What is Christianity?

I’m going to begin by clarifying that even though I am not a believer of the faith, I do know about Christianity somewhat. I am not seeking conversion, but I am interested in learning more about it as an intellectual pursuit. With that in mind, I was curious about what ideas are considered core to the religion.

My question is basically this: if someone who had never heard about Christianity was learning about it from a book, what topics should that book cover? There are many versions of the bible, and we might also look at Jewish and Islamic texts for comparison, but what ideas are truly key to the religion? I’m not saying any part of the bible is unnecessary, just kind of wanting it broke down to the basics so it is easier for me to digest.

Here is a preliminary list (in no particular order) which I would love to have broken down and expanded upon.

  1. the nature of God
  2. the mission of Jesus
  3. heaven and hell
  4. commandments and morality

For example, what is the Christian idea of God? Why was Jesus sent to earth? Why did he have to die? Is it necessary to believe in the rapture to be a Christian? What concepts are key to the Christian ideas of morality? What other topics would one need to understand?

Bonus Question: Is there any part of the bible you would consider out dated? Such as obscure commandments that most people don’t follow (not eating pork, not wearing mixed fabrics, etc).

Thank you all in advance for any assistance you can give me in understanding your faith.

What an intellectual hobby to take on! You have your work cut out for you. However from a purely Catholic viewpoint and given the Church’s history and predominance within Christianity, not a bad place to start,{ as all the other off shoots came historically after its establishment by Christ;) I would start with the official Catechism. It sets out the fundamentals and gives biblical citation and context.
This would then lead your intellectual pursuit backwards to understand the Judaic traditions and the contextual relevance of the Old Testament. Then forward historically to an understanding of the European “Reformation” Churches and their dissolution into the myriad protestant sects and religions that make up the diaspora of the Calvinist, Lutheran’s and Anglican objections.
Then a comprehensive study of the numerous Catholic Councils that give solidity and learning to the intellectual understanding of the Faith. The history of Orthodoxy and the schismatic Eastern Churches as well as those still in union with Rome, is also a value to anyone wishing to complement their study of Christianity.
This pursuit will widen your understanding of world history; Art; Architecture; Literature and both western and Eastern cultures expanding into modern American culture in the loose sense of that word.
I hope you don’t play golf as well. God bless

You’re going to be busy. I’ve been in RCIA about a year and have been reading some about the early church, the reformation, and trying to gain a solid understanding of what I claim to be as a Christian. I believed, but didn’t really know why I believed-just knew I was supposed to. Have you ever read any C.S. Lewis? “Mere Christianity” is really good and may answer some of your questions. Good luck with this. I love intellectual pursuits as well, just wish I could remember everything I read.

To start, I would encourage you to read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but I would strongly recommend C.S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity” as the above poster did. :thumbsup:

Thank you for reading

Depends on your definition of “versions” – MOST historians, theologians, Pastors, Priests, and Scholars wouldn’t say versions at all, they would say “translations”

You see the bible started as a compilation of texts from 2 primary sources.

  1. Jewish historical record, translated from Hebrew into Greek, in what is called the Septuagint
  2. the Compilation of the Gospel accounts of the Apostles which were ALSO in Greek.

So you see the Bible was, in its rawest form, written in Greek. Before it was canonized and even CALLED “The Bible” it was just a bunch of letters and books by a group of Jesus’s followers called “the apostles.”
So GREEK is the original bible.
Some may say that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew…but that isn’t really an accurate statement for a couple of reasons… For 1 thing, the Jews never referred to their historical record as the Old Testament. Secondily, The bible isn’t a Jewish book, it is a Christian book and the Christians based their OT on the Greek translation of the Hebrew history BEFORE it was canonized. The Jew’s canonized their history around 100BC, but the Greek Translation was made just before that.

SO the bible is essentially a Greek document, historically speaking.

The Canon of the bible was closed off from changes around 397AD, AFTER that time, there has been nearly Zero changes. This is because in many cases originals exist of what was officially canonized and even some before that, therefore Modern bible translators can go BACK to the original Greek and study it to make sure there are no alterations.

The FIRST major translation of the bible was from Greek into Latin. This was done by the Catholic church and it is easy to see that it was done accurately, because we can go back and compare it to the Greek.
This was done in after Latin replaced Greek as the major language spoken by most people, especially Scholars and Business men.

The Bible remained in Latin for many centuries, though “unofficial” translations were made into other languages. Some even done by Catholic monks in the 700-800s. - Such was the case in Romania and Slovakia

Around the 1300 and 1400s, the New Testament portion of the bible was translated into English.

Now I said “nearly zero” changes, because there are at least 3 very well documented changes to the official canon of the bible.

  1. around the mid-1500s, Martin Luther added at least 1 word to a few verses in the bible dealing with faith. He added the word “alone” to some verses, making them read “faith alone” - when the original Greek never had that in it. - Luckily Martin Luther’s “corrections” have been removed from the bible translations we have today.
  2. Around the 1600s, the Basis for the Old Testament was changed from the Greek Septuagint to the Hebrew Tanakh, thus moving 7 books from the OT to the Appendix in the back of most bibles in the process. The Catholic church to this day, STILL holds to the original canon it created in 397AD, which includes the 7 disputed books.
  3. Those 7 books which hung out in the appendix of most bibles were completely removed from most bibles around the 1800s.

So these 3 changes are the only alterations to the bible which it has undergone. We haven’t really lost anything because the Catholic church still adheres to its original canon, so the 7 books can still be found. AND the alterations that Martin Luther made, have been removed.

SO, there are Translations of the Bible, but not really different versions, unless you claim the Catholic canon and the Protestant canon to be different versions, in which case their are then 2.

As far as different Bibles… there are MANY. Each one translating the text slightly differently to make it more clear to the reader, updating the language a bit since few of us speak old-english, latin, or greek.
All translations can be reviewed by scholars, compared to the original Greek, etc.

The tranlsations I am aware of are:

I will say THIS…

The King James Version is not really a TRUE translation but a compilation of translations, as the people which the King of England commissioned to create it were not Biblical scholars so they stole heavily from the Coverdale, Wycliff, Latin Vulgate, Septuagint, and other sources to create their bible. Scholars have thoroughly picked it apart and found countless translational errors in it. PLUS it is written in old-english, so other then sounding holy, with all its thy and thous, in it, it is a really bad version to go by UNLESS you already KNOW the bible fairly well and won’t get tripped up by its awkward wording.

The Douay Rheims bible is often times overlooked. It is a Catholic translation into English, follows the original canon, which includes the 7 books of the apocrypha, AND pre-dates the King James version, without the same errors and old english writing style. Unfortunately, most people don’t know about it.

(The above statement concerning “versions” of the Bible was copied from the internet)

Depends on the branch. A book on Catholicism would be different from one on Lutheranism, and they’d both be different from a book on Baptists.

There are many versions of the bible, and we might also look at Jewish and Islamic texts for comparison, but what ideas are truly key to the religion?

THE single biggest defining belief for Christianity is the Trinity- the belief that God is one, and yet Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s what separates us from Judaism (they don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God), and from Mormonism (they don’t believe in the Trinity, or at least not in a mainstream understanding of it).

Other common beliefs would include things like Jesus dying for the sins of the world, but even that is understood in different ways.

For example, what is the Christian idea of God?

The all-powerful creator of the universe. He exists as a Trinity, or three divine Persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is all three, and all three are God, but none of the three Persons of the Trinity are each other.

Why was Jesus sent to earth? Why did he have to die?

He came to die for the forgiveness of sins. Man was created perfect, but we sinned. And while under Mosaic Law, (finite) sacrifices were offered for (finite) sins, as sinful, fallen, finite humans, we could never atone for the “perfect” sin. Hence, Jesus came to earth and died for our sins.

Now from there, the views differ. All Protestants believe in some form of sola fide, the belief that you’re saved solely by faith in Jesus. Whereas Catholics (and possibly Lutherans) believe that salvific faith necessarily includes good works.

Is it necessary to believe in the rapture to be a Christian?

No, and in fact, that’s a fairly modern Protestant invention. 1800s at the earliest. Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans… we all don’t believe it.

Try the Catechism of the Catholic Church (vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM , it’s also available in book from).

I think that being a Christian has one central requirement, and that is the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and then was resurrected from the dead. And that this has given us an opportunity to put ourselves right with God. HOW it accomplished that exactly is another topic. But this is the central theme requirement (as far as Im concerned) which one must believe in order to call himself a Christian. All the other beliefs apart from this are dramatically less important. I do not say that they are Unimportant…just that they are far less important than the central theme.

See the Apostles Creed. The Catechism and many other major theological writings go off of that.

Christianity is truth incarnate,
Christianity is love incarnate,
Christianity is mercy incarnate,
Christianity is the most profound, the most incompressible, the most mysterious reality you will ever encounter.

Thank you everyone. The apostles creed and Catholic catechism are very helpful. These are exactly what I was interested in.

:gopray:Make prayer part of the daily routine. Morning prayer and evening prayer are wonderful opportunities to praise the Lord God.

Note that Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic bibles have 2 additional books (3&4 Maccabees) and an additional chapter in one book. They’ve always had these additional books.

The Ethiopians have a couple more books in their Canon.

As for what defines Christianity - the Creeds - Apostles, Nicene, Nicene-constantiopolitan, Coptic define the core beliefs far more clearly than the translations of the bible. The Catholic/Orthodox church has never been “scripture alone” - always both scripture and tradition hand in hand.

  1. The “nature” of God - God is the act of being - He simply is. When Moses asked Him whom he should say had sent him, God replied “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.”

He is spirit, and cannot be discerned by the senses, by logical thought, by scientific experiments (He knows what we’re trying to anyway, so He can easily manipulate the result of any experiment eg. “Does He answer prayer?”, to give a result that ensures He remains hidden ie. an indifferent result). For some reason He has decreed humans to act by faith, unlike spiritual beings (angels and demons) who know full well He exists.

He’s all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient) and everywhere at the same time (omnipresent). The Christian understanding of God is as a Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Ghost, three in one, one in three. And nobody understands it. Jesus Christ is God the Son, who came in the flesh two thousand years ago for a specific purpose.

We could go on endlessly with arguments about God’s nature, but this will do for a nutshell description.

  1. The mission of Jesus - Jesus, the Christ, is God the Son, who was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spiriit (if God made the universe out of nothing, He’s not going to have much trouble making the other half of a fertilised ova out of nothing. For some reason atheists seem prepared to swallow the camel of a universe which adds up to nothing - search Google for “sum zero energy universe” - but baulk at swallowing the pea of the virgin birth).

He came to earth mainly to make a way for humans to get to heaven, something we can’t do in our own strength. We’re not good enough, and the spiritual powers ranged against us are too strong ie. the devil and his minions. God is absolute holiness, and unless we’re absolutely holy ourselves, we’re not getting into His **perfect **heaven… But since Christ was God in the flesh, His sacrifice broke down the impenetrable wall and made an opening. Mind you, we still have a bit of work to do ourselves.

Because He was God, He could confidently assert **“My words will never die away”, **even though He was executed as a criminal in a remote Roman outpost, after a mere three year ministry, and despite being just one of an estimated million crucifixions the Romans are purported to have carried out during their empire. How many other crucified victims do you know about? This was also despite the fact His words were not written down at the time.

  1. Heaven and Hell - Heaven basically is the reward for those who “do right”, and who accept the sacrifice of Christ as the only way to get in. Hell is for the evil doers who reject Christ. I’m a bit sceptical about those who come back from near death experiences and say they’ve seen heaven, although I think they might get a taste of heaven in some cases. For a description of hell, see the first mystery of Fatima.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Secrets_of_F%C3%A1tima (Scroll down till you see “First Mystery of Fatima”).

Catholics also believe in Purgatory, a third state, which is a final cleansing before a person gets into heaven.

Immediately after death, all of us are judged without exception, no matter what we believe. We then enter into one of those 3 states - heaven (for the very few who are holy enough to get in with some refinement in purgatory), purgatory, or hell.

  1. The commandments give the basis for morality, but they are all dependent on loving God, and loving your neighbour as yourself. If you love your neighbour, you’re not going to murder him, take his property, be jealous of him, or steal his wife.

The fact is however we’re fallen, and we can’t possibly earn our way to heaven as we’re not good enough. Hence the need for the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ.

  1. Catholics don’t believe in the Rapture. See the following link.


  1. When Christ came, He became the NEW Covenant. The Old was finished. The apostle Peter received a specific vision regarding the old dietary laws, in which God declared all foods clean. And over the centuries the church has ruled on other alleged commands - stoning, when we worship (from the very earliest days, the Christian Church has worshipped on Sunday, by way of distinguishing it from Judaism amongst other things.), women covering their heads, circumcision and all the rest. It would take to too long to track down all the changes in history and understanding over the centuries, but essentially when Christ came, the Jewish laws no longer applied. When He was crucified, one of the first things that happened was the tearing of the curtain in the Jewish temple, signifying the old barrier had been broken, it no longer applied, and a new way had come.

Forty years later, in the time of the children’s children, as the people called down God’s judgment on themselves at Christ’s judgement, the Jewish Temple was completely destroyed. All that’s left is the western wall, popularly known as the Wailing Wall.

To begin with, I don’t believe Christianity can be taught through a book. Period.

If it could, Christ would have taught it through a book. This is the fundamental error of protestantism, and why it is prone–nay, destined–to so many contradictory interpretations.

Christ left us a Church. He handed His Faith to a select group of Apostles, to whom He also entrusted His authority–including the authority (and commission) to select successors, to whom to pass on the same authority, on down the line…).

To be Christian, is to know, and to follow, Christ.

To get to know Christ, one must become part of His Body–and the single most reliable way to become part of His Body, is by joining His Church.

IMHO, it would be folly to direct any such a person anywhere other than to the One True Holy and Apostolic Church that Christ Himself actually founded–i.e.—the Catholic Church–or one of its properly/duly authorized agents (i.e.–a priest, or bishop).

The only reason one should seek to introduce a person to Christianity, outside the Church, is if one finds himself with such a person, in a geographical location where the Church is not (yet).

…in which case, one would be a missionary–by default or otherwise–but their task, would be to lead the person to the Catholic Church, that the Church may lead them to Christ.


Goya, Your statement “To be Christian is to know, and to follow, Christ” is excellently declared. :thumbsup::clapping:

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