Trajectories through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers

By Andrew F. Gregory; Christopher M. Tuckett | Go to book overview

2
Gospels and Gospel Traditions in the Second
Century

Helmut Koester


THE SITUATION A HUNDRED YEARS AGO AND
THEREAFTER

At the time of the publication of The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers,1 the four canonical gospels ruled supreme as the almost exclusive source for the knowledge of Jesus’ words and deeds. In some respect, interest in the study of the gospel quotations in the Apostolic Fathers was dictated by the quest for the dating of these gospels: if the dates of the writing of the Apostolic Fathers could be ascertained, their gospel quotations could be used as terminus ante quem for the writing of the New Testament gospels.

There was, to be sure, a good deal of knowledge about other, so-called apocryphal gospels. But full texts of such gospels that could possibly be dated before the end of the second century were rare. One could mention here the Protevangelium Jacobi and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The knowledge of other early apocryphal gospels, such as the Jewish-Christian gospels, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of the Egyptians, and some other Gnostic gospels, was derived mostly from occasional quotations of the Church Fathers (especially Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus, Eusebius, Jerome, and Epiphanius). And there was, of course, the elusive search for the Gospel of the Hebrews, believed to have been the Hebrew original of the Gospel of Matthew. Only on rare occasions did any of these gospels yield information that could be useful for answering the question of the use of gospels in the Apostolic Fathers. The period of the discovery of new gospel materials had just begun in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The first fragments with sayings of Jesus from Oxyrhynchus (P Oxy. 1, 654, 655) had been published in 1897 and 1904 and had generated considerable interest,

1 A Committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology, The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905).

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