In this series of Top Ten Book we’ve looked at Spiritual Formation, Missional Formation, Jesus books, the Apostle Paul, and New Testament Theology. This one is a list of my favorite books on earliest Christianity that don’t really fit into the other categories. I consider this list to be of some of the finest studies ever in NT research.
1. W.D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount. Long, demanding, but an incredible piece of work that moves through the evidence like a well-constructed novel.
2. C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures and The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments. Two separable works that really belong together: the first explains how the early Christians used the Old Testament and the second the ground of early Christian preaching.
3. C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament and The Phenomenon of the New Testament. Two books that don’t belong together, except that they are both by Moule, a prince of NT scholars and one born with a crystal-clear pen. The first is a unique perception of how the NT grew into shape and the second for those who “have written off Christianity.”
4. E. Hoskyns, N. Davey, The Riddle of the New Testament. Like Moule’s Phenomenon here is yet another British level-headed approach to what history does in fact teach us about the Christian faith.
5. S. Neill, with T. Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986 (updated in 1988 by T. Wright). Simply the best way to see the big map of how NT studies have developed. I would require this of every serious NT student at the senior college level or in the first year of seminary/graduate studies.
6. M. Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism. The definitive study of the interpenetration of Judaism and Hellenism; his follow ups were Jews, Greeks, and Barbarians and The Hellenization of Judaea in the First Century after Christ
7. J.D.G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways. A demonstration that Christianity took time to develop and the relationship with Judaism was complex.
8. D. Boyarin, Border Lines. I’m not always sure Boyarin’s prose is clear, but his thesis — that it took both Judaism and Christianity three centuries or so before the word “heresy” could develop — is one more study of the interpenetration of these faiths.
9. J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Christ. Formerly, the must study for those interested in Judaism.
10. E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief. Sanders thinks Jeremias got it all wrong, and here presents an alternative understanding of Judaism — and relies heavily upon Josephus.
These are some heavyweights, but these books are both classics and necessities for understanding earliest Christianity.