“All Things Biblical” Primary Sources

When researching “all things biblical” the BEST is to read the primary literature either first or in connection with secondary literature. In spite of having read the biblical texts many times and digging deep into various individual texts and pursuing various themes, it is amazing to me how, after 45 plus years, there is still much I can learn and, fortunately, much I can unlearn.

Primary literature is not only the biblical texts themselves but there are lots of texts that can help one understand the context in which the biblical texts were created. These include the OT pseudepigrapha and apocrypha from the Second Temple period. Books like the Maccabees, Ben Sira, Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit, etc.—some of which were included in both the earliest Bible collections and some of which are included in various denominational canons to this day. These texts help us understand the pluriform Jewish context which gave rise to the Jesus movement.

In additions there is the NT apocryphal writings, and the writings of the ante-Nicene church fathers, especially those called “the Apostolic Fathers—e.g., 1 Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, Didache, Martyrdom of Polycarp, etc. These are valuable in and of themselves, but are indispensable to appreciating how the nascent, grassroots Jesus movement evolved into the highly organized and hierarchical churches that clearly dominated by the end of the 4th century CE.

To read the biblical texts without at least some awareness and insight about the social, political, and religious contexts in which they were created is to miss so much of what the Bible has to offer and to, in all likelihood misunderstand at least some of what it says.

I love this stuff! It is so helpful. And some of it is just so ‘right on’ in and of itself. Here’s an excerpt from 1 Clement that my Tuesday night group commented on that last night. As one of the participants asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if this described the spiritual community we were part of?” Yes! It would!

“Moreover, you were all humble and free from arrogance, submitting rather than demanding submission, more glad to give than to receive, and content with the provisions that God supplies. And giving heed to his words, you stored them up diligently in your hearts, and kept his sufferings before your eyes. 2 Thus a profound and rich peace was given to all, together with an insatiable desire to do good, and an abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone as well. 3 Being full of holy counsel, with excellent zeal and a devout confidence you stretched out your hands to almighty God, imploring him to be merciful if you had inadvertently committed any sin. 4 You struggled day and night on behalf of all the family of believers, that through fear and conscientiousness the number of his elect might be saved. 5 You were sincere and innocent and free from malice one toward another. 6 Every faction and every schism was abominable to you. You mourned for the transgressions of your neighbours: you considered their shortcomings to be your own. 7 You never once regretted doing good, but were ready for every good work. 8 Being adorned with a virtuous and honourable manner of life, you performed all your duties in the fear of him. The commandments and the ordinances of the Lord were written on the tablets of your hearts.”

2.1 more glad . . . receive Cf. Acts 20:35. • God Most ancient authorities read Christ. 2.4 family of believers Gk adelphotētos. • fear Some ancient authorities read compassion. 2.7 ready for every good work Titus 3:1. 2.8 written . . . hearts Cf. Prov. 7:3.

Holmes. The Apostolic Fathers in English (pp. 53-54). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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