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N.S. Gill

Why Early Christians May Have Lived Longer Than Their Contemporaries

By June 11, 2006

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Christianity Today's article Live Longer, Healthier, & Better The untold benefits of becoming a Christian in the ancient world explains why it was that many early Christians lived longer than their contemporaries. Since Christians treated others as if they were brothers, they tended the sick even when they weren't related. In the case of plagues, some people survived simply by being given food and water, which the nursing Christians did at risk to themselves. Pagan girls might be married before puberty, but Christians married somewhat later. This drew women to the early Church and would have resulted in fewer early pregnancies. Infanticide and abortions were outlawed in the Christian community. While infanticide would not have affected the age at death because the unnamed infants would not have been counted in the census, abortion and pregnancy would have.

Please discuss this in the forum.


June 12, 2006 at 9:02 pm
(1) DStaton says:

I think that the health of people in the past has a lot to do with the fact that they ate healthier too. This applies to everyone and not just Christians. They didn’t have all of the manufactured food, and they weren’t taking artificially produced drugs to treat every little symptom they had.

June 13, 2006 at 9:49 am
(2) Darth Bob says:

I agree with DStaton.

June 15, 2006 at 11:39 pm
(3) Chelsea says:

This claims almost seems like a non sequitur concocted by the christian church to make themselves look better.

June 16, 2006 at 12:02 am
(4) vade says:

How do they address the seeming agrement between separate Roman, Greek, and Arabic sources that insist early christians were cannibals?

June 16, 2006 at 1:32 am
(5) Steve says:

I think that the “cannibal” idea comes from the concept of the “eating of the body and the blood of Christ” in the philosophical sense of the Eucharist. Or so I have read. No actual, physical cannibalism, more a “philosophical” kind.


June 16, 2006 at 1:48 am
(6) Honor Lightwell says:

Poppycock.. the idea of christian women marrying later is pure fiction. Mary Mother of Jesus was 12 .. she married a man who already had grown children. One thing in the christians favor of course was they were not smokers. Of course no one smoked at that time. The Roman legions were grain eaters… they felt the eating of meat… especially beef was a hardship… if they ate meat at all .. ox was their fare. The truth of this can be read in Gaius Julius Caesar’s Gallic War Commentaries. As for the earlier comment about christians being cannibals… Balderdash… I am no fan of any religions .. but that is a bit over the top. The taking of the young as partners can be read of in Xenophon’s and Plato’s Symposium.. they are of the same dinner party in 416 BC.. for what it is worth Xenophon’s treatment of the Symposium has a lighter tone to it than Plato’s. Herodotus talks of male children being given to the men of Sparta when they reached the age of five for training in all the ‘arts’ of Sparta. Not sure who came up with the idea of Christians living longer than other groups… Pure Poppycock.. but was good enough for a smirk of irony

June 16, 2006 at 5:12 am
(7) Kostis says:

Actually Mary was not christian when she married. And i think the article is not about that christians lived longer compair to modern christians or people nowdays. It is clearly talking about other groups. And having better and healthier food is not really and argument cause people where dying out of flu! By the way the whole thing is just a joke. The early christians does not realy refer to a specific time or place.

June 16, 2006 at 5:22 am
(8) John Bell says:

I’m not sure why this article was reproduced in an historical forum, as it is complete non-historical nonsense. There is little, or no, historical evidence for differential mortality rates between religious groups. There is no evidence that early christians were any more compassionate that any other groups – compassion is part of human nature, not the exclusive preserve of christians. There is also very little evidence of when ANYONE married, far less evidence that different religious groups married at significantly different ages. There is also no evidence that early christians differed in their abortion rates. This article is purely religious polemic and should never have been reproduced in an historical forum, except perhaps as an example of what NOT to write.

June 16, 2006 at 7:20 am
(9) Donna says:

I do think the christians yes did probably live longer as a means to the world because at least their kind wasnt slaughtered.. by roman-christain groups.. I do say they probably did have more of a chance at survival then the pagans did.

June 16, 2006 at 8:05 am
(10) Steve says:

The timeline of the Early Christian era began after the death of Jesus. We were not referred to as Christians until Paul and Barnabas taught the church at Antioch. I do not know of any stats of abortion during this era. The original Christian doctrine revolves around love for each other. The food, physical exercise, and the moral living standards all have a roll in longer lives. Faith in Christ makes for a healthier lifestyle and is available to anyone who wants it.

June 16, 2006 at 8:06 am
(11) David says:

It was a fair representation of historical facts. Yes, it did make the Christians look good, but hey- they were emulating the person they worshipped. This gave them a social conscious that of the more self-absorbed and superstitious world view of Rome. Of course many believers were hated and persecuted for their faith in that loving and merciful God, as they believed then and still believe Jesus Christ to be.

June 16, 2006 at 8:07 am
(12) David says:

It was a fair representation of historical facts. Yes, it did make the Christians look good, but hey- they were emulating the person they worshipped. This gave them a social conscious different than that of the more self-absorbed and superstitious world view of Rome. Of course many believers were hated and persecuted for their faith in that loving and merciful God, as they believed then and still believe Jesus Christ to be.

June 16, 2006 at 8:47 am
(13) Whir says:

This is a well written and well researched article and should be recognized as such by anyone who has the slightest understanding of ancient Greco-Roman practices and culture. Some comments about the comments:

1. No one really knows how old Mary was when she married. Nor is their any evidence that Joseph had grown sons.

2. Wasn’t Sparta considered part of the pagan Greco-Roman culture? How does Spartan pedophilia relate to THIS article?

3. You really cannot compare Roman soldiers to the average Roman. They were a distinctly seperate class subject to different cultural norms.

4. Cannibalism? You [edited out by Guide] have obviously not done your research.

5. Yes, we do know when people married. Yes, we do know about customs that were forbidden by the early Christians. The Romans were meticulous record keepers and much of that record still exists today.

I know this is an open forum, but please don’t embarass yourself by commenting before doing your research.

June 16, 2006 at 10:00 am
(14) 1 light of hope says:

Where the jewish people concidered pagan.
The old testament is full of very old people since they were not christians they must have been pagans.
They lived hundreds of years.
So I am kind of wondering what this article is about. because it does not compare christians to the jewish people only the pagans.

What about asian people how long did they live compared to christians.

What is a pagan anyway? a NON christian?

June 16, 2006 at 1:16 pm
(15) Jen says:

If this article is so well researched then how come there are no references sited at the end of it?

June 16, 2006 at 1:25 pm
(16) ancienthistory says:

I think this is a chapter from the author’s book, The Rise of Christianity. On Amazon you can view the contents and index but not the notes.

June 16, 2006 at 2:18 pm
(17) William Kirk says:

I am not quite sure where Honor got his data, but, I know of nothing in the Christian Bible or any history that states that Mary was 12 or that Joseph had other children. It is quite possible he is quoting shady sources or sources outside the Christian faith.

Also, Light of Hope… Jews are not considered Pagan, never were except by bigots at various points attempting to gain power/control/money.

But, my big question here is why… anytime the subject of Christian comes out do folks feel it necessary to decry the subject, but, if this were changed to Pagan’s Lived Longer, nothing negative would have been said?

People are people. The one positive about a true Christian is the fact they believe themselfs imperfect and constantly attempt to improve. A fake Christian is one that talks one path and walks another. I am very sure every religion has both types.

June 16, 2006 at 3:01 pm
(18) Joe Carvin says:

A “pagan” in latin usage (“paganus”) was a rural fellow, someone who lived in a country village or on a farm, rather than in the city. That’s all the word meant, at first. It is my understanding that in the early Christian era, when the increasingly powerful Christian churches began to flourish in the more “sophisticated” cities, they naturally referred to country folk, or “pagans,” as those who were outside their urban churches. However, as the word came to mean those who believed in the old “superstitions” of country people, and as there came to be a certain degree of looking down upon the unsophisticated country types who were called “pagans” (i.e. country people) I think it accurate to say that the word “pagan” became a slightly deogatory term,used by Christians, to refer to non-Christians. Ironically, the whole pattern reversed itself, centuries later. The word “Christian” itself, first used as a term of respect to refer to a country commoner whose name you didn’t know (as in, “Halloo, Good Christian”) fell victim to the continuing tendency of the urban sophisticate to look down on the country commoner. That is, the word “Christian” evolved (through Norman French — chretien) into a word that meant someone so common and backward as to be a real idiot — and the word “Christian” got morphed into our modern word “cretin.” Personally, I think it serves us well to recognize that a “cretin” is just a christian, and that a “pagan” is just someone from the country — or at least that’s how it used to be, in the good old days.

June 16, 2006 at 8:14 pm
(19) Diana says:

I feel dissapointed in this article because I’m not so sure there is real statistical data to back it up. I’m hoping that this column is not going to go all christian on me because that’s what happened to one of my favorite archeology magazines “Odesey”- Half way through my subscription they simply changed the format to “Biblical Archeology”. So Ms.Gill, please don’t desert me now!

June 16, 2006 at 8:31 pm
(20) Rasmus Gjesdal says:

I don’t think I have heard anything so ignorant before in my entire life!

The notion Christians lived better is completely absurd, whoever composed that notion has no knowledge of history whatever.

Best Rasmus

June 16, 2006 at 8:34 pm
(21) ancienthistory says:

I do appreciate your using this site, BUT I’m a bit miffed at being told what I may or may not write about. More than that, I am frustrated that people don’t seem to read the blog or anything except what is specifically in the newsletter. The first list below represents what I have blogged this month. Granted, it’s not a lot because I have been very busy with updates. The second list shows all the pages that have been updated or created THIS WEEK so far. At the top of the list is the URL you may link to for clickable links to these mostly glossary type items. You will notice there are lots of religious and mythological topics. There is also stuff on historical fiction and Latin. This site covers a lot of material and early Christianity is the only topic that generates more than a random comment or two, and so is obviously of interest to a large number of people. Unfortunately, I know very little about it, but will be attempting to remedy that. If you don’t want to read articles on the subject, please peruse these for the week or two in which I try to concentrate on learning about and communicating with readers about early Christianity.

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June 16, 2006 at 11:05 pm
(22) Dr. T says:

Theological rhetoric. What proof does one have to offer? Religious dogma dictates that the believers are right. It lends itself well to followers past, present, and future. Bring your sick, tired, etc., you nothing to lose but your chains. (Horribly paraphrased) At the end of the day religion, tries to offer hope and explainations based upon faith, not fact. Additionally, Judeochristian beliefs are not new ideas. Religious history has many parallels from the flood story, to immaculate conception, crucifixion, and apocolypse. Religion is about faith, not necessarily fact. I will say some religious ideology is healthy as certian moral constructs (ie golden rule). However, it is interesting to note a study was published that did suggest religious belief per se was correlated to longevity and health. Christianity is one religion among many. “Choose this day whom (or what) you will serve.” Whatever you believe will be right in your own mind.

June 17, 2006 at 6:22 pm
(23) Helen says:

This is one article that is total b.s.–no documentation whatsoever

June 18, 2006 at 7:45 pm
(24) pamella moore says:

I find your articals very interesting and the comments made by some the your readers proves again that people are almost completely ignorant of the Christian faith or Christian history.

June 19, 2006 at 10:49 pm
(25) Mnasidika says:

Well, Ms. Gill, I do appreciate ALL the forum topics posted here, as you are thoughtful enough to give us plenty of food for thought. I do agree with the majority that this article about Christians living longer is absolute silliness. They tended to be as superstitious as anyone else in those times–if not worse; their obsession with the Devil caused more devilment upon Mankind than the actual entity–and I feel they were no more likely to risk their lives during times of the plague.
And don’t even get me started on the Crusades and the Salem witch trials. The only reason Christians might have lived longer during THOSE times was because they fought dirtier….

June 4, 2008 at 1:55 pm
(26) viking mom says:

Here’s the data on the book & article from the CT article:

“…Rodney Stark is professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington, and author of The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton University Press, 1996).”

Presumably the book has footnotes where specific references can be gained.

PERHAPS – there is a MAJOR seeming paradox at work here.

Maybe a population that cares for its weak, disabled, elderly, unborn or newborn – actually gets STRONGER and not weaker.

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