Resource Portal for Entry-level Studies in Early Christianity

Interest in early Christianity has grown tremendously over the past decade and a half, but finding the right information can be difficult for those just beginning in the field. Below, a handful of different types of resources are listed as suggested entry points. I have designed this guide for students at the University of Kentucky and tried to restrict listed resources to those students may access. Students with access to a theological library will find many additional resources there.


Students who wish to browse through books related to early Christianity may do so online—using the catalog on the library website—or physically in Young Library.

Browsing the catalog: Use subject headings to find works related to early Christianity. To do this, click the “Advanced Search” link under the search box on the library homepage. Then, on the Library Catalog tab, choose “in subject” and “contains.” Copy and past a Library of Congress Subject Heading (a few are provided below) into the search box, and click “Search” to see results. Some of these subject headings are self-explanatory, for others, I’ve provided a brief explanation in parentheses.

  • Apostolic fathers  (Limited to church fathers in the 1st 200 years)
  • Fathers of the church  (Church fathers in general—even beyond 1st 200 years)
  • Worship–History–Early church, ca. 30–600
  • Persecution–History–Early church, ca. 30–600
  • Church history–Primitive and early church, ca. 30–600

Browsing the library shelves: With a few call numbers, one could find a good section of books by walking through the library stacks. Here are a few call number ranges, followed by the Library of Congress Subject Heading or Subheading for that range, and brief descriptions.

  • BR –> Christianity
  • BR60–67  Early Christian literature. Fathers of the Church, etc.  (Contains the collections of writings from the early church fathers, including several important series often shelved together)
  • BR130–133.5 Christian antiquities. Archaeology. Museums.  (Works on items and artifacts from early Christianity)
  • BR160–275 History. Early and medieval.  (Works about early Christianity in general, though intermixed with works on Christianity through the medieval time)
  • BR1600–1609 Persecution. Martyrs.  (Works on Christian martyrs throughout history, including in the early church)
  • BT –> Doctrinal Theology
  • BT1313–1480 History of specific doctrines and movements. Heresies and schism.  (Contains works about the development and history of Christian beliefs and those who departed from them)

Print Reference Works

Unfortunately, the University of Kentucky libraries contain few actual reference works on this topic. Six resources are listed below, 5 of which would need to be requested through ILL. WorldCat links are provided for those resources.

Di Berardino, Angelo, ed. Encyclopedia of the Early Church. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. – Held by UKY libraries. – This encyclopedia includes entries on events, doctrines, people, and other subjects related to the early church up to about 800 C.E. Entries contain bibliographies that, though dated, will still prove valuable in pointing to older works on these issues.

Döpp, Siegmar, and Wilhelm Geerlings, eds. Dictionary of Early Christian Literature. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2000. – Requires ILL. – The work contains entries related to the writings produced in early Christianity. Bibliographies following each entry are now slightly dated but still relevant.

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook, and David G Hunter, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. – Requires ILL. – The handbook contains chapters on a broad range topics in early Christianity. Topics include doctrinal positions, debates, creeds, women, prayer, practices, development by geographic region, and many more. Bibliographies are provided at the end of each chapter.

Johnson, Scott Fitzgerald, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. – Requires ILL. – Not limited to early Christianity, the handbook catches the end of the early Christian ear and discusses various issues of life during this time and in this portion of the word. Topics include travel, poetry, regional discussions, economics, agriculture, and more, and frequently includes discussion of Christianity and other religions in these chapters. Bibliographies follow each chapter.

Lieb, Michael, Emma Mason, Jonathan Roberts, and Christopher Rowland, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. – Requires ILL. – This handbook offers chapters on everything from the way specific biblical books have been received throughout history to the way different people have interpreted and preached scripture. Bibliographies follow each entry.

Parry, Ken, ed. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Patristics. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. – Requires ILL. – This work contains chapters on individual church fathers as well as chapters on how later individuals in later church history viewed and used those fathers in their own writings. Bibliographies follow each entry.

Electronic Reference Works

Electronic works in UKY’s library are also few and far between. Below are a few resources available to students.

Chadwick, Henry. The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. – Although is work is a typical church history style book, the reference and further reading list at the end is extensive. Both the text and the references will serve students well.

Cross, F. L, and E.A Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. – A standard dictionary in the field, the entries cover more subjects than those involving the early church. Entries contain bibliographies, though, sometimes fewer sources than one would hope for.

Di Berardino, Angelo, Thomas C Oden, Joel C Elowsky, and James Hoover, eds. Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity. 3 vols. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014. – The best work in this list, these volumes cover seemingly every aspect of early Christianity, from people and doctrines to interpretive practices. Up-to-date bibliographies follow each entry.

Gregory, Andrew, and Christopher Tuckett. Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. – This work traces out common themes between the biblical texts and the writings of the early church, showing the development from the former to the later.

Jones, Gareth, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Modern Theology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. – In this work, only chapter 8, on “Patristics” is relevant. The chapter addresses the connection between patristic theology and current theology. References follow.


Many databases contain material overlapping early Christianity, but few provide much. Below are the two best resources for University of Kentucky students.

Academic Search Complete: Search using keywords directly from the database’s start page. In the search boxes enter keywords such as Christianity, history, ancient, doctrine, or patristic. One may combine these terms by using the capital AND to return results containing both terms and the capital OR to see results containing either term. One may use the drop down selections beside the search boxes, or type the entire search string into a single box. Remember to use quotation marks when searching for a specific phrase.

Here are a couple example searches:

  • “early church” AND doctrine
  • “church fathers” OR patristics

Perhaps a better way to search, though, is through the use of subject headings. These are predefined terms added to each article on that topic, regardless of the actual words used in the title of the article. These searches will ensure one does not miss relevant articles simply because the keywords were not exactly right. Subject terms vary by database, but a few helpful subjects for Academic Search Complete are:

  • CHURCH history — Primitive & early church, ca. 30-600
  • EARLY Christian literature
  • EARLY church, ca. 30-600

Just copy and paste the subject headings into the search box and change the field to the right of the box to “subject.”

Even better, Academic Search Complete allows one to browse subjects. Click “Subject terms” at the top of any page to search for subject terms as you would keywords. Then check the box next to any subject and search by that specific subject. This also allows you to see broader and narrower terms on your subject.

Use the “Help” menu in the top right, as well. EBSCO has the most detailed help section of any database I have seen. Many great tips are provided in that menu.

JSTOR: JSTOR can be a frustrating database to search. As with Academic Search Complete, one may use keyword searching (follow the same patterns above), but there are no subject searches. JSTOR does not provide a subject list.The subject search at the top of the page is for journal subjects. Searches, by default, include a search inside the full-text of an article. This may bring back more results than are helpful. The benefit here is that all instances of your keywords are highlighted and provided in a brief portion of their context—a clipping.

One may use the help menu, but will likely find it lacking. The amount of content is the main reason to use JSTOR.

*Note – ATLA Religion Database, by EBSCO, would serve this purpose better than the other two databases combined—should a student find access within reasonable driving distance. UKY libraries do not provide access.

Periodicals (journals)

All of the journals listed below contain articles related to all aspects of early Christianity (except Augustinian Studies, which covers all aspects related to Augustine). Most are available online to students.


Several websites provide excellent resources and information related to early Christian studies. A few are provided below.

The Center for Ancient Christian Studies – The Center hosts a helpful blog, podcasts, and the journal Fides et Humilitas (listed above).

The Patrologist – A few good resources may be found on this site. The link provided, though, is to an annotated list of journals related to early Christian studies—the most helpful resource here.

The North American Patristics Society – This society produces the Journal of Early Christian Studies. Their site provides many excellent resources including links to early Christian text, lists of encyclopedias on these subjects, details about early Christian authors, and even information about teaching on this subject matter.

Early Christian Writings – A website providing access to older English translations for many of the writings from the early church.


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