Book Review: Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers

Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers, translated by Maxwell Staniforth

It must be admitted that this is not a complete volume of the writings that are considered part of the Apostolic Fathers [1].  Even so, so long as the reader goes into this book knowing what materials are included it is certainly a thought-provoking read.  The Apostolic Fathers are a group of people (some of them anonymous) who were thought to have been followers of the Apostles and thus faithful recorders of the traditions of the Apostles in an age of Christianity that is largely obscure.  From the writings included in this series it is pretty clear that this was likely not the case.  Of particular interest to readers of this book is the way that it is clear that there were tendencies already present in the late first and early second century AD that would also lead to the growing apostasy that one finds when looking at Post-Nicene Hellenistic Christianity.  The roots of that problem were manifest pretty early on in some of the writings that we have, and examining that problem is a worthwhile one for those who seek to follow or understand biblical Christianity.  Even if the Apostolic Fathers are a bit of a misnomer, they are still worth paying attention to for understanding the past as best as we can.

At about 200 pages, this book includes at least most of the material that would be considered among the Apostolic Fathers, though by no means all of it.  After a general introduction and bibliography and note on the text, the translation includes the following materials:  The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (but not the message known as 2 Clement today), the seven legitimate epistles of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp, the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp, as well as the Epistle to Diogetus, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache.  Not included are the fragments of Papias that survive, the Sherpherd of Hermas (a lengthy writing), or the fragments of Quadratus that survive.  While the book could certainly have been more complete, by including in an easy-to-read format the most important works that survive from the late first and early second century AD from what would become Orthodox/Catholic Christiantiy the translator has done a good service to readers, even if they are likely to be left with a great deal of questions.

Although there are a great many people who for one reason or another have sought to use the Apostolic Fathers and interest in them to burnish their own reputations or further their own agendas, these works defy easy categorization and present more questions than they provide answers.  As a reader who comes from a different religious tradition than most people, I am fascinated by the problems that the writings demonstrate between early Christians and Jews and the distinctly non-biblical approach that many writers (including Ignatius and Barnabas in particular) took towards the whole Bible in response to their disagreements with Jews, similar to the responses taken by contemporary Hellenistic believers when faced with the ethical demands of the Bible when it comes to Sabbath, for example.  It appears that as the problems of centralized authority and doctrinal drift were early problems faced in the first couple of centuries of Christianity that understanding these problems is important for seeing how it is that Christianity came to be so far from Christ Himself.  Other readers may have other concerns, though, and this book provides plenty of room for reader to investigate their own questions about a wide variety of issues dealt with by the early Church of God.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/17/an-introduction-to-the-apostolic-fathers-part-one-identity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/11/audiobook-review-great-courses-after-the-new-testament-the-writings-of-the-apostolic-fathers-part-2/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/11/audiobook-review-great-courses-after-the-new-testament-the-writings-of-the-apostolic-fathers-part-1/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/03/07/an-introduction-to-the-apostolic-fathers-series/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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13 Responses to Book Review: Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers

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