Book Review: The New Testament In The Apostolic Fathers

The New Testament In The Apostolic Fathers, by a Committee Of The Oxford Society Of Historical Theology

By and large, I found this to be an immensely fascinating book.  As I have been pondering the relationship between the Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament [1], and given as well that the Apostolic Fathers are a rather obscure set of works, it is perhaps inevitable that I would eventually seek some texts outside of my normal haunts.  And so it happens that while I was looking on for books about the Apostolic Fathers in the public domain I came across this excellent volume from the late 19th century.  To be sure, the people involved in the making of this book certainly have an agenda.  For one, they tend not to find many books that are considered “late” in many of the texts of the apostolic fathers that are considered early.  Indeed, in my own research I found some references that were not included in the book that relate to the writings of John towards the end of the first century.  Be that as it may, this volume is certainly a worthwhile one for those who wish to see in the Apostolic Fathers a witness of sorts to the writings of the New Testament.

This book is a straightforward but immensely technical volume of a bit less than 200 pages that begins with a preface that states the purpose for this book’s existence in a desire to show the familiarity of the early Christian writers with the writings of the Apostles found in the New Testament.  To this end, the authors divided up the writings of the Apostolic Fathers among themselves and looked at passages from both the relevant Apostolic Father as well as with quotations and allusions from the New Testament as well as the Old Testament and various apocryphal literature, with some commentary attached to it.  The authors look in depth at the writings of Barnabas, the Didache, 1 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hermas, and 2 Clement and then tabulate the passages from the NT and Apostolic Fathers in an Appendix to show summary.  Throughout the tone is fairly critical and the various possible connections between the NT and the Apostolic Fathers are given a scale between A (highest degree of certainty) and D (least degree of certainty) with a few questionable cases that the authors discuss that do not meet even the D level of likelihood.

All in all, this is an entertaining book, if one can understand it.  Much of the book consists of parallel citations between the Apostolic Fathers and the NT in the koine Greek and one probably has be an NT scholar with at least enough skill at the Greek to be able to master an interlinear Bible to be able to get a lot out of this text.  The more literacy one has in koine Greek and NT Greek in particular, the more one will be able to get out of this work.  While it is clear that the authors had at least some agenda in painting certain NT books as being better known by the end of the first century when the first of the Apostolic Fathers were becoming known themselves, the authors do demonstrate some of the obvious connections that a reader can make.  Polycarp shows a great familiarity with the Johnnine literature, Clement (of Rome) makes a great use of Romans and 1 Corinthians in his work, Barnabas twists everything that he alludes to, and some of the writers are citing scripture from memory and appear to be influenced in their reading of the Old Testament by the New Testament and lack a familiarity with the OT on its own terms, and sometimes even with large parts of the NT–Barnabas being a clear example of someone whose exegetical skills are particularly suspect.  Even if one disagrees with some of the thoughts of the authors, the work as a whole is well written and quite detailed in scope, and is likely to be important even for contemporary scholars who wish to understand the complex relationship between the early post-apostolic writings and the New Testament.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: The New Testament In The Apostolic Fathers

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers Series | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: A Modest Proposal For The Collection Of The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers | Edge Induced Cohesion

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