Early Christian scholarship continues to burgeon with academic resources. These resources offer refined methodological concerns, engagement with ancient texts, and interaction within the ongoing scholarship of early Christianity. Not having a basic grasp of the (sometimes messy) historical narrative hinders thinkers in their understanding of early Christianity from its origins through the rise of Islam. 

Reference works aim to supplement a lacuna for budding to seasoned thinkers. Additionally, reference works seek to detail a modern global discussion. Other times they explore particular topics of ancient literature. 

To this end, here are three recommended reference works to fill your personal library.  

Origins to Constantine vol. 1 of The Cambridge History of Christianity, eds. Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young

This volume consists of 32 chapters devoted to essential events, persons, places, and issues involved in Christianity during the first three centuries. Six major sections divide the contents of the book: (1) The Political, Social, and Religious Setting; (2) The Jesus Movements; (3) Community Traditions and Self Definitions; (4) Regional Varieties of Christianity in the First Three Centuries; (5) The Shaping of Christian Theology; (6) ‘Aliens’ Become Citizens: Towards Imperial Patronage. The following are some contributors: Harold W. Attridge, John Behr, David Brakke, Robin Jensen, Judith Lieu, Joel Marcus, Wayne A. Meeks, Margaret M. Mitchell, Carolyn Osiek, Maureen A. Tilley, and Frances Young. This volume is a go-to reference work to document the diverse ideas in the Mediterranean world of the first three centuries. 

Constantine to c. 600 vol. 2 of The Cambridge History of Christianity, eds. Augustine Casiday and Frederick W. Norris

This volume consists of 29 chapters devoted to the “Golden Age” of Patristic Christianity. After bouts of persecution and then a flourishing period of imperial patronage, vol. 2 observes the geographical and doctrinal developments of Christianity until the rise of “late antiquity” (c. AD 600). Four major sections divide the contents of this book: (1) Christianity: Regional Developments; (2) Christianity Contested; (3) Christian Culture and Society; (4) Christian Beliefs and Practices. The following are some contributors: Khaled Anatolios, Paul M. Blowers, Augustine Casiday, Rowan Greer, David G. Hunter, Samuel Lieu, Frederick Norris, and Claudia Rapp. This volume, like many other recent works, move away from a binary view of Christian development (i.e., orthodoxy v. heresy) to observe the diverse practices and theology of this era.

The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, eds. Frances Young, Lewis Ayres, and Andrew Louth.

This volume consists of 40 chapters devoted to a systematic account of literature c. 100 – c. 450 and it’s setting. Three major sections divide the contents of the book: (1) The Beginnings: The New Testament to Irenaeus; (2) The Third Century; and (3) Foundation of a New Culture: From Diocletian to Cyril. Within each section, chapters are devoted to offer a “Literary Guide” and followed by chapters devoted to “Context and Interpretation.” The following are some contributors: Lewis Ayers, John Behr, Sebastian P. Brock, Henry Chadwick, Ronald E. Heine, David G. Hunter, Andrew Louth, Richard A. Norris, Jr., Karen Jo Torjesen, and Frances Young. This volume, like the previous two, is a reference work designed to aid scholars, teachers, and students navigate Christian literature in the first five centuries. 

Without reservation, I recommend all three of these texts. Cambridge has wonderfully provided them in paperback—which allows all three of them to be purchased for personal libraries, instead of research libraries. Reading all three together, moreover, will allow a nascent thinker quickly to garner a more comprehensive narrative of the social setting, literature, and culture of early Christianity. These three volumes will acquaint readers with scholarship, updated methods of inquiry, and will fill the historical narrative of early Christianity through late antique.

We will continue a “Recommended Reading” series whereby CACS fellows read and recommend sources for the study of early Christianity.

About the Author:
Shawn J. Wilhite

Shawn J. Wilhite is currently Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. His research interests include New Testament and Early Christianity, Epistle to Hebrews, History of New Testament Interpretation, Early Christian and Patristic Hermeneutics, and the Apostolic Fathers.

Doctrinae Coram Deo