Understanding Christianity

Understanding Christianity

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.

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.

Christianity for Dummies

The Bible for Dummies

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– Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity - excellent 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

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

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

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

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)

The Jesus Puzzle, by Earl Doherty

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

Forged: Writing in the Name of God : Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, by Bart D. Ehrman

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Online Resources

Online Bible - BlueLetterBible.org

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

Episcopal Lectionary

Catholic Lectionary


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Blogs & Podcasts

Neil Godfrey’s “Vridar”

Dr. Robert M. Price, The Bible Geek

Stephan Huller’s Observations

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

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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

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

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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”

1/24 The parts of the whole

2/24 The Hebrew Bible in Its Ancient Near Eastern Setting: Biblical Religion in Context

3/24 The Hebrew Bible in Its Ancient Near Eastern Setting: Genesis 1-4 in Context

4/24 Lecture 4. Doublets and Contradictions, Seams and Sources

5/24 Critical Approaches to the Bible: Introduction to Genesis 12-50

6/24 Biblical Narrative: The Stories of the Patriarchs (Genesis 12-36)

7/24 Israel in Egypt: Moses and the Beginning of Yahwism (Genesis 37- Exodus 4)

8/24 Exodus: From Egypt to Sinai (Exodus 5-24, 32; Numbers)

9/24 The Priestly Legacy: Cult and Sacrifice, Purity and Holiness in Leviticus and Numbers

10/24 The Three Legal Corpora of JE (Exodus), P (Leviticus and Numbers) and D

11/24 On the Steps of Moab: Deuteronomy

12/24 The Deuteronomistic History: Life in the Land (Joshua and Judges)

13/24 The Deuteronomistic History: Prophets and Kings (1 and 2 Samuel)

14/24 The Deuteronomistic History: Response to Catastrophe (1 and 2 Kings)

15/24 Hebrew Prophecy: The Non-Literary Prophets

16/24 Literary Prophecy: Amos

17/24 Literary Prophecy: Hosea and Isaiah

18/24 Literary Prophecy: Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum and Habbakuk

19/24 Literary Prophecy: Perspectives on the Exile (Jeremiah, Ezekiel and 2nd Isaiah)

20/24 Responses to Suffering and Evil: Lamentations and Wisdom Literature

21/24 Biblical Poetry: Psalms and Song of Songs

22/24 The Restoration: 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah

23/24 Visions of the End: Daniel and Apocalyptic Literature

24/24 Alternative Visions: Esther, Ruth, and Jonah

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

The Apostolic Fathers

1/24 Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers

2/24 The Letter of 1 Clement

3/24 Church Structures In Early Christianity

4/24 The Letters of Ignatius

5/24 Doctrinal Problems in the Early Church

6/24 Still Other Doctrinal Disputes

7/24 The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians

8/24 The Use of Authorities in the Early Church

9/24 The First Martyrology—Polycarp

10/24 The Persecution of the Christians

11/24 A Church Manual—The Didache of the Apostles

12/24 Ritual in the Early Church

13/24 Barnabas and the Opposition to the Jews

14/24 The Rise of Christian Anti-Semitism

15/24 2 Clement—An Early Sermon

16/24 The Use of Scripture in the Early Church

17/24 Papias—An Early Christian Interpreter

18/24 Oral Tradition in Early Christianity

19/24 The Shepherd of Hermas— An Apocalypse

20/24 Apocalypses in Early Christianity

21/24 The Letter to Diognetus—An Apology

22/24 Apologetics in Early Christianity

23/24 The Apostolic Fathers as a Collection

24/24 The Apostolic Fathers and Proto-Orthodoxy

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, Professor Bart Ehrman

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 Great Course; New Testament (Course guide)


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

Augustine of Hippo, 354-430

Cyril of Alexandria, 378-444