Thirteen Reasons Why You Should Read The Apostolic Fathers

As we come to the conclusion of our brief examination of the Apostolic Fathers, I would like to briefly discuss thirteen reasons why you should read the Apostolic Fathers.  Some of these are likely to be recapitulations of previous comments, but all the same, if you have read this far, you likely have at least some curiosity regarding the Apostolic Fathers as a collection, so without any further ado, here are some reasons why you should read the Apostolic Fathers.  You may, of course, come up with other reasons for yourself:

13.  You want to find out what happened between the first-century church and the state of Christianity at Nicaea.

The period between the Apostles and the third and fourth centuries is widely considered to be a time when Christianity developed in a bit of a dark cloud of uncertainty.  The Apostolic Fathers are some of the only sources we have from “mainstream” Christianity that demonstrates how a Jewish sect gradually became less and less Jewish, something that remains of interest to religious scholars of various kinds.  While the Apostolic Fathers will not give you the whole picture, they will reveal a lot about the pressures that were going on that helped to sour many professed Christians, many of whom were deeply ignorant about the Bible and the Jewish context of early Christianity, on the law and the Sabbath and other aspects of early Christian practice.

12.  You want to see the origins of Christian Anti-Semitism.

Similar to the last reasons, the Apostolic Fathers provide a great deal of insight into the complicated relationship between Christianity and Judaism.  I have written at some length and some detail about this problem earlier [1], but if you want to see the way that Christians catered to elite Greek philosophical prejudice, the Apostolic Fathers–many of them at least–provide some very illuminating reading.

11.  You listened to Bart Ehrman’s writings and want to see the text for yourself.

While I had long been interested in the Apostolic Fathers myself as a collection of writings, it was listening to Ehrman’s great courses series that made me want to read the texts for myself and not take his opinion on it.  Any time someone like Ehrman shows an interest in pawning off a distorted view of something relating to early Christianity, my curiosity in knowing the truth about it is definitely engaged.  Perhaps the same is true for you as well.

10.  You were intrigued by the fact that it had apostles in the term and you think it might have something to do with the Bible.

This is probably a pretty common reason to have at least some interest in the Apostolic Fathers.  Admittedly, the name Apostolic Fathers is a bit misleading because many of the writers did not know the Apostles nor were their beliefs the same as the Apostles (and this includes leaders like Ignatius as well as more independent writers like Barnabas).  Even so, although a couple of the writers belong to the early apologists collection as well and only Clement, Papias, and perhaps Polycarp and Quadratus are likely to have had positive relationships with any of the Apostles, that is what this collection of writings is known as.

9.  You have read some ancient gnostic writings and want to see the proto-Orthodox alternative.

Again, if you have this reason to study the Apostolic Fathers as a body of texts, Bart Ehrman is probably at least somewhat to credit for this as well, as he is among the most enthusiastic supporters of contemporary Gnostic Christianity.  And when you are through with hearing about the bogus and fraudulent writings of that sort, it is natural to wonder what sort of mainstream alternative there is to such writings, in which case the Apostolic Fathers are a generally sober-minded alternative.

8.  You have an interest in the early genres of Christian writing.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Apostolic Fathers as a body of literature is how they continue the genres of the New Testament (like the letter) and how characteristically Christian approaches to allegories, apologetic efforts, homiletics, and martyrologies are developed during this period, all of which can be found among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.

7.  Your pastor name-dropped Polycarp or Clement and you want to see what the fuss was about.

There are some pastors around who enjoy reading somewhat obscure material, so if you have a minister who likes talking about early post-biblical history, it is possible that he commented on the writings of some of the Apostolic Fathers, in which case you are wise to be interested as well.

6.  You read one of the books of the Apostolic Fathers and you want to see what the rest are about.

Some of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are reasonably popular in short editions, so it is possible that you have read part of the Apostolic Fathers and wanted to expand your knowledge about the rest of the writings as a whole.  It would be unlikely that you first encountered the fragments of Quadratus or Papias, but it is possible you read the letters of Ignatius, 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, or the Didache and want to figure out if the rest of the collection is worth your time, which is likely if you have already read some of the texts with a degree of appreciation.

5.  You’re writing about early Christianity and want to know some good sources for your research.

If you want primary sources on early Christianity, it is hard to imagine better nonbiblical sources than the Apostolic Fathers.  Even if some of them are quite flawed, at least in my judgement, they still remain worthwhile to read in order to understand what was going on even if one disagrees with their perspective.

4.  You’re curious about the Hellenization of Christianity and how it happened.

I happen to know at least a few writers aside from myself who are interested in the Hellenization of Christianity, and those who either wish to understand that process or seek to recover apostolic Christianity would definitely be well-served by becoming familiar with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers for polemical purposes if nothing else.

3.  You are engaging in this research as part of a larger overall study of the Church Fathers as a whole.

If you have an interest in patristics as a field of study, and you are familiar with St. Augustine or Origen or the writers of the Philokalia, it is likely that you would find something to get out of the Apostolic Fathers as a body of writing, not least because some of the approaches of later writers spring from earlier ones as regards questions of culture and authority.

2.  You’re interested in researching the citation of the New Testament or apocryphal literature in early Christianity.

If you want to understand how early the writings of the New Testament were widely known, the Apostolic Fathers are definitely a help in this.  In particular, 1 and 2 Clement and the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians contain a wealth of scriptural citations from the Gospels and epistles of Paul that are well worth understanding, and the fragments of Papias deal with the Gospels and Revelation, all of which should be of interest to you if you are curious about the citation of the New Testament in early Christianity.

1.  You are at least mildly surprised there are thirteen reasons why you should read an obscure ancient collection of books.

What can I say?  If you are surprised there are that many reasons to read an obscure collection of old writings, then perhaps you need to check them out for yourself to see what the hype is about.

[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, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Thirteen Reasons Why You Should Read The Apostolic Fathers

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

  2. Pingback: Audiobook Review: A Curious Mind | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Religious Studies | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: The Character Of The Church | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s