The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1. Translated by Kirsopp Lake. Vol. 24 in The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1912. 409 pp. Cloth, $15.50.
When the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society was started in mid-1988, the book and periodical reviewers were faced with the question of how far back in time one could go in reviewing materials germane to our grace emphasis. Some of the seminal work on the Lordship Salvation issue was from the 1950’s, for example. Well, I’d like to go back eighteen or nineteen centuries to review some of the early “church fathers,” the so-called “Apostolic Fathers.” (Apostolic they are not, but “sub-apostolic”-in both senses of that word.)
This volume in the Loeb dual language (Greek/English or Latin/ English) classical series took the present reviewer a long time to read since I decided to read the Greek side and look over at the English only to save looking up the words I didn’t know. Also, it was interesting to see how Kirsopp Lake, a NT textual scholar from an earlier day, handled his texts. He used largely King-James-type English, complete with thee’s and thou’s.
The first volume contains 1 Clement, a letter from the Church of Rome to the Church at Corinth; II Clement, probably not by Clement nor yet an epistle; the Epistles of Ignatius; the Epistle of Polycarp; the Didache; and the Epistle of Barnabas.
All of these works are valuable for illustrating Koine Greek usage and vocabulary, as well as for their many quotations from the NT, thus aiding textual critics.
Sadly, most of these works also illustrate how quickly and how far second-century Christendom fell from the NT doctrines of grace. As my former seminary Greek professor, Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, used to say, “They ought not to be called ‘the church fathers,’ but ‘the church children”!
Devout and dedicated these men generally were, but each seemed to have his own legalistic note to harp on. In Rome’s re-write of history to accomodate later papal power, she made Clement the fourth bishop of Rome (= pope to them). Just to read the letter with its multiple-leadership background refutes this. But in Ignatius we can see hierarchical church government growing fast apace, at least in Asia. Submission to the one “monarchal” bishop as to Christ seems to be Ignatius’s hobbyhorse in all his letters. One can’t help admire his heroism, however, as he “courted” martyrdom on his way to Rome.
One work in this volume, The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, has special interest to me because it was in comparing a dual language edition of this work in a book by Harry Rimmer (Crying Stones) that I became interested in learning Greek when I was still in high school. The Didache gives interesting insights into early Christian church life, including how to treat itinerant prophets. Some scholars believe that at least the first part of The Didache, “The Two Ways,” is a Christianized Jewishmanual. It certainly doesn’t read like the NT emphasis.
I strongly recommend the dual language approach for reading the classics. This first volume of The Apostolic Fathers should be in every serious NT student’s library.
Arthur L. Farstad
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society