Historians know stuff about Christianity that most of us don’t. Below are some easy options to learn from the comfort of your computer or mobile device.
- Yale University's New Testament Introduction - Dale Martin
- Yale University's Introduction to The Hebrew Scriptures / "Old Testament" - Christine Hayes
- The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings textbook, by Bart Ehrman. Possibly, the most used university intro text on the subject. You can read it online, or use the options to download it as a PDF, epub, or other formats, and read it locally / offline on your device.
- An Online Bible with tools is always handy. This site allows you to look at virtually any version of the Bible that you like, and even look at all the versions of any passage of the Bible at the same time.
- You can kick back and listen to the Bible any time. Start here with the Gospel of Mark. You can move to any place in the Bible you want, and if you check the "continuous play" checkbox, it will read from that spot and, like the energizer bunny, keep going, and going...
Finally, I’d like to recommend two books that might be all that the average person needs to get a better understanding of Christianity than virtually anyone else in their circle of friends. I list these below the items above because you have to go out and buy these 2 books, as apposed to the links above which can all be consumed for free, on the web, right now, from the comfort of your home or mobile devices. YES, I have always hated the titles of this and the Idiots Guide series, I think the titles are bad in that you sort of say “I am a dummy” or “idiot” when you take them off the shelve. But, if you get past that, and understand they are meant to be catchy titles meant to be funny, not a reflection of you, the content of these books is nothing less than excellent.
Additional recommended books
– Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity - excellent single volume history of Christianity overview.
– Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman
– Paul and Jesus; How the apostle transformed Christianity, by James D. Tabor
– The Amazing Colossal Apostle, by Robert M. Price
– A Concise History of the Catholic Church, by Thomas Bokenkotter
– Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, by Walter Bauer
– On the Historicity of Jesus, by Richard Carrier
– 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)
Blogs & Podcasts
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. Also available on YouTube.
The Christian New Testament
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 also available as a YouTube playlist which is the Hebrew scriptures equivalent of the Dale Martin courses above.
The Hebrew Scriptures / Christian “Old Testament”
The Apostolic Fathers
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.
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
– Augustine of Hippo, 354-430
– Cyril of Alexandria, 378-444