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Publisher's Summary

Rev. Dr. Stephen De Young, creator of the popular The Whole Counsel of God blog and podcast, traces the lineage of Orthodox Christianity back to the faith and witness of the apostles, which was rooted in a first-century Jewish worldview. The Religion of the Apostles presents the Orthodox Christian Church of today as a continuation of the religious life of the apostles, which in turn was a continuation of the life of the people of God since the beginning of creation.

©2021 Stephen De Young (P)2021 Stephen De Young

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The first Christians did not “invent” anything

The Religion of the Apostles: Orthodox Christianity in the First Century by Stephen De Young had several aims. I am paraphrasing: “To outline the contours of the religious practice and beliefs of the Jewish people in the first century AD; to rectify the assumed discontinuity between Old and New Testamental beliefs, practices and scriptures, and to be used in the Orthodox Christian apologetics”. The book achieved and exceeded its aims, at least this is my humble opinion, but it is not without its faults, about which I will speak later. Additionally, the book’s aim, which was unmentioned but fulfilled anyway, is to give Orthodox Christians grounding in their beliefs and practices. Too many of us gather as the one Body and participate in the life of the Orthodox Church without understanding the modes of that participation. I have seen criticism levelled against the book, and those mainly revolve around not providing enough references. If you are looking for a scholarly book full of references and footnotes (the book is not without them), this is not the book for you. The book was not written to be a scholarly reference for somebody’s doctoral thesis. The book had different aims.
As mentioned above, the book does have some issues. The issues are mainly in its pacing and the presentation of the material. However, this criticism I would not entirely place on the author, much of it has to do with the material, which gets complicated at times. The book starts very well. It presents the material very cleanly and concisely, which for me was a refreshing change. Too many authors in the field of religious studies try to be “scholarly”, which comes off as pretentious. Part 2 is where the trouble begins. Part 2 very soon becomes repetitive and a bit tiresome. While Part 3 is too complicated, to the point of feeling like reading somebody’s PhD thesis, which makes the listener lose focus, hearing every third word or so. However, as mentioned before, much of it has to do with the subject matter of this particular section. This section answers questions that many regular non-western Orthodox parishioners (people with roots in the Middle East, Balkans, Russia) have never raised during their religious lives. Part 4 is where the book goes back to its beginnings, slowing the pace down and being much clearer.
From the technical perspective, the audiobook is well-narrated by the author himself, with the occasional “end quote”, which would pop out sound-wise.
To summarise, the book is excellent, and the benefits for the Orthodox listeners are immeasurable. First, because the book shows us two fundamental things:
1. That the first Christians did not “invent” anything.
2. That the first Christians did not “corrupt” anything.
Second, because it shows us that the first Christians listened to the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Repent (in Greek “metanoite” – change your mind, your worldview), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”. And then listened to the call of the Apostles and their descendants through the ages, until today: “Taste and see that the LORD is good”.
However, the book is not without its problem, which will be negligible after a careful re-listening. The first of many, I am sure.

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Essential for All English Speaking Christians

Father Stephen De Young has synthesized a wide breadth of biblical exegesis and historical context into an enjoyable and digestible volume.

Many of the great stumbling blocks for inquirers are addressed with simplicity, yet this makes for an astoundingly deep and occasionally radical experience.

Father Stephen's stated goal was to compose a single volume on Orthodox biblical theology. He's accomplished this with surprising rigor, and in the process created an essential piece of literature for all English-speaking Christians.

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Interesting ideas, but…

First, the author had some interesting ideas, but used current beliefs and ideas, and put them in the mouths of those from the past. Then, using his illogical reasoning, shows why those in the past thinks like he does in modern times in a totally different culture.

Plus, his narration drones on. He should stay away from narrating his own work and leave it to someone else!

3 people found this helpful

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Perspective Shifting but not Perfect

“Religion of the Apostles: Orthodox Christianity in the First Century” by Fr. Stephen De Young was an eye-opening read that I am sure I will refer to many times in the future. The author is well respected in the Orthodox Christian community, and I’ve heard his work referenced quite a few times in my studies over the past couple of years. He does great work educating readers/listeners of his blog and podcasts on scripture that has become obscure the further we get from the time they were written. This book continues that tradition and enlightened me on aspects of early Christianity (and some of the Old Testament) that always puzzled me. His work creates a more full picture of what it means and has always meant to be a follower of Jesus. Overall, I am glad I read the book.
Although I did enjoy the book, I am not sure it perfectly accomplished what it set out to do. From my understanding, this book was meant to be a book that could take more academic topics about the beginnings of Christianity and make them more accessible to non-academics. In some sections, I feel like this goal is accomplished. My understanding overall of early Christian thinking is much more informed than it once was. On the other hand, there are parts in which the author does not seem to find this balance. There are sections that are both too detailed for the average reader and not detailed or have enough citations for the academic. By staying in the middle ground, perhaps this information was not presented to its greatest advantage. Either way, the subject matter of this book is very interesting, and I am sure will be much discussed in the years to come.
Another note I have is not a critique of the book itself but a warning for potential readers. There are some topics (such as discussion of Nephilim) that were very new for me. My religious background before I entered the Orthodox church tended toward fundamentalist thinking that was both confusing and detrimental to my faith. I am not by any means saying that this book promotes that sort of thinking! I will say that aspects of it could be manipulated or misinterpreted by those that already have a tendency towards thinking that way already. Especially if they don’t read the whole book carefully. There were several moments when I had to take a step back from the book to properly absorb the information I had just heard and discuss it with someone more knowledgeable than myself. Much of the information in this book is absolutely beneficial for all Orthodox Christians to better understand Christianity. Some of the information people may not be ready for or should approach with guidance. This is of course left to each individual and their spiritual father or mentors.
Yet again, let me reiterate how informative this book was for me. It will take a long time before I am able to fully process it all. I absolutely recommend it to those who are ready for it!

****One more side note about the audible version. I noticed that some of the sound production was a little strange. For example, the separate addition of the “end quote” audio that was clearly recorded at a different time. The audible was not terrible to listen to, but I just overall got the impression that the work was rushed.

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fair review

a lot of people are critiquing this book as an academic book. this is not an academic book.
this book is more like a textbook with limited citations. much of what's presented is common knowledge to students of theology and history and language.

the book should encourage many to analyze the epistemology of their beliefs.

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A must read for everyone interested in church history

The history of the early church has been invented and reinvented a lot in the past two centuries. History has often been written in one’s own image, from the liberal Jesus in the 19th century to the Marxist Jesus in the 20th century.

Many attempts have been made to rewrite the history of the early church from a standpoint of rabbinical Judaism. At the same time new findings of writings from the second temple period and archeological findings have given totally new perspectives on the development of rabbinical Judaism.

Rabbinical Judaism and the Orthodox Church formalised at the same period in history and both preserved distinctive elements from the practises and teachings of second temple Judaism but not in the same way and most often in polemics.

De Young summarises the development in the early centuries and gives an well researched argument for the continuity of the Orthodox Church teaching and practises. De Young masterfully shows that concepts in the Christian faith that has been regarded as later historical developments (often claimed of pagan influence) in fact are an continuity of beliefs that were mainstream in second temple Judaism but were disregarded by rabbinical Judaism in polemics against the Christian movement.

For me the book wove a beautiful fabric of the threads and ends I’ve gathered from years of study in church history and Judaic studies at the university. The book is amazingly easy to follow and the sources are transparent and accessible.

/Tobias Rydqvist, master of Theology

1 person found this helpful

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Succinct and eye-opening

As a former Protestant Christian, I always thought of the ancient church as casual, unstructured and without firm theology. I thought that only came later, with Catholicism and later the Protestant reformation. In this book, Fr. Stephen makes a compelling case otherwise. With copious citations from scripture, this text shows how the story of Christianity didn’t just start with the birth of Christ, but rather reaches back to the Old Testament and provides a structure to both old and New Testament that I had never before imagined was there. Highly recommended!

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Mandatory read for any modern Orthodox believer

With little words: this book is one of the best out there bringing amazing content on the relationship between the old and new testament. May God bless fr. Stephen, and grant him many years in his ministry.

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Great book for Protestant inquirers to Orthodoxy

There is only one Biblical religion. There are not three Abrahamic paths. There is one. The Religion of The Apostles. Orthodox Christianity.

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Comprehensive and Loaded with Beauty

I won’t lie, I’m a wee bit obsessed with Father Stephens mind! huge fan of his podcasts, and this books really shines. It’s hard to find a scholar who manages to write and speak how my mind works. There is a large volume of data here to digest, but it’s written in such a way that it makes it digestible but not at all boring. I appreciate the incredible amount of time and attention to historical and scriptural accuracy that is lended in every work he submits. Thank you Father Stephen for this comprehensive look at the fundamental beginnings of our faith. God bless you.

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  • Lyuben V.
  • 01-30-22

Great book

This book was very illuminating and unafraid to challenge your assumptions.

My one criticism is that it feels slightly unbalanced in terms of a accomplishing it's own goals. The book wonderfully presents the practices and culture of pre-Christian and early Christians. But the part linking it to the current Orthodox Church is weaker, it leans too much into assuming you know what Orthodox practice is and that by explaining an esoteric view from 1st Century, you'll instantly make the connection.

Still, it's unfair to spend so much of a review on the negative when I found the book to be very good and would recommend it.