It is too often the case that some of the best writing to be read is often some of the least known and unread. If the disappointing statistics for how often Christians read their Bibles is true then the chances of other great Christian writings being read is even worse. Sadly, such is the case when it comes to the writings of the early church fathers. Written after the New Testament but within the first two centuries, these early Christian writings give us a glimpse into the still newly started church.
Focusing on the Apostolic Fathers Clayton N. Jefford has written Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student's Introduction which is now in its second edition. The purpose of the book is to provide readers of the Apostolic Fathers with a guide for better understanding. While some of the text is similar to that of other NT writings there is much that is not in both style and content.
In the introduction Jefford provides some brief but helpful information on some of the features and content of the Apostolic Fathers. He provides a chart with the possible date ranges for when the works were written as well as a chart showing what Christian writers, during and shortly after the first two centuries of the church, also read these writings. Noting that the theology of the Apostolic Fathers was not unified across the board there were still significant agreements. Some of those included looking for the return of Christ, monotheism and an appropriate Christian lifestyle.
The content of the book is outlined with four major sections: answers which provide a brief summary of the text(s), questions which explore the details of the answers, contents which summarize the writings themselves and related literature for further study on each author and their writings. The answers and questions complement each other and provide a wealth of detailed information surrounding the authors and their writings. The contents section provides a detailed outline of the writings as well as a summary of their content. The related literature at the end of each chapter provides the reader with a list of other resources for further study. Among the many things covered in the chapters are the proposed dates of the writings, later additions, discrepancies between editions, the occasion for writing, the mysterious images that appear in some of the writings and even how these writings relate to Scripture.
As one who has read the Apostolic Fathers, this book provides the reader with a helpful read-along guide. This book should be required reading for any class on the Apostolic Fathers and I would recommend it to anyone looking to read these writings for the first time. It will certainly make reading them much easier and more profitable.
NOTE: I received this book for free from Baker Academic in exchange for my review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the words and thoughts expressed are my own.