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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: May 2021

6 - The Reception of Paul, Peter, and James in the Apostolic Fathers


Within the early Christian communities, according to the documents that bear witness to them, the figures of Paul, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus loom large. Already in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Peter (Cephas) and James are noted as “pillars” of the church (Gal. 2.9) and are the only two apostles Paul deemed it necessary to meet during his first trip to Jerusalem (1.18–19). In subsequent decades and centuries, the importance of all three figures was continually reaffirmed through communal memory, traditions, and writings about them or attributed to them. Limited to the writings that comprise the Apostolic Fathers, however, their representation is somewhat sparser. Of the eleven authors now conventionally included among the Apostolic Fathers, five do not explicitly mention Paul, Peter or James at all. Considered individually, appeals to these figures are not evenly distributed: Peter and Paul appear variously while James is entirely absent, with the possible exception of one fragment from Papias, discussed below. Even within the letters of Ignatius, whose seven-letter corpus contains the majority of appeals to Peter and Paul in the Apostolic Fathers, only three or four of the seven mention Peter or Paul. All this amounts to the fact that roughly half of the authors or writings of the Apostolic Fathers do not feel the need to appeal explicitly to any of these apostolic figures in the course of their arguments, however much they may be indebted to them on the level of broader early Christian discourse. This is no doubt due, at least in part, to the artificial and somewhat arbitrary nature of the textual corpus labeled the “Apostolic Fathers,” which arose in the seventeenth century and whose textual contents were not fixed in convention until after the publication of the Didache in 1883. It is perhaps also a function of the nature of the works included in the collection: the occasional nature of the Ignatian letters, the appropriation of apocalyptic discourse in The Shepherd of Hermas, the presumption of many shared, and therefore unstated, traditions in all texts, etc.

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