The early Christians – not lion fodder

A new book arrived from Amazon today;

The Apostolic Fathers, edited by Michael Holmes . 801pp

I bought as I needed a copy for a course I am revising for the London School of Theology on the culture and belief of Christians up to 500 AD. That makes this blog so different from anything g else I have posted!

The Apostolic fathers are the immediate successors to the Apostles and date mostly in the early 2nd century. I first bought a copy (the Penguin Classics edition) in 1968 and thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt from it and in those days almost read it alongside the New Testament in my tent in  the middle of the Ugandan forest 🙂 They probably kept me from Fundamentalism as they put the New Testament writings into context.

The edition I got today is Michael Holmes’ revision of Bishop Lightfoot’s posthumous edition of 1891. (J B Lightfoot was one of the greatest Anglican scholars and his commentaries of a few of Paul’s letters are some of the best ever written. ) It has the Greek on one page and English on the other, and thus useful for one who’s Greek is pidgin Greek.

It contains 12 letters by Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and Diogenetus. There is The Martyrdom of Polycarp and The Shepherd of Hermas. my favourite is The Didache. or teaching, which may have been written in AD50 , but was only found in 1873. I have often why it was not included in the New Testament.

I look forward to reading and using it.

Just a few thoughts;

First, the Epistle of Barnabas, which is not by the Paul’s assistant but was written in the early 2nd century and is somewhat anti-Jewish, reflecting the fact that Christians were thrown out of synagogues in  about AD90, making the Jewish sect into a separate religion. As I often write on Creation his 15th section/chapter is of interest as he not only takes the six days of Genesis literally but allow claims that the earth will last 6000 years, as “a day signifies a thousand years”. Ussher et al took this up and hence here argued for 4000 years i.e. 4 days before Christ and 2000 years after Christ and chucked in the 4 to get 4004BC as Herod the Great died then. Thank God Barnabas was not included in the New Testament Canon!!

Secondly, it is fascinating how the Bible is used. Almost all the New Testament (except Philemon and 3 John) are cited or alluded to. The Apostolic Fathers are selective on the Old Testament  with no references to Judges (the Taliban/ISIS period of the Bible), Ruth, I Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and several minor prophets. Most cited are Psalms, Isaiah, Genesis and Exodus in that order. This shows that all parts of the Old Testament were not equally important to them, in marked contrast to fundamentalists who regard every part as equally valuable.So the Apostolic fathers , like the New Testament writers demonstrate that the crude biblical literalism of fundamentalists, who give equal weight to every part of the New Testament go against both the Apostles and the Apostolic fathers ( and every Christian until about 1600). This was because their faith was based on the person of Jesus Christ and the claims (are they true or false?) that he was God and Man , died on the cross for forgiveness and, most important of all, rose from the dead.

There are many implications here, which I shall not develop for now, but it does skewer the Bible, and the bible alone type of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism

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One thought on “The early Christians – not lion fodder

  1. Paul Braterman

    If I can play devil’s advocate, the fact that certain books are never referred to may simply be on grounds of relevance, rather than inferior respect, And if there was an ISIS phase, I would say it was Joshua; Judges was tribal anarchy, and I strongly suspect written by monarchists to highlight that anarchy.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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