They can also be helpful in understanding words and concepts that don’t occur too often in the New Testament. This is one of the primary reasons I look to these writings, and one of the primary reasons I wanted to make these writings more widely available in the form of the Apostolic Fathers Greek-English Interlinear.
My guess is that most of us are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the so-called “Love Chapter.” You know, “Love is patient, love is kind,” and all that?
Did you know that the Greek word translated “is kind” in that verse (1Cor 13:4) is the only instance of that word in the New Testament? The Greek word is χρηστεύομαι. It isn’t a difficult word, though, and looking elsewhere isn’t going to change the definition we’d use in 1Cor 13:4. But did you know this word occurs three times in First Clement?
First Clement is a letter that was probably written in the early 90’s from the Roman church to the Corinthian church (you know, the church that Paul wrote First and Second Corinthians to about 30 years earlier). In Clement’s time, the Corinthian church had booted out its leadership, but the Roman church didn’t think the action was merited. So they wrote a letter to the Corinthians saying, essentially, “You guys need to get along. Here’s why.” In the midst of that, Clement talks to them about being kind in chapters 13 and 14.
In the first two instances (1Cl 13.2), after attributing his words to “the Lord Jesus” in 1Cl 13.1, Clement gives a pastiche of gospel quotations (Mt 5:7; 6:14–15; 7:1–2, 12; Lk 6:31, 36–38), mixing “kindness” in with them:
For [Jesus] spoke as follows: “Show mercy, that you may be shown mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven you; as you do so will it be done to you; as you give so will it be given to you; as you judge so will you be judged; as you are kind so will kindness be shown to you; with which measure you measure, with it will be measured to you.” (1Cl 13.2)
Continuing the argument in chapter 14, Clement uses “kind” one more time:
Therefore it is right and holy, men and brothers, for us to be obedient to God rather than to follow those instigators of loathsome jealousy in arrogance and insurrection. For it is not common harm but rather great danger we will endure if we recklessly surrender ourselves to the purposes of the people who plunge into strife and rebellion in order to estrange us from what is good. Let us be kind to them, according to the tenderheartedness and sweetness of the one who made us. (1Cl 14.1–3)
Do you see what Clement is doing? He is exhorting the Corinthians to put aside how they feel, to be “obedient to God,” and to not treat the leadership of their church with the same harshness the leadership dealt them. Verse 3 (using our word, χρηστεύομαι) turns it back around: “Let us be kind to them.” Verse 4 follows this using a very similar word, χρηστός (the noun form, “kind”), again probably quoting Scripture, this time Prov 2:21–22; Ps 37:9, 38, “The kind shall be inhabitants of the land ….”
Whether purposefully or not, Clement is using the same word Paul used as he writes to the same church. Paul told the Corinthians that “love is kind”; Clement is telling them how to show the kindness of love to the exiled leadership of the church.
This is one of the reasons why I so enjoy the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. They use the same language and the same themes, and careful examination of them in conjunction with study of the Bible can reap profitable dividends.
If this kind of stuff appeals to you, maybe you should get in on the pre-pub for the Apostolic Fathers Greek-English Interlinear while it is still available with Pre-Pub pricing.