The Early Church Fathers

in Light of Acts 20:29,30

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( Jeffrey S. Bowman, all rights reserved, use by permission only)


This essay will attempt to examine the Early Church (or also called Apostolic Fathers) in light of Paul's statement to the Ephesian Elders:

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29,30)

Focus will be given where the Apostolic Fathers exhibit an apparent denigration; emendation; or departure from Pauline theology. Paul's statement to Timothy that: "That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us. This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me..." (2 Tim 1:14,15) provides the grounds for such a critical examination of the Apostolic Fathers.

Key areas of Pauline significance that are discussed by the Apostolic Fathers will be dealt with (but not limited to): Salvation and justification by faith alone; The creation of a new spiritual organism -- the body of Christ; Jew and Gentile / male and female equality; and Baptism.

The essay will not be an exhaustive interpretive treatment of Apostolic Fathers in these theological areas, rather it will be a collative presentation of the statements by the Apostolic Fathers.


Paul told Timothy to "Guard the good deposit...this you know that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me..." (2 Tim. 1:14,15). This is a very interesting and informative verse. It prepares us for what happened during the next century of church history that followed the Apostle Paul.

The "good deposit" was the revelation of the body of doctrine which the ascended Christ gave to Paul the Apostle. Interestingly, Paul also applies the phrase "my gospel" (2 Tim. 2:8; Rom. 16:25) to this body of theology. This truth contains not only that Christ died for the sins of humanity, but also elements not revealed to or clarified by any of the Twelve Apostles. In particular, some of the aspects of Pauline theology are:

1. Salvation and justification by faith "alone" (Eph. 2:8,9; Tit. 3:5,6.

2. The creation of a new spiritual organism--the Body of Christ (Eph. 2:13-16; 1 Cor. 12:12,13). where there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (Gal. 3:27,28). This "Body of Christ" was not prophesied in the Old Testament, it was hid in God and revealed to Paul (Eph. 3:1-11; Col. 1:24-27).

3. The believer, according to Paul, is identified with Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The Christian life is to be one of walking worthy of the high calling (Eph. 4:1) and remembering one's identity in Christ (Col. 3:1-4). Consequently we are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:14-16).

4. The ascended Christ gave Paul the memorial of communion to be done "in remembrance" (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Yet He sent Paul not to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17) hence there is only "one baptism" necessary today (Eph. 4:5)--Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Water baptism is a non-essential act.

The "good deposit" contained these particular truths that Timothy was to guard and which "all in Asia" forsook. This fact helps to explain the theological confusion that is found in Christianity just 40 years after Paul's death.

Paul had predicted that theological apostasy would come to Asia. He said to the elders of Ephesus (the capital city of Asia) "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29,30). He had commanded Timothy in his first letter, "As I besought you to abide still at Ephesus...that you might charge some that they teach no other doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:3). Finally in his last letter to Timothy, he indicates that "all in Asia" forsook him, his message and divine revelation.

Those who seek to "rightly divide the Word of truth" and acknowledge Paul's different ministry are often chided with, "If what you say is truth why isn't it found in the early centuries of the church?" This is a fair question, and the answer is found in 2 Tim. 1:15, "all in Asia forsook" Paul. Yet some have doubted an appeal to that verse so we are only left to search the writings of the Apostolic Fathers to see what they believed. This will provide a historical test for this concept. These Apostolic Fathers were leaders in the church from 80-170 A.D. Writings in this period will demonstrate the accepted beliefs of those 100 years after the Apostles.

If Paul's theology was abandoned then we should find confusion in specific theological areas of:

Salvation / Justification

The Christian Life

Various Dispensational issues

Communion and Baptism

We should note well that Paul did not say they departed from Christ. They were still believers but they had departed from the "good deposit," i.e., Paul's unique theological differences from the 12 Apostles.


Clement, who was the bishop of Rome 88-97 A.D. is the author of a letter to the Corinthians, 95 A.D. A so-called second letter was attributed to him by the Fathers of the fourth century yet it is not quoted by the early writers as being his work. Nevertheless it is an accepted writing from the period. Lightfoot calls the second letter "the earliest Christian homily extant". Its date is probably 166-174 A.D.

Clement seems to have acquaintance with Paul's epistles, Hebrews, and 1 Peter. In his letter to Corinth he deals with a feud that had broken out in the church. Elders who were appointed by the apostles or their immediate successors had been removed of their office. It's ironic that come 30 or so years prior Paul dealt with similar issues.

Clement (like the other Fathers) speaks unashamedly about the Lord Jesus and His death but once we look deeper into his writing we see deviations from Paul's doctrine.

Salvation / Justification

Here Clement is confused. In one line he says:

And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus,are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety of works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (I, 32)

Then the majority of the time:

Let us therefore root this out quickly, and let us fall down before the Master and entreat Him with tears, that He may show Himself propitious and be reconciled unto us, and may restore us to the seemly and pure conduct which belongeth to our love of the brethren. (I, 48)

The second letter is also just as confused:

So then He meaneth this, Keep the flesh pure and the seal unstained, to the end that we may receive life. (II, 8).

For if we bid farewell to these enjoyments and conquer our should in refusing to fulfill its evil lusts, we shall be partakers of the mercy of Jesus. (II, 16)

Let us therefore practice righteousness that we may be saved unto the end. (II, 19)

It is amazing that Clement seems to lack understanding of the pure salvation by grace through faith! He was so close to Paul in time and even writing to a church that was told by Paul that a fornicator, while sinning against the Lord would still be saved "so as by fire" (1 Cor. 5:5). Yet it is clear that Clement shifted away from or at the very least misunderstood "the deposit" as regarding salvation / justification.

Dispensational Issues

As members of the Body we are "Not appointed unto wrath" (1 Thess. 5:9; 1:10). This in unconditional "whether we watch or sleep" in our Christian lives (1 Thess. 5:10). Our hope is a pretribulation rapture.

Clement says;

Since therefore all things are seen and heard, let us fear Him and forsake the abominable lusts of evil works, that we may be shielded by His mercy from the coming judgments. For where can any of us escape from His strong hand? (I, 28)

We can understand where he gets his beliefs when he writes:

The apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ...they went forth with the glad tiding that the kingdom of God should come. (I,42)

Whether or not he lumps the ministries of the Twelve together with Paul we do not know. One thing is certain, he fails to acknowledge the specific revelation that Christ gave to Paul. Consequently he lacks the proper understanding of eschatalogical events.

The so-called second letter is equally as uncertain concerning our future hope. In one passage haven is the believer's hope throughout eternity:

Therefore let not the godly be grieved, if he be miserable in the times that now are: a blessed time awaiteth him. He shall live again in heaven with the fathers, and shall have rejoicing throughout a sorrowless eternity. (II, 19)

Then in other places the writer presents an earthly kingdom wherein those who have had good works can enter:

These things if ye do, saith He, the kingdom of my Father shall come. (II,12)

For the Lord said, I come to gather together all the nations, tribes and languages. herein He speaketh of the day of His appearing, when He shall come and redeem us, each man according to his work. And the unbelievers shall see His glory and His might: and they shall be amazed when they see the kingdom of the world given to Jesus, saying, Woe unto us, for Thou wast, and we knew it not, and believed not; and we obeyed not the presbyters when they told us of our salvation. (II, 17)

As we conclude this examination of I Clement and the anonymous letter we are shocked upon finding all these clear departures from the "good deposit." It just goes to show that in these writings there was no clear, unwavering conception of the gospel of the grace of God. Clement even quoted in his letter from Paul's epistles yet it is one thing to quote them and quite another to understand them. Salvation according to Paul is by grace without works. Salvation, according to these Apostolic letters can only be had by obeying God, keeping humble, and doing His will. Amazed we are, when we bear in mind that these were written within 40 (I Clement) to 120 (II Clement) years of the good deposit given to Paul. How quickly these fundamental Pauline truths were lost!

One final, quote from II Clement:

Almsgiving therefore is a good thing, even as repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both. And love covereth a multitude of sins, but prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death. Blessed is every man that is found full of these. For almsgiving lifteth off the burden of sin. (II, 16)

Almsgiving lifts the burden of sin? No, burdens are lifted at Calvary!

The Letters of Ignatius

Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch. He wrote seven letters which were penned as he as being taken from Antioch to Rome. There he would be condemned because he professed Christ. According to various scholars his letters were written 100-118 A.D. They were written to exhort and encourage the various churches and people to whom they were addressed. A major item was his impending death and for them not to be concerned or faint spiritually. Some have said that he was a disciple of the Apostle John, though no evidence of this can be seen in his writings.

He wrote to the Smyrneans, Ephesians, Magnesians, Philadelphians, Trallians, Romans, plus a letter to Polycarp. It will be interesting for our study of his letters to note just what he says to people like the Romans and Ephesians. It was to these two churches that Paul wrote the most "meaty" of his letters.

Let us look at his writings to see what he believed concerning Salvation/Justification:

Forasmuch as in answer to my prayer to God it hath been granted me to see your godly countenances, so that I have obtained even more that I asked; for wearing bonds in Christ Jesus I hope to salute you, if it be the Divine will that I should be counted worthy to reach unto the end; for the beginning verily is well ordered, if so be I shall attain unto the goal, that I may receive mine inheritance without hindrance...Only pray that I may b\have power within and without, so that I may not i\only say it but also desire it; that I may not only be called a Christian, but also found one. (Rom. 1,3)

Further along we find out exactly what he means by "that I may not only be called a Christian, but also be found one:

Let me be given to the wild beasts, for through them I can attain unto God. I am God's wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread (of Christ). Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my sepulchre and may leave no part of my body behind, so that I may not, when I am fallen asleep, be burdensome to any one. Then shall I be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not so much as see my body. Supplicate the Lord for me, that through these instruments I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not enjoin you, as Peer and Paul did. They were Apostles, I am a convict; they are free, but I am a slave to this very hour. Yet if I shall suffer, then am I a freed-man of Jesus Christ, and I shall rise free in Him....Now am I beginning to be a disciple. May naught of things visible and things invisible envy me; that I may attain unto Jesus Christ. Come fire and cross and grapplings with wild beasts, (cuttings and manglings,) wrenching of bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body, come cruel tortures of the devil to assail me. Only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ. (Rom. 4,5).

If we understand Ignatius correctly he thinks that by becoming a martyr he will definitely be a Christian. It appears from other statements that this is what he believed:

May God recompense you; for whose sake if ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him. (Smy. 9)

...that through your prayers I may attain unto God. (Smy. 11)

...if so be I may through suffering attain unto God, that I ma be found a disciple through your intercession. (Poly. 7)

There is more to these statements than a simple willingness to be killed for Christ's sake. He is exhibiting an attitude of "I must endure to the end to be saved." While this is Biblical (Matt. 24:13), it is not Pauline theology.

Christian Life

Ignatius continually exhorts his readers to holiness. He stresses their need to fellowship together and to allow the church leaders to guide and direct them. The Apostle Paul also taught concerning the authority of the elders in the local church and that God gave pastor-teachers to equip them (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Thess. 5:12,123; 1 Cor. 16:15,16; 2 Cor. 10:8; Phil. 2:12). However Ignatius takes it a step further and says:

For, if the prayer of one an another hath so great force, how much more that of the bishop and of the whole Church. Whosoever therefore cometh not to the congregation, he doth thereby show his pride and hath separated himself; for it is written, God resisteth the proud. Let us therefore be careful not to resist the bishop, that by our submission we may give ourselves to God. (Eph. 5)

And in proportion as a man seeth that his bishop is silent, let him fear him the more. For every one whom the Master of the household sendeth to be steward over His own house, we ought so to receive as Him that sent him. Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself. (Eph. 6)

Ignatius talks of the bishop as though he were the direct representative of God. While it is true that believers should respect the elders and pastor(s), Ignatius' type of reverence is only due to God. Ignatius could have been thinking of the Twelve Apostles, who under divine authority could forgive sin (see Matt. 16:19; 18:18; Jn. 20:23). However this was only limited to that dispensation. Today no one can forgive sins, only Christ.

Dispensational Issues

Here we find Ignatius confused and misinformed. First he confuses Israel's prophecy and Paul's mystery by putting us in the Tribulation:

These are the last times. Henceforth let u have reverence; let us fear the longsuffering of God, lest it turn into a judgment against us. For either let us fear the wrath which is to come or let us love the grace which now is--the one or the other; provided only that we be found in Christ Jesus unto true life. (Eph. 11)

Second, he knows that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile,

...for His saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or among Gentiles, in one body of His Church. (Smy. 1)

but he does not grasp that this "one Body" is the church, the mystery of God as revealed to and through Paul (Col. 1:24-28; Eph. 3:1-11). Rather to him the mystery or mysteries (as he called it) is the virginity of Mary, her childbearing and the death of the Lord:

Ye are associates in the mysteries with Paul, who was sanctified, who obtained a good report, who is worthy of all felicitation...(Eph. 12)

And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord---three mysteries to be cried aloud--the which were wrought in the silence of God. (Eph. 19)

He called these the mysteries of Jesus Christ:

And those likewise who are deacons of the mysteries of Jesus Christ must please all men in all ways. (Tral.2)

This is quite a far cry from what Paul the Apostle wrote. Ignatius did not even understand the mystery given to Paul. We scratch our heads and say, "How can be have missed it?" The only answer is that the good deposit had already been lost in the fog of theological apostasy and confusion. Today we understand that the mystery is more than the birth of Christ and the virgin Mary. With Ignatius we can see the seeds sown which grew into Mariolatry.

Baptism and Communion

The Lord Jesus had sent Paul the Apostle "not to baptize" (1 Cor. 1:17) and Christ later revealed to Paul that there is only "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5) which is the Holy Spirit. Christ also gave to Paul the memorial of communion to be done "In remembrance of Me" (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

Ignatius says this about baptism:

It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or hold a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve, this is well-pleasing also to God; that everything which ye do may be sure and valid. (Smy. 8)

Let your baptism abide with you as your shield... (Poly. 6)

What he means by "shield" is uncertain but the context is the spiritual armor that a believer should have. To Paul baptism had no such significance. Ignatius is paving the way for a very ritualistic approach to baptism, especially when he says only the bishop can perform it.

Communion is a subject with which Ignatius has gone far astray. How he came to such conclusions we will never know. The Scriptures must be rightly divided to understand baptism but communion is much easier to grasp. So shocked we are to find: the end that ye may obey the bishop and the presbyter without distraction of mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but life forever in Jesus Christ. (Eph. 20)

They abstain from the eucharist, and from the public offices, because they confess not the eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of his goodness, raised again from the dead. And for this cause, contradicting the gift of God, they die in their disputes. But much better would it be for them to receive it, that they might one day rise through it. (Smy. 7)

No one can miss the seeds planted by ignatius of what will grow into the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Ignatius was a brave courageous man. He went through persecution that we have no experience of. However as a teacher of the Word of God he failed to stick with Paul's gospel. He even held beliefs that were never taught anywhere in the Scriptures. All this took place within a generation from the pure source--the Apostles themselves.

The Didache or The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles

With the Didache we come to a very interesting piece of apostolic literature. It was a church manual of instruction for new converts. From its long title we can gather that the converts were Gentiles. Lightfoot says,

The work is obviously of every early date, as is shown by the internal evidence of language and subject matter...these indication point of the first or beginning of the second century as the date of the work in its present form.

80-120 A.D. is a probable time slot for the composition of this church manual. It is the size of the Book of Galatians.

Its title is confusing, especially to Bible students who are aware of the ministries of the Twelve in contrast to Paul. Gal. 2:7-9 clearly shows that the Twelve would confine their ministry to the Jews, whereas Paul would go to the Gentiles. Immediately we can predict from Scripture that this writing will contain: legalism instead of grace, works for salvation instead of faith alone, and a basic confusion over dispensational issues. What do we find:


Be watchful for your life; let your lamps not be quenched and you loins not ungirded, but be ye read; for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh. And ye shall gather yourselves together frequently, seeking what is fitting for your souls; for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you, if ye be not perfected at the last season. (16)

Do not keep stretching out your hands to receive and drawing them back when it come to returning. If through your hands you have earned a ransom for your sins, you shall not hesitate to give it. (4)

These are clearly not word of grace but rather of works. In line with a conditional salvation we see a strong emphasis on enduring through the end times in order to be saved.

For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters shall be multiples, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate....Then all created mankind shall come to the fire of testing, and many shall be offended and perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved... (16)

This is almost straight, unadulterated "kingdom" truth. We must ask ourselves, where is "Body" truth?

Dispensational Issues

The Scriptures teach that the church, the Body of Christ, has its citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20,21). This is in contrast to Israel which has its citizenship on earth. The Didache confuses and mixes these two separate groups: may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. (9)

Remember, Lord, Thy Church to deliver it from all evil and to perfect it in Thy love; and gather it together from the four winds--even the Church which has been sanctified.--into Thy kingdom which Thou hast prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. (10)

The only possible way we can reconcile the teaching of the Didache with Paul is if we assign the Didache to a strictly "kingdom" group of Gentiles. Yet even this doesn't explain the fact that this was written a short generation or so from Paul. The most plausible explanation is that the church lapsed into a theological apostasy (2 Tim. 1:15) which sought to blend parts of Paul's theology with that of the Twelve Apostles. The results-- theological confusion.

We know from Paul that when the fullness of his revelation was given the "sign gifts" (tongues, healings, etc.) ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-10; cp. Col. 1:24-27). Yet look what we find in the Didache:

And any prophet speaking in the Spirit ye shall not try neither discern; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. Yet not every one that speaketh in the Spirit is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord....And whosoever shall say in the Spirit, Give me silver or anything else yet shall not listen to him; but if he tell you to give on behalf of others that are in want, let no man judge him. (11)

This a is a most interesting passage because none of the other Apostolic writings have such a reference to tongues, spirit and prophecy.

The Christian Life and Baptism

As we conclude our look at the Didache these last few items will be amazing to those who know and appreciate the revelation of the mystery. Notice what the Didache taught concerning baptism and prayer:

But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before. (7)

Neither pray ye as the hypocrite, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray ye: Our Father, which art in heaven hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as in heaven so also on earth; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; and lad us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. Three times in the day pray ye so. (8)

The Didache was confused as to the mode of baptism (sprinkling or immersing) plus the idea of fasting beforehand. What happened to the "one" baptism? The Lord's prayer to be prayed three times a day? Amazing and at the same time saddening. There were so close, how could they have confused, misunderstood, and misapplied these things?

The Letter of Barnabas

Now we turn to a letter that has as its author Barnabas, the friend, apostle and co-worker of the Apostle Paul. However the writer nowhere claims to be the biblical Barnabas. It is Clement of Alexandria who wrote at the close of the second century who connects this letter with him. Yet according to Lightfoot, Clement of Alexandria "does not hesitate to criticize the work, and clearly therefore did not regard it as final and authentative." Lightfoot dates the time period of its composition somewhere between 70-132 A.D. with 70-79 A.D as a more specific date.

The so-called letter of Barnabas had upwards to fifty commands that are found in the Didache. It is quite uncertain which writing came first, but one thing is certain, the unanimous letter is a genuine representation of the beliefs during the apostolic period. Let us search and see what this letter teaches about the fundamentals of the "good deposit."


Quickly, in the beginning of his introduction the writer says:

Wherefore also I the more congratulate myself hoping to be saved, for that I truly see the Spirit poured out among you from the riches of the fount of the Lord. (par. 1)

We are puzzled and ask ourselves what exactly does he mean "saved." In the next paragraph he tells us:

We ought therefore, brethren, to learn accurately concerning our salvation, lest the Evil One having effected an entrance of error in us should fling us away from our life. (par. 2)

Finally down in paragraph four we see that he felt one must "endure to the end" in order to be saved. Read it slowly:

Wherefore let us take heed in these last days. For the whole time of our faith shall profit us nothing, unless we now, in the season of lawlessness and in the offenses that shall be,as becometh sons of God, offer resistance, that the Black One may not effect an entrance. Let us flee from all vanity, let us entirely hate the works of the evil way. Do not entering in privily stand apart by yourselves, as if ye were already justified, but assemble yourselves together and consult concerning the common welfare....The Lord judgeth the world without respect of persons; each man shall receive according to his deeds. If he be good, his righteousness shall go before him in the way; if he be evil, the recompense of his evil-doing is before him; lest perchance, if we relax as men that are called, we should slumber over our sins, and the prince of evil receive power against us and thrust us out from the kingdom of the Lord. (par. 4)

This type of salvation by endurance is his theme over and over. Notice how clearly he taught that this salvation was both physical and spiritual. There is no way that we can simply explain away his statements as only being those made during persecution and thus in defense to physical salvation exclusively. His ideas are parallel with Revelation 2,3 where the seven churches are told similar things by the inspired Apostle John. They must "overcome" in order to eat of the tree of life, to not be hurt of the second death, or to have God's approval, etc. (Rev. 2:7,11,17). Note the parallels:

Thus, He saith, they that desire to see Me, and to attain unto My kingdom, must lay hold on Me through tribulation and affliction. (par. 7)

Thou shalt remember the day of judgment night and day, and thou shalt seek out day by day the persons of the saints, either laboring by word and going to exhort them and meditating how thou mayest save souls by thy word, or thou shalt work with thy hands for a ransom for thy sins. (par. 19)

It is good therefore to learn the ordinances of the Lord, as many as have been written above, and to walk in them. For he that doeth these things shall be glorified in the kingdom of God; whereas he that chooseth their opposites shall perish together with his works. (par. 21)

And be ye taught of God, seeking diligently what the Lord requireth of you, and act that ye may be found in the day of judgment. (par. 21)

There is no hint of a salvation/justification by grace through faith and not of works. How diametrically opposed are "Thou shalt work with thy hands for a ransom for thy sins" (19) and "not by works of righteousness that we have done but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5).

Dispensational Issues

Like the other fathers and writings, we have previously studied, the Letter of Barnabas places us in the tribulation and confuses the Body of Christ with Israel. In fact, he says, "We therefore are they whom He brought into the good land" (6). Consider the following:

Let us give no relaxation to our soul that it should have liberty to consort with sinners and wicked men, lest haply w be made like unto them. The last offence is at hand, concerning which the scripture speaketh, as Enoch saith. For to this end the Master hath cut the seasons and the days short, that His beloved might hasten and come to His inheritance. (4)

Don't forget the previous references under salvation/justification where we saw him exhorting people to enure to the end of the Tribulation.

This brings us to a unique aspect of this so-called Letter of Barnabas--his handling of the Old Testament. The writer definitely failed to practice the biblical principle of 2 Tim. 2:25, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." He was one of the first people in the apostolic period to abandon a literal interpretation of the Scripture in favor of a spiritualization or allegorical approach to the O.T. Note well the following where he writes concerning the Levitical laws:

Forasmuch as Moses said; Ye shall not eat swine nor eagle nor falcon nor crow nor any fish which hath no scale upon it, he received in his understanding three ordinances. Yea and further He saith unto them in Deuteronomy; And I will lay as a covenant upon this people my Ordinances. So then it is not a commandment of God that they should not bite with their teeth, but Moses spake it in spirit. Accordingly he mentioned the swine with this intent. Thou shalt not cleave, saith he, to such men who are like unto swine; that is, when they are in luxury they forget the Lord, but when they are in want they recognize the Lord, just as the swine wherein it eateth knoweth not his lord, but when it is hungry it crieth out, and when it has received food again it is silent. Neither shall thou eat eagle nor falcon nor kite nor crow. Thou shalt not, He saith, cleave unto, or be likened to, such men who know not how to provide food for themselves by toil and sweat, but in their lawlessness seize what belongeth to others, and as if they were walking in guilelessness watch and search about for some one to rob in their rapacity, just as these birds alone do not provide food for themselves, but sit idle and seek how they may eat the mat that belongeth to others, being pestilent in their evil-doings. And thou shalt not eat, saith He, lamprey nor polypus nor cuttle fish. Thou shalt not, He meaneth, become like unto such men, who are desperately wicked, and are already condemned to death, just as these fishes alone ar accursed and swim in the depths, not swimming on the surface like the rest, but dwell on the ground beneath the deep sea. Moreover thou shalt not eat the hard. Why so? Thou shalt not be found a corrupter of boys, nor shalt thou become like such persons; for the hare gaineth one passage in the body every year; for according to the number of years it lives it has just so many orifices. Again, neither shalt thou eat the hyena; thou shalt not, saith He, become an adulterer or a fornicator, neither shalt thou resemble such persons. Why so? Because this animal changeth its nature year by year, and becometh at one time male and at another female. Moreover He hath hated the weasel also and with good reason. Thou shalt not, saith He, become such as those men of whom we hear as working iniquity with their mouth for uncleanness, neither shalt thou cleave unto impure women who work iniquity with their mouth. For this animal conceiveth with its mouth. (par. 10)

Truly one who is familiar with the Bible can see the vast difference between this letter's uninspired contents and the perfect, flawless word of God. Today there are those within Christianity who treat the Bible in the same way as this letter. Here in Barnabas we see a prime a example of the absolute uncertainty of an allegorical approach to the Scriptures. All objectivity is lost in the sea of subjectivity. We must always allow the Bible to mean with it says.


The letter has some definite statements concerning baptism. The writer is convinced that it is necessary for salvation:

Now concerning the water it is written in reference to Israel, how that they would not receive the baptism which bringeth remission of sins, but would build for themselves....Ye perceive how He pointed out the water and the cross at the same time. For this is the meaning; Blessed are they that wet their hope on the cross, and go down into the water...And there was a river streaming from the right hand, and beautiful trees rose up from it; and whosoever shall eat of them shall live for ever. This He saith, because we go down into the water laden with sins and filth, and rise up from it bearing fruit in the heart, resting our fear and hope on Jesus in the spirit. (par. 11)

Again there is no hint of an understanding of the "one baptism" of Eph. 4:5.

In summary we can say that the letter of Barnabas is another demonstration that what Paul said is true, "All in Asia be turned away from me" (2 Tim. 1:15). We did not see anything whatsoever that resembled Pauline truth. In fact we saw clear departures plus a failure to interpret the word correctly in its normal, natural, literal manner.


The Early Church Apostolic Fathers do demonstrate departures from Pauline theology. Their confusion is more a result of a theological abandonment of Pauline theology than caused from persecution. Such departure was predicted by Paul in Acts 20:29,30 and fulfilled by the time Paul wrote "Guard the good deposit...this you know that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me..." 2 Tim. 1:14,15.

In my research into the Apostolic Fathers, such a hypothesis has not been offered. I think it deserves careful examination because it views the writings of the Apostolic Fathers from a vantage point provided by Paul himself.

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