One of my favourite writers on early Christianity is N.T. Wright. I have read many of his books and when I was asked what I wanted for my birthday, I knew it was Paul: A Biography.
Wright has written many books on Paul but this one is unique. In some ways it is a bridge between his academic and popular level work. It is not a theology of Paul or a commentary on his letters, although it contains elements of both. As the title suggests, it is a biography of Paul.
Some New Testament scholars may not like his blending of information from Paul’s letters and Luke’s Acts. The trend is to take Paul’s seven “authentic” letters seriously, discounting the other letters and Acts.
However, Wright is writing a biography and any biographer would take into account all of the available information and that is what he does with Paul. If we were dealing with any other ancient figure (other than Jesus), no one would question this approach.
Those interested in Paul will love this book. Wright gives an overview of Paul’s life based on Acts and then inserts information from the letters and the context of those letters where appropriate. This is an essential resource for anyone interested in early Christianity.
The best thing about this book is that is not just for New Testament scholars. It is written in a readable style that the layperson will enjoy and understand. Yes, Wright pulls in from his considerable scholarship but it is not overwhelming.
Papias is the most important church father that you have never heard of. Even though none of his writings survive in anything beyond fragments in other writings, he is still influential and is often consulted by New Testament scholars for his traditions about the origins of the Gospels.
Recommend Audio Book:
The Church History by Eusebius
Often called the “Father of Church History”, Eusebius was the first to trace the rise of Christianity during its crucial first three centuries from Christ to Constantine. Our principal resource for earliest Chrisitianity, The Church History presents a panorama of apostles, church fathers, emperors, bishops, heroes, heretics, confessors, and martyrs.
This audiobook edition includes Paul L. Maier’s clear and precise translation, historical commentary on each book in The Church History, and numerous maps, illustrations, and photographs. These features promise to liberate Eusebius from previous outdated and stilted works, creating a new standard primary resource for listeners interested in the early history of Christianity.
Get this audiobook FREE with a FREE trial of Audible.
This post is not on whether or not Jesus was conceived by Mary while she was still a virgin. I deal with more theological questions at my other website. Belief in the virgin birth is a faith statement and this post is going to deal with history.
To be clear, the New Testament teaches the virginal conception rather than a virgin birth. There is a subtle difference. The doctrine only teaches that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. However, “virgin birth” will be used as the popular form.
It is also important note that only Matthew and Luke describe the virgin birth. Not only did Mark and John not mention it, neither did Paul. That doesn’t mean that other early Christians didn’t believe it.
What I want to deal with is the claim by people, commonly called Jesus Mythicists, that the virgin birth of Jesus was based on pagan myths, specifically Horus, Dionysus, Mithras, among others.
My response here is not based on a desire to defend the Bible (although I am a Christian) but by looking to the myths of these gods/heroes.
The problem with the claims that the virgin birth was based on pagan myths is that most of the examples given by mythicists are not virgin births. What is claimed as a “virgin birth” are really conceptions with a supernatural element. Often the mother was not a virgin even before the conception and the baby was conceived through intercourse.
So why do they describe it as a virgin birth? I suppose because many of them include intercourse between a god and a mortal, thus not including a human male. But that is not a virgin birth. Nor is that the type of conception described by Matthew and Luke.
My problem with the pagan origins of the virgin birth are not theological but historical. Mythicists, apart from misrepresenting the New Testament, also misrepresent the ancient myths.
The King James Version (Authorized Version) of the Bible was one of the most influential books in western culture. Many Christians today continue to hold tightly to the King James Version. The problem with such influence is that legendary elements begin to adhere to the truth. Ryan Reeves looks at three myths about the King James Version. You might want to also check out his book, Know How We Got Our Bible (KNOW Series).
I’m always on the lookout for new quality podcasts. One that I have recently started listening to is a podcast I want to share with you. It is called the History of English Podcast.
It is not the history of the English people, although it does deal with that, but is the history of the English language. Kevin Stroud deals with the languages that led to English, and then Old, Middle and Modern English.
Why I am sharing this here? While Kevin’s podcast is not a church history podcast it often does touch on church history. The reason is that clergy and monks were often the educated members of society who were involved in writing documents. Also, religious documents have most often survived.
I have really enjoyed the History of English Podcast. So often I have walked away with an answer about some strange aspect of English that I have always wondered about. Make sure to check it out.
One of the most inspiring of the Apostolic Fathers is Polycarp. At the age of 86, he became a martyr, even though he had the opportunity to escape. As a disciple of John and one who had an impact on Irenaeus, Polycarp plays an important role.
The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2 by Justo L. González
Beginning with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, this fully revised and updated second volume of The Story of Christianity continues the marvelous history of the world’s largest religion. Award-winning historian Justo González brings to life the people, dramatic events, and theological debates that have shaped Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. From the monk Martin Luther, who dared to stand up to a corrupt pope, to the surprising spread and growing vitality of today’s church in Africa, Asia, and South America, The Story of Christianity offers a complete and up-to-date retelling of this amazing history.
With new information on the important contributions of women to church history as well as the latest information on Christianity in developing countries, González’s richly textured study discusses the changes and directions of the church up to the 21st century. The Story of Christianity covers such recent occurrences as the fall of the Soviet Union and the return of the Russian Orthodox Church; feminist, African American, and third-world theologies; the scandals and controversies facing the reign of Pope Benedict XVI; interfaith dialogue; and the movement toward unity of all Christian churches. This revised and updated edition of The Story of Christianity concludes with a thoughtful look at the major issues and debates facing Christianity today.
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One of the most important figures for understanding the early church is the Apostle Paul. However, when it comes to studying Paul, we have two different sources to examine. There are Paul’s letters and Luke’s account of his ministry in Acts.
While most scholars do not struggle with using the epistles (or at least the seven “genuine” letters), there is some controversy about how to use Acts.
Do the accounts of Paul in Acts tell us anything about Paul or only about Luke and the church he was part of? Some scholars reject Acts as having any historical value.
An excellent resource for sorting through these questions is Paul in Acts by Stanley Porter. Porter addressed all of the big issues, including the “we” passages and the compatibility of Acts with the epistles.
Porter is not an apologist who seeks to defend the reliability of Acts for the sake of a strict doctrine of inerrancy. Porter is a respected New Testament scholar who sorts through the evidences and yet comes up with a positive view of Acts.
While acknowledging differences between Acts and Paul, Porter demonstrates that they are very compatible and that Acts is a valuable historical resource for understanding Paul.