, we also grew from 100s of thousands in the 3rd c. to millions in the 4th c.
- Jesus said, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
…But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mat 24.9, 13)


- Jesus faced persecution throughout his ministry and ultimately suffered execution on a Roman cross.
- In the first century persecution came from Jewish leaders who considered Jesus to be a false messiah.
- Pliny the Younger persecuted Christians in Bithynia because he thought they were obstinate and took worshipers away from the temples.
- Romans thought we were atheists (like Epicureans), stubborn, oppositional, gullible, and anti-reason.
- Rumors circulated that Christians ate babies and indulged in incestuous orgies.
- (155) Polycarp of Smyrna (Turkey) set the precedent for how Christian
martyrs are to die.
- (177) Blandina and Sanctus faced brutal gladiatorial torture and execution in Lyons (France).
- (203) Perpetua and Felicitas exemplified incredible bravery and composure in Carthage (Tunisia)
- (249-251) The Decian Persecution required everyone to get a certificate of sacrifice.
- (257-260) The Valerian Persecution ended when the Persians captured the emperor.
- (303-313) The Diocletian Persecution (also called “The Great Persecution”) was the longest-lasting and most brutal Roman persecution of Christians.
- (313) The Edict of Milan ended persecution of most Christians.

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Persecution of Early Christians

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