5 Insane Facts That Will Change How You View Christianity
We feel like we know the general history of Christianity: Christ was born, he spouted some stuff about free love and messed with the man (the Ro-man), then bada-boom-bada-bing, his followers rule the world. But there are several chapters too awkward, terrifying, or just plain embarrassing for your average Sunday school teacher to handle. Come, let's dive neck deep into the truly weird antics of early Christians.
Women Played A Huge Part In Church History (And Were Entirely Written Out)
Before Christians could freely practice their faith, the whole thing was more secretive than a My Little Pony forum. Perhaps that is why the movement largely coalesced around women instead of wild-eyed prophets screaming their faith to the skies 24/7. Phoebe was the trusted messenger of Apostle Paul, and she was partly responsible for helping establish a standardized dogma. Women like Paula, Marcella, and Fabiola were the driving force behind social services projects that organized religion would eventually become known for -- you know, little things such as monasteries and convents and hospitals for the underprivileged.
"We also had dope-ass bake sales."
This was usually done at their own expense. In fact, without some very devout sugar mommas who financed and protected its followers, the Christian religion might have floundered in its infancy. Once it gained a powerful foothold in the first Christian emperor, Constantine, his mother, St. Helena, became a religious Johnny Appleseed, spreading the love by building great churches in Rome, France, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.
Besides money and organizational talent, early female Christians were highly represented in ministerial roles and preaching. They're believed to have comprised a very large portion of the followers in the first scattered congregations. Many of the first deacons and serious scholars were women.
But do you recognize any of those influential names? No? Not a single one?
Hint: This is one of the five women we just mentioned. No? Still?
Of course not! At some point in history, as Christianity became more stable, it started to turn its gaze toward the less female-friendly bits of scripture, such as this gem from St. Paul in 1st Timothy 2:12:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
Brought to you by the same guys who came up with Deuteronomy 25:11-12.
Sentiments like this largely put the kibosh on female priests and religious scholars who, although they still carried on serving some functions as late as the 1300s, got retconned harder than a dead Marvel character. This even applied to the women who played the most vital parts in the Bible: It is believed Mary Magdalene was demoted to a common streetwalker to discount her role as an apostle. In the most notable case, Junia, an early female church figure praised as an apostle, was edited into a male in the Middle Ages to reflect a repressive social order. The Church's distrust of women fully extended to marriage. However, in this case, it wasn't solely the Church's fault. From the first pope to the Dark Ages, celibate priests were the exception rather than the norm. However, over time, more and more priests started viewing their preaching as a family business, and as the older members of the family rose in the ranks, they started giving preferential positions to their kids. This nepotism grew so pervasive that many positions were essentially inherited. Eventually, the Church had no choice but to enforce celibacy, lest their whole operation go full Clash Of Clans.
They Spent An Unhealthy Amount Of Time Fighting About Dicks
Although these days the debate tends to be more about health, the circumcision debate has been raging hard on down through the millennia. In the earliest years of the Christian religion, the tension was between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians. The Jews insisted that a good Christian should come with 90 percent of a penis, while others felt like that 10 percent was kind of a sticking point.
Technically, cutting point.
The reason for the cocktroversy is simple: Christians initially relied heavily on the Old Testament and Jewish customs, but as time progressed, they started turning their backs on them. Unsurprisingly, the whole knife-dick thing was among the increasingly questioned practices. This was a problem, what with the circumcision being a hard-coded part of the Jewish religion, and Genesis itself specifically stating that God considers every penis with a leather jacket a damn fool.
To make things even more confusing, Jesus (who was most certainly circumcised himself) allegedly managed to both imply support of the Judean way of circumcision as a part of every Hebrew man's duty to maintain the covenant with God (Matthew 5:17) and oppose physical circumcision (The non-canonical Gospel Of Thomas, Saying 53) as a damn claptrap.
Meanwhile, others insist that uncut penises are the claptrap.
Eventually, St. Paul stepped in to clear up the issue in his letter to Galatians. His approach was simple and Solomonian: Jewish Christians could keep circumcising all they like, because it was part of their history and tradition. However, they should stop force-feeding non-Hebrew Christians the practice, because the whole "God loves you so much Jesus died on the cross" bit becomes a little less appealing when followed up with "... so everyone cut bits of your dick off."
The First Church Services Were More Like Lavish Parties
Early church services were called agape feasts ("love feasts") and were often indistinguishable from the taking of the holy sacrament of the Eucharist. The agape feasts were kind of like a weekly Thanksgiving, and in the earliest days the activities of entire congregations revolved around eating and drinking in the name of fellowship. Communion was not just some dinky wafer: Guests ate lying down on futons, shot the shit, and sometimes acted so repulsively that St. Paul was occasionally forced to yell at them like a cranky dad in a teen comedy.
"What was that ruckus? I just heard a ruckus. Don't make me turn this transubstantiation around ..."
-1 Thessalonians 4:11
There isn't even any evidence the guests at these agape feasts said fixed prayers or official songs or hymns. There is ample proof that they, the Corinthians especially, were terrible party guests who were known for going through all the food and wine before those less fortunate could arrive -- leading to the Passive-Aggressive Notes From Paul section of the Bible.
In North Africa, St. Augustine wrote of drunken religious agape celebrations in graveyards, and one particular Alexandrian sect used the communal smorgasbord as a pretext to engage in full-on orgies.
Don't ask what body part's REALLY supposed to go on the kneeler.
Agape feasts fell out of favor around the third century, giving way to a separate Eucharist and other less ... enthusiastic worship ceremonies. Luckily, the memory of these celebrations is still present, as swapping spit with anonymous strangers remains a central part of the sacrament.
"This ... isn't exactly what I was picturing."
The New Testament Was Conceived By A Heretic Who Thought God Was Also The Devil
Marcion of Sinope was a pseudo-Gnostic rabble-rouser and a general thorn in the mainstream Christian butt in the first century after Jesus' death. Even if you're unfamiliar with the guy, you might have heard about his most widely accepted claim to fame:
Dude invented the Bible as you know it.
He gets royalties for all adaptations, including every Star Wars flick.
Before Marcion, the Christian Bible as we know it did not exist. There was no known segregation between the "Old" (Jewish) and "New" (Christian) Testaments before him. It was just hundreds of different stories in free circulation: multiple books of revelation, too many gospels to count, and more coming in every week. So Marcion decided to go Brothers Grimm on that shit.
He wasn't in it just for the heavenly street cred, mind you: He had an ulterior motive for wanting to create two separate "volumes" of the Bible. Marcion was a member of a fringe sect and sought to channel his opinions into an official-looking book with two separate testaments. Why two? Because Marcion believed that the deity of what would eventually be Old Testament texts was a completely different and more malevolent creator-god than the savior-god the New Testament introduced us to -- in fact, according to him, the Old Testament god was basically the devil.
Dang, with a twist like that, somebody should call Shyamalan and -- no, no, let's let his career rest in peace.
Know who didn't get to rest in peace? Jesus.
Marcion's initial Bible was a premeditated attempt to eliminate all trace of pre-Jesus Jewish thought out of his new Bible. His creation was extremely minimalistic; all but 10 of the Letters are absent, as are the Acts and the Book of Revelation, and the only Gospel present is that of Luke. Even Marcion's detractors recognized that he was onto something with his neatly Testamented format. They set out to repurpose it to squash Marcion's influence, releasing a rival New Testament that intentionally countered Marcion's position (though retaining his general structure) in their own Bible, which gradually evolved to the one we thump today.
Jesus Was A Shapeshifter?
When Constantine recognized Christianity as a bona fide religion, he failed to notice that in the three centuries after Jesus died, the religion had become a clusterfuck of competing sects and ideas. The true nature of Jesus was the source of some particularly heated debate, and because people are kinda jerks, things shifted to overdrive in a hurry. Invisibility, levitation, miracle healing, indestructibility, and various other X-Men superpowers were seen as necessary attributes to emphasize that Jesus could have escaped a date with a crucifix if he wanted to but was destined to die instead, redeem mankind, and be reborn. As such, tomes like Pseudo-Cyril Of Jerusalem On The Life And The Passion Of Christ implied Jesus was an actual shapeshifter who could change his appearance at will because he possessed a superpowered energy body that only looked like a human one.
It's no coincidence he's got the abs of a Marvel superhero.
To make things even more intriguing, one early Gnostic sect called the Carpocratians depicted Jesus Christ as not only a sexual being but a full-on libertine who indulged in flamboyantly gay and bisexual antics with his followers. That's right, the Gnostic JC was AC/DC.
One way to interpret "hung on a cross."
Sadly, Jesus' experimental phase didn't last. Although the concept of the Holy Trinity was still a work in progress, and every region or local congregation put a colorful spin on the Jesus story, only a few powerful bishops held any real power. In 325 BC, they convened at Nicea at the behest of the emperor to determine the "official" doctrine Christianity would run with. The proto-versions of the views we know today were committee-punched into the Nicene Creed, and the Church happily started persecuting the hell out of anybody that disagreed with them. Luckily that was just a one-time thing, and they never, ever did it again.
By the time we're finished with you, you'll be the most kickass Biblical scholar on your street. Continue on with The 6 Raunchiest, Most Depraved Sex Acts (From The Bible) and 5 Real Deleted Bible Scenes In Which Jesus Kicks Some Ass.
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