Quotations in the Apostolic Fathers
Lewis Foster

Volume XV --  Number  4
Summer, 1969
pp. 73-81
(C)opyright 1969
All Rights Reserved
The Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary
    "It has been said that the New Testament is not like a city of modern Europe, which subsides through suburban gardens, and groves, and mansions into the open country around, but like an Eastern city in the desert, from which the traveler passes by a single step into a barren waste." F. W. Farrar objects to this extreme illustration, maintaining that early Christian literature cannot be called a "barren waste" for it is full of "faith and love."(1) Another fault in the simile is its failure to recognize a difference between fantastic apocryphal works and e.g., the exhortation to Diognetus or the apology of Justin. The contrast rightly depicts the superior position of the N. T. writings, but fails to allow for passage of time and degree of excellence among those who lived outside the city. C. R. Gregory says of Clement of Rome "We stand with him at the close of the first period and at the opening of the second period. It may almost be said to belong to both."(2)

    It is the interest of this paper to examine a select group of writers whose lives have touched the first generation of the church. Not all of the Apostolic Fathers will be considered. Since the significance of the title Apostolic Fathers lies in the claim made for the authors that these men had actually been associated with the apostles, the four selected are those whose acquaintance with the first generation of Christians is the more probable. Although these four have come to be so identified with their writings that they have little personal existence for us, it is hoped that we can gain a clearer glimpse of the authors through a study of their quotations.

    As "language is a mirror of society" so a man's thoughts and interests are reflected in what he writes. Equally important as a mirror of an author's background is the body of material he uses as sources. Whether he draws from these unconsciously or deliberately, whether he uses them in formal quotation, paraphrase, or weaves them into the warp and woof of his own thoughts, one is better able to understand the writer and his message when the nature, scope and use of his literary sources are considered. The pursuit of this study will be restricted to those sources used in formal quotation.

    Certain similarities are found in the comparison of these four. They were all alive at the turn of the first century, and they all held similar offices in the church. Recognizing that the term bishop had different meanings in different times and different places, nevertheless antiquity regarded each of these four a bishop: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Papias of Hierapolis. Although some maintain a Jewish heritage for Clement, the others are certainly Gentile in origin, and perhaps Clement as well.

    One of the characteristics of early Christian literature has been labeled its "rich variety." Despite the similarities, this variety is also evident among the writings of these four early leaders. Clement was writing to Corinth in an effort to restore peace and order to a congregation divided by jealousy and strife. Ignatius wrote to strengthen churches along his route to Rome where he was about to die. Polycarp wrote a cover epistle for the letters of Ignatius; and Papias wrote "Exposition of Oracles of the Lord" of which only a few scanty fragments and notices are preserved. It is understandable that in this variety of subject matter and individual styles of the authors there would also be variety of quotations and methods of application. It is proposed that the quotation characteristics of each father, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias, will be noted, resulting problems listed, and possible solution suggested.

    Almost 30 per cent of Clement's epistle to the Corinthians can be cited as coming from Old Testament writings.(3) The numbering of the actual quotations varies,(4) but those citations which are formally introduced number 59. These are preceded by the conventional formulae, "thus it has been written," "for says," the writing," for it says somewhere," etc. The passages from which these quotations are drawn are distributed fairly evenly among the pentateuch, prophets and hagiographa.(5) Most used is the Psalms; then Isaiah and Genesis follow as the next most used books.

    In striking contrast, Clement only introduces two New Testament passages as formal quotations.(6) Rather than the customary formula for citing a writing, both times the phrase "remember the words of the Lord Jesus" is used. Another contrast is seen between Clement's usually accurate rendition of the Old Testament passages and the evidently free combining of phrases found in Matthew and Luke. Although it is true that Clement is capable of quoting Old Testament writings in this free fashion, he nowhere cites a New Testament passage, with a formal introduction, in the same verbatim fashion that some writings from the Old Testament are used.

    There are four passages introduced as formal quotations whose sources are uncertain. The first of these is introduced with the words, "Let that scripture be far from us, where it says." The quotation follows: "Unhappy are the double-minded, who doubt in their soul, and say, These things have we heard also in the days of our fathers, and behold we have grown old and none of them has happened to us."(7) Scholars are agreed that this quotation does not come from the Old Testament, and suggest the probability of its coming from some apocryphal work. No apocryphal writing bearing these words has been found. Various possibilities have been suggested: e.g., Eldad and Modad,(8) and parallels in Epictetus.(9)

    It is noteworthy, however, that me dipsychomen is the important phrase introducing', the subject of the quotation. This word is found nowhere in the LXX, but it is used in James 1:8, "a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways." The quotation proceeds with much the same reasoning which Peter warns against when speaking of attacks on Christ's second coming, "that ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles: knowing this first that in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."(10)

    In I Clement 17:6 another uncertain source is introduced by the phrase "and again it says." Then follows the quotation "I am smoke from a pot." The context in Clement is a list of illustrations following the injunction "Let us become imitators of those also who went in goatskins and sheepskins, preaching the coming of Christ."(11) Following the example of Moses who did not utter proud words but said, "Who am I, That thou sendest me? I am feeble of speech and slow of tongue." Then is added "I am smoke from a pot." Clement's next example is David. A striking discovery was made by J. Rendall Harris(12) in a Syriac MS at a passage in Chronicles where it is speaking of David, the phrase appears that renders this very translation "I am smoke from a pot." The closest Biblical parallel outside of this discovery comes from James again: "For ye are vapor (smoke) that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Stoic parallels are also found for this phrase.(13)

    The third unknown source quoted by Clement is introduced:

"for it has been written." It states, "Cleave to the saints, for they that cleave to them shall be sanctified." This passage is imitated or copied from a common source in Clement of Alexandria(14) and Nico. Paul's epistle to the Romans (12:9) instructs "Cleave to the good." Clement says, "Cleave to the holy ones."
Thus we find that each of Clement's references not found in the O. T. is likewise not to be found in any other extant writing. This does not rule out the possibility that he has used apocryphal works and yet employed the Scriptural formula for introducing them. This is an accusation made against Clement by Photius.(15)

    The fact that each of these references also appears in other early Christian writers does not settle the question, since there is the possibility that Clement was responsible for starting the usage. Another possibility is textual differences in O. T. passages as seen in "smoke from the pot." It is also possible that Clement's use of scripture became so free or his memory so loose at these points that the reference is not recognizable. The possibility that N. T. writings lie at the root of these sayings cannot be denied.

    Clement is not reluctant to use arguments drawn from pagan sources as well, but nowhere does he make a formal quotation from pagan works. It is difficult to explain his use of the Phoenix bird as an assurance of the resurrection. The purported return of the Phoenix bird every five hundred years bearing the remains of his predecessor may have been so widely accepted in the circle of Clement's fellowship that he may have considered it Christian rather than tracing it to its pagan origins. In chapter 20, Clement's use of Stoic arguments from the order of nature to the order in the plan of the Divine find more likely relationship to pagan than Jewish thought. Clement's use of quotation may be summed up with the clear weight of quotation coming from the Old Testament, a few direct quotations from the New Testament, a few from uncertain sources only possibly from apocryphal and none from pagan authors.

    In Bihlmeyer's edition Die apostolischen Vater, I Clement occupies 36 pages and Ignatius 31 pages. Whereas Clement had 59 O.T. quotations, Ignatius gives but two formally introduced quotations from the O. T.(16) They are both passages from the book of Proverbs, and one of them (Proverbs 3:3, 4) had already been used in James 4:6 and I Peter 5:5. There is a questionable reference to Isaiah 52:5.(17) Only once does he quote the words of Jesus and here the source is not certain.(18) Even though he does not quote the N. T., he makes such explicit statements as: "For I heard certain persons saying, If I find it not in the charters, I believe it not in the Gospel. And when I said to them, It is written, they answered me, That is the question. But as for me, my charter is Jesus Christ, the inviolable charter is His cross and His death and His resurrection, and faith through Him; wherein I desire to be justified through your prayers."(19)

    Only six pages are extant from the pen of Polycarp. This is only 1/6 of the length of Clement's epistle. His use of quotation, however, is sufficient to show marked resemblance to that of Ignatius. Only one explicit quotation is made from the O. T. (12:1). He quotes Psalms 4:5, and this is another passage which is used in a N. T. writing, Ephesians (4:26). In the same place Polycarp seemingly makes veiled apology for his own lack of learning in the scriptures: "I am confident that you are well versed in the Scriptures and from you nothing is hid; but to me this is not granted."(20)

    The logia of Jesus are twice quoted in Polycarp. The formula of introduction follows the pattern of that used by Clement as well: "remembering the words which the Lord spake, as He taught."(21) Then follows a composite quotation from Matthew and Luke. It is not exact, but it draws from the same Sermon on the Mount passages which Clement had used. The other quotation in Polycarp's epistle to the Philippians reads, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."(22) Polycarp provides an excellent example of the limited study in sources made through an author's use of formal quotation. Whereas he quotes the N. T. writings but twice, his whole epistle is mainly a mosaic of N. T. phrases tied together. C. R. Gregory maintains, "It is plain that he had in his hands the Gospel of Matthew, and he probably had all four Gospels; he had all the Epistles of Paul, he had I Peter and I John, and he had the letter of Clement of Rome."(23) Yet the only formal quotation he makes is of the words of Jesus. He uses no apocryphal writings unless it is Tobit, and shows no use of pagan quotations.

    It is somewhat unfair to include Papias in this study since we have no extant writing by which to judge his use of quotations. From other early Christian witnesses, however, we receive word of some of Papias' likes and dislikes. Eusebius quotes from the preface to Papias' Expositions of Oracles of the Lord: "But I will not scruple also to give a place for you along with my interpretations to everything that I learnt carefully and remembered carefully in time past from the elders, guaranteeing its truth. For, unlike the many, I did not take pleasure in those who have so very much to say, but in those who teach the truth; nor in those who relate foreign commandments, but in those (who record) such as were given from the Lord to the Faith, and are derived from the Truth itself. . . For I did not think that I could get so much profit from the contents of books as from the utterances of a living and abiding voice."(24) Eusebius also makes explicit references to Papias' testimony concerning the writing of Mark and Matthew, I John and I Peter. From the title of this work we gather that Papias' main interest is the logia of the Lord, that he recognized some false, foreign sayings which were being circulated as well as the authentic, true accounts. He recognized them as written, but he had a certain pride in hearing these true sayings from the lips of those who had been with the elders and heard what they said.

Georgius Hamartolus records that Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, was an eyewitness of John, telling of John's martyrdom which fulfilled Christ's prophecy according to Papias, "For when the Lord said to them; Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of? and they readily asserted and agreed; He said; My cup shall ye drink, and with the baptism that I am baptized shall ye be baptized."(25)

How can this information about quotations in these four Apostolic Fathers be used? Certain observations are necessary before conclusions can be drawn. Because of the brevity of this study it will be necessary to omit numerous details which help to verify the following propositions:

  • There are formal quotations made from both Old and New Testament writings(26) to the extraordinary exclusion of both apocryphal and pagan writings.(27)
  • The O.T. is formally quoted much more frequently than the N.T. writings in Clement.(28)
  • N. T. writings are seldom quoted verbatim but usually concern the "Words of Jesus" and are introduced "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus."(29)
  • The actual quotations from N. T. writings are very few compared with the evident influence from the form, wording, and content of N. T. books upon these Apostolic Fathers.(30)
  • An influence from the N. T. writings is seen upon even some quotations taken from the 0. T.(31)
  • In those cases where the sources are uncertain, N. T. writings suggest possible origins for the free wording.(32)
  •     The factor which looms most important in explaining this combination of observations is time. To say simply that there was no N. T. as we know it today at the end of the first century does not answer the problem. If each of these men did not have all of the N. T. writings, they had some of the writings, and yet these are seldom quoted, but exert great influence. To say that the authority of the N. T. writings was less than that of the O. T. does not match the actual respect held for the words of Christ and the apostles. Each of these writers, however, lived close enough to the generation of the apostles that they felt a special relationship to the writers of the new covenant. They quoted the O. T. as their ancient inspired Scriptures, but Clement says of Paul also: "With true inspiration he charged you ..."(33) Time made the difference; these men would not relinquish, their contemporaneity with the apostles by quoting their writings in the same way as they quoted the prophets. This lends credence to the testimony of tradition that the lives of Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias had been linked with the apostles. Irenaeus says of Clement: "He had seen the apostles and associated with them, and still had their preaching sounding in his ears, and their tradition before his eyes and not he alone, for there were many still left in his time who had been taught by the apostles."(34)

    1. F. W. Farrar, "St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp," Lectures on Ecclesiastical History (1897), pp.20, 21.
    2. C. R. Gregory, Canon and Text of the New Testament (1907), p.65.
    3. Using the pages and lines of Lake's addition, the approximate total of lines is 1,368; the lines of quotation from the O.T. are 402 (29%).
    4. E.g., Harnack, 120; Bihlmeyer, 113; Lake, 94.
    5. Genesis 9; Exodus 2; Deuteronomy 4; 1 Samuel 1; Isaiah 8; Malachi 1; Ezekiel 3; Jeremiah 1; Job 5; Psalms 14; Proverbs 3; Daniel; (Law 15; Prophets 13; Hagiographa 23).
    6. I Cl.13, 2; 46, 8.
    7. I Cl. 23, 3. 4.
    8. J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, II, p. 80.
    9. R. Knopf, Die Lehre der Zwo'lfApostel die zwei Clemensbriefe (1920), p.86.
    10. I Peter 3:24
    11. I Cl. 17, 1.
    12. J. R. Harris, Journal of Bibl. Lit. 29 (1910), 190-195.
    13. Knopf, op. cit., p.72.
    14. Strom. IV. 8.
    15. Bibl. 126.
    16. Eph. 5,3; Magn. 12.
    17. Trall. 8,2.
    18. "Take, handle me and see that I am not a phantom without a body." Smyr. 3,2 (See Luke 24:39)
    19. Phil. 8,2.
    20. 12, 1
    21. 2, 3; 7,2
    22. 7, 2
    23. C. R. Gregory, op. cit., p. 75.
    24. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3,39.
    25. Chronicon. Matt. 20:22, 23.
    26. O.T. Words of Jesus Other N.T. Writings.
    Clement 59 2
    Ignatius 2 1 (source uncertain)
    Polycarp 1 2
    Papias ? 1
    27. "Am bemerkenswertisten fur unsere Zwecke ist das Absehen von allen fremden Stoffen (speaking of Clement)." A. Harnack, Der erste Klememsbriefe, p. 53.
    28. Gebhardt and zann, Patrum Apostolicorum Opera (Minor) pp. 227ff.
    All writers Clement Barnabas
    O.T. 239 110 99
    N.T. 101 20 5
    29. It is so recorded of Paul also in Acts 20:35.
    30. E.g., the epistolary form, the salutation, the mosaic of N. T. phrases (e.g., Polycarp to the Phillppians 2, 1-3).
    31. E.g., Clement agrees at times with Paul where both differ from the LXX (I Cl. 13, 1; I Cor. 1:31, II Cor. 10:16 and I Cl. 34; I Cor. 2:9). See W. Sanday, The Gospels in the Second Century (1876), p.19. (See also I Cl. 15, 2; 36, 3.) That these similarities can be explained by the existence of some type of written "testimonia" is unlikely. The theory that the early church had a written collection of O. T. passages which was used by N. T. writers and the apostolic fathers is not borne out from the quotations in the apostolic fathers. The variety of quotations and individual choice of each writer argue against the presence of written testimonia, the composite quotations which are rendered in varying degrees of exactness, e.g., the first part is exact and the second is free (I CL 53,4; 1 Cl. 14,4) suggest that the first is copied from the Scripture text and the second rendered by memory rather than both from a "testimonia" document. Clement's quotations are tied together by key words rather than upon the basis of prophecy and fulfillment (with which the Testimonia theory is particularly connected). Concerning the possible existence of "Florilegien" or "Onomastica" see H. Thyen, Der Sill der Judisch-Hellenistischen Homilie (1955), pp. 64-68.
    32. E.g. I Cl. 23, 3; 17, 1.
    33. I Cl. 47,3.
    34. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3, 3, 3.

    Scanned: Michael Riggs
    Corrected: Daniel Dyke