“The Shepherd of Hermas,” in The Apostolic Fathers, 2:2-305. Translated by Kirsopp Lake. Cambridge, MA: The Loeb Classical Library, 1977. Cloth.
If you hate free grace, forgiveness, and divine compassion, you’ll love “The Shepherd of Hermas,” here printed in Greek and English on facing pages. A more legalistic, works-oriented allegory would be hard to come by. The author, however, thought that his theology was gracious, since he allowed repentance for one (major) sin after water baptism, and some legalists allowed for none! The first “Christian” emperor, Constantine, believing the dogma that baptism washes away all pre-baptismal sins, held off that “sacrament” till just before his death.
The “Shepherd” is replete with allegorical maidens, stones for a tower, variegated mountains, and angels. The writing does not hold up well from a biblical, literary, or grace viewpoint. On a scale of 1-10 promoting works salvationism, this one merits a 10+.
Just a few quotations to illustrate (italics added):
“And for your former transgression there shall be remission if you keep my commandments, and all men shall obtain a remission, if they keep these commandments of mine and walk in this purity” (p. 87).
“‘And explain to me, sir,’ said I, ‘the power of the things which are good, that I may walk in them and serve them, that by doing them I may be saved.’ ‘Listen, then,’ said he, ‘to the deeds of goodness, which you must do and not refrain from them’” (p. 105).
“But now I say to you, if you do not keep them, but neglect them you shall not have salvation, nor your children, nor your house, because you have already judged for yourself that these commandments cannot be kept by man” (p. 131).
“. . . but do your own work and you shall be saved” (p. 143).
“‘Every act which a man does with pleasure,’ said he, ‘is luxury, for even the ill-tempered man, by giving satisfaction to his own temper, lives luxuriously’” (p. 183).
“For this reason, those who have no knowledge of God and do wickedly, are condemned to death, but those who have knowledge of God and have seen his great deeds, and do wickedly, shall be punished doubly, and shall die for ever. Thus therefore the Church of God shall be cleansed” (p. 267).
Why would this (or any non-legalistic) reviewer spend time on such a book? Chiefly for linguistic purposes because it’s written in the kind of Greek that the NT writers used, and so helps illustrate koin@ usage and vocabulary. Since I read in this only twice a month (in Greek, and with some understandable lapses), it took a long time. Is it worth it? Only if you’re a student of koin@ Greek or are looking for illustrations of the depths of legalism to which Christendom can sink when it abandons the true apostles, Peter, Paul, and John for “the apostolic fathers.”
By the way, the last chapters survive only in Latin, so you will have to read Lake’s somewhat archaic translation or drag out your old Latin books (if any).
Arthur L. Farstad
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society