Just came across a fellow blogger’s interview with Dan Wallace.
In asking Dan what some of the biggest trends in NT studies might be over the next decade or so, I found this quote interesting:
“There are also key areas in NT study that are heating up, issues that need to be honestly examined in the next couple of decades by all sides. Among these are the relation of the Apostolic Fathers to the NT (in terms of quotations from the NT, emerging canon consciousness, ecclesiological developments, the Fathers’ view of grace, and whether the AF and the NT reflect the earliest form of Christianity or just that form that became the dominant one).” (Emphasis mine)
Apparently Dan thinks that there will be/should be an emphasis on the Apostolic Fathers (AF) specifically to ask if their representation of the early church is an accurate reflection. He also obliquely suggests in this statement that perhaps the New Testament (NT) itself may or may not accurately reflect “the earliest form of Christianity.”
Now, I found this fascinating! Mostly because it is my personal opinion that most of the writings from Apostolic Fathers do not accurately reflect the earliest forms of Christianity. I am persuaded that what they do reflect accurately is how the church looked and functioned as it was on an organizational and institutional trajectory.
To ask this same question of the New Testament is ultimately compelling.
Could it be that we don’t have an accurate picture of the first Christians and how their communities looked and functioned?
Is it possible that what we see today is more a picture of how those early churches developed in two, three or four generations?
How might this have affected our canon?
Could certain books have been chosen because they were a better representation of the dominant trends among the churches?
I believe that indeed we are missing some of the clearest pictures of the earliest churches in the New Testament. The Bible simply does not answer the specific questions asked by a Westerner (especially a California native) in the 21st Century, but the essence of it is there. Frankly, I have always wondered if some of the material in the New Testament reveals more or less of the trends and changes in the earliest church practices and beliefs. Of course, I would love to have more pointed and specific answers, but I still believe that all that is truly necessary is there in the texts we currently call the New Testament.