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On First Principles, Reader's Edition

John Behr

Publication Date - 20 February 2020

ISBN: 9780198845317

448 pages
9.2 x 6.1 inches

In Stock


On First Principles by Origen of Alexandria, written around 220-230 AD, is one of the most important and contentious works of early Christianity. It provoked controversy when written, provoked further debate when translated into Latin by Rufinus in the fourth century, and was the subject, together with its author, of condemnation in the sixth century. As a result, the work no longer survives intact in the original Greek. We only have the complete work in the Latin translation of Rufinus, and a few extensive passages preserved in Greek by being excerpted into the Philokalia of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus.

John Behr offers a translation of one of the most important texts from early Christianity. He includes an invaluable introduction, which provides a clear structure of the work with significant implications for how the text is to be read and for understanding the character of theology in the early Christian tradition.


  • A new translation of one of the most important and controversial texts from early Christianity
  • Offers a more sympathetic understanding of the text than that currently available in the only English translation
  • Provides new insights into the structure of the work and the nature of theology as it was practiced in early Christianity

About the Author(s)

John Behr, Dean and Professor of Patristics, St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, New York, and Metropolitan Kallistos Chair in Orthodox Theology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

John Behr is the Dean of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary and Professor of Patristics and Metropolitan Kallistos Chair in Orthodox Theology at Vrije Universiteit. His previous publications include John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (2019), Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement (2000), The Case Against Diodore and Theodore: Texts and Their Contexts (2011), and Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity (2013). He is also the co-editor of The Role of Life in Death: A Multidisciplinary Examination of Issues pertaining to Life and Death (Wipf and Stock, 2015; with C. Cunningham).


"Behr's translation is literal without being wooden or cumbersome. In keeping with the original languages, some sentences are long, but they are readable. Some detailed footnotes remain to guide readers." -- Christopher A. Stephenson, Religious Studies Review

"Stirring and profound." -- M. J. Edwards, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"This translation should now be the point of departure for readers who seek to consult Origen's On First Principles in English ... This is a translation that can be used with students, and on which scholars uncertain in their Latin can rely. This is then a worthy replacement for that by Butterworth which has been the staple for generations of English-speaking readers ... In sum, this is an excellent translation, and a beautifully laid out text. Behr's vision of the work's structure is insightful." -- Lewis Ayres, International Journal of Systematic Theology

Table of Contents

    1. Origen and his On First Principles
    I. Origen in Alexandria
    II. On First Principles
    2. The Structure of On First Principles
    I. The Two Cycles
    II. The Division into Chapters
    III. Theology and Economy
    IV. The Apostolic and the Ecclesiastical Preaching
    V. Scripture, Book Four, and the Purpose of On First Principles
    VI. Conclusion and the Context of On First Principles
    3. Theology
    I. An Eternal Creation?
    II. The 'Foundation' of the World
    4. Economy
    I. Incarnation
    II. The 'Pre-existence' and Incarnation of Christ
    5. 'In My End is My Beginning'
    Origen, On First Principles
    Manuscripts and Other Sources, Abbreviations and Sigla