Early Christianity: A Textbook for African Students


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Designed as an undergraduate textbook, and shaped by needs of both Muslim and Christian students across Africa, this resource provides a thorough introduction to the history, theology and teaching of early Christianity.

Professors Helleman and Gaiya follow Christianity from its inception in Jerusalem through to the decline of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean and the development of Orthodox churches in the East and in Africa before the arrival of Islam. The book provides an overview of critical historical events, controversies, teaching, and important individuals and movements providing foundational understanding of early developments in Christianity and the general history of antiquity. Students and lecturers will also appreciate the attention given to the role of North African leaders in early Christianity and the impact of major issues on the North African church, such as Gnosticism, Donatism and Arianism.

Additional Features:

  • Introduction to online tools & resources
  • Survey of the study of early Christianity
  • Introduction to key historians
  • Evaluation of recent literature & early Christianity

Table of Contents

  1. List of Figures
  2. List of Maps
  3. Preface and Acknowledgements
  4. Abbreviations
  5. Section I: Issues in the History of Early Christianity
    1. 1 Background to Early Christianity
    2. 2 The Rise and Spread of Christianity to AD 325
    3. 3 Monasticism and Missions
    4. 4 Persecution and Martyrdom: From Nero to Valerian (AD 64–260)
    5. 5 Church and State in the Roman Empire (AD 260–380)
    6. 6 The Early Church in North Africa
  6. Section II: Christian Belief and Teaching
    1. 7 Jesus Christ as Son of Man and Son of God: The Challenge of Judaism and Docetism
    2. 8 Second-Century Gnosticism and Its Impact
    3. 9 The Biblical Canon and Alternative Gospels
    4. 10 Arianism and the Trinity: The Ecumenical Councils of Nicea and Constantinople (AD 325–381)
    5. 11 The Person of Jesus: Five Ecumenical Councils (AD 431–787)
    6. 12 The Golden Age of Early Christian Thought: Outstanding Fourth-Century Leaders
  7. Section III: Epilogue
    1. 13 The Disintegration of the Roman Empire
  8. Glossary of Important Terms
  9. Bibliography
  10. Annotated Guide to Sources for Studies in Early Christianity
  11. Index of Subjects
  12. Index of Names



Early Christianity: A Textbook for African Students, a significant contribution, is very timely in addressing a broader readership of Christians and Muslims interested in understanding an important common heritage of contemporary Africans. A substantive resource for students.

Tite Tienou, PhD
Research Professor, Theology of Mission,
The Tite Tienou Chair of Global Theology and World Christianity,
Dean Emeritus, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School,
Deerfield, Illinois, USA

Wendy Helleman and Musa Gaiya provide an indispensable resource for the study of early church history. Building on the work of Bediako, Kalu and other African scholars, they take seriously Africa’s contribution to world Christianity – the text itself is anything but Afrocentric however. It plumbs the depths of the great minds of early African Christianity, placing them in the context of the larger church and the theological, political, social and cultural issues early Christianity in general faced. This is the kind of Christian history text African Christians have been waiting for.

Joel C. Elowsky, PhD
Professor of Historical Theology,
Director of the Study of Early Christian Texts,
Concordia Seminary, St Louis, Missouri, USA
Research Fellow, Centre for Early African Christianity

This significant history of the early church by two scholars who have lived in Africa is long awaited. It is in-depth, up-to-date and comprehensive. Highly recommended.

Timothy Palmer, PhD
Former Professor of Biblical Studies,
Theological College of Northern Nigeria,
Bukuru, Plateau State, Nigeria

This textbook gives a comprehensive account of the history and thought of early Christianity, particularly in Africa, making it easy to understand the trends and dynamics of present-day African Christianity. Written in simple English, it is useful for students, lecturers, Christians and Muslims.

Rev Thomas A. Oduro, PhD
President, Good News Theological Seminary, Accra, Ghana

This book provides a concise summary of the history of the church from the Jewish backgrounds of early Christianity until the fall of the Roman Empire. It proceeds to provide the reader with an explanation of a selection of the most influential events within this time period. With its introductory level content, the book’s goal is to be an overview of early church history and not an exhaustive text. It serves as an informative source for an undergraduate theology student or any student in need of accessible, introductory material regarding early church history.

Retief Muller, PhD
Associate Professor of Church History,
Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

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Weight 0.900 kg


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Musa A. B. Gaiya

Musa A. B. Gaiya is a professor of church history at University of Jos, Nigeria. He did post-graduate studies in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and the University of Jos. He is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Church Winning All, established by Serving In Mission. He has published several books and articles in reputable journals, locally and internationally. Musa enjoys cycling, reading and gardening and is married with four children.

Wendy Elgersma Helleman

Wendy Elgersma Helleman has a long and distinguished international teaching career spanning five decades. She has taught at various institutions around the world including the University of The Gambia, the University of Jos, Nigeria, Moscow State University, Russia, the University of Toronto, Canada, and a number of seminaries in the Philippines. Her PhD is in Ancient Philosophy from the Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and she has authored a number of major publications over her career.

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Early Christianity: A Textbook for African Students