One of the principle reasons I became interested in studying the Early Church is the Apostolic Fathers. I first picked up Michael W. Holmes 3rd ed. of the Apostolic Fathers (Greek Text and English Translations) in the summer of 2008 and at once a whole new world was opened to me. While the style is different from the letters of the New Testament, there was something vaguely familiar as well. Through this, I realized that (gasp! shock!) the letters of the New Testament are not unique. Granted, I was never taught that explicitly, but there was an overall impression (or pressure to think) that in order for the New Testament (or the Bible as a whole) to be true, it must be completely different from all other writings. I knew there were other ancient writings that may have been “similar,” but it wasn’t until I actually read a primary source from another Christian writer close to the apostles that it clicked. The letters of Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp are drastically different from the theological treatises of Athanasius or Gregory of Nazianzus. As important as these later writings are, I think there is value for understanding the New Testament when we read the Apostolic Fathers. The Apostolic Fathers provide a context that may help us understand what the New Testament writers meant by seeing how they were understood by those who directly followed, and even knew, them. I don’t think it is impossible to understand the New Testament without the Apostolic Fathers, but I think it is a valuable resource that is unjustly ignored.
Here is a quote from Ignatius’ epistle to the Ephesians (ch. 10) taken directly from Michael W. Holmes edition. I would post my own translation, but, honestly, his is much better.
Pray continually for the rest of humankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilized; do not be eager to imitate them. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord, to see who can be the more wronged, who the more cheated, who the more rejected, in order that no weed of the devil may be found among you, but that with complete purity and self-control you may abide in Christ Jesus physically and spiritually.