Early Christian Doctrines

ISBN: 0826452523
ISBN 13: 9780826452528
By: J.N.D. Kelly

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About this book

A history of doctrines of the Early Church, written and arranged with exceptional clarity by a leading patristic scholar. Canon Kelly describes the development of the principal Christian doctrines from the close of the first century to the middle of the fifth, and from the end of the apostolic age to the council of Chalcedon.

Reader's Thoughts


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.


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.


Way hard to read, but now that it's been 10 or so years since I read it, it might not be as hard.

Erik Graff

On my first evening at 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 single-author textbook. It is dry and to the point.

G. Jorge Medina

Good book, enormous amount of research, author tries his best at fairness.

Ronnie Curfman

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.

Jason Montgomery

Great book!


Awesome work.


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 philosophical and Scriptural underpinnings of their arguments, and the spectrum of fates to which history assigned their thought, from Catholic orthodoxy to heretical footnote.Kelly self-consciously constrains the discussion, as much as is possible, strictly to the theological matters at hand, touching only briefly upon their broader social, political, and ecclesiastical contexts, or the biographies of their exponents, when directly bearing upon ideological developments.An Anglican priest, Kelly does not obfuscate the fact that he is writing from the perspective of one who believes the essential truths of the faith he is describing, but at no point does this interfere with his balanced, objective exposition of the conflicting viewpoints espoused in the first centuries of that faith's interpretation and codification.

Andy Smith

Good, solid patristic historical theology


A classic work on early Christian theology. Erudite, balanced, thorough. Age alone is beginning to wear at its usefulness.


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.


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.

David Withun

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 500 pages long, so there's little time for Kelly to stop along the way to explain historical developments. The book is not even done in chronological order other than perhaps separating the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists from the later Fathers into two different sections of the book; the primary division of the book, though, is thematic. Nonetheless -- read this book if you're interested in knowing what the earliest Christians believed!

Lucas Bradburn

An excellent summary of patristic theology.

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