How many Christians were there in the 1st century?

by yaddayadda 38 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • yaddayadda

    Just been reading former long-time Brooklyn Bethelite Tom Cabeen's very encouraging article entitled "Where is the Body of Christ?".
    (Can be found at

    In his article, Tom says: "When John received the Revelation around the end of the first century, there were hundreds of thousands of Christians, even by conservative estimates. All considered themselves to be anointed, born-again participants in the new covenant."

    Tom doesn't site any authority on his statement that there were 'hundreds of thousands of Christians' at the end of the first century. Is any clever person here able to refer me to any scholarship or historical source/s to back up his comment?

    Much thanks


  • Leolaia

    I don't know the basis for these figures, but I know that the "conservative estiamtes" given here are not considered "conservative" by many scholars. From data in the second and third century AD, and projecting backward from growth rates, Rodney Stark (in Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, 1996, p. 6) at least estimates the Christian population in AD 100 as roughly 7,500. Harnack estimated about the same population size, while Keith Hopkins (JECS, 1998) estimates about twice as many in about 100 Christian communities in the Roman Empire. All of these are guesses, but aim at sociologically realistic proportions.

  • BluesBrother

    I have tried hard to find some real answer to this , in view of the requirement that the modern remnant and 1st Cent Christians all have to fit within 144k if J WS are to be believed . No hard figures have come my way.

    I find Leolaia's figures surprising given that 5k were added at Pentecost and another 4k soon after , according to scripture.

    I took the following from some notes that I have made.

    "We have no definate numbers but it is interesting to read the historian

    Tacitus who made the statement that an immense multitude (ingens multitudo) were put to death by Nero. If such a multitude were martyred, then how many would have made up the congregation of "Anointed ones" ?

    Interestingly, The Watchtower noted in Sept 1st 1951 p516/517 said that,


    Brief respite followed the death of Nero, but by the latter years of the first century the second great persecution, under Emperor Domitian, flared up. It is said that in the year 95 alone some 40,000 suffered martyrdom."

  • jeanV

    very interesting question. I have been trying for some time to get information on 1st century Christians but have not yet found a reliable source apart from the Bible (that does not give many details anyway).

    If someone knows of books worhtwhile being checked, please let me know.

  • ninja

    look at acts 21:20 in the reference bible or the watchtower says....(Acts 21:20) 20 After hearing this they began to glorify God, and they said to him: “You behold, brother, how many THOUSANDS of believers there are among the Jews; and they are all zealous for the Law. . ....if you look at the footnote it actually says myriads...which means TENS of sneaky of the watchtower to not put this in except for a that tells us there were MANY tens of thousands of christians just among the Jews...not counting other nations......

  • avidbiblereader

    Very interesting fact an figures, I have never read the numbers but this is one of the points that always had me wondering when I considered the whole teaching of 144,000. In reading just the Bible, it says mulititudes were added, large numbers were turning to the Lord, whole towns and cities turned out and great mulititudes were turning to the Lord. Just in reading the Bible itself, it doesn't make sense that only a few thousand were picked and there were still thousands of "openings" left in the 20th century. The numbers never did add up.


  • ninja

    look at the end of this portion from the says 700,000 died ......................*** w51 9/1 pp. 516-518 Hated for His Name *** THE TEN PERSECUTIONS Nero saw to it that the first of these terrible persecutions set the pace for the rest. At once he caused Christians to be rounded up, summarily condemned and put to death in the most barbaric manner conceivable. Some were thrown to the fierce beasts in the public arena, others were sewed in animal skins and left to the fury of wild dogs, many were crucified, and still others were garbed in combustible materials and ignited to become human torches lighting the gardens of Nero by night. It was in this persecution that the apostle Paul was martyred. Brief respite followed the death of Nero, but by the latter years of the first century the second great persecution, under Emperor Domitian, flared up. It is said that in the year 95 alone some 40,000 suffered martyrdom. Like Nero, Domitian is found of demented traits. Earlier he had slain his own brother and a number of Roman senators. One of his decrees commanded the death of all of the lineage of David. In this ruler’s persecution a number of prominent Christians suffered, including, according to Blanchard in his Book of Martyrs, the Timothy to whom Paul wrote two canonical letters. Also, it was in this period that John, last living of the twelve apostles, was exiled to the isle of Patmos, from where he recorded the inspired Bible book of Revelation about A.D. 96. After Domitian the brief thirteen-month reign of Nerva provided a refreshing bridge into the third great period of trial by Roman fury. In Emperor Trajan’s reign hate kindled the fires anew. A Christian widow, refusing to sacrifice to the emperor, was hung by the hair and then drowned in a river. Phocus, a Christian overseer, was thrown first into a hot limekiln, then into a scalding bath until he died. Another, Ignatius of Antioch, was scourged by fire, had his flesh torn by red-hot pincers and was finally ripped to pieces by wild beasts. Trajan’s successor, Adrian, persisted in this till his death A.D. 138, when he was succeeded by the relenting Antoninus Pius. But again peace could be only temporary. Came the year 162 and the fourth wave of attrition, under the strong pagan Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Under this ruler Christians, regardless of sex, were subjected to the most inhuman treatment to that date. Noted members of the Christian church like Polycarp and Justin went steadfastly into death. Added horrors like the red-hot torture chairs failed to destroy the Christian faith. The fifth persecution was largely a local affair, breaking out spasmodically in various parts of the empire where existing laws against the Christians were irregularly enforced. The emperor, Severus, invoked no new mischief by law, evidently due to his affection for the Christian doctor who had cured him of a dangerous ailment. A.D. 235 the sixth oppression fell upon the Christians during the reign of Emperor Maximinus. This time numberless Christian victims were slain without any trial whatsoever and their bodies were often piled in heaps without so much as a decent burial. It is said that this persecution stemmed from Maximinus’ great hatred for his predecessor, Alexander, who had sheltered the Christians. Under Decius, A.D. 249, the seventh persecution was inaugurated. This assault spread throughout the empire, spared neither age nor sex, and contrived to introduce torture unique to all that had gone before it. CHRISTIANS ENDURE AND WIN A young Christian man in Asia on receiving the demand to sacrifice to Venus, replies stoutly: “I am astonished you should sacrifice to an infamous woman, whose debaucheries your own historians record, and whose life consisted of such actions as your laws would punish. No, I shall offer the true God the acceptable sacrifice of praises and prayers.” For this he is broken on the wheel, then beheaded. Julian, native of Cilicia, is bound in a bag with serpents and cast into the sea. Two former heathen priests, converted to Christianity, make many converts, suffer arrest during this persecution and, refusing to renounce their faith, are burned alive. The noted presbyter, Origen, is seized and imprisoned and only the death of Decius prevents his execution. War with the Goths diverts the attention of the successor, Gallus; but afterward, when plagues strike the empire, universal sacrifices to the gods of Rome are ordered. This causes more Christian slaughter, this time at the hands of local mobs and magistrates. Still no rest! In April, 257, under Emperor Valerian, an eighth persecution opened. This wave added untold martyrs to the list as well as more fiendish tortures. This onslaught was leveled chiefly against the overseers and responsible ones in the Christian church, the design being to break up the ranks by destroying the leadership. Foremost among those victimized at this time was Cyprian, overseer of Carthage. Respected as well as he was known by the local Roman officials, he was not tortured to force a recantation, and the most painless death at their disposal, beheading, was provided him. A.D. 274 Emperor Aurelian proclaimed a ninth persecution. It flared briefly, but quickly died with the slaying of the emperor at the hands of his own domestics. Diocletian assumed the crown A.D. 284. At first he seemed friendly to the Christians, but in the year 303 he gave in to persuasion and opened the tenth persecution, probably the most ferocious of all. Suffocation by smoke, forcible drinking of melted lead, mass drownings and burnings, breaking on the rack of men and women alike ran the empire with blood. In a single month 17,000 were slain. In the province of Egypt alone, 144,000 such professed Christians died by violence in the course of this persecution, in addition to another 700,000 who died as a result of fatigues encountered in banishment or under enforced public works. Diocletian’s abdication in 305 left the empire divided among six emperors. Constantine murdered his way to supremacy in the west and ceased the persecutions, with the aim of forming a fusion religion between Christian and pagan, thus strengthening the unity of his people. What was typified by these ten persecutions by no means ended with them. The Devil’s vicious assaults by violence against Christianity continued through the Dark Ages, the Reformation and right into the present days. Only the hand of the persecutor, not the basic reasons for persecuting, has changed. To find what those issues were and are, hear how those early Christian stalwarts gave firm answers to questions still asked by modern-day “Caesars”.

  • ninja

    interestingly months ago when I showed my in laws that 800 odd thousand died in the 1st century they said ..."yes there were other sheep being picked back then as well as the heavenly class"....I told them to show me anywhere in the watchtower it says that...Im still waiting for them to get back to me

  • slimboyfat


    Stark arrives at his figures on the (quite plausible) assumption that the figures in Acts are exaggerations.


  • greendawn

    Nobody can know for sure but figures of under 10 000 by the end of the first century feel to me wildly unrealistic as by that time time the gospel had spread far and wide in the Roman empire but also outside as far as India if not China. By that time there may well have been over 100 000 but then nobody can know for sure.

Share this