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Understanding Christianity

The Christianity that historians and scholars study and discuss is almost completely different than the Christianity that folks in churches learn about. Even folks that go to church every week understand Christianity almost completely from the stories they were taught in Sunday school, or hear in the pews. Here is an opportunity to learn the subject online from the comfort of your home or mobile device.

If you like watching stuff, watch the Dale Martin video lectures. If you prefer listeninig to stuff (we call that podcasts or audiobooks) listen to the Bart Ehrman audio lectures. Both are excellent standard introductions to the topic.

This page can work as a self study guide, but it is useful to have others to talk with to learn & enjoy virtually anything. Feel free to contact me via Twitter or email if you would like to talk.


Professor Dale Martin of Yale University, Introduction To The New Testament History And Literature. You didn’t get to go to Yale? Well now you can sit in on a course at one of the best University in the country.

Lecture 1 Introduction: Why Study the New Testament?

Lecture 2 From Stories to Canon

Lecture 3 The Greco-Roman World

Lecture 4 Judaism in the First Century

Lecture 5 The New Testament as History

Lecture 6 The Gospel of Mark

Lecture 7 The Gospel of Matthew

Lecture 8 The Gospel of Thomas

Lecture 9 The Gospel of Luke

Lecture 10 The Acts of the Apostles

Lecture 11 Johannine Christianity: the Gospel

Lecture 12 Johannine Christianity: the Letters

Lecture 13 The Historical Jesus

Lecture 14 Paul as Missionary

Lecture 15 Paul as Pastor

Lecture 16 Paul as Jewish Theologian

Lecture 17 Paul’s Disciples

Lecture 18 Arguing with Paul?

Lecture 19 The “Household” Paul: the Pastorals

Lecture 20 The “Anti-household” Paul: Thecla

Lecture 21 Interpreting Scripture: Hebrews

Lecture 22 Interpreting Scripture: Medieval Interpretations

Lecture 23 Apocalyptic and Resistance

Lecture 24 Apocalyptic and Accommodation

Lecture 25 Ecclesiastical Institutions: Unity, Martyrs, and Bishops

Lecture 26 The “Afterlife” of the New Testament and Postmodern Interpretation

I like to joke that when it comes to Christianity, I have Marcionite sympathies, so my interest in the Hebrew scriptures is almost nill. Marcion was an early Christian who created what is believed to be the first Christian canon. He did not include any Hebrew scriptures, just a version of the Gospel we call Luke and some letters of the writer we call Paul. Of course to study early Christian history, you need to be aware of how it evolved from Judaism, so I include here the Open Yale Courses, Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), with Professor Christine Hayes, which is the Hebrew scriptures equivalent of the Dale Martin courses above.

Bart Ehrman is one of the most influential professors in the field of Christianity. He teaches at Chapel Hill University. See a list of his books on Amazon. We are lucky to have two audio lecture series by him. Each lecture is approximately 30 minutes.

Series 1 : The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon, by Bart Ehrman. You can download the entire lecture series at (archive.org source, download as zip).

S1.01. The New Testament - An Overview

S1.02. Paul - Our Earliest Christian Author

S1.03. The Pauline Epistles

S1.04. The Problem of Pseudonymity

S1.05. The Beginnings of the Gospel Traditions

S1.06. The Earliest Gospels

S1.07. The Other Gospels

S1.08. Apocalypticism and the Apocalypse of John

S1.09. The Copyists Who Gave Us Scripture

S1.10. Authority in the Early Church

S1.11. The Importance of Interpretation

S1.12. When Did the Canon Get Finalized?

Series 2 : After the New Testament: The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers. You can download the entire lecture series at (archive.org source, download as zip).

S2.01. Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers

S2.02. The Letter of 1 Clement

S2.03. Church Structures In Early Christianity

S2.04. The Letters of Ignatius

S2.05. Doctrinal Problems in the Early Church

S2.06. Still Other Doctrinal Disputes

S2.07. The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians

S2.08. The Use of Authorities in the Early Church

S2.09. The First Martyrology—Polycarp

S2.10. The Persecution of the Christians

S2.11. A Church Manual—The Didache of the Apostles

S2.12. Ritual in the Early Church

S2.13. Barnabas and the Opposition to the Jews

S2.14. The Rise of Christian Anti-Semitism

S2.15. 2 Clement—An Early Sermon

S2.16. The Use of Scripture in the Early Church

S2.17. Papias—An Early Christian Interpreter

S2.18. Oral Tradition in Early Christianity

S2.19. The Shepherd of Hermas— An Apocalypse

S2.20. Apocalypses in Early Christianity

S2.21. The Letter to Diognetus—An Apology

S2.22. Apologetics in Early Christianity

S2.23. The Apostolic Fathers as a Collection

S2.24. The Apostolic Fathers and Proto-Orthodoxy

Blogs & Podcasts

These are helpful for you to learn from other folks in an on going basis. I mean, blogs & podcasts in general. You can find hundreds of good free blogs and podcasts on almost any particular aspect of the topic. Over time, you’ll also learn how to contact and talk with people that create content. This is important. Making online friends with others on the web that share your interests, and create content will help you learn more, and become part of the community of people interested in the topic. Here are some of my favorites blogs related to Christianity.

Neil Godfrey’s “Vridar”

Dr. Robert M. Price, The Bible Geek

Stephan Huller’s Observations

Dr. Philip A. Harland, Religions of the Ancient Mediteranian

Learning how to subscribe to blogs and podcasts is important to keep up regularly with a blogger or podcasters ongoing work. For this, you’ll want to learn about RSS and/or iTunes. If you want help with this feel free to talk with me.

Videos your group can buy & watch together

There is a extra fun if you can get your group to buy certain resources that any individual might not be able to afford individually, and then watch them as a group. Either as one off events, or in an ongoing basis. For example… you could have a regular, first Friday night of the month video party. Set up a big screen, advertise the event in your local paper, and get the whole town to come out and watch videos together.

The Great Courses, Professor Bart Ehrman

The Great Courses, The New Testament, by Bart Ehrman ($254 on DVD… on sale now for $69.95 !!!) - This, in my opinion, might be the best investment a church could make if it wants to easily teach it’s members about early Christianity, or invite the outside world to pleasant evenings where videos are shown. You get one of the most renowned educators on the subject ready to teach anyone in 30 minutes increments.

The Great Course; New Testament (Course guide)


And now… we move on to the meat of the matter. Books! Whenever possible I link to free audio books, free links that you can read right now, online, but eventually you will have to become a lover of books. And your life will be consumed with finding and devouring books on the subject. Just like real eating, good books make you healthier than junk food. I have tried link here to some healthy stuff to build up your Christian history body.

Finding and reading the landmark works by the landmark authors, and then thinking about the issues they have written upon, over and over and over… is the best advice I can give you if you truly wish to understand the topic.

– Paul Johnson’s A history of Christianity - My favorite single volume history of Christianity overview.

– The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, by Bart Ehrman. pdf / Amazon

Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman

A Concise History of the Catholic Church, by Thomas Bokenkotter

The Quest of the Historical Jesus, by Albert Schweitzer (free audiobook via LibriVox.org)

The Jesus Puzzle, Earl Doherty

The Amazing Colossal Apostle, by Robert M. Price

Paul and Jesus; How the apostle transformed Christianity, by James D. Tabor

The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, by David Friedrich Strauss (free audiobook via LibriVox.org)

Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, by Walter Bauer

Jesus: A Life, by A.N. Wilson (Recommended because it gives you view of someone outside the industry)

Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, by A.N. Wilson (Recommended because it gives you view of someone outside the industry)

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior, by Bart Ehrman

More Online Resources

Online Bible

Audio Bible

Complete writings of the Church Fathers


List of New Testament Papyri

List of New Testament uncials

Lists of New Testament minuscules

Gospel Parallels (you REALLY want this physical book; see Gospel parallels)

Dr. Robert M. Price’s recommended reading list

Roman Catholic Encyclopedia

Catholic Lectionary

Grail Psalms



The three Christian groups; Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant, use creeds in an attempt to describe the minimum beliefs necessary to be considered a properly believing orthodox member, avoid heresy or heterodoxy, and subscribe to at least one of the creeds below:

– The Apostles Creed was developed between the second and ninth centuries. It is the most popular creed used in worship by Western Christians.

– The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea andConstantinople in 325 and 381 respectively and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the First Council of Ephesus in 431.

– The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, taught Christ “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”: one divine and one human, and that both natures are perfect but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person.

– The Athanasian Creed, received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, says: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.”

Timeline (to help you put the important people in some kind of chronological order in your head)

Mattathias, c 167BCE

Simon Maccabaeus, died 135BCE

Judas Maccabeus 167ce - first prince of the Hasmonean Dynasty which lasted from 140-37bce.


Stephen, died 34-35CE

Paul of Tarsus, died 64CE

Simon Magus, first century CE

John the Baptist, died 30CE

Philo, 20BCE-50CE

James the Just, died 62CE

Clement of Rome, fl. 96

Pliny the Younger, 61-112CE

Josephus, 37-100

Linus, 76CE

Tacitus, Tacitus on Christ, written 116

Ignatius of Antioch, 35/50 - 98/117

Papias of Hierapolis, 60-135?

Polycarp, 80-167

Florinus, student of Polycarp (latter half of the 2nd cent. a presbyter at Rome)

Antoninus Pius (86-138)

Marcion, 85-160

Peregrinus (c. 95-165 AD)

Epiphanes, last 1st century, early 2nd

Celsus, early 2nd century

Apelles (mid-2nd century)

Justin Martyr, 100-165

Hegesippus, 110-180

Theophilus of Antioch, died 181ce

Tatian, 120-180

Clement of Alexandria, 150-215

Diatessaron (160-170)

Irenaeus, died c. 202CE

Sabellius, Ca 215

Tertullian, 160-220

Hippolytus of Rome, 170-236

Origen of Alexandria, 185-254

Cyprian (200-258)

Minucius Felix, wrote 150-270

Eusebius of Caesarea, 263-339

Athanasius, 293-373

First Council of Nicaea, 325

Jerome, 347-420

Saint Augustine, 354-430

Augustine of Hippo, 354-430

Cyril of Alexandria, 378-444

to be added…

Megethius, student of Marcion (Author of the Adamantius Dialogues?) I can’t find a date range for when he was supposed to have live. Adamantius Dialogues are between Metgethius and Adamantius (Adamantius was a 4th-century Christian writer sometimes mistaken for Origen. He may have come from Asia Minor or Syria but very little is known of him. He wrote anti-Gnostic works in Greek.)