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The Birth Of Christianity: The First Twenty Years

After Jesus Series • Volume 1

Paul Barnett

0802827810 Retail Price: $19.00
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Format: Paperback, 230pp.
ISBN: 9780802827814
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Pub. Date: March 29, 2005

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From The Publisher:

Contrary to several popular works of Christian scholarship, historian Paul Barnett maintains that the first two decades of Christian history are hardly "lost years." As he shows in this penetrating book, the period between Jesus and the earliest Christian texts is open to historical investigation, and he richly details the time and setting in which the church was born.

Writing in a very accessible style, Barnett provides an informative, reliable chronology of the years immediately following Jesus' crucifixion. Just as important, he presents the historical sources, biblical clues, and other telling evidence that we have for accurately documenting this crucial period of time. Looking more widely, Barnett also surveys world events during Christianity's first twenty years and notes their impact on life in the early church.

Barnett writes, "An immediate reaction might be that we already have such a "book" in the Acts of the Apostles. That, indeed, is what Acts purports to be. Yet while I have a high regard for the historical reliability of Acts there are problems that must be faced. Among these we face a narrative that is highly selective, with surprising omissions. As well, there is an absence of chronological markers for Paul's early years, which are so important for understanding this "birth." As it happens, however, Paul's own information proves helpful at points where Acts is either silent or even innocently misleading."

The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years is Volume 1 of a trilogy titled After Jesus. Volume 2 will be Paul and His Mission Churches, and Volume 3 will be Finding the Historical Christ.


For a couple of decades the most radical critics have been trying to foster systematic skepticism regarding Christianity based on the twenty-year gap between the death and resurrection of Jesus and the writing of the first New Testament documents. Paul Barnett shows that fair reading of the evidence provides us with far more information about those years than is sometimes thought. This is a must-read book for theology students and others who are troubled by the popularized skepticism of a small but vociferous group of radicals. The book is also useful for pastors who need to remember and teach that Christianity is a historically grounded religion.
—D. A. Carson

Paul Barnett has distinguished himself over a long career as an outstanding classicist and historian, a biblical scholar particularly interested in the historicity of the New Testament documents, and a committed churchman and bishop. Here he brings all of this background to bear on the first twenty years of Christian history, showing how utterly wrong are the claims of those who have recently argued that we know next to nothing about this earliest period of the development of the church. . . . The Birth of Christianity is a must-read for all interested in the topic.
—Craig Blomberg

Did the early churches lose their grip on the figure of Jesus as he had seen himself?… Such a slippage often feeds the critical imagination and may indeed now be thought integral to it. But is there an actual gap in the tradition? What is the primary (as distinct from secondary) evidence for the way it developed? Paul Barnett tackles these questions as a trained and experienced historian who is engaged with the contemporary debate. He lays out the relevant data in a clear form that stimulates fresh thought.
—Charles J. Scalise

Pastors and teachers who seek a biblically based, historical guide to the earliest years of the Christian movement will welcome Paul Barnett’s synthetic work. Accepting the Acts of the Apostles as an “equal primary source” to Paul’s letters, Barnett provides a chronological and christological reconstruction of this much-contested period. This vintage work represents the fruition of a lifetime of study of the New Testament period by a veteran Christian scholar and church leader.
—Charles J. Scalise

Critically acute, historically perceptive, and highly readable, this work provides one of the best concise treatments of the earliest years of the Christian mission. . . . A good read and an instructive guide for specialists, students, and laity alike.
—E. Earle Ellis


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About the Author

Paul Barnett, former Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, Australia, is a teaching fellow at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Moore Theological College in Sydney. His other books include "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" and the volume on 2 Corinthians in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series.

Table of Contents



  1. Introduction

  2. Early Christianity and the Study of History

  3. Time Borders and Christology

  4. World History and Christian History

  5. Mission to Greece: Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians

  6. Between Jesus and Paul (1): Paul's Window (Galatians 1)

  7. Between Jesus and Paul (2): Luke's Window (Acts 1–9)

  8. “Christians” in Antioch

  9. Earliest “Teaching”: The Influence of Peter

  10. Into the Land of Israel (A.D. 34-39)

  11. Between Jesus and Gospel Text

  12. A Collection Called “Q”

  13. Primary Gospel 1: Mark

  14. Primary Gospel 2: John

  15. Final Reflection: What Cannot Be Denied

    APPENDIX A: History and Geography in Acts

    APPENDIX B: Dating Galatians

    APPENDIX C: Reflections on J. D. Crossan's Birth of Christianity


         Modern Authors
         Scripture References
         Other Ancient Writings

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