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Almost the Bible: the writings of the apostolic husbands

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Almost the Bible: the writings of the apostolic husbands

Canon of the New Testament

The Bible is not a book, but a library (and the very word “Bible” means “books”). The New Testament includes 27 books. In the way they "fell into the canon" (that is, they became part of the Bible), as nowhere else, the ratio of Scripture and Tradition can be seen.

The church writes these books and decides which of them are “inspired.” That is, the Scripture is of course the “main thing”, but its canon, that which is included in the Scripture, is part of Tradition. In order not to enter into scholastic disputes, let us say: the Holy Spirit dwelling in the Church “writes” (through the apostles) books of the New Testament and He “decides” (through cathedrals) which books He “wrote”.

The formation of the canon went far not so simple, there was a lot of controversy – say, the Revelation of John the Theologian finally enters the canon of the New Testament only at the Trullo Cathedral in 692 – that is, very late.

Today we wanted to talk about those books that were not included in the canon, but some church writers and communities attributed them to the New Testament. These books had the highest authority, but as a result they were excluded from the Bible, and they fell into the category of the patristic heritage, into the literature of the "men of the apostles."

Let's see what kind of books that the Ancient Church valued so highly that it included them in Scripture.


Teachings of the Lord to the nations through the 12 apostles

Didache is an amazing monument of early Christianity. Acquaintance with him brings in the times of the apostles, who saw Christ firsthand, and their disciples, who walked with the Good News.

Didache expresses the apostolic faith and contains a brief explanation of the teachings of the early Church for the baptized. No one expressed doubt as to the source of the text, and its authority was so high that many considered Didache to be one of the books of the New Testament.

Didache is a teaching text. Thanks to him, we can learn how the apostles conducted catechetical conversations. We see that the faith of the first Christians contains the same doctrinal principles that the modern church keeps. Moreover, Christianity and Judaism do not represent much of a difference.

Didache is permeated with biblical imagery. There are many references to the books of the Old Testament and the Gospel in this manual. Christianity is the true successor of the Old Testament religion, and Christ – its result. He is called in the book “The Devotee of God,” is the Head of the Old Testament, gives us salvation, and at the end of time will come to earth for a righteous judgment.

The path of life and the path of death – this is the choice that is given to every person, says Didache. And if a person wants to be saved, then the road to salvation lies through Christ. Baptism is the path to living in Christ with the community; agape and eucharist – a way of life in the community.


Clement of Rome

The reason for writing the Epistle to the Corinthians was the split in the Corinthian church.

It is all imbued with the biblical spirit. Clement outlines some of the most important moments of the Christian faith. Belief in the Trinity of God, focusing on the participation of all Three Persons of the Trinity in the economy of salvation. He talks about the incarnation of God, emphasizing Christ’s humanity. Clement paints a picture of the beautiful and good world, fully imbued with God's Providence.

Christ’s salvation is in the Church. Clement compares the Church with the army and with the body, meaning its unity and diversity without divisions. The unity of the Church is manifested primarily in worship, through which Christians receive the knowledge of God and the experience of living with Him. The hierarchy established by Christ (from the apostles to the bishops) preserves the church unity and conducts worship. In this context, Clement of Rome sets out Christian ethics.

All the “Epistle to the Corinthians” is written in striving toward the Last Kingdom.

Shepherd Erma

"Shepherd" Erma – the largest in volume book of the apostolic husbands, belongs to the rare genre of "apocalypses".

Origen (and he was not the only one) ranked “Shepherd” Hermas to the canonical books of the New Testament, Eusebius testifies that he was read at divine services, but already in the 4th century Hermas went out of use. Athanasius the Great recommends the Shepherd Hermas as a “very useful book.”

The "Shepherd" is distinguished by the Semitic style of thinking, the imagery, the symbolism of language. It is a record of the revelations received by Hermes from Staritsa (Church) and the angel, under the image of the Shepherd.

Herma focuses on Christian ethics (with an emphasis on repentance) and ecclesiology. The dogmatic Today of Hermas are vague, but the Ancient Church valued primarily the moral teachings of Hermas. Herm sees the Church in two planes: as the true cosmos, the first creation of God, for which the world was created, and in the eschatological plan: as the goal of history, what is being built now, the Church in dynamics (this was especially emphasized by Florensky in “The Pillar and Truth "). The stone on which it is built is Christ, and the entrance to it is Baptism, washing away all sins. Thus, eschatology, Christology, ecclesiology, and soteriology form a single whole against the liturgical background.

The Message of Barnabas

Scientists have no consensus on the authorship and dating of the “Epistle of Barnabas”. In ancient times, this text was attributed to the Apostle Barnabas – most likely it was someone converted from the pagans, possibly Alexandrian. But without a doubt, this is one of the oldest Christian works.

The second part of the Epistle of Barnabas, moralizing, largely repeats Didache, there are even direct textual correspondences. The first is devoted to the Old Testament, and this is a vivid example of the allegorical method of interpretation: here the Old Testament is nothing more than a set of symbols about Jesus Christ. The author comes to the statement that understanding the Old Testament literally taught the people the devil. In fact, the first part of the Epistle is an anti-Jewish polemical treatise.

The “Message” is written in a soteriological way; it constantly talks about salvation. God Himself incarnated and suffered in order to save us; The Lord prepared for Himself a "new people" and established for him a "new law", alien to any "yoke of necessity." Everyone can become a member of this “new people” through the sacrament of baptism.

In this perspective, the author discusses the main issue of the "Message": the role of old Israel in the history of salvation.

Apocrypha of ancient Christians

The previous books, as has been said, were part of the New Testament, but eventually they moved into the category of books, which we now call “patristic”.

Apocrypha is another case, as if they themselves claim a place in Scripture. Many of them are certainly heretical and false. We will not talk about such people – but there are a number of texts where, probably, the true events of the New Testament era are reflected.

Agrafa is a collection of the sayings of Christ that are not found in the Gospels. It may well be that many of them really belong to Jesus. These sayings are collected from the books of the great pistils of the Ancient Church: Justin, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyons, and others.

The gospel of the Jews was attributed by some ancient writers to the New Testament. Particularly revered by his Judeo-Christians of Palestine. Of the apocryphal gospels, it is closest to the canonical ones.

Proto-evangelism of Jacob – thanks to this text, we have in the Church holidays of the Nativity of the Virgin and the Entry into the Temple. It is here that the relevant events are described, and the Tradition of the Church relies on this story as genuine.

Disciples of the apostles

The authors of these books — Didache, Shepherd Hermas, the Message of Clement, and the Message of Barnabas — are called "apostolic men." They were direct listeners of the apostles, this is the second generation of Christians. However, there are still a number of husbands of the apostles, whose writings have never been included in the New Testament, but undoubtedly, these books are extraordinarily dear to us, like the voice of the young Church — the Church of the apostles and martyrs.

Ignatius the God-bearer


The epistles of the martyr Bishop Ignatius of the God-bearer are purely biblical theology — personal, inseparable from experience, “existential.”

St. Ignatius wrote his epistles to the churches of Asia Minor (Ephesians, Magnesians, Polycarpus, Bishop of Smirn, Romans, Smirnovs, Philadelphians) on the way to their execution – he was sentenced to be torn apart by beasts.

The main thing that the messages say is Christ and the Church. Often there is a controversy with heresies: dockytes who denied the reality of the humanity of Christ, and Judeo-Christianity, who dragged the Church back to the Old Testament. The main theme of the epistles is unity: the unity of the Persons of the Trinity, the unity of natures in Christ, the unity of the Church (themes appear in the epistles in this order). Unity, according to Ignatius, is not totalitarian – it is the unity of the choir, where each has its own unique part.

The mystic of martyrs is the first mystic of Christians: in his innocent death at the hands of the authorities, the martyr is reunited with Christ. “I am the wheat of the Lord, and let it be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the pure bread of Christ to me,” writes Ignatius. This is the point of the ultimate struggle of the world and the Church: the order that erects the crosses, and the order that the Crucified founded. The death of a martyr is a victory for the Church. Ignatius the God-bearer sees this as "spiritual abuse," and from here unfolds Christian ethics, asceticism and mysticism. Here are all those sprouts that will give rich fruits in monastic spirituality.

Polycarp Smyrna

Message to the Philippians

“The Message to the Philippians” by Polycarp of Smyrna – a pastoral message dedicated mainly to ethical issues. This is a response to the letter of the Philippians, where they informed the inhabitants of Smyrna about the arrival of Ignatius the God-bearer. It was very authoritative – in the fourth century it was read in the churches of Asia.

According to the content of the Epistles to the Philippians, one can guess that the heresy of doceticism has spread in Philippi: Polycarp professes the reality of the Incarnation and urges not to reject the evidence of the Cross. Polycarp Smyrnsky devotes a lot of space to the guidance of clerics.

The theology of Polycarpus of Smyrna is deceptively simple, but this simplicity of holiness: righteousness consists in faith, hope and love, in the center of righteous life is an imitation of Christ and faith in Him, which lead to the coming of the Kingdom.

Papy of Hierapol

Statement of the sayings of the Lord

This is a commentary on the canonical Gospels and the fixing of oral traditions about Christ. Papias were not too critical of their sources, so much in his book is contradictory, and often even ridiculous. Nevertheless, it remains a valuable testimony about the initial stages of the history of the Church and the formation of the New Testament canon.

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