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The Value of the Apostolic Fathers for Biblical Studies

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Selections from Anchor Bible Dictionary, "Apostolic Fathers" Open Libronix DLS to this article!

On The Various Forms of the Texts

"As regards form, most of the AF in the modern collections are letters. But whereas 1 Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp are true letters, Barnabas (a theological tract), the Martyrdom of Polycarp (a martyrology), and Diognetus (an apology) are letters only in an external sense. The other writings of the AF represent a homily (2 Clement), a church order (Didache), and a kind of apocalypse (Hermas). Papias’ discussion of the words and deeds of Jesus is known to us only in a series of fragments, and we have but one tiny quotation from the apologist Quadratus."

On Canonicity and the Apostolic Fathers

"For the presumed association of their authors with the apostles gave them credentials as strong as some of the writings ultimately accepted into the NT. The most important points are these (though some are matters of dispute): Irenaeus came close to treating 1 Clement and Hermas as scripture (but seems not actually to have done so). Tertullian dealt with Hermas as scripture in his pre-Montanist period. Clement of Alexandria regarded 1 Clement, Hermas, Barnabas, and the Didache as inspired writings. Origen dealt with Hermas, Barnabas, and the Didache similarly, but at the same time seems not to have regarded them as canonical. Eusebius, as we have seen, is less receptive to these three books and regards them as spurious. Finally, Athanasius (in his famous festal letter on the topic) clearly sets the Didache and Hermas outside of the canon, but does so in such a way as still to reflect the high evaluation of these writings in the Alexandrian tradition. It should also be noted that Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) included Barnabas and Hermas; that Codex Alexandrinus (5th century) contained 1 Clement and 2 Clement; and that a catalog found in Codex Claromantanus (6th century) lists among the books of the NT (in addition to two other unusual works) Barnabas and Hermas (though all four items are set off by a dash)."

On the Apostolic Fathers and New Testament Scholarship

"Of particular importance here for NT scholarship have been the efforts to read the AF for the light they can shed on the reception of the various books of the NT. The report of the committee of the Oxford Society on this problem (1905) is still fundamental. But commentaries on the biblical books and studies of the individual writings of the AF have introduced many refinements. Nothing like an adequate summary of these discussions is possible here (for a survey of the findings, see Kümmel 1966: 337–40). It may be noted, however, that especially interesting investigations have been undertaken regarding the use of the Synoptic Gospels and of synoptic tradition in the AF. The debate is dominated by two books: Massaux (1950) and Koester (1957)."

"...It should be noted in conclusion that the basic tools for the study of the NT—Bauer’s lexicon, Kittel’s theological wordbook, and the grammar of Blass and Debrunner—give significant attention also to the AF."

Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1:316). New York: Doubleday.

Selection from Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, "Apostolic Fathers" Open Libronix DLS to this article!

"These documents are invaluable for the view they give us of the church just after the NT period...The apostolic fathers provide a bridge between the NT and the later fathers of the church. We see in them a diversity of viewpoint but at the same time evidence of a common and uniting faith. Without question there is theological development on some issues from the NT writings with the result that we find both continuity and at times a degree of discontinuity with the views of the NT writers. The apostolic fathers neither simply repeat the theology of the NT, nor do they depart radically from it by creating a new theology. Rather than being creators they are supreme adapters of the theology they received. These writings, in short, throw light upon the church of the late first century to the middle of the second, a church faced with a variety of difficult problems. These they address by means of the frequent quotation of OT Scripture, the sayings of Jesus and the tradition of the apostles. Using these materials and others, they consolidate the faith and practice of the church in an era of increasing challenges. In so doing they remain remarkably faithful to what they had received."

Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

See also:

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, "Apostolic Fathers", Open Libronix DLS to this article!

This article begins with a discussion of which writings should be included and which should be excluded from the designation "Apostolic Fathers" before proceeding to a review of the authorship, date, textual evidence, contents, and historical significance of each text.