The spread of Christianity unfortunately involved persecution fairly early in its history. Sometimes it was tempered by a certain amount of fairness, but it was real and serious for many early believers, nonetheless. The Talmud relates an occasion when five of Jesus’ disciples were judged to be worthy of death. Tacitus provides much greater detail. After the great fire at Rome, Nero blamed the occurrence on Christians, who are described as a group of people who were hated by the Roman populace. As a result, many believers were arrested, convicted, mocked, and finally tortured to death. Being nailed to crosses and being burnt to death are two methods that are specifically mentioned. Such treatment evoked compassion from the people, and Tacitus blamed these events on the eccentricities of Nero.

Christians were sometimes reported as lawbreakers (Pliny, cf. Trajan, Hadrian) for almost three centuries after the death of Jesus, after which Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Believers were blamed with meeting secretly, burning their children, and drinking blood.

For instance, Pliny’s letter relates his methodology with Bithynian Christians. They were identified, interrogated, sometimes tortured, and then executed. If they denied that they were believers, as demonstrated by their worshiping Caesar and the gods, they were freed. Pliny noted that true believers would never be guilty of such a denial of Christ.

Trajan’s response encouraged moderation. Repentance and worship of the gods were sufficient for freeing these people. But they should not be sought out. Hadrian offered similar advice prohibiting the harassment of Christians and even ordered that their enemies be dealt with if they acted improperly against believers. However, if Christians were guilty, they would have to be punished.

Summary and Conclusion