More on Early Christian Texts
I’m intrigued at what appear to be signs of a (re)discovery of extra-canonical Christian texts of the first two/three centuries, particularly among Protestant-Evangelical circles. Our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins here at the University of Edinburgh represents our approach of linking NT studies and early Christianity, and we get a goodly number of applicants for graduate studies drawn to this.
Perhaps one of the early signs of a growing interest in extra-canonical early Christian texts in Evangelical circles was the new edition of the Lightfoot one-volume edition of The Apostolic Fathers (ed. by Michael Holmes) published by Baker Book House in 1992. This edition provided Greek and English of these texts on facing pages and updated introductions by Holmes. It obviously sold well, and in 1999 an “updated” edition appeared (mainly involving some corrections to the 1992 edition).
But it’s the third edition published in 2007 that still further signals a striking interest in these texts. First, the publisher (still Baker) invited Holmes to prepare a more thorough-going revision of the Lightfoot textual notes and decisions and the English translation as well. But it is also very interesting to note the new format chosen. Instead of the previous, somewhat larger-page format of previous editions, this third edition happens to be almost exactly the size of the standard Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek NT, with similar paper and even a marker-ribbon too! As a physical artifact, this third edition seems to format The Apostolic Fathers as deutero-canonical texts!
We wouldn’t be so suprised to find a Roman Catholic publishing house doing this, but it’s very interesting semiotically that we have this project from a publishing house long associated with a conservative Evangelical constituency. I take this as a particularly physical signal that today’s Christians, even Protestant Evangelicals who prize the Bible above all, are re-discovering texts such as those included in The Apostolic Fathers. Perhaps there is a growing recognition that these and other texts of the second and third centuries are invaluable remnants of the earliest expansion and consolidation of the Christian movement in the “post-apostolic” period, and are also very fruitful case-studies for modern Christians seeking to work out life in a “post-Christendom” world. (Reference: Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.)