THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH: by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.



| HOME | Contents | List of Maps and Tables | The Sources | Introduction |
To FREDERICK CLIFTON GRANT: Professor of Biblical Theology at the Union Theological Seminary New York. Printed in Great Britain at the University Press, Cambridge (Brooke Crutchley, University Printer)


1. The Hellenistic Period Page 1) 15. Christian Literature under Vespasian (Page 273)
2. Galilee and Jerusalem (Page 24) 16. The Elders in Asia Minor (Page 290)
3. Caesarea (Page 47) 17. The Syrian Gospel (Page 312)
4. Antioch and Galatia (Page 66) 18. The Tyranny of Domitian (Page 332)
5. Conference in Jerusalem (Page 87) 19. The Ephesian Gospel (Page 350)
6. Macedonia and Achaia (Page 108) 20. Corinth and Rome (Page 370)
7. Ephesus (Page 125) 21. Hermas and his Angel (Page 391)
8. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Page 148) 22. Oriental Christianity (Page 410)
9. Paul in Rome (Page 166) 23. The Wars of Trajan (Page 428)
10. The Martyrdoms (Page 186) 24. Ignatius the Martyr (Page 445)
11. The Tradition of Peter (Page 205) 25. Apostolic Tradition (Page 481)
12. The Fall of Jerusalem (Page 221) 26. Catechism and Sacrament (Page 502)
13. Jewish Christianity (Page 238)    
14. The Pauline Successors (Page 256)   Bibliography (Page 507)


1. Palestine
1a. Jerusalem A.D. 66 (UCLA, Israel, movie simulation.)
2. The Christian Dispersion prior to A.D. 50
3. The new Pauline missions, A.D. 49-50
4. Asia, showing St Paul's churches A.D. 60
5. The Seven Churches of Asia
6. The journey of Ignatius
7. The Roman empire under Trajan | Roman Empire (Atlas of the Bible, (Nelson, 1956). Map no.32.)
8. Earliest Churches - recorded congregations of the first century (Atlas of the Early Christian World, (Nelson 1966). Map no.1.)
9. katapi.ed: For the best on-line map of the Roman period go to the PELAGIOS PROJECT interactive atlas HERE.

Chronological Tables:

The Oriental empires | The Maccabaean kingdoms | The Hasmonaean rulers | The first Christian generation A.D. 30-70.

Genealogical Tables:

The descendants of Herod the Great | Family connexions of Jesus | List of High Priests in Jerusalem from 4 B.C.



(1) PERIOD FROM A.D. 50 TO 60.

An asterisk * is used when alternative dates are given for a New Testament book. The Authorized version is used, except where the author has made his own translation. For further information see similar list at the beginning of Volume 2.

(a) PAUL. The Epistles of Paul provide the oldest literary sources which have come down to us intact. They were written between about A.D. 50 and about A.D. 65. The first group consists of *Galatians in 49, Thessalonians in 50, Corinthians in 54, and Romans in 54-55 (or *Galatians in 54); the second group, which was written from Rome, consists of *Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. (For the Pastorals see below.)

(b) LUKE. The Journals of Luke belong to exactly the same period, and are incorporated into the Acts. They concern the evangelization of Greece by Paul and Silas in 49-50, and the foundation of the church at Corinth; the evangelization of Asia by Paul with Timothy and others in 52, and the foundation of the church at Ephesus. Then comes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 55 or 56, and two years' residence at Caesarea during 55-57.
This is succeeded by the voyage to Rome and two years' residence there between 58 and 61. Here the Journals come to an end; there is no sign in the Acts of any later sources, or any reference to later events or conditions.

(c) EARLIER SOURCES USED IN ACTS. The Journals of Luke belonged to a class of literature which dealt with the expansion of the gospel through apostolic persons, and the foundation of important churches which became centres of further evangelization. Luke possessed written sources describing the evangelization of Palestine, 'beginning from Jerusalem ', through the preaching of Peter (with John); these also describe the evangelization of Samaria and the coast towns through the preaching of Philip, and the foundation of the church at Caesarea through the preaching of Peter. Another source described the evangelization of Syria, beginning with the foundation of the church at Antioch, from which the evangelization of eastern Phrygia took place through the preaching of 'Barnabas and Saul' in 47 or 48.
This material, in the form in which it appears in Acts, ends with the Jerusalem Council in 49. It leaves James in charge of the Jerusalem church.
The connecting link with the Journals of Luke is the prominence in both of the Jerusalem-Caesarea tradition, and the name of Philip.

(d) OTHER AVAILABLE SOURCES. The Acts and Epistles have embedded in them older material which took form in the apostolic mission, such as kerugmata (gospel preachings), catechisms, and apocalypses; also 'testimonies' or collections of prophetic passages from the Old Testament. These were probably still mainly oral in character and not fixed in form.
The material from which the written gospels were composed was also originally oral and was being taught by disciples of Jesus. A good deal of this may have been written down, and scholars assign to this period the gospel document called Q.

(2) PERIOD A.D. 60-70.

(a) The *PASTORAL EPISTLES were ostensibly written before and during the Neronian persecution of 64; they contain material from letters of Paul written at this time to Timothy and Titus in Asia, and to Timothy from Rome, probably with some degree of editing.

(b) PETER. The *First Epistle of Peter was written from Rome 'through Silvanus' (Silas), and included a salutation from Mark. (There is a theory that it is a 'pseudonymous' work of a later date.)

(c) MARK. The Gospel of Mark, written in Rome between 64 and 70, is based on the gospel tradition of Peter. Doubtless it was not the only attempt in this period to write down the gospel tradition. The document called Q is assigned to a slightly earlier date; and there is a tradition to the effect that Matthew wrote down some form of the gospel tradition in Aramaic.

(d) JOHN. The Revelation of John contains a number of prophecies which were composed in Jerusalem prior to its destruction in 70. (Some scholars think that they were not necessarily written by the prophet who-composed the complete book.)


(a) The *PASTORAL EPISTLES quite possibly received their present form in this period; some scholars place them in the nineties or later.

(b) LUKE AND ACTS. The Acts of the Apostles comes to an end in the year 60, but a great number of scholars think that it received its present form in this period. The Gospel of Luke makes use of Mark, which is assigned to about 67. (Some scholars place Luke-Acts in the nineties, and assign it to a later author, who made use of Luke's Journals with the other sources mentioned above, which could diemselves then be placed later.)

(c) HEBREWS was written in this period, probably to Rome. (*Ephesians and *1 Peter are placed in this period by those scholars who regard them as 'pseudonymous' writings composed in the apostolic schools. James and Jude are often included in this classification.)

(d) JOSEPHUS. The Wars of the Jews gives an account of the Jewish Wars, concluding with the war of 66-70.


(a) MATTHEW. This Gospel was produced in a Hellenistic church in Syria. It makes use of Mark and Q and Jewish-Christian material, possibly the Aramaic Matthew. The author did not know the work of Luke.

(b) JOSEPHUS. The Antiquities of the Jews traces the history of the Jews from the beginning down to 66.

(c) JOHN. The Gospel and First Epistle, and the Revelation, which are assigned by many scholars to different authors. There are also two small epistles.

(d) CLEMENT. A Roman writer in the succession of Peter and Paul wrote an Epistle to the Corinthians for the Roman church known as 1 Clement, A.D. 96.

(e) HERMAS. The Visions of Hermas; about 97-100 in Rome.


(a) HERMAS. The Commandments and Parables, between 100 and 140; combined with the Visions to form the Shepherd or Pastor.

(b} IGNATIUS, bishop of Antioch, wrote seven Epistles, 110 to 115.

(c) POLYCARP, bishop of Smyrna, a pupil of John, wrote an Epistle to the Philippians, 110 to 115; died as a martyr 155 or 156.

(d) The so-called Epistle of Barnabas about 125, perhaps in Alexandria; and the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, probably in Syria, 120 to 150.

(e) PAPIAS, bishop of Hierapolis (and the 'elders' of his period). Papias collected the sayings of Philip, John, and other disciples of the Lord, from the oral tradition and by personal intercourse, and used them to illustrate his Interpretations of the Oracles of the Lord. The book has not survived, but was quoted by Irenaeus, Eusebius, and others.

(f) Latin Authors. Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius.


(a) JUSTIN was a contemporary of Papias and Polycarp during his early period as a Christian in Asia, about 125-135; began work in Rome about 145-150; died as a martyr about 165.

(b) IRENAEUS was a pupil of Polycarp and the elders; quoted from Papias and Polycarp traditions of John; wrote his Refutation (or Against Heresies) about 185. Worked in Asia, Rome, and Gaul.

(c) HEGESIPPUS, a Palestinian scholar, arrived in Rome about 160, with information about the Jewish-Christian traditions of James, and the family of the Lord, and the older Jewish sects; wrote his Note-books about 180. The book has not survived, but was used by Irenaeus, quoted by Eusebius, and also used by Epiphanius.

(d) The MISHNAH. Traditions of the Jewish Rabbis of the first century were written down in the second century and incorporated in the Mishnah, 180-220, and in other Jewish literature.

(e) The MURATORIAN FRAGMENT is a Latin translation of a Roman list of apostolic books originally composed in Greek between 180 and 200; ancient Prologues to New Testament books are found in some manuscripts.

(f) HIPPOLYTUS, a Roman Bishop, 200-235, preserved second-century traditions and information; e.g. he used lost works of Justin, and gives a transcript or summary of the prophet Elkhasai about 100.


(a) EUSEBIUS, the Ecclesiastical History, fourth century, quotes Papias, Hegesippus and numerous other early writers. Abbreviated as E.H.

(b) EPIPHANIUS, the Panarion, and Weights and Measures, quotes good second-century sources which include Hegesippus.


The primary object of this history is to provide an introduction to the story of the Christian church during the first two centuries, in narrative form, with sufficient detail and a sufficient use of original sources to make it a useful reference book for the persons and events of the period. The attempt to arrange so much material in chronological order and to relate it to the current of general history is no easy one, and decisions have had to be made on many points which are under debate among the leading scholars. It has not been possible to argue these points in detail, but it has been possible to indicate where serious differences of opinion exist, and to allow for alternative reconstructions of the history.

The foundation of history is a close study of the sources on which it is based. The knowledge of the sources must precede and support every other form of reading. An attempt has been made to present these sources, to give some account of each, and to let them speak for themselves. This is a book about sources as well as about events and persons.

It is probable that this history will be regarded as a 'conservative' one. The author is one of those who believe that the process of theoretical reconstruction has gone far enough, and that the time has come to review and consolidate the work. Nevertheless, it can hardly be denied that some reconstructions of a hypothetical character have been included. It is hoped that their hypothetical or suggestive character has always been clearly indicated.

The valuations which are placed upon the documents of the period today are by no means the same as were generally accepted a century ago. These new valuations should be accepted wherever it can be established that they are based upon sound literary or historical criticism; and this is where opinions are bound to differ. An element of personal judgement enters into the making of these decisions which no author can avoid. It often happens that a novel 'critical' valuation appeals to a scholar because it supports his own understanding of Christian history, or even some theoretical reconstruction to which he is committed; and this is equally true of 'conservative' and 'radical' scholars. No scholar can be confident that he is quite free from this tendency.

The 'tendency' in this history is to trust the evidence, and the tradition of the church in which it was produced and preserved; and to tell the story as the evidence presents it after it has been fairly examined and criticized. Those who desire to go further along the road of radical reconstruction can do so; and it is advantageous, even in this case, to begin with the story which the documents actually tell, and allow them to make their own impression.

In a few instances, however, a suggestion is made or an interpretation of the evidence is adopted which has an individual touch, or at any rate is not that of a majority of scholars. When this occurs it is clearly indicated, and it is hoped that such suggestions may prove to be of value as a contribution to the great work in which all are engaged.

The author does not, for instance, accept the undue emphasis upon apocalyptic or eschatology, very literally interpreted, which is common in modern scholarship; he regards it as a species of poetry. He does not accept the low estimate of the Revelation of St John which is common among scholars of the eschatological school; he regards it as a work of genius of the same order as the Divine Comedy of Dante or the Paradise Lost of Milton. He shares with many scholars the interest in liturgy as the historical medium in which the gospel expressed itself, and the importance of taking into account the Jewish antecedents in this and similar fields. Liturgy and apocalypse and gnosis seem to have been interrelated modes of thought which were congenial to the gospel as a Jewish movement of that particular period.

The gospel of Jesus Christ was of course the creative and determinative factor in the whole historical process. Doctrine is a legitimate development of the gospel in the course of interpretation and communication; but this history does not claim to be an introduction to Christian doctrine. It traces the emergence of the early theological schools from their beginnings in the creative evangelical period; it indicates their character; but that is as far as it goes. Its interest is primarily in the human beings who were the actors in the drama; the apostles, prophets, teachers, bishops, deacons, elders, martyrs, widows, virgins, and confessors; and even more the men and women and children who formed the rank and file of the church.

The author was led to the present study by a period of intensive research into the history of his own diocese. The first Bishop of Quebec was consecrated in 1793, and his journeys were far greater in extent than those of St Peter and St Paul; indeed, the journeys of the present bishop are not much less, though infinitely easier physically. It was an interesting experience, once this work had been done, to compare the analysis of the documentary records with the statements which were made by church people out of the local personal tradition. It is worth recording some of the results.

Fifty years is as nothing; there are always people who clearly remember the important facts; at one anniversary we had present with us the clergyman and one warden who had held office fifty years before. Statements about eighty years ago are reliable; false statements made at a church gathering would be promptly corrected. In connexion with the origins of a church, some facts from a hundred years ago are faithfully transmitted. The names of bishops or leading clergy and laity could easily be obtained without recourse to written documents. The sixth bishop of Quebec is still living at the age of ninety-six, and has told me about long conversations which he used to have with an old man who had clear memories of the first bishop. These two memories cover a hundred and forty years of time, being securely dated by a reference to the battle of Waterloo.

The author is therefore prepared to take seriously similar statements made by equally responsible church leaders in the church of the first or second century, out of the personal and official tradition, and all the more because oral tradition was then an organized means of communication. It does not seem right to brush aside such evidence, as some scholars do.

Such perhaps are the points on which the reader should be warned. If he disagrees with the author on these points, it will be no great difficulty for him to make the necessary adjustments. The constant reference to the sources makes such adjustment possible; and the sources themselves should be consulted as the final court of inquiry, and allowed to have the last word.

The author owes much to the kindness and patience of many friends who have helped and encouraged him; more than all, as he realizes now, to his father, who was a pupil of B. F. Westcott; to the various institutions of learning in many parts of the world in which he has studied, and particularly the Universities of New Zealand and Cambridge; to Laval University, Quebec, the oldest collegiate institution in North America, for library facilities; to his friend Canon R. K. Naylor of Montreal, a master of theological learning; to Canon W. K. Lowther Clarke of Chichester, who kindly read through the first volume and made many stimulating suggestions; to his brother, Professor C. E. Carrington of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, for his advice and active assistance; and above all to Professor F. C. Grant of the Union Theological Seminary, New York, whose fabulous learning, kindly advice, and unfailing friendship it has been his privilege to enjoy for over a quarter of a century.

He also thanks Dr H. P. van Dusen, President of the Union Seminary, and other members of the staff for their great generosity in welcoming him into their midst, and allowing him the use of their magnificent library and other resources; and of course the Syndics and officials of the Cambridge University Press for encouraging him to undertake the task, and criticizing and supplementing his work. In connexion with the illustrations he desires to express his appreciation for the help given by Professor J. M. C. Toynbee, Dr W. H. Frend, the Rev. J. N. Schofield, Professor D. W. Thomas and others who have helped to supply photographs. Naturally none of these persons should be held responsible for any errors or omissions which may still persist, or for such personal views on the subject of 'The Early Church' as may not generally commend themselves.
PHILIP QUEBEC, NEW YORK, Feast of the Annunciation, 1955.
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