EARLY CHRISTIANITY: The Apostolic Fathers

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APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

The books of the New Testament were all written before the end of the 1st century a.d. But after John finished writing the book of Revelation around A.D. 95, the writing of Christian literature did not cease. Between A.D. 95 and about 150, a number of works were written by men who had known the apostles and the apostolic doctrine; they are known as the Apostolic Fathers. Among them is Clement of Rome, who was bishop of Rome, a.d. 91–100. He wrote a letter to the church at Corinth at about the same time John was on Patmos. This is the earliest surviving Christian document outside the New Testament. Other writings from the Apostolic Fathers include:

  • Clement of Rome, is listed by Irenaeus and Tertullian as the overseer of Rome, holding office from 88 AD to his death in 99 AD. He is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church, one of the three chief ones, together with Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch.
  • Papias of Hierapolis was a Greek Apostolic Father, Bishop of Hierapolis, and author who lived c. 60 – c. 130 AD. He wrote the Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord in five books.
  • Epistles of Ignatius, overseer of Antioch and pupil of the apostle John, written around A.D. 110.
  • Epistle of Polycarp, pupil of the apostle John, who was the overseer of Smyrna, written to the Philippians around A.D. 110.
  • Epistle of Barnabas, written between A.D. 90 and 120 and addressed to all Christians. It was highly regarded in the early church, since it was found at the end of the New Testament in the Codex Sinaiticus (see The Codex Sinaiticus).
  • The Didache (or Teaching [of the Twelve]), written probably around A.D. 100 as a catechetical manual to teach the essentials of the faith. It resembles the letter of James and quotes extensively from the New Testament.
  • The Shepherd of Hermas is an allegory, written about A.D. 150, that is full of symbolism and visions. It is modeled after the book of Revelation and could be called the Pilgrim’s Progress of the early church. It was also included in the Codex Sinaiticus, at the end of the New Testament.

Writings of the Early Church Fathers

These and the other writings of the Apostolic Fathers are not to be confused with the many apocryphal books that began appearing in the 2nd century and consist mostly of spurious Gospels (such as the Gospel of Nicodemus and the Gospel of Peter), Acts (such as the Acts of John and the Acts of Andrew), and letters (such as the Letters of Paul to Seneca and the Letter of Peter to James). All these are later fabrications and range from the well-intentioned to the patently absurd.

SOURCES

Henry Hampton Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook with the New International Version., Completely rev. and expanded. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000).

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