"You should know how to behave in the household of God,
which is the church of the living God,
the pillar and foundation of truth."
1 Timothy 3:15

The point of origin of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ.
This page reviews the spread of Christianity from the times of Jesus and the Apostles, and the formation of the New Testament canon, written within the Tradition of the early Christian Church.

God has revealed himself to man through Divine Revelation, by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. God first made himself known to our first parents, Adam and Eve, then, following their sin, through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and the people and prophets of Israel. It is through his Son Jesus Christ that we reach the fullness of all Revelation.

There are three stages in the formation of the Gospels: the life and teachings of Jesus, the oral tradition of the Apostles and the early Christian Church, and the written Gospels.


In Chapter One of the Gospel Narrative of Mark, Jesus calls his first four Apostles, Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, forming the nidus of his early Christian community. Then Nathaniel Bartholomew, James the Less, Simon, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Judas Iscariot were added to form the Twelve Apostles. The first twelve Apostles followed him from the beginning, hearing his words and seeing his deeds [Luke 1:2]. They were thus in a good position to be witnesses to Christ's Life and Teaching. Jesus taught his Apostles while he was living [Mark 4:34] and for forty days from his Resurrection until his Ascension [Acts 1:1-3]. Jesus explained his teachings simply, using the language of his time, so that his teaching would make a lasting impression on his audience. Christ's teaching and miracles took place so that the Apostles and disciples might believe in him and have faith in his message of salvation.

Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and directed his Twelve Apostles to

"Do this in memory of me."
Luke 22:19

Following his Resurrection, Jesus commanded his Apostles to "preach the Gospels to all nations [Matthew 28:19-20]." Jesus spent 40 days instructing his Apostles to spread his Church "to the ends of the earth" [Acts 1:8]. Following his Ascension into heaven, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], and they went out to propagate the faith. The Acts of the Apostles records the events of the early Christian Church, primarily relating the efforts of Peter and the missionary journeys of Paul.

And I say also unto thee, that 'thou art Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever thou shalt loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.
Matthew 16:18-19 [King James Version]

Go ye therefore and teach all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost:
teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
Gospel of Matthew 28:19-20

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them
in all the scriptures the things referring to himself.
Gospel of Luke 24:27 [RSV]

"I have said these things to you in figures of speech.
The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures,
but will tell you plainly of the Father
Gospel of John 16:25 [NRSV].


The Holy Spirit appeared at Pentecost, 10 days after the Ascension of Jesus, to the Apostles and disciples. This early community of the followers of Jesus formed our early Church. Thus the oral tradition of the Apostles was established in the period of the early Church, from the time of Jesus (~33 AD) to the written Gospels (by 100 AD), and continued through Apostolic succession to subsequent Church leaders, the bishops, presbyters, and deacons. The twelve Apostles and St. Paul began their work as evangelists , as described in the Acts of the Apostles, spreading Christianity throughout Asia Minor and the Mediterranean world. St. Luke portrays the early missions of the Apostles, focusing primarily on Peter, upon whom Jesus founded his Church [Matthew 16:18-19, and Paul, who was converted when he saw the risen Christ [Acts 9:1-9].
Early Christianity spread through the oral teachings of the Apostles and by word of mouth!

"Without parables he did not speak to them,
but to his own disciples he explained everything in private."
Gospel of Mark 4:34

"Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and the ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accuratedly anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you..."
Gospel of Luke 1:1-3

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught,
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered,
appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
Acts of the Apostles 1:1-3

For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people;
and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.
Acts of the Apostles 11:26


The written Word of God actually began with St. Paul, with the letters he wrote to the Christian communities he had established in his travels spreading the Word of Christ. His first two letters were to the Thessalonians in 51 AD.

The Gospel of St. Matthew is the first and most quoted of the four Gospels, and is noted for identifying Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. It is now thought the concise narrative Gospel of St. Mark, the close disciple of St. Peter, was actually the first composed Gospel, written from 64 to 70 AD, and served as a source to the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, both completed about 80-85 AD. The Gospel of St. John was completed about 95 AD.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11:1-2

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 2:15


There were three means of transmitting the Christian faith through the early times of the Church: (1) the oral tradition of the Church through the Bishop, presbyter (priest), and deacon in teaching the faithful followers of Christ, the authority of the Church established through Apostolic succession; (2) the development of the Apostles' Creed; and (3) the formation of the canon of the New Testament, first proposed by Irenaeus of Lyons in his work Against the Heresies in 180 AD, to discern which writings were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and crucial to instruction in the faith.

An Early Symbol of Christianity

Christianity fell under intense persecution in the first century during the Roman Empire, beginning with Nero in 64 AD. But it was the powerful witness of Christian martyrs that led to continued spread of the faith. Persecution of Christianity under Roman rulers lasted for 300 years, until the Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which mandated complete toleration of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

The fish became a symbol of the Christian faith, adorning the catacombs and early Christian Churches. In a time when professing the Christian faith was an invitation to death, the fish became a secret code to introduce one Christian to another. One Christian would draw a curve representing half of the symbol, and the other one would complete the cryptic symbol by drawing the second curve (see image).

The fish captures the central meaning, the essential creed of the Christian faith, for the Greek word for fish is ichthus, an acronym or acrostic for
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

The statement "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" captures both the person of Christ and his mission. Who Christ is, the Son of God, and His mission, Savior, are both expressed by the ancient symbol of the fish.

The Tradition of the Church

The oral tradition of the Church and the Apostles' Creed were vitally important to guide the early Christian community. First, Scripture in the early Church meant the Old Testament, for, even though the individual books of the New Testament were completed by 100 AD, a canon for the New Testament was not proposed until 180 AD, and not formalized until 397 AD! The possession of sacred texts in times of persecution could mean discovery, imprisonment, and death. Also, it was common for people of that time to be illiterate. In addition, production of written Scripture was a monumental task in itself, as each page of any text had to be hand-written on papyrus! Thus written Scripture was in the hands only a few.

The oral tradition of the Church was passed on to the faithful followers of Christ in community gatherings, by the bishops, presbyters, and deacons, who received their authority through Apostolic succession (as outlined by St. Ignatius of Antioch around 100 AD). They would first have a reading and oral instruction or sermon, followed by the Liturgical Celebration of the Eucharistic event of Jesus - the Mass, as described by St. Justin Martyr as early as 155 AD in his First Apology.

The Apostles' Creed

The Apostles' Creed arose in the early Christian Church as a way of passing on the Christian Faith. The Creed, or Rule of Faith, was also an important guide to presbyters as well in interpretation of Scripture.

As we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian, a profession of faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour had to be expressed before someone could be baptized a Christian.

"What is to prevent my being baptized?"
And Philip said, "And if you believe with all your heart, you may."
And he [the Ethiopian] replied,
"I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

Acts of the Apostles 8:36-37

The above statement was the earliest and most basic form of the creed.
A creed is a willful and brief summary statement or profession of the Christian faith. The word "Creed" comes from the Latin word Credo, which means "I believe." Examples include the Apostles' Creed ("I believe") or the Nicene Creed ("We believe"). They are also known as symbols of faith.

The development of The Apostles' Creed began from Apostolic times, as a profession of faith during the rite of Baptism, recalling the instruction of Jesus to his disciples to "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19-20]." In accordance with this, the person about to be baptized was asked three questions: "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty...? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his Son our Lord...? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church...?" The person being baptized would answer, "Credo" or "I believe."

This three-part profession of faith was gradually developped in the early Christian Church, often in response to heresies, as a defense of the faith. A continuous Greek text independent of the question-and-answer form written about 200 AD has been discovered, resembling our present form of the Apostles' Creed.

The Apostles' Creed is presented here in 12 lines,
representing the 12 essential Articles of Faith for the Christian.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
From thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting. Amen.

The Canon of the New Testament

Early Christianity, in spite of persecution, flourished, primarily in five centers: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The five centers became patriarchates, when Constantine recognized Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313 through the Edict of Milan. Each of the Patriarchates developed and retained their ancient and distinctive liturgies, rites, and customs, which have been preserved even to this day. For example, the Eastern Catholic Maronite Church of Lebanon traces their origin to the original Patriarchate of Antioch, begun when St. Peter came to Antioch [Galatians 2:11]. The Maronite Mass today is still conducted in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

The five Patriarchates were followers of Jesus Christ from the time of the Apostles, and considered themselves one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The Patriarchates were led by five Patriarchs, with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the representative of Peter, acknowledged as presiding "with love, as a first among equals."

The canon of the New Testament was formed within the early Christian community, the Church. Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, first proposed a canon of the New Testament in his work Against the Heresies in 180 AD. Three Fathers of the Church - Athanasius of Alexandria in his Letter of 367, Jerome in Rome with the publication of his Latin New Testament in 384, and Augustine at the Council of Hippo in 393 - agreed that 27 Books were the inspired Word of God. The Canon of the New Testament was confirmed at the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.

Thus the Word of God was written within the Church,
flowing from the teachings of Jesus and the oral traditions and teachings of the Apostles and the early Christian community. Thus sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture together formed a unity of the faith experience.

"Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred Spirit in which it was written [DV]", in the light of Faith. We must be attentive "to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture, keeping in mind the living tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of faith [DV]."

We must look beyond the literal sense, and search for the "spirit in the letter," the Spiritual sense of Scripture. Interpretation involves both the explanation of the literal sense and the understanding of the spiritual sense of Scripture to appreciate the Word of God.

"He also it is who has made us fit ministers of the new covenant,
not of the letter, but of the spirit;
for the letter brings death, but the spirit gives life."
Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 3:6

"The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."
Gospel of John 6:63

Early Christian Churches which now comprise the one holy catholic and apostolic Church enjoy a 2000-year tradition providing both a continuity of the oral teachings of Jesus and his Apostles, as well as an unsurpassed history of interpretation of the Bible, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, in the light of history and teachings as they have evolved through the ages.

Scripture and Tradition go hand in hand in the interpretation of the Word of God!


1 Minto Andrew L. Biblical Foundations. Course lectures and texts. Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2002
2 Martin R. Theological Foundations. Course lectures and texts. Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2003.
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Translation - US Catholic Conference, Washington, D. C., 2000.
4 Revised Standard Version of the King James Bible. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1971.
5 Pope Pius XII. Divino Afflante Spiritu - The Promotion of Biblical Studies. The Holy Bible. The Catholic Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1950.
6 Lienhard JT. The Bible, The Church, and Authority. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1995.
7 Frances M Young. Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. Cambridge University Press, London and New York, 1997.
8 Henri de Lubac. The Splendor of the Church. Original publication by Editions Montaigne, Paris, 1953. English Translation first published by Sheed and Ward, New York, 1956. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999.
9 Dei Verbum. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, from the Second Vatican Council, Pauline Books & Media, Boston, November, 1965.
10 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Foundations and Approaches of Biblical Exegesis. Origins 17(35):593-601, February 11, 1988.
11 Pontifical Biblical Commission. The Interpretation of the Bible In the Church. Pauline Books & Media, Boston, 1993.
12 Ignace de la Potterie. Reading Holy Scripture in the Spirit. Communio 4:308-325, 1986.
13 Ratzinger JC. Introduction to Christianity. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1990.
14 Hans Urs von Balthasar. Credo - Meditations on the Apostles´┐Ż Creed. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2000.

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