Where do we find a primer on Christian history?

An email, evidently from someone fairly young, reached me today.

I don’t find many who might give me some deeper information about the historic document of the Christian faith.

I am interested in learning more about the NT cannonization process.  I understand the Ethiopians, Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics have differences between their Cannons.   Which one do you believe is correct?

I wish there was a good book that I could recommend on this; solid, soundly referenced, and accurate.  I don’t know of one.

I’ve scribbled some notes in a response, but I also asked what sort of things people want to know.  Someone ought to produce such a book, I feel.

13 thoughts on “Where do we find a primer on Christian history?

  1. Might you recommend Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages, by Jaroslav Pelikan? If memory serves, it is affordable, short, accurate, and readable.

  2. The Metzger volume sadly begins with a statement which can only be interpreted as a belief that the bible is not scripture. That renders it useless for our purpose. It’s a pity, because it does collect the relevant primary data and would otherwise be generally useful.

  3. I’ve not seen the Pelikan volume — will go and look.

    UPDATE: Since it begins with a focus primarily on Jewish issues, and then states that Catholics and Protestants use a different bible, it is unsuitable for our purpose.

  4. I like David Trobisch’s works on the subject. The First Edition to the New Testament and Paul’s Letter Collection. The best thing about these books is that he is such an informed source and he writes with your grandmother in mind. I think each book is less than a hundred pages but packed with insight and a real pleasure to read. Not surprisingly he is an exceptionally nice guy.

  5. Gary Michuta’s Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger is pretty detailed, in a popular sort of way. There’s also a pretty decent bibliography. But it’s from a small press; and it’s meant to be Catholic apologetics, not general info.

  6. For a young man I would recommend two:
    1. The works of the British theologian Henry Chadwick, particularly his The Early Church (The Penguin History of the Church, 1967 revised 1993. He/she can find some sections of it here: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FXlSYtYwZ3UC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+early+church+chadwick&hl=en&ei=JZLDToO0BoKW8gPb_IiwCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CEMQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
    2. Early Egyptian Christianity: from its origins to 451 CE
    By C. Wilfred Griggs. He/she can access some sections of it here: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=tZLD6gBcAR0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=early+christianity+in+egypt&hl=en&ei=yY7DTt_oM8jg8AP8iu2CCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=early%20christianity%20in%20egypt&f=false

    I hope the guy who asked the question would excuse if he/she has already read these and is wanting something more in depth.


  7. That’s why Michuta said he wrote his book — he couldn’t find a book about the Canon that told him what he wanted to know, all in one place, and aimed at a general readership. (Not in English, anyway.) You can find out plenty if you read tons and tons of the relevant major works, but that’s not the same thing.

    I’m kinda surprised that more folks haven’t done like Michuta, since all that Ehrman silliness has exposed a lack of knowledge of the process in the general populace.

  8. I can see Michuta’s point of view entirely — it’s exactly the problem I am finding in my correspondence.

    Bart Ehrman’s use of this absence in order to peddle stuff that will convince a lot of people that NT studies is just atheistic propaganda — I’d be pretty cross about an academic putting up a barrier to access like that, if I were involved in NT studies — likewise indicates a problem.

    If I had time, I suppose I could write something. But I have this nasty feeling that it would never get written.

  9. I appreciated very much this website when I first found it.


    It has minimal commentary, even less apologia, and maximal primary source material in translation as well as in Greek and Latin.

    It strikes me as fairly accessable, even to the relatively young reader of English.

  10. Try F. F. Bruce’s “The Canon of Scripture.”

    Also, Glen Davis has a site on the NT canon, called “ntcanon,” I think. And, iirc, one of the chapters in the 1902 St. Margaret lectures covers the NT canon, at least the 27-book form known to Western Christianity.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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