The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism -- By: Larry V. Crutchfield

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 02:6 (Sep 1998)
Article: The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism
Author: Larry V. Crutchfield


The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of
Dispensationalism

Larry V. Crutchfield

Professor of Early Christian History & Culture
Columbia Evangelical Seminary, Longview, WA

Part III—Dispensational Concepts in the Apostolic Fathers: The Didache, The Epistle to Barnabas, and Hermas’ The Shepherd

Introduction

In the previous article we evaluated the writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Papias of Hierapolis for elementary features of dispensational theology. Due to the nature and extent of their writings, we found the data to be limited, and in many instances inconclusive. For example, while the attitude of expectancy is strong in Clement and Ignatius, there is little by which to gage the views of Polycarp and Papias on this subject. And while the millenarianism of Papias is unquestioned, and strongly implied in Polycarp, who was the Apostle John’s disciple and Irenaeus’s mentor, it can only be inferred for Clement and Ignatius on the basis of certain references and apostolic associations. In no case can the eschatological outlines be given in any detail.

With the additional data presented in the The Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, and The Shepherd, however, new strokes are added to the canvas of early eschatological views. The painting is still sketchy to be sure. But the Epistle of Barnabas provides important information on the chronological divisions of human history (in terms of the year-day tradition), and on the distinctions that exist among saints of different ages. In The Didache and The Shepherd, significant new details are added to our understanding of early patristic views on end-time events, especially concerning the concept of imminency.

The Didache (before end of first century A.D.)

As the name suggests, The Didache or The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles, was an instructional handbook for Gentiles which dealt with matters of morality, liturgy, and church life.

Discovered in 1873, this oldest extant handbook of church order and conduct prompted a torrent of scholarly debate and discussion. But down the years to the present, the author (or compiler) remains unknown and the setting (Syria, Palestine, or Egypt) can be given with no real confidence. As to the date of composition, reasonable estimates range from a.d. 60 to 90.1 It is possible that this work is the oldest extant non-canonical literature. It could well have been penned while the Apostle John was...

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