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Many of you are probably aware of a set of early Christian documents collectively called “The Apostolic Fathers” all of which were likely written in the first or second centuries of the common era. However, if your seminary/bible undergrad experience was anything like mine, these documents were only occasionally mentioned and never discussed in detail. This is a terrible shame, because the documents that comprise the Apostolic Fathers are not only really cool, but they also give you an idea of the unity and diversity of the earliest Christians. Since you may not have had any detailed instruction on the AF, I thought it might be useful to the people out there to have a quick guide to some resources available out there.
First Things First: Choosing a Greek Text and Translation
There are basically two good texts/translations of the Apostolic Fathers that have been done recently. One is by Michael Holmes and now is in its third edition called: “The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations.” Holmes’ Greek text is a revision of Lightfoot’s text, but his English translation is purely original. The introductions are clear and helpful, but the reader should be aware that they skew very conservative. Holmes’ emphasizes the continuity of these texts with the New Testament to the point of sounding quasi-apologetic. The other is by Bart Ehrman (who just started blogging) and is published as part of the Loeb Classical Library in two volumes: “The Apostolic Fathers, Volume I: I Clement. II Clement. Ignatius. Polycarp. Didache.” and “Apostolic Fathers: Volume II. Epistle of Barnabas. Papias and Quadratus. Epistle to Diognetus. The Shepherd of Hermas.” Ehrman’s Greek text was done from scratch, and the translations are, of course, also completely fresh. The introductions are far more in line with scholarship on the Apostolic Fathers, especially the more recent stuff. I’d recommend the Ehrman volumes, but the choice isn’t particularly essential as both are solid pieces of work. Holmes’ is by far the cheaper of the two. If funds are tight and you can’t spring for a newer text, the Loeb volumes which Ehrman’s two volumes replaced are available for free. They are by Kirsopp Lake and are still perfectly usable today. Volume One and Two are available for free through Google Books. I do not recommend buying an English translation without a Greek text.
Where to Begin?
Assuming you now have one of the three Greek-English editions listed above, you’ll quickly find out that the introductions to the various texts are very brief, usually not spanning more than a handful of pages. If you want more in depth background, you’ll have to purchase or borrow an introduction to the AF. Unlike the New Testament, where there are as many introductions as there are scholars, there are only a few introductions to the AF in English. My least favorite is put out by T&T Clark and edited by Paul Foster, and is titled “The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers.” There is nothing terribly wrong with this volume, but the introductions are not as well-rounded as others out there. This is probably because the volume is really a series of brief introductory articles which appeared in Expository Times (if I remember correctly) that were later gathered together and published. The articles are easy to read and entertaining, so if you can get them for free via your library they are worth reading. Otherwise, I’d skip it. The volume I’d recommend starting with is “Reading the Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction” by Clayton Jefford. One of the great strengths of the book is that it makes no assumptions about the background knowledge of the reader, but this can also be a source of irritation if you are generally familiar with the time period involved. Each chapter breaks the texts down with discussions of organization, theology, notable features, etc. It is very nicely organized, and if there is a section you don’t find helpful, you can easily pass over it. After you’ve read that work, I’d recommend the new and utterly fantastic volume edited by Wilhelm Pratscher called “The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction.” The great strength of this volume is that it makes German scholarship on the AF accessible to English speakers in a concise and helpful format. Each chapter is written by a different expert on the particular text and is organized into subsections like structure, date, theology, etc. I can’t recommend the book enough. I suggest acquiring both the Jefford and the Pratscher books, if you can. Between the two of them, you can’t go wrong.
Update: Fixed link to Lake’s Volume II.
Today at dusk marks the beginning of Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar. Many early Christians celebrated Passover at this time as a Christian celebration of Jesus, both to mark his sacrifice and to anticipate his coming. They interpreted the Gospel of John as indicating that they should celebrate on the eve of the 14th. This led to one of the largest ecclesiastical disputes in early Christianity, and it marks the earliest dispute on record about matters of church calendar. The real problem is that the Quartodecimans were breaking their fast earlier than other Christians. The other Christians wanted to hold the fast until Sunday (the Lord’s day), but the breaking of the fast by Quartodecimans was disruptive to them. Here is a discussion of the controversy from Eusebius:
1. But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him:
2. “We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate.
3. He fell asleep at Ephesus.
4. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna.
5. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead?
6. All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.
7. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.'”
8. He then writes of all the bishops who were present with him and thought as he did. His words are as follows:”I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.”
9. Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate.
10. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.
11. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows:
12. “For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night.
13. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith.”
14. He adds to this the following account, which I may properly insert: “Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the church which thou now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus. They neither observed it themselves, nor did they permit those after them to do so. And yet though not observing it, they were none the less at peace with those who came to them from the parishes in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it.
15. But none were ever cast out on account of this form; but the presbyters before thee who did not observe it, sent the eucharist to those of other parishes who observed it.
16. And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.
17. But though matters were in this shape, they communed together, and Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.”
18. Thus Irenaeus, who truly was well named, became a peacemaker in this matter, exhorting and negotiating in this way in behalf of the peace of the churches. And he conferred by letter about this mooted question, not only with Victor, but also with most of the other rulers of the churches. (EH 5.24)
I have been reading David Parker’s rather interesting volume An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts and in the introduction to the book he makes the following statement which I found quite amusing given the recent hubbub about a supposed 1st century fragment of Mark.
At this point I would like to avow my intention to make no further reference to a number of documents or theories which, although they are sometimes used in text-critical arguments, I do not accept as reasonable. They are: first, the Secret Gospel of Mark, which I have never believed to have been genuine; second, the Gospel of Barnabas as anything other than a late medieval text dependent on other medieval texts of interest to students of Christian-Islamic dialogue; third, the claim that there are New Testament manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls; fourth, all extravagant claims that any New Testament manuscripts known to us were written in the first century [emphasis mine]. (pg 8)
I think that unless Wallace produces some strong evidence to the contrary it will remain appropriate to relegate such claims to the same status as the three obviously baseless theories mentioned above.
1. Abortion is immoral
2. Birth control reduces abortions
3. Government mandates that increase the cost of insurance are equivalent to wealth redistribution
4. Wealth redistribution is immoral
5. The government mandate reduces abortion and redistributes wealth
Opposition to government mandate indicates wealth redistribution is more immoral than abortion, therefore money is of higher value than human life.
A while back I was reading Peter Lampe’s fantastic book From Paul to Valentinus, when I came across a rather curious claim about the Shepherd of Hermas. Before I say more, let me first reproduce the text of one of the passages in question. The following is Lake’s translation of the first two verses of Vision 1:
1:1 He who brought me up sold me to a certain Rhoda at Rome. After many years I made her acquaintance again, and began to love her as a sister.
2 After some time I saw her bathing in the river Tiber, and gave her my hand and helped her out of the river. When I saw her beauty I reflected in my heart and said: “I should be happy if I had a wife of such beauty and character.” This was my only thought, and no other, no, not one. (Herm. 1:1-2)
While the oddity of the introduction is plain to all (the visions literally open with Hermas ogling a naked woman while insisting he was not thinking untoward thoughts), the supposed source for the image is anything but obvious. Lampe proposes that this juicy bit of plotting is ripped straight from the pages of pagan erotica. According to Lampe (pages 218-219 for the curious), the protagonist’s chance encounter with the bathing damsel is a staple trope for the Attic equivalent of a lad mag. Imagine some cheesy 70s music and read verse 2 again. Seems plausible to me. Perhaps you are not convinced, but I have saved the best example for last.
5 But I took him by his wallet, and began to adjure him by the Lord to explain to me what he had shown me. He said to me: “I am busy for a little and then I will explain everything to you. Wait for me here till I come.”
6 I said to him: “Sir, what shall I do here alone?” “You are not alone,” he said, “for these maidens are here with you.” “Give me then,” said I, “into their charge.” The shepherd called them and said to them: “I entrust him to you till I come,” and he went away.
7 And I was alone with the maidens, and they were merry and gracious towards me, especially the four more glorious of them.
88:1 The maidens said to me: “To-day the shepherd is not coming here.” “What then,” said I, “shall I do?” ” Wait for him,” said they, “until the evening, and if he come he will speak with you; and if he come not you shall remain here with us until he come.”
2 I said to them: “I will wait for him till evening, but if he come not I will go away home and return in the morning.” But they answered and said to me: “You were given to our charge; you cannot go away from us.”
3 “Where shall I stay then?” said I. “You shall sleep with us,” said they, “as a brother and not as a husband, for you are our brother and for the future we are going to live with you, for we love you greatly.” But I was ashamed to stay with them.
4 And she who seemed to be the first of them began to kiss and embrace me, and the others seeing her embracing me began to kiss me themselves, and to lead me round the tower, and to play with me.
5 I, too, had, as it were, become young again, and began to play with them myself, for some were dancing, others were gavotting, others were singing, and I walked in silence with them round the tower, and was merry with them.
6 But when evening came I wished to go home but they did not let me go, but kept me, and I stayed the night with them and slept by the tower.
7 For the maidens spread their linen tunics on the ground, and they made me lie down in the midst of them, and they did nothing else but pray, and I also prayed withthem unceasingly and not less than they, and the maidens rejoiced when I was praying thus, and I stayed there until the morrow until the second hour with the maidens. (Herm. 87:4-88:7)
Again this is Lake’s translation. It should be noted that here maidens means virgins. So, Hermas spends the night with a bunch of virgin ladies who make out with him all night. They all get naked and won’t let him leave, but it’s ok because they spend the whole night praying together. Apparently the gaggle of game virgins is another plot device borrowed from the sultry pages of pagan erotica. If Lampe is right, there are at least two examples of this shocking appropriation of literary smut. I very much doubt that we are viewing something like intentional literary dependence. It seems much more likely that Hermas fell victim in his composition to those floating bits of narrative that seem to imbue cultures. Perhaps, however, the most shocking thing about the Shepherd of Hermas is not its questionable source material, but rather that such an extraordinarily long text filled with bizarre images and containing such obviously adoptionist Christology was read and used by Christians for hundreds of years and almost made it into the canon.