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Reviewed by:
  • The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament
  • Michael W. Holmes
The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament. By Clayton N. Jefford. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. 2006. Pp. xii, 267. $19.95 paperback.)

This interesting volume seeks to draw together into a dialogue two bodies of literature that are often treated in isolation, to the detriment of each. Essentially the author seeks to present both collections of early Christian writings in such a way that each illumines the study and understanding of the other. Chapter 1 has the nature of a prolegomenon; here the author "lays his cards on the table," as it were, with regard to his conclusions regarding the possible location and date of writing of each document found in the Apostolic Fathers (AF).This welcome bit of transparency enables the author to cover some foundational working assumptions without having to write a full "introduction" to each document (which he has done elsewhere: see his Reading the Apostolic Fathers [1996] and The Apostolic Fathers: An Essential Guide [2005]). [End Page 318]

Chapter 2 ("The Authority of Texts and Traditions") focuses on "basic forms" (letters, homilies, martyrologies, apocalypses) and "specific categories" (sayings, parables, miracle stories, creeds, hymns, and prayers) and "the possible links they form" between the two bodies of literature. Chapter 3 ("Codes of Conduct and Christian Thinking") targets two issues: the nature and function of ethics, and whether there is in the New Testament (NT) a pattern of ethics that is dismissed or continued among the AF. It also includes a discussion of the key themes of discipleship and righteousness.The primary focus of chapter 4 ("Imagery of the New Testament Faith") seems to be on the extent to which the individual writings of the AF did or did not make use of the documents that now compose the NT.

Chapters 5 and 6 deal with questions of identity. In the former ("The Question of Christians as Jews"), after a brief survey of attitudes toward Jews and Judaism in the NT, the author analyzes the AF into three categories: literature "close to Judaism" (Didache, 1 Clement), "Literature That Reflects the Pauline Argument" (Ignatius, Barnabas), and literature that "stands apart from Judaism,"either because it shows "no particular concern"for Judaism (Hermas, 2 Clement, Polycarp) or because it is "aggressively anti-Jewish" (Martyrdom of Polycarp, Epistle to Diognetus)—a category to which Barnabas and even Ignatius would seem to belong. In the latter ("The Question of Christians as Citizens"), a brief survey of attitudes and perspectives in NT writings provides a lens for sketching out the various views on this matter evident in each document or author in the AF; his conclusions suggest that the observable shift in attitudes toward citizenship occurred in tandem with a redefinition of the nature of the Church, especially with regard to its leadership.

Chapter 7 ("How Persons and Places Influence History") approaches major geographic centers of early Christianity in light of the documents in the NT and AF that may be associated with each locale: Alexandria (Barnabas, Diognetus), Syrian Antioch (Didache, Matthew, Ignatius), Ephesus (Revelation 2, Ephesians, Ignatius's Letter to the Ephesians, Johannine literature), Smyrna (Revelation 2, letters by Ignatius and Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp), Corinth (1-2 Corinthians, 1 Clement, 2 Clement), and Rome (Romans, Ignatius's Letter to the Romans,1 Peter, Gospel of Mark,Hebrews, Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement).

The effort to trace links, connections, parallels, and commonalities between the documents in the two corpora is largely successful.At the same time, two aspects of the volume impinge upon its success.One,evident in the title of the final chapter ("The Significance of the Apostolic Fathers for New Testament Study"), is that despite an intention to read each corpus in the light of the other, the outcome is nonetheless a reading of the AF in the light of the NT. The canonical still dominates the noncanonical.

The second is that the variety and distinctiveness of the various writings that comprise the AF—the unusual or unique elements that make them so [End Page 319] interesting—have largely been homogenized or smoothed over in the process of relating them to the NT.To give some examples: while...


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