What About the Early Church?

Church Origins Collection (10 Vols.)
One of the areas of study that I’m most interested in, personally, is how the early church developed. That is, from the time of the apostles through around 300 AD, what happened? Who did what? And how did it affect the growth and development of the church? How did the Gospel disseminate?
There are a lot of books that fit into this space—it’s a popular place to be. But a useful collection you might not be aware of is the Church Origins Collection (10 Vols.) This is a set of 10 books that fit into the area of “Church Origins”. These books include:

  • Alexander J.M. Wedderburn, A History of the First Christians
  • Alan Kreider, ed., The Origins of Christendom in the West
  • Judith Lieu, Neither Jew Nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity
  • Judith Lieu, Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century
  • Gerd Lüdemann, Primitive Christianity: A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals
  • Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition
  • Michael Brown, The Lord’s Prayer through North African Eyes: A Window into Early Christianity
  • Alastair Campbell, The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity
  • Todd Penner, In Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography
  • Thomas G. Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating, eds., The Theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria: A Critical Appreciation

I am deeply familiar with one of the books in this collection, Alastair Campbell’s The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity. I picked this one up at the national SBL meeting one year and devoured it quickly. It is an excellent study of the concept of “Elder” as a title of honor, which morphed into an office in the early church. It surveys the Hebrew Bible, the LXX, the New Testament, and the letters of Ignatius to trace history and development of “Elders”. You might not agree with Campbell (I certainly don’t in all places) but it is an excellent look at this topic, across history. While you can purchase this book individually, it is spendy at $90, which is fully half of the collection price.
The other books I’ve not read in depth, but I am familiar with many of the authors. For example, Judith Lieu is responsible for two of the books in the Church Origins Collection: Neither Jew nor Greek?: Constructing Early Christianity and Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century. Lieu is well-known and well-regarded in the realm of study of earliest Christianity, particularly the not-so-clear area between Christianity and Judaism. Her work in this area is, from all I’ve understood, top-notch.
There are other familiar names, some you may know (Todd Penner, Alexander Wedderburn, Alan Kreider), some you may not (Michael Brown, Robert Murray) and some you may be predipsosed against (e.g. Gerd Lüdemann). Whatever your predisposition (now you know mine), each of these books provides a stimulating examination of their topic, and one’s understanding of the origin and development of the early church will likely be sharper for having read them.
If any of these sound interesting, chances are you’ll like most of the books in the collection. Check it out!

On Facebook? Join the Discussion

One Response to “What About the Early Church?”

  1. Jonathan Burke May 26, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    I recommend this collection thoroughly. I use it frequently in my studies of early Christianity. Lieu’s work is excellent, and I have seen it praised in the peer reviewed literature.
    Campbell’s work on the elders is first class, and complements the work of David Horrell and John Elliott in this area. Lündemann provides a highly accessible summary of past and recent scholarship on the subject of Gnosticism and early Christianity, and offers useful critiques on various scholarly treatments of women in the 1st century church, including those by William Webb, Dale Martin, and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.