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A look at the earliest Christian beliefs
on August 2, 2011
I have read many books on early Christian beliefs and decided it was time to look at the source material for these books and come up with my own summaries of these beliefs. This is volume 1 of 10 in this series and it covers the writings of what are termed the `Apostolic Fathers' since these are mostly men that knew the original apostles. The other 9 volumes all cover writers who lived and wrote before the Nicene Council in the late 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries. They are roughly listed in chronological order. This Kindle edition includes a good table of contents with links to each author, then to each book, and then to each chapter. It also includes links to footnotes (they are at the end of each chapter) that I found to be useful. It is well formatted, though as another reviewer mentioned, it would be nice to have the book and author you are reading listed on the top or bottom of the Kindle so you can remember who and what you are reading.
The writers who knew the apostles include Clement of Rome (late 1st century and a friend of Peter the apostle), Mathetes (2nd century - little known about him), Polycarp (2nd century and knew John the apostle), Ignatius (early 2nd century and was a student of John the apostle), Barnabas (attributed to the apostle of the same name, but scholars think the author is a 2nd century Christian), Papias (early 2nd century and is said to have known John the apostle).Those that did not know the apostles were Justin Martyr (mid 2nd century) and Irenaeus (late 2nd century), who were a generation later than the other men.
Since the works are in chronological order, it makes is easy to see the evolution of beliefs. The earliest writers focused mainly on the importance of living the gospel and following church leaders. You could also see their pre-Trinitarian beliefs of the Father and the Son. The Father is the only unbegotten God and the Son is the only begotten God and was begotten before the beginning. He is subordinate to the Father. They are clearly separate beings. They also taught the doctrine of deification and that there were three heavens. Justin Martyr taught that the Jews of his time believed that the Father was anthropomorphic.
These men believed that they were still inspired by the Holy Spirit and testified that miracles were still occurring. Ignatius and Justin Martyr taught that creation was done by God organizing existing matter and that matter is eternal. Irenaeus later became the first Christian to teach the concept that the creation was done ex nihilo in response to the heretical teachings of the Gnostics.
Justin Martyr also touches on the doctrine of a pre-mortal existence and uses this concept to prove that God did not make men wicked, but they were that way before they were born.
They also taught that man had free will and that salvation was synergistic and good works were important.
These authors also quoted scripture and it was interesting to see some variations from modern translations and they also quoted some scriptures that we no longer have and others that we have but are not included in the current canon.
Overall, I found this source material fascinating. The translation was easy to understand and the source notes were useful. The compiler noted where translations were disputed and gave the alternates. He also gave a good summary of each author and book. I feel reading this volume has greatly enhanced my understanding of early Christian beliefs. I will continue to read the subsequent volumes. I highly recommend this first volume to anyone interested in the writings of those that knew the apostles.