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Early Christian writing

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Page from Codex Vaticanus written ca. 350 AD

Early Christian writings are religious works written by early Christians, some of which were later canonized as the New Testament of today. They comprise the original documents that outline the governing principles, practices, and the history of the Christian Church. The Biblical canon contains what are considered the most significant of the early Christian writings (the 27 books that form the New Testament).

The New Testament along with many other writings at the time was recognized by opponents and theologians as well as other authorities within the very infancy of the Christian church. Celsus for example was a 2nd century Greek philosopher and one of the first prominent opponents of Christian theology and philosophy.[1] Celsus labels Christianity in a writing manner that reads as if the New Testament, or that which Christians understand and thus communicate their faith from, had been established for decades prior. Stating that it appealed only to the intellectually ignorant and lower class of society within his treatise The True Word.[2][3] Origen in his eight books "Against Celsus" refutes the charges and calumnies of Celsus.[4] There is also Athanasius of Alexandria (293-373 AD).[5] During the time roughly 290 years after Christ's death, Athanasius was a prominent figure defending against the Arian heresy that dismissed Jesus Christ as God. Also among the first centuries of Christianity there was also St. Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430 AD) who became a very influential and prominent early Christian theologian. He directly quoted or alluded to all 27 books of the New Testament canon within his writings. With a total of 31,817 Old Testament, New Testament and Apocrypha citations[6] Augustine's motive was to combat rhetorically many notions founded in arguments over the decades and centuries, such as Celsus' The True Word, that opposed established Christian doctrine.

The Apostolic Fathers are prominent early Christian writers who are traditionally understood to have met and learned from Jesus' personal disciples. Church Fathers are later writers with no direct connection to the disciples. Apologists defended Christianity against its critics, especially pagan philosophers. The history of Christianity is derived, apart from the biblical canon, through these early theologians, apologists and historians. The earliest and most prominent non-biblical canonical writings from such Christians were completed merely 100 years after Christ. They were strong defenders of His teachings, deep theologians of His philosophies, as well as formidable opponents against contemporary heresies clouding the clarity of Christian thought. Notable authors include Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Eusebius of Caesarea.

New Testament

Main Article: New Testament

The New Testament is a collection of twenty-seven books and letters, written by the early Christian community, and written primarily in Greek. The emphasis of the New Testament is the life, teachings, and gift of salvation from the central figure of the whole work, Jesus of Nazareth. These books are grouped into the following:


The Gospels contain the history of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles are a continuance of the Gospels, documenting the history of the early church, beginning immediately following Jesus' death and resurrection. Of the authors, only Matthew and John had met Jesus; they were among His disciples during His earthly ministry. Mark was a companion of Peter, and his gospel was the first to be written down, about AD 50. Luke is considered the author of both his gospel and the Acts.

Pauline Epistle

These are letters written to various early Christian communities by the Apostle Paul.

Paul has been attributed by many as the author of Epistle to the Hebrews due to internal evidence within the work, but several others, such as Barnabas, Luke, and Apollos are also claimed to be the author. The controversy, however, does not affect the genuineness of the epistle.[7]

General Epistles


The Book of Revelation, also called The Apocalypse, is the last work in the New Testament as well as the whole Bible, written close to AD 100 by the Apostle John during his exile on the Greek island of Patmos. Revelation is concerned with the condition of the Seven Churches of Asia before going deeply into a description of the last days prior to the beginning of the Millennial Age.

Apostolic Fathers

Main Article: Apostolic Fathers

The early church fathers fall into two epochs; Apostolic and post-Apostolic. The separate lines of Apostolic succession show natural division of authority but also ultimately the deterioration of that authority, or what is doctrine essentials of the early Christian church, through extra biblical texts. From Christ to his Apostles and from the Apostles to their pupils the Apostolic fathers, and from the Apostolic fathers to post-Apostolic fathers, and so on. As time goes on however those considered church fathers, little by little, entertain minor deviations from established doctrine, thus their writings take on a subordinate relationship to the writings of the Apostolic fathers which are in turn subordinate to the earliest Christian writings called the New Testament.

Church Fathers

Justin Martyr

Main article: Justin Martyr

He was born around 114 AD in Flavia Neapolis, a city of Samaria and was most likely well educated having traveled extensively. He later became a disciple of Socrates and Plato through which he developed his philosophies on life and soon gravitated towards Christ.

The writings of Justin Martyr are among the most important that we have from the second century AD. His writings are not the first written on the subjects he covers, what are called his Apologies, but are the earliest extant. One of his most important writings entitled the Dialogue with Trypho, is the first detailed reasoning for Christ as the Messiah of the Old Testament. That also essentially became the first attempt to reason with the Jews in regard to their views as compared to that of Christianity regarding Christ's prophetic implications. Many of Justin Martyr's writings were destroyed by time but there are a few that are considered to have been written by him and attest his real authorship. They are:

  1. First Apology
  2. Second Apology
  3. Dialogue with Trypho
  4. Hortatory Address to the Greeks
  5. On the Sole Government of God
  6. Fragments of the Lost Work on the Resurrection
  7. Miscellaneous Fragments from Lost Writings
  8. Martyrdom of Justin, Chariton, and other Roman Martyrs
  9. Discourse to the Greeks[8]


Main article: Irenaeus

Thought to be Greek Irenaeus was born around 130 AD in what was called Smyrna in the Bible and Izmir in modern day western Turkey. His interest in Christianity was sparked by hearing Polycarp preach who was taught by the Apostle John, who was an eyewitness to Christs life, death and resurrection. Because of the connection to one who witnessed and was a disciple of Jesus, Irenaeus is an important figure within ecclesiastical history as his writings are very close to primary eyewitness sources.

The writings which have survived over the years are:

  1. Against Heresies
  2. Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus


Main article: Tertullian

Tertullian was born in 160 AD in Carthage which was in modern day Tunisia. He has left 31 extant treatises dating from around 190-220 AD, and converted from Paganism to Christianity around 197 AD. He is known as the first Christian to write in Latin. Tertullian grew angry when he witnessed compromise in the church, namely unwillingness to be martyred, and willingness to forgive more serious public sins. For these reasons he aligned himself with the Montanist movement and dealt with such subjects in his writings.[9]

Tertullian's writings which have survived over the years are:

  1. The Apology
  2. On Idolatry
  3. De Spectaculis (The Shows)
  4. De Corona (The Chaplet)
  5. To Scapula
  6. Ad Nationes
  7. An Answer to the Jews
  8. The Soul's Testimony
  9. Treatise on the Soul
  10. The Prescription Against Heretics
  11. Against Marcion
  12. Against Hermogenes
  13. Against the Valentinians
  14. On the Flesh of Christ
  15. On the Resurrection of the Flesh
  16. Against Praxeas
  17. Scorpiace
  18. Appendix (Against All Heresies)
  19. On Repentance
  20. On Baptism
  21. On Prayer
  22. Martyras
  23. The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity (Sometimes attributed to Tertullian)
  24. Of Patience
  25. On the Pallium
  26. On the Apparel of Women
  27. On the Veiling of Virgins
  28. To His Wife
  29. On Exhortation to Chastity
  30. On Monogamy
  31. On Modesty
  32. On Fasting
  33. De Fuga in Persecutione


Main article: Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260-ca. 340 AD), the "Father of Church History," had an aptitude for historical research superior to that of all other Church authorities who preceded him or were contemporary with him. He was curator of the Library of Caesarea (after Origen and Pamphilus) and while there he wrote his most famous work, the Ecclesiastical History. He is best known for classifying all the known works of or inspired by the Apostles and thus laying the foundation for the development of the New Testament canon.[10]

Other works by Eusebius include:

  1. Life of Pamphilus, now lost. Only a fragment remains.
  2. Ancient Martyrdoms, now lost
  3. On the Martyrs of Palestine
  4. The Chronicle of Eusebius
  5. Church History
  6. Life of Constantine
  7. Oration of Constantine "to the Assembly of the Saints"
  8. Oration in Praise of Constantine
  9. Letter on the Council of Nicaea
  10. Against Hierocles
  11. Against Porphyry, 25 volumes, now lost
  12. Praeperatio Evangelica, 15 volumes
  13. Demonstratio Evangelica, 20 volumes
  14. Praeperatio Ecclesiastica, now lost
  15. Demonstratio Ecclesiastica, now lost
  16. Two Books of Objection and Defense, now lost
  17. Theophania (Divine Manifestation), of which a Syriac version survives
  18. On the Numerous Progeny of the Ancients
  19. Fifty copies of the Bible, commissioned by Constantine
  20. Sections and Canons
  21. An edition of the Septuagint[11][12]

List of writers

Ancient and modern writers are of the most importance as sources to research socio-historical contexts for an honest method of interpretation when reading the Bible. The ancient or early Christian writers specifically offer direct eyewitness to Jesus and/or the very infancy of the Christian church critically presenting the first centuries of Christianity from the birth of Christ to about 400 AD.


  1. Introduction: GENERAL ABSTRACT OF EVENTS IN Eusebius’ HISTORY Celsus. Paragraph 22
  2. Celsus By Wikipedia
  4. Origen (1967) (in Spanish). Contra Celso [Against Celsus]. Madrid: La Editorial Católica - Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos. p. 35-39. Depósito legal M 19141-1967. 
  5. Reid, George. "Canon of the New Testament." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. Accessed September 17, 2008.
  6. A scripture index to the works of St. Augustine in English translation By James W. Wiles. Page xix
  7. Unger, op. cit., p. 748
  8. Schaff, Philip. "Introductory Note to the Writings of Justin Martyr." In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College. Accessed October 4, 2008.
  9. Pearse, Roger. "The 'Noddy' Guide to Tertullian." The Tertullian Project, September 27, 2008. Accessed October 4, 2008.
  10. Davis, Glenn. "Entry for Eusebius." The Development of the Canon of the New Testament, 2008. Accessed October 4, 2008.
  11. Bacchus, Francis Joseph. "Eusebius of Cæsarea." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. Accessed October 4, 2008.
  12. Bradshaw, Rob, ed. "Eusebius of Caesarea." July 8, 2008. Accessed October 4, 2008.
  13. List of early Christian writers by Wikipedia

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