Many passionate believers carried the message of Jesus throughout the Roman Empire. One of the most successful was a Greek-speaking Jew named Saul of Tarsus, known to Christians as Saint Paul. As a young man, Paul helped to persecute Christians, but one day, shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul had a vision in which he believed Jesus spoke to him from heaven. Paul spent the rest of his life writing about Christianity and winning new converts to the faith. Through the persistence of Paul and other Christian writers, small Christian communities developed throughout the Roman Empire.
The first Christians believed that Jesus would quickly return to earth and saw no need to create written records of his life. About fifty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, Christians combined the stories of the life and wisdom of Jesus into four books known as the Gospels. Gospel means “good news.”
The Bible is the holy book of Christianity; it consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written long before the time of Jesus; it contains the sacred writings of the Jewish people. The New Testament includes the Gospels, along with letters by Paul and other Christian writers. The Bible has been translated into more than 1,500 languages and read by more people than any other book.
At first, the Romans did not mind that Christians did not worship Roman gods. The Roman Empire was prosperous, and there were not many Christians. Emperor Nero began persecuting Christians in 64ce. Nero blamed Christians for causing a fire that burned for more than five days and destroyed much of Rome. Within the next two hundred years, barbarian warriors attacked the empire. Many Romans suggested that the Roman Empire was experiencing bad times because a growing group of Christians did not worship the Roman gods.