I’ve long wanted to read some of the “other” (non-Scripture) letters from the late first and second centuries. Therefore I was pleased to stumble upon The Apostolic Fathers, forward by Mark Galli, Moody Classics.
It contains: 1 and 2 Clement, The Letters of Ignatius, The Letter of Polycarp, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, The Didache, and the Pastor of Hermas.
Mark Galli gives a helpful introduction to these letters for the modern reader.
I enjoyed reading each one, except for the Pastor of Hermas. The Pastor of Hermas was like an allegory or “teaching fiction”, and I found it strange/bizarre, terribly monotonous, and moralistic. I began reading it, and ended up skim reading to the end because I just could not take it! Don’t bother with it is my advice.
However, the other letters I appreciated and found worthwhile! It gives you a glimpse into the early church. What stood out to me was this: While the canon of Scripture was still long from being formalized, these writers clearly had a sense that certain earlier writings were special and set apart. For example, in 2 Clement we find the earliest historical reference to one of the Gospels being called “Scripture.” Clement was also familiar with Paul’s Corinthian writings.
In fact, in these various letters, there are many references or quotations from New Testament epistles. In one of the Letters of Polycarp (to the Philippians), he refers to the:
“blessed and glorious Paul, who, when he was present among you face to face with the generation of his time, taught you accurately and firmly the word of truth. Also when absent he wrote you letters that will enable you, if you study them carefully, to grow in the faith delivered to you.”
Did you catch that? Polycarp himself is writing a letter to the Philippians to encourage them spiritually, but ultimately he tells them to study Paul’s letters.
In the Letter of Ignatius (to the Romans) he states “I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles.” (Hmmm… interesting to note that Peter is mentioned first in this letter to the Romans.)
But I hope you see what I mean, that although the canon was not formalized yet, these early Christians had an understanding that certain earlier writings connected to the apostles were special…different from what they were writing. It gave me confidence in our canon.
As someone who is very pro-life, I was fascinated that the Didache outrightly says, “Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.”
Except for the Pastor of Hermas, this book was a worthwhile read and I could see myself reading these early Christian documents again in the future.