Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament

Article excerpt

The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament. By Clayton N. Jefford. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006, xii + 267 pp., $19.95 paper.

Jefford's work bears a title quite similar to that of the two-volume The New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, published by Oxford University Press in 2005 to commemorate the centennial of the appearance of The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905). However, that is where the similarities end. Unlike this mammoth 2005 Oxford study, in which Jefford himself participated, the goals for his little work at first seem quite modest: "[T]his volume is not designed to be a methodical, text-critical comparison of NT texts with parallels from the apostolic fathers, focusing upon the variations in manuscripts and sources" (p. 3). This very subject had been the sole concern of Volume 1 of the 2005 Oxford study as well as that of the 1905 Oxford study. Jefford wisely did not choose to reduplicate these efforts. Nor did he choose to separate the various Fathers in his investigation of various topics and themes, as was done in Volume 2 of the 2005 Oxford study. Rather he has focused on them collectively, and it is in this collective focus that Jefford's work stands out as truly unique.

Jefford, a Roman Catholic scholar who teaches in the School of Theology at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana, has authored or co-authored four other books on the Apostolic Fathers, the most recent being The Apostolic Fathers: An Essential Guide (Abingdon Essential Guides; Nashville: Abingdon, 2005). Since his 1988 dissertation at Claremont Graduate School on the Didache, Jefford has been a recognized authority on the Apostolic Fathers, which explains why he was among the twenty-eight scholars selected for the two-volume 2005 Oxford study mentioned above.

Like a good Roman Catholic, Jefford begins his study with a confession. Chapter 1, entitled "Finding a Time and Place for the Texts," is Jefford's admission to his "own starting points and assumptions" in this study (p. 4). After providing an excellent survey of the various dates and provenances proposed by scholars for each Apostolic Father, Jefford lays out before his readers his own set of presuppositions and conclusions about these matters. He includes in his study all those works traditionally referred to as the "Apostolic Fathers": 1 Clement, 2 Clement, the Didache, Barnabas, the seven genuine letters of Ignatius, Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, the Shepherd ofHermas, the Martyrdom ofPolycarp, the Epistle to Diognetus, and the so-called Fragments of Papias. "It is my hope," he writes, "that the present volume will serve as a worthy example of how the apostolic fathers may serve to underpin our further investigations into early Christian Scripture" (p. 5).

After this introductory essay, six more chapters follow, each focusing on a particular topic or theme. Chapter 2, "The Authority of Texts and Traditions," investigates "genres of tradition" such as letters, sermons/homilies, martyrologies, apocalypses, sayings, parables, miracles stories, creeds, hymns, and prayers that are shared between the writings of the NT and those of the Apostolic Fathers. In chapter 3, Jefford turns to the "Codes of Conduct and Christian Thinking" that are mutually shared by these writings in their use of virtue and vice lists, household codes, and two-way metaphors, and in their concepts of discipleship and righteousness.

In chapter 4, "Imagery of the New Testament Faith," Jefford investigates the degree of dependence that each Apostolic Father had on the various writings that make up the NT. As one might expect, it is here that Jefford is the most tentative and cautious in his conclusions. Even then, certain scholars will still want to disagree with some of his findings. In summary, Jefford's verdict for the Shepherd of Hernias serves well for the other Apostolic Fathers, since in most instances they "do not betray certain knowledge of any single biblical source" (p. …

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