Christianity is based on the teachings of Jesus. Jesus lived about 2000 years ago on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Roman province of Judea. Most Christians believe Jesus to be both a man and the son of the God of the Jews. Almost two billion Christians live on every populated continent, comprising most people living in North and South America, Latin America, Europe, and Australia. Additionally, Christianity is the religious faith of almost half of the people of Africa. Christianity is a dominant force on every populated continent but Asia.

The Western Calendar calendar numbers years from the birth of Jesus, but many scholars now believe Jesus was born about 4BCE. Jesus began to minister at about the age of thirty. Jesus was a Jew, but his teachings sometimes diverged from Jewish tradition. Jesus called on his followers to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As Jesus developed a popular following, the religious leaders and the Roman governor saw him threatening their power. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, ordered Jesus to be crucified. Crucifixion is an ancient and excruciating method of execution in which a condemned person is tied or nailed to a wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Today the cross is Christianity’s most important icon. A cross is found at the top of most Christian churches. Some Christians wear a cross as a necklace. The cross symbolizes a Christian’s connection with Jesus.

A Christian cross


The cross is the best-known symbol of Christianity. It seen as a representation of the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus.

The followers of Jesus called him Christ. Christ is a Greek word that means “chosen one.” Sometimes after his death, the followers of Jesus became known as Christians. Eventually, a group of Christians combined the stories of the life and wisdom of Jesus into four books known as the Gospels. Gospel means “good news.” The holy book of Christianity, the Bible, comprises two sections. The Old Testament consists of the sacred writings of the Jewish people and was written in Hebrew long before Jesus lived. The New Testament of the Bible includes the Gospels, along with letters by Christian writers. The Bible has been translated into more than 1,500 languages and read by more people than any other book.

About half of the world’s Christian population is Roman Catholic. Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic is a Latin word that means “universal,” and at one time, almost all Christians followed the teachings of the Pope. Roman refers to the fact that the Pope has lived in Rome for over five hundred years. Most Christians in Eastern Europe belong to Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Eastern Orthodox churches split with the Roman church in the Middle Ages. Many European leaders, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, and King Henry VIII of England, protested against the Pope during the Reformation. In addition to Roman Catholicism, Christian sects in America today include Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Mormons, and Episcopalians.

Jesus before Pontius Pilate


A painting of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor olf Judea 

Christian holy periods include Christmas, the birth of Jesus; Easter, when Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven; and Lent, a forty-day holy period of repentance and self-denial. Christians generally worship in churches led by ministers and priests. 

Most Christians practice acts of religious significance called sacraments. The sacraments include baptism, when a Christian joins the church, and confirmation, when a Christian confirms their faith. The Eucharist is the holiest of Christian sacraments in many Christian churches. During a religious service, church members will eat a small wafer of bread. Christian tradition states that at the Last Supper before his execution, Jesus asked his followers to think of the meal as the body and blood he would soon sacrifice.


Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file.

Listen to Mr. Dowling read this lesson. (mp3)

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on World Religions.

Gutenberg Bible


A page from the Gutenberg Bible.