Where do you find good and trusted resources for reading the historical early Christian writings and where do you begin in studying church history?
Christian apologetics | church history | historical early christian writings | christian apologetics books

When you don’t know where to start

In our Christian Women Apologists discussion group, we like to ask our ladies what they think their biggest challenge is in being more effective in their everyday faith conversations so that we can work together to help them solve their problems.

One of our ladies commented that she thought her biggest challenge was in not knowing where to find good and trusted resources for studying historical early Christian writings, and finding the time. 

Solving 2 problems at once

I also hear a lot from our ladies that they don’t know where to start in studying Christian church history.

I have been at a loss how to answer that question. The volume of historical early Christian writings is huge, and the scope of what they wrote about is probably even larger.

But it occurred to me today that in answering the question of where to find good and trusted resources for studying historical early Christian writings we’ve also answered the question of where to begin!

I don’t how to give you more time, but I do know where to find the good and trusted resources for historical early Christian writimgs.

So where do you start? You start by gathering your resources.

To be more effective in your everyday faith conversations, start by gathering your resources. Click To Tweet

Good and Trusted Resources for Historical Early Christian Writings

The good news is that good and trusted resources for historical early Christian writings do exist! The bad news is that they are not the easiest to find.

I have done a lot of research, reading and testing of various formats to hunt down the best resources. 

Here are my recommendations for good and trusted resources for historical early christian writings.

Where do you begin?

If you start with a general understanding of Christian church history you will have an easier time when you start reading the historical early Christian writings themselves, because you will have a general understanding of historical contexts.

1) Start with general knowledge of church history

When you are just starting out with studying Christian church history and the historical early Christian writings the best place to begin is not with the actual writings themselves but with a general knowledge of church history.

Two books I recommend for this are by church historian, Justo Gonzalez.

He has compiled a broad overview of Christian church history from New Testament through to modern Christian history in 2 volumes:

The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation by Justo L. Gonzalez

Reading these books will not give you an in-depth knowledge of Church history but will give you a broad overview which will help you in both your everyday faith conversations and give you a solid foundation for when you begin studying the historical early Christian writings.

The Story of Christianity: Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day by Justo L. Gonzalez

2) Gather your resources

I’ll go over my recommendations and your options, taking into consideration cost and format. 

A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs

Written specifically to be a companion to the classic The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, Edited by David Bercot is an index of the writings as cataloged in the ANF, and is organized by topic.

Each topic provides Scripture references and then historical early Christian writings quotes that address the topic, in chronological order.

It also notes which church the particular writer was from (East or West) and lists the location you can find it in the ANF. This is especially handy when you want to research a particular topic and read every historical early Christian writing that addressed that topic. 

My advice regarding A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs is to buy it in hardcover rather than Kindle format. This is a book you will keep and reference forever.

The Ante-Nicene Fathers

Next up for learning church history and the historical early writings of the Christian church is to get a set of The Ante Nicene Fathers. There are a few ways to go about doing this, so I’ll order them from most expensive to least.

Hardcover

The Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 Volume Set) Revised Edition, February 1, 1996
by A. Cleveland Coxe (Compiler), Alexander Roberts (Editor), James Donaldson (Editor), Philip Schaff (Editor), Henry Wace (Editor)

This set of 10 volumes is the holy grail of the historical early Christian writings. However, it is quite expensive unless you can find a good deal on it somewhere. 

The Ante-Nicene Fathers range from the Apostolic Fathers to various third and fourth-century sources including the liturgies and ancient Syriac documents.

It was intended to comprise translations into English of all the extant works of the Fathers down to the date of the first General Council held at Nicaea in 325 A.D.

This set conforms to the historical sequence, the addition of brief introductions and notes indicating variances in readings, specifying references to scripture or literature, clarifying obscure passages, and noting corruptions or distortions of patristic testimony (as forged in the Decretals).

The basic aim of the translations has been to strive for literary exactness, placing the English reader as nearly as possible on an equal footing with those who are able to read the original.

Kindle Format

The next best option is to get an electronic version for reading in e-book format, such as Kindle. There have been a few attempts to do this, but every e-book format I’ve used tends to have its own set of problems.

The most common issues are searchability, lack of chronology by time period or other technical errors that are fairly minor but can be annoying when you are searching for a particular text.

The 2 versions I recommend are:

The Complete Works of the Church Fathers: A total of 64 authors, and over 2,500 works of the Early Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff


The Complete Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Collection of Early Church Fathers: Cross-Linked to the Bible, edited by Philip Schaff

This ebook version is more comprehensive than the previous. Purchasing either one of these ebooks will be the least expensive option to purchase all of the historical early Christian writings in one volume. 

The best ebook format I’ve seen comes from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website, which has produced electronic versions of the ANF specifically for Kindle.

Each volume of the ANF is fairly inexpensive but the volumes are sold separately, so you need to purchase all 10 volumes of the ANF individually, making the above 2 ebooks the more affordable options.  

Read the Historical Early Christian Writings For Free

A third option for reading the historical early Christian writings is to download pdf or epub versions and upload them to your ebook reader app or device. These are not formatted for easy reading and searching on e-readers, but they are free. This can be done at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website. 

Finally, your least expensive option is to simply read the historical early Christian writings on the web.

The second website that houses the historical early Christian writings is Early Christian Writings. You can browse by range of dating or by category, which is helpful for seeing the chronology of the writings.

Another nice thing about the Early Christian Writings website is that you have access to each English translation of a source text, background information on the source text, links to other locations the text appears, and book recommendations for the text. This helps give you a comprehensive understanding of each document.

Summary

Learning Christian church history and its theology in historical context can help you answer skeptics in your everyday faith conversations because you will be able to recognize faulty truth claims and give them the correct information. 

To begin to study Christian church history, it is good to lay a foundation of having a general overview of 2,000 years of history. Then you will be ready to dive into in-depth studies!

Reading the historical early Christian writings has been amazing for my personal faith, has helped my understanding of theology and has helped me be able to answer the tough questions in my everyday faith conversations. 

What Do You Think?

We’d love to hear from you! Tell us in the comments below if you have studied the historical early Christian writings. What benefits have you seen from doing so?

If you are interested in joining our Church History Discussion group, we’d love to have you!

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