The Apostolic Fathers
The earliest documents in the post-canonical period are the ‘Apostolic Fathers’. Two of them excel in their opposite evaluation of the Old Testament. The Epistle of Barnabas, actually a theological treatise, probably written in the first quarter of the second century in Egypt or Asia, is like Hebrews built up of Old Testament quotations as theological arguments. Barnabas does not start with the Christ-event as something superior to all that happened in Old Testament times, but for him the complete Old Testament is obligatory as a document of revelation; every theological argument has to be verified from its wording. On the other side the whole salvation history before Christ and every Old Testament institution lose their independent value, as the author denies rigidly any Jewish claim upon the Bible. The Jews have lost it forever ( 4: 7 ), when Moses broke the tablets of the law at Sinai (Exod. 32: 19 ). Therefore circumcision (9: 4), diet laws (10), and sabbath (15) are invalid. The interpretations Barnabas presents are traditional (cf. 1: 5; 9: 4). He understands the complete Old Testament as prophecy (1: 7). Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David (as psalmist), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel are called prophets. Their prophecies exclusively point to Jesus Christ and his coming (5: 6). Fulfilments in the Old Testament itself are excluded. Especially the passion of Jesus is predicted (6: 7). Barnabas 7: 3–11 gives close parallels to every detail of the passion history; often a catchword (the red colour of the cloak, Mark 15: 17 ; the wood of the cross) is the connecting link. Cultic regulations in the Old Testament are explained spiritually (10: 2f.). The prophetic cult criticism is adopted and intensified. Instead, the author admonishes his readers to inquire as to the ethical demands of the Lord (2: 1). This intention stands in the background of the main part of the treatise (2–17), culminating in the motive of the two ways (18–20; cf. Didache 1–5). However, Barnabas also knows about the remission of sins by the passion of Christ (5: 1; 5: 5; 7: 2f., 5; 14: 4), which is received with baptism (11: 1).
Whereas Barnabas sees a break between the institutions of the Old Testament and the church of Christ, 1 Clement (an official letter of the congregation of Rome to the congregation of Corinth; 1: 1) stresses the continuation. The main intention of the missive, written about the end of the first century, when news about an insurrection in Corinth against the leaders of the congregation reached the capital (1: 1; 14: 2; 46: 9; 51: 1; 52: 2; 57: 1; 63: 1), is to admonish the insurgents to bow their necks under the rule of the legitimate presbyters (57: 1f.). But the author—as it seems, himself a presbyter and preacher—would also mix other topics into his lengthy tract. The Old Testament plays an important role in his arguments. Figures of the Old Testament are mentioned in chapter 4 as warning examples for the bad consequences of jealousy and envy: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses' flight from Egypt, Aaron and Miriam, Dathan and Abiram, Saul's persecution of David. Noah's and Jonah's penitential sermons (Jonah 3 ) show that the insurgents can save themselves by penance ( 7: 6–7 ). Chapters 9–12 contain a long chain of examples of pious believers, famous for their faith, their obedience and especially their hospitality. In chapter 16 Jesus Christ himself is introduced as prototype of humility, proved by a long quotation of Isaiah 53: 1–12 , followed by 22: 7ff . Chapters 17–18 mention Elijah and Elisha, Abraham, Job, Moses, David (citing Ps. 51: 3–19 ) as righteous men who remained humble. For 1 Clement, the faithful of the Old Testament are witnesses of a belief to be imitated by the present Christian generation. There is no break in the history of salvation. In chapter 32 the priests and Levites, ‘the lord Jesus according to the flesh’, the kings and rulers of Judah, and all the tribes as descendants of Abraham are together the ones who came to honour by the will of God. Chapter 20 casts a look on the wonderful order of the universe and its creator; creation motifs also appear in the concluding prayer in chapters 59–61. Chapters 21–38 contain additional admonitions. Also in this passage many quotations from the Old Testament are interspersed. Chapters 40–44 explain (in contrast to Heb.) that the Old Testament orders and offices can be regarded as analogous to the orders and offices in the church. Thus, for instance, the distinction between bishops, presbyters (priests), and laymen is already prefigured in the Old Testament and the cult-orders in Jerusalem are a model for the Christian liturgy. Clement's first epistle mirrors a type of theology which probably was common in the communities of the period; the distance to Paul's thoughtful reflections is obvious.