Apostolic Fathers and Paul

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Todd D. Still, David E. Wilhite
Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , December
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Apostolic Fathers comprise a diverse group of early Christian writers covering a range of time and space in the nascent Church. But to what extent are their thoughts indebted to that of Paul, apostle to the gentiles? Such questions render The Apostolic Fathers and Paul both welcome and necessary. Editors Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite synthesize into one volume the research that has been ongoing for several generations, and advances the conversation with fresh contributions from themselves and ten other scholars. This volume is not for novice theologians. It is clearly geared toward scholars and advanced graduate students; not only are there considerable passages in Greek—as one would expect—but many of these are untranslated Greek. For those of us who know Greek well, this is not an obstacle. However, this and the prohibitive cost signal an advanced audience, though it is not inaccessible and would make an excellent textbook for a doctoral class focusing on the early Christian reception of the epistles of Paul and the missionary spread of Christianity through the ancient world. Portions of the volume also should prove useful in creating lecture materials. I am especially thinking of Clare K. Rothschild’s chapter and her ample evidence and charting of Clement’s use of 1 Corinthians.

The arrangement of essays in this volume no doubt posed challenges for its editors. These eleven variegated chapters are a daunting editorial task for Still and Wilhite, but they manage the contributions rather deftly. Following an Introduction by Wilhite, the first two essays—by David L. Eastman and Paul Hartog—approach the Apostolic Fathers and Paul on specific theological questions: Paul as martyr, and Paul as an epistolary author and church planter. The next three essays approach the Apostolic Fathers who are not regarded for their familiarity with Paul. Clayton N. Jefford assumes a disproportionately large task within the volume by writing about the apparent absence of a Pauline tradition in the texts of five different Apostolic Fathers. Paul Foster writes about the uncertainty of 2 Clement’s use of Paul and James Carleton Paget offers some new theories for Pauline threads in the Epistle of Barnabas. With Rothschild’s chapter, the volume then switches gears to Apostolic Fathers familiar with Paul. Three chapters ensue regarding Ignatius and Paul. Still then offers a very brief chapter on Ignatius and Paul’s desire for suffering and death. David J. Downs explores Ignatius’s thought regarding union, participation, identification, and incorporation. Harry O. Maier takes a more socio-political trajectory in his exploration of the creation of “thirdspace” in Ignatius followed by L. Stephanie Cobb’s Pseudo-Ignatius chapter—but should such a chapter be included? Wilhite then offers the final chapter on Polycarp’s reception of Paul. The volume concludes with a valuable afterword by Andrew Gregory. Indeed, the Afterword is a marvelous and accurate assessment of the contributions within the volume, and should serve as a guide to those less familiar with the existing secondary research.

To answer my question above, the inclusion of Cobb’s fascinating essay on pseudo-Ignatius is absolutely justifiable, but perhaps is better as an excursus or appendix chapter rather than in conjunction with the Ignatius chapters. It is true that there is an Ignatian thread in the article, but pseudo-Ignatius is not among the Apostolic Fathers, nor are the letters of the long recension typically printed with those of the middle recension. I think a more fitting placement might have better accentuated the significance of Cobb’s contribution, which is quite original in its suggestion that the pseudepigraphal author is writing in response to ascetical difficulties in the fourth century.

The twenty-page bibliography is immense and should become a vital resource for scholars wishing to familiarize themselves with secondary research. I found it regrettable that Gregory Vall’s important monograph on Ignatius of Antioch, Learning Christ: Ignatius of Antioch and the Mystery of Redemption (The Catholic University of America Press, 2013), was not only omitted from the bibliography, but was not present in any of the four chapters that treated Ignatius directly.

While the chapter authors impress with their erudite engagement of secondary literature, this book would have benefited from more of an interior conversation. Authors often diverge, as when Eastman says regarding 2 Clement that “the dependence on 2 Timothy remains clear, even primary” (18), but Foster argues that the dependence of 2 Clement on Paul will “never be known” (78). Both of these authors are engaging with the same secondary source material—namely a 2005 article by Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett on 2 Clement and the New Testament—thus, Foster should have taken the occasion, or been given the occasion by the editors, to respond to Eastman’s theory regarding the connection via competition-martyrdom-crown. For Eastman, the author of 2 Clement has “has likely taken some inspiration from 1 Corinthians” (18), but for Foster, regarding the same passage, “the case for proposing literary dependence even on the basis of shared terminology is weak” (66). At any rate, if a collection is going to treat identical themes, an interior conversation would benefit the reader and strengthen the coherence of the volume. Additionally, interaction between Eastman’s and Still’s chapters could have proved productive. Fortunately, Gregory’s Afterword serves as a harmonizing force in the volume, evaluating different methodological approaches contained within the text. Nonetheless, footnotes from the editors, which are common in such volumes, could have directed the reader better to different approaches.

I also wish that more of the authors had engaged with the epistle to the Hebrews, at least in the footnotes. Only Rothschild does so. While the majority report on authorship holds that this text was not from Paul’s hand, some scholars have noticed strong Pauline notes. Plus, many early Christians considered this epistle Pauline. That makes Hebrews on topic. Regardless of one’s perspective on authorship, Hebrews and the Apostolic Fathers could have merited an appendix.

I look forward to future edited volumes from Still and Wilhite. Despite my criticisms, this is a significant contribution on many levels to the study of the reception of Paul in the second century and beyond.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kevin Clarke is adjunct professor of theology at Ave Maria University.

Date of Review: 
June 29, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Todd D. Still is Associate Professor of Christian Scriptures at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  Among other publications, he is the author of Conflict at Thessalonica: A Pauline Church and Its Neighbours and the editor of Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways into an Old Debate.


David Wilhite is a historical theologian (patristics) at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, Waco, TX. He is the author of Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian's Context and Identities (Walter de Gruyter, 2007).


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