I found a history book (A History of the Christian Church, Revised Edition by Williston Walker) at my local used book store. It was copyrighted in 1959. Have there been any developments in research since then (new archaeological discoveries, etc) that would be significant enough to motivate me to find a more recent book? How concerned should I be about error or incompleteness in an older history book?

  • 1
    Old books are dangerous and full of lies. You should only trust recent books that have been written by well-established professors from reputable universities. – Tyler Durden Aug 4 '14 at 3:23
  • 7
    There was no watermark point of time at which historians suddenly became infallible. Sometimes there is new information available, or somebody had a new idea how to interpret information, that's all. – user1725145 Aug 4 '14 at 8:55
  • 7
    @TylerDurden and so are most new books. Old books can shed a lot of light on the reasoning and thinking of people in the past, without the politically and religiously motivated censorship and twisting of facts that clouds the objectivity of later sources about the era in which they were written. – jwenting Aug 4 '14 at 11:07
  • 1
    it's not a miracle at all, and in fact it's probably not even true. Classical Arabic Qurans are copied slavishly without thought and remain the same (except for possible spelling mistakes, which can twist words when not caught by proofreaders), modern translations are subject to all the interpretation and translation bias of any such work. – jwenting Aug 4 '14 at 11:10
  • 2
    This depends a lot on what period you are concerned with. The Apostolic, Early Church and Constantinian periods have all had significant even revolutionary new discoveries, new scholarship and new methodologies of interpreting the historical material. The later periods have not had nearly so much re-interpretation. – RBarryYoung Aug 4 '14 at 13:11

If you are serious about learning the history of Christianity, you should be motivated to find more books period. A single book, especially one attempting to cover a massive subject like Christianity, cannot possibly suffice for anything beyond a cursory read. It will be "incomplete" regardless of how old or new it is, if only because you're fitting thousands of years of history into a single volume.

That said, A History of the Christian Church is a classic that would be 100 years old in four years, and copies are still sold. The author, Williston Walker, was a distinguished theologian at Yale. I would argue there's nothing wrong with reading the book, considering you already have it anyway. You can compare it to later works and see how the perspectives have changed.

As for trusting it and concern about errors: just be aware that not all of this 1959 edition's information will be the most up to date. So if you find conflicting information, you can assess the book's correctness for yourself.

  • 8
    There's nothing to give you an appreciation of history better than experiencing the history of the history. – andy256 Aug 4 '14 at 4:06

Books on the history of Christianity are inevitably influenced by the author’s own religious prejudices. In my opinion the most objective books are those from the end of the 19th century by writers like Wellhausen (Old Testament) and Harnack (early Christianity). At least they treated the subject as a serious historical discipline.

  • 2
    and that's independent of when they were written... – jwenting Aug 4 '14 at 11:10
  • 1
    It is still a true statement if you reduce the first sentence to "Books on history are inevitably influenced by the author’s own prejudices." The there are still too many words in it… – LаngLаngС Aug 31 '18 at 18:45

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.