Book Review (part 7: Apostolic Fathers of the Second Century CE) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

4797-church_fathers_kievan_11thcentury_LANDSCAPE.630w.tnIn my seventh review/recap of James Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor Greek I will summarize his second covering the second centuries sources available for historians to observe the trajectories of the development of the early Christian movement. I will be covering chapter 40.1 in this post.

Dunn begins with the Apostolic Fathers of the second century CE. He notes that the list of sources has actually grown since over the last 150 years with the discovery of such documents as the Didache in 1873. I will strive to summarize his comments on each of the works that he covers in this section.


1 Clement

-Predates some of the latest NT documents, having been written around 95-95 CE.

-Written from Rome to Corinth

-Addresses the need for the younger believers in Corinth to listen to and obey their leaders, further opening the window of history to the factional nature of the Corinthian congregation



-Bishop of Syria, thus allowing us to observe the form of Christianity in that region (particularly Antioch) during the reign of Trajan (98-117)

-We possess seven authentic letters of Ignatius, but five more were written in his name and circulated in the medieval period (demonstrating that pseudonymous writing was active even among the Church Fathers)

-His letters were collected by Polycarp and circulated as a collection in the second century

-Died as a martyr

-Regularly calls Jesus “our God” and “God in the flesh”

-Dunn wonders if Ignatius might be the most effective spokesman for a particular faction within developing Christianity



-Bishop of Smyrna

-Died as a martyr, whose account is filled with some legendary material involving the nature of his suffering and death

-Died in the year 155 CE when he was 86 year old

-According to Irenaeus, Polycarp provided a first-hand link back to the apostle John

-His epistle to the Philippians is likely to be dated in the 110s


The Martyrdom of Polycap

-Written by a follower/disciple of Polycarp

-Indicates how Polycarp refused to make a sacrifice to Caesar and swear by his name, leading to his execution

-Dated to probably a year after Polycap’s martyrdom (156 CE)


The Didache 

-Discovered in 1873

-The text itself may not be complete

-Shows dependence upon Matthew’s Gospel

-Appears to be a manual of church tradition and order, of sorts

-In its present form it was composed in either Egypt and Syria, with Dunn leaning towards Syria

-Dated to between 100-120


The Epistle of Barnabas

-An anonymous text, later attributed to Barnabas because Acts calls him a Levite (and the epistle shows interest in Levitical regulations)

-Probably to be dated right before the second Jewish revolt (130-131)

-Likely originated in Alexandria due to its close literary ties with Philo and the Letter to Aristeas


The Shepherd of Hermas

-A lengthy document, containing five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables

-Communicated to Hermas by an angel

-Dealing with the problem of postbaptismal sins, to which Hermas concludes that forgiveness was possible, but only once

-Based on the manuscript remains, this document was copied and read more widely in the second and third centuries than any other noncanonical book, even more than some of the actual NT documents themselves (!)

-Likely written over the course of some time (130-150 CE)


2 Clement

-A homily intended to be read in Christian worship settings

-Not really written by the Clement of 1 Clement

-Likely preserved along with 1 Clement in Corinth

-Eusebius notes that 2 Clement was neither widely recognized nor widely used

-Dated to around 140 CE



-Bishop of Hirapolis in Asia Minor

-Irenaeus knows Papias as the hearer of John and companion of Polycarp

-Wrote his Expositions of the Sayingd of the Lord in 130 CE

-His work survives through quotations in Eusebius


The Odes of Solomon

-The first Christian Hymnbook, of sorts

-Note written by Solomon, obviously

-All forty-two Odes were discovered in 1909, written in Syriac

-Written in the first quarter of the second century





9 thoughts on “Book Review (part 7: Apostolic Fathers of the Second Century CE) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

      1. Yes – I saw that – and have a general familiarity of that issue. My take is simply that the extant copies are so removed from the autographa – and original copies – as to bring to question any particular text especially in light of how much forgery seemed to go on during these periods.

    1. It might be worth noting on this line that things like the Rylands Papyri and even the great uncial codexes make the New Testament–while I’m aware we’re talking about the Apostolic Fathers–far better attested than most other ancient literature.

      For example, the earliest MS of Aristotle’s _Politics_ is a 13th century A.D. Latin edition which appears to have been translated from Arabic (and we forget that for a lot of Arabic versions of the classics, there’s an intervening Syriac translation between them and the Greek!). The oldest Greek MS seem to be later.

      1. Peter

        I appreciate your input.

        Please note that is standard evangelical apologetic fodder. However, the same strategy is employed by my Muslim friends who to defend themselves and the Quran simply to attack various similar issues in the Bible.

        The fact is that the date of other literature and the quality of any literature are completely independent in terms of value.



  1. Thanks for posting this. I’m thinking of revisiting some of these writings for my daily devotional reading. The part about Shepherd of Hermas and post-baptismal sins puzzles me. Tertullian supposedly believed something similar. Did they seriously think that people after their baptism would be perfect?

    1. Perhaps more important – do we even know what they seriously thought?? We have no idea of the content of the autographa…. The only way to have any sense is repeated, clear and formal statements by any writing – or, better, as in the NT, series of writers – to demonstrate “a mind”. Other than that – it is pure assumption and guess work and I damn well do not want to base my walk with the Creator and His Christ on assumption and guess work…

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