Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey

By David T. Runia | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
The Apostolic Fathers

The collection of early Christian writings conventionally known as the Apostolic fathers, the core of which is formed by the pastoral letters of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, does not represent a homogenous body of writings, but rather a group of works written between 90 and 160, i.e. in the period between the New Testament writings (but not their formation into the Canon) and those of the Apologists.1 There is overlap with both groups, for the Didache is at least as old as the later New Testament writings, while Quadratus and the Letter to Diognetus would be better placed with the Apologists. It is a period during which Christianity spreads rapidly in the geographical sense and is developing its claim to being a universal religion separate from Judaism, but the focus of its activities is mainly inwards. Situated on the edge of Greco-Roman society, the Church is not yet ready for the confrontation with the dominant culture which the Apologists will undertake.2

The relation of these writings to Philo and Hellenistic Judaism is in the main not very close, and little research has been devoted to the question.3 We shall confine our conspectus to brief observations on three writers.4


1. Clement of Rome

In the Pastoral letter that Clement, bishop of Rome from 92 to 101, writes to the congregation of Corinth, admonishing them for their spirit of contention and exhorting them to seek harmony and concord, two passages have been brought in connection with Philo. Van Unnik, explaining with great mastery of detail the background of the term

in 1 Cor. 2.2, points out a number of parallel passages in Philo, which show that the

1 Various editions. I have used Funk-Bihlmeyer-Schneemelcher (1956).

2 See sound observations on the corpus (for readers of Dutch) in Klijn (1966–67) 8–13.

3 There are, for example, practically no references to Philo in the classic 5 volumes of commentary by Lightfoot, (1889–90).

4 See also chapter 7 on Alexandria, where we examine the Letter to Diognetus and some writings generally grouped under the title New Testament Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha (to which the Letter of Barnabas should actually belong).

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