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The Early Christian Writings
A terrific, short collection of important early Christian writings in modern English. This is therefore a great, rapid introduction to the pre-Nicene church fathers for those that want a feel for the early apostolic churches.
I started with writings that gave me my best quick introduction to early Christianiaty. These are writings that I have updated myself and host right here on Christian History for Everyman.
You might want to read my suggestions for how to read the early church fathers before going through the writings that follow.
Also, I have an overview of early Christianity with links to individual early Christians if you'd like a general introduction before you read their writings.
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Early Christian Writings in Modern English
- My favorite: The anonymous Letter to Diognetus is beautiful, poetic, and the earliest general description of Christianity in existence.
- Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians: Polycarp was appointed an overseer by the apostles. You can feel his apostolic spirit from his letter.
- 2 Clement is an early second-century sermon that is unlikely to have come from Clement of Rome, after whom it was named some 1700 years ago. It is the earliest Christian sermon known outside the New Testament.
- Minucius' Felix' late 2nd or early 3rd century The Octavius is a head-to-head debate between a Christian and a Roman pagan. I have shortened this and arranged it as a debate so that you can catch the most memorably and important points. (Unlike Christian History Magazine's video series on the early church, I have not changed it to make modern Christians more comfortable.)
- Justin Martyr's powerful tribute to the Logos, from chapter 5 of Discourse to the Greeks
- The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas is the story of a 3rd century martyrdom written by those who were there.
- The tract of the two ways is found in both The Letter of Barnabas and The Didache of the early second century, making it the oldest known Christian tract.
- 3rd Corinthians is an apocryphal work, forged in the 2nd century but orthodox in thought. It's from the Acts of Paul, which also has a letter from the Corinthians to Paul.
- There is also the letter of Pliny the Younger, briefly describing early Christianity from a Roman ruler's perspective and asking the emperor what should be done about them.
- In addition, we have Everyman, updated to more modern English, on this site (of course, since this is Christian History for Everyman). It doesn't qualify as early, but it makes an interesting comparison with these early Christian writings, as it was written just over a thousand years later (but before the Protestant Reformation).
- Don't forget the many quotes from the early Christian writings we provide! Those are not complete writings, but there are hundreds of passages on over a hundred topics, and it is always growing.
You can also find translations of early Christian writings (three or four pre-Nicene and the rest post-Nicene) that are not included in the Edinburgh translations (The Ante-Nicene Fathers and the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series one and two) at earlychristianwritings.com. That site also carries other translations than those in the Ante-Nicene Fathers and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series. They don't carry new translations, and there are a few made over the last 40 or 50 years, especially by Roman Catholics. You would have to research those and buy those, as they are copyrighted. EarlyChristianWritings.com carries only those translations that are no longer under copyright.
Note that the early Christian writings listed in the bullet points above are all updated to at least somewhat modern English by myself or others that I have hired. (Yes, sometimes this site costs me money.)
Tertullian.org is also an excellent resource for early Christian writings, though I'm pretty sure that like ccel.org they have not updated any of their translations to modern English.
I did, with permission, copy their translation of The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching by Irenaeus (c. A.D. 180) because as a comprehensive summation of the apostolic faith it combines authority, directness, an early date, and brevity. By this I mean that Irenaeus is one of the most trustworthy early Christian sources, the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching is directly on the subject of what the faith of the apostles was, and compared to many of the early Christian writings, it is not long.
I am going to use that page to read through Proof of the Apostolic Preaching a second time, and I will update it to modern English as I go, so that will be a work in progress. It's introduction is now on this site, too.
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