LISTEN: The Beginnings of Christian Art (The History of Christianity #74 with Daniel Whyte III)

Daniel Whyte III
Daniel Whyte III

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Welcome to the History of Christianity podcast. My name is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is Genesis 1:1 which reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from G. K. Chesterton. He said: “Art is born when the temporary touches the eternal.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 11) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

The Beginnings of Christian Art
Since at first Christians gathered in private homes, it is not likely that there were in their meeting places many decorations or symbols alluding to the Christian faith. If there were any, they certainly have not survived. But as soon as Christians began having their own cemeteries – the catacombs – and their own churches – such as the one in Dura-Europos – Christian art began to develop. This early art is found mostly in simple frescoes – paintings on walls – in catacombs and churches, and in the carved sarcophagi – stone coffins – in which some of the wealthier Christians were buried.

Since communion was the central act of worship, scenes and symbols referring to it are most common. Sometimes what is depicted is the Lord’s Supper in the upper room. In other cases there is simply a basket containing fish and bread.

The fish was one of the earliest Christian symbols and for that reason appears frequently in communion scenes as well as in other contexts. The significance of the fish, apart from its connection with the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, was that the Greek word for fish – ICHTHYS – could be used as an acrostic containing the initial letters of the phrase: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” For this reason the fish appears, not only in representational art, but also in some of the most ancient Christian epitaphs. Thus, for instance, the epitaph of Abercius, bishop of Hierapolis toward the end of the second century, says that faith nourished Abercius with “a fresh water fish, very large and pure, fished by an immaculate virgin” (Mary, or the church?). And other similar epitaphs speak of “the divine race of the heavenly fish,” and “the peace of the fish.”

Other scenes in primitive Christian art refer to various biblical episodes: Adam and Eve, Noah in the ark, water coming out of the rock in the desert, Daniel in the lions’ den, the three young men in the fiery furnace, Jesus and the Samaritan woman, the raising of Lazarus, and so forth. Generally, what one finds is very simple art, more allusive than realistic. For example, Noah is often depicted as standing in a box that is hardly large enough to keep him afloat.

In conclusion, the ancient Christian church was composed mostly of humble folk for whom the fact of having been adopted as heirs of the King of Kings was a source of great joy. This was expressed in their worship, in their art, in their life together, and in their valiant deaths. The daily life of most of these Christians took place in the drab routine in which the poor in all societies must live. But they rejoiced in the hope of a new light that would destroy the dark injustice and idolatry of their society.

Next time, we will look at The Great Persecution and the Final Victory.


Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Who this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.

Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in over twenty-five foreign countries. He is the author of over forty books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts/podcasts, which include: The Prayer Motivator Devotional, The Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report, the Second Coming Watch Update and the Soul-Winning Motivator, among others. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Religion, a Master of Divinity degree, and a Master of Theology degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for over twenty-seven years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.

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