Historians know stuff about Christianity that most of us don’t.
Remember the story in the Gospel of John, where a woman is caught in adultery, brought to Jesus, and Jesus tells those about to stone her that those without sin should cast the first stone?
Historians know this never happened.
Our oldest manuscripts do not contain this story. It was added to the Gospel later, about 200 years after the Gospel is thought to have been written, possibly by Jerome, who lived between 347 & 420CE. Yet, most people don’t know this, and the story is still told in churches as if it actually happened, even though historians know it did not.
Here’s an opportunity to start learning the subject… like a historian… online… from the privacy & comfort of your computer or mobile device.
- If you like watching video, watch the Dale Martin video lectures.
- If you prefer listeninig to audio, listen to the Bart Ehrman audio lectures.
- If you prefering reading text; Bart Ehrman's The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings is probably the most used university intro text on the subject.
- Other excellent books on Christianity
Professor Dale Martin of Yale University, Introduction To The New Testament History And Literature. You didn’t get to go to Yale? Me neither. But now we can sit in on a course at one of the best Universities in the country.
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.
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.
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
Here’s an idea… 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, The New Testament, by Bart Ehrman - 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.
Books on Christianity
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.
– Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman
– A Concise History of the Catholic Church, by Thomas Bokenkotter
– The Amazing Colossal Apostle, by Robert M. Price
– Paul and Jesus; How the apostle transformed Christianity, by James D. Tabor
– 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)
– On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier
– Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, by A.N. Wilson (Recommended because it gives you view of someone outside the industry)
More Online Resources
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
– 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
– 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