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Early Christian Doctrines

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  762 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
This revised edition of the standard history of the first great period in Christian thought has been thoroughly updated in the light of the latest historical findings. Dr. Kelly organizes an ocean of material by outlining the development of each doctrine in its historical context. He lucidly summarizes the genesis of Chrisitian thought from the close of the apostolic age t ...more
Paperback, revised, 528 pages
Published March 29th 1978 by HarperOne (first published 1958)
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Brent McCulley
Sep 11, 2015 Brent McCulley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
Kelly simply does a fantastic job at surveying the history and evolution of early dogma through the fifth century. He treats each topic as its own, but runs through each one chronologically, and footnotes the Fathers in the primary sources voluminously.

We trace the history of the evolution of Theology proper, Christology, The Sacraments, Ecclesiology, Soteriology, Eschatology, and he even completes the book with the evolution of Mariology. Kelly's treatment is well balanced, and fair, and is th
Erik Graff
Apr 16, 2008 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students of christian theological history
Recommended to Erik by: an older student
Shelves: religion
During my first evening at Union Theological Seminary an older student solicited my attention to certain boxes of books. He was about to graduate and wanted to unload his old coursebooks. One of them was John Norman Davidson Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines in an old edition which he assured me was still in use. I bought it and a host of other tomes. His advice was correct. Looking at it, I find notes in the margins and an almost indecipherable notecard. Reading it was like reading any well wri ...more
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 David Withun rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
This book is a tour de force of early Christian beliefs. J.N.D. Kelly touches every major Father of the Church from the Apostolic Age to the 6th century as well as many relatively minor figures from the early Church. If you want to know what the early Christians believed, I highly recommend this book to you. I caution, though, that in order to get the most out of this book you must have a thorough knowledge of the history of Christianity for the first six centuries at least. This book is already ...more
Peter B.
May 08, 2012 Peter B. rated it really liked it
This was a valuable read. I would like to read more of the church fathers' own writings, but this was a great overview. While the early church was generally imprecise with its doctrines (although they could get very precise when that was needed, e.g. the Trinity), they often did a good job of grasping the foundations and spirit of Christianity, which is important for us to remember. This book helped me, not only learning what the early church taught, but also the process of development that goes ...more
Jun 20, 2013 Charlie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: early-church
A classic work on early Christian theology. Erudite, balanced, thorough. Age alone is beginning to wear at its usefulness.
Apr 12, 2014 Brian rated it it was amazing
In this book, J.N.D. Kelly outlines in satisfying detail the development of Christian theological orthodoxy through the first five centuries CE. This entails discussions of the most fundamental, frequently vexed, questions of Christian theology, including the structure of the Trinity, the relation of Christ's human and divine natures, the human condition and free will, and the means by which salvation is effected. The reader is introduced to the major contributors to debate on each issue, the ph ...more
Daniel Carr
Apr 03, 2015 Daniel Carr rated it it was amazing
This book does a great job of summarizing the thinkers of the early Church in an organized way. It seemed to be presented in a very Catholic way, but was not unfair to the thinkers themselves, even not those supporting ideas later deemed heresy.

The organization itself was by subject - it was helpful to have all of the thoughts regarding Christ, the Trinity, the Church, and the Sacraments (just as examples) put together in one place. It makes this a wonderful reference book.

I believe that this in
Aug 04, 2015 Spencer rated it it was amazing
A strong account of Early Christian Theology and thought from the second to fifth/sixth centuries. Kelly's focus and speciality is on theology of the 3rd-4th centuries, particularly the Christological controversies, Trinitarianism, and formation of creeds and councils. This revised version includes more work on the earlier centuries but it still is lacking (one can imagine the previous edition was even more disparate). EC Doctrines, however, will provide most useful for those interested in the f ...more
Apr 14, 2007 Bernard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the history of theology
This is a classic, and despite using it as a reference for ages I'm ashamed that I've only read it through recently.
Kelly's work is not new, with the latest (5th edition) being dated 1977, but it has aged exceptionally well.
Kelly writes with moderation and a good grasp of the 'big picture' providing a solid synthesis which serves equally well as an introduction to the history of theology and as a reference work for the serious student of theology.
A standard text hallowed by theological students for decades, this is an excellent reference and overview of the history of early Christian belief and doctrinal development. Dryly-written, restrained, and erudite, Kelly is a reliable scholar of the early Fathers and has earned the trust of generations of the faithful.
Daniel Thomas
Nov 09, 2015 Daniel Thomas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, church-history
Kelly walks seamlessly through the first five centuries of Christian history, chiseling out the progress of doctrinal development. The way in which Kelly discusses the various issues reveals the importance of interpreting the Fathers within the context of their own time, and their own doctrinal struggles. Brilliant read!
Jan 22, 2010 Tim rated it really liked it
Comprehensive resource on the early churches' variations in beliefs, but boring as a straight read. This book is clearly meant to be a reference! For a more readable account of the early church's thought, see Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley or A Concise History of Christian Thought by Tony Lane. When you need exhaustive detail, however, this is the book to have.
Ronnie Curfman
Jul 30, 2012 Ronnie Curfman rated it it was amazing
This work is essential for anyone who wants to understand theology better. The doctrines which are often taken for granted today were hashed out in the early church. This is a heavy read but worth the work.
G. Jorge Medina
May 15, 2013 G. Jorge Medina rated it liked it
Good book, enormous amount of research, author tries his best at fairness.
Jan 05, 2014 James rated it really liked it
Dry, but enlightening
Lucas Bradburn
Aug 30, 2012 Lucas Bradburn rated it really liked it
An excellent summary of patristic theology.
Feb 18, 2011 Cbarrett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want a book that gets into the nitty gritty of early Christian beliefs and is at the same time readable, this is your book.
Doris Raines
Apr 18, 2016 Doris Raines rated it really liked it
Great. Book.
Good reference source for a variety of religious studies.
Sep 19, 2008 Dware rated it really liked it
Very good book that traces the philosphical roots of and various internal and external impacts on the Trinity and other early (first through fourth century) Christian doctrines.
Nov 11, 2010 Mary rated it liked it
Way hard to read, but now that it's been 10 or so years since I read it, it might not be as hard.
Seth Holler
Jul 25, 2013 Seth Holler marked it as to-read
Jan 01, 2015 Daniel rated it liked it
Painfully dry. Makes Aristotle look like an author of trashy romance novels.
Andy Smith
Sep 14, 2012 Andy Smith rated it liked it
Good, solid patristic historical theology
Charles rated it really liked it
Aug 11, 2011
Alex rated it it was amazing
Aug 30, 2013
Claytonius rated it really liked it
Aug 30, 2015
Angela rated it really liked it
Apr 26, 2012
James Mader
James Mader rated it liked it
Feb 09, 2013
Jeff rated it it was amazing
Sep 12, 2014
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  • The Trinity
  • On the Holy Spirit
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  • Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers
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John Norman Davidson Kelly FBA (1909–1997) was a prominent academic within the theological faculty of Oxford University and Principal of St Edmund Hall, Oxford between 1951 and 1979 during which the Hall transformed into an independent constituent college of the University and later a co-educational establishment.

Early life
John Kelly was born in Bridge of Allan, Perthshire on 13 April 1909 and was
More about J.N.D. Kelly...

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“But the work which most richly embroidered the gospel narratives and was destined to exert a tremendous influence on later Mariology was the Protoevangelium of James. Written for Mary's glorification, this described her divinely ordered birth when her parents, Joachim and Anna, were advanced in years, her miraculous infancy and childhood, and her dedication to the Temple, where her parents had prayed that God would give her 'a name renowned for ever among all generations'. It made the point that when she was engaged to Joseph he was already an elderly widower with sons of his own; and it accumulated evidence both that she had conceived Jesus without sexual intercourse and that her physical nature had remained intact when she bore Him.

These ideas were far from being immediately accepted in the Church at large. Iranaeus, it is true, held that Mary's childbearing was exempt from physical travail, as did Clement of Alexandria (appealing to the Protoevangelium of James). Tertullian, however, repudiated the suggestion, finding the opening of her womb prophesied in Exodus 13, 2, and Origen followed him and argued that she had needed the purification prescribed by the Law. On the other hand, while Tertullian assumed that she had had normal conjugal relations with Joseph after Jesus's birth, the 'brethren of the Lord' being his true brothers, Origen maintained that she had remained a virgin for the rest of her life('virginity post partum') and that Jesus's so-called brothers were sons of Joseph but not by her...In contrast to the later belief in her moral and spiritual perfection, none of these theologians had the least scruple about attributing faults to her. Irenaeus and Tertullian recalled occasions on which, as they read the gospel stories, she had earned her Son's rebuke, and Origen insisted that, like all human beings, she needed redemption from her sins; ...”
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