Saturday, April 25, 2009
Many, if not most, writings in this category [Apostolic Fathers] were treated as Scripture alongside the Gospels and apostles' epistles by some Christian churches in the second century. In fact, one way of understanding this category is as the books that came to be judged orthodox but barely missed being judged canonical, inspired Scripture when the Christian canon was being determined. In other words, these writings were hardly distinguished from the writings of the apostles by some Christians in the Roman Empire but were ultimately excluded because they received no universal agreement as Scripture . . .
-- Roger E. Olsen, The Story of Christian Theology
I've been reading a translation of the Apostolic Fathers lately, and, despite their inclination toward moralism, they're very refreshing to read. In fact, if Christians used the Apostolic Fathers as a theological resource on certain issues, they could help shed light on the way many first-generation believers viewed certain cultural and doctrinal issues. For example ...
You shall not murder ... you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.
-- Didache 2:2
Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
-- Didache 7:1-3
The Lord submitted to suffer for our souls, even though he is Lord of the whole world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, "Let us make humankind according to our image and likeness," . . .
-- Barnabas 5:5
Those are only a few examples of certain theological and moral issues that the Apostolic Fathers have something to say about. To be sure, the Apostolic Fathers are not Scripture, but, as Olsen said, they are by-and-large considered orthodox. Sure, in many ways they truly didn't understand the Gospel of Grace, but they didn't have the luxury of the full revelation of Scripture that we now possess.
Furthermore, it's important to note that the Apostolic Fathers were the guys who, in many instances, knew the apostles. For example, Polycarp was a disciple of John. While they didn't have the full canon of Scripture to rely on, they did have a close association with the apostles. They were Christianity's first theologians.