There are countless religions around the globe, but the three religions with the most adherents worldwide are Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Although Christianity tops the list, here are five facts about Christianity you may not know:
1- The Numbers
A whopping 2.4 billion people profess Christianity worldwide, which is 600 million more than Islam. According to Wikipedia, this represents 33 percent of the earth’s population. The majority of those adhering to Christianity live in North America, South America, and Europe. Ironically, the birthplace of Christianity, the Middle East, has only 0.6% of the world’s Christian population.
2- From Persecution to Popularity
Even before the end of the first century C.E., Christians were vilified and persecuted. In 64 AD, Rome was engulfed in a terrible fire that destroyed nearly three quarters of the city. The populace blamed Emperor Nero, and to divert attention from himself, he blamed the Christians. What followed was a horrible wave of persecution that included Christians being torn to pieces by wild animals in the Roman arenas, burned alive to serve as evening lights, and nailed to crosses.
Fast forward three centuries. Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 AD. Doctrinal debates raged for decades, but according to CNN, in 392 AD Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Catholic Church held sway over most of Europe for centuries thereafter.
3- The Most Sacred Book
It’s no secret that the Bible is the sacred book of Christianity. But for centuries, the church opposed efforts to translate the Bible into common languages. Reading or distributing the Bible was often considered a crime punishable with fines, imprisonment, torture, and even death.
Today, the Bible is the most widely distributed book in the world. The first book ever printed on a printing press was the Bible, completed by 1454 or 1455. Since then, it’s estimated that four billion Bibles have been printed. Each year about 78 million Bibles are distributed, and it is available, in whole or in part, in over 3,200 languages. It has even been translated into Klingon for Star Trek fans. Ironically, only 13% of Christians today believe the Bible to be completely true.
4- How Many Denominations?
Christianity is not one religion. It’s literally thousands. “The three main branches of Christianity are Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestantism, said The Gospel Herald.
The seeds of schism were first sown in 330 AD, when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of Imperial Rome from the city of Rome to Byzantium, which he modestly renamed Constantinople. There were disputes about the Pope’s role and authority, unrest and friction continued for centuries between the cities of Rome and Constantinople, and in 1054 there was an official break between the two. The Eastern (Orthodox) Church and Western (Roman Catholic) Church were the result. The Roman Catholic Church further fragmented during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
Today, there are a staggering 38,000 different denominations of Christianity. These include different forms of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. It’s estimated that by 2025 that number will grow to 55,000. About half of those professing Christianity worldwide are Catholic. Protestant Christians number about 800 million, while the Orthodox churches claim about 160 million members.
5- The Most Holy Site
Many Christians consider their most holy site to be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in old Jerusalem. This is on the site where Jesus was supposedly put to death and buried. Since the Crusades, there has been an uneasy coexistence in Jerusalem between the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian denominations. Wars have even been fought over possession of holy sites.
In 2006, Time magazine reported an instance where monks “brawled [in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre] for hours, clubbing each other with giant candlestick holders.”
As a result, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been partitioned off among Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians, and Copts. Ethiopians have also laid claim to the church by having some members live in huts on the roof. Their mistrust of each other is so great that the key to the church is in the hands of a Muslim.