In addition to the New Testament, early Christian writers produced volumes of important works that give valuable insight into early Christian beliefs, doctrines, and customs, as well as various types of exhortation. Many of these writings also contain brief statements concerning the historicity of Jesus.
Our purpose in this chapter is not to investigate all these statements, but to study only those passages that exhibit an explicitly historical interest. Because of this emphasis on the historically-oriented claims, our treatment of these ancient Christian sources will be comparatively brief despite the large number of works that fit into this category.^1 We begin with the earlier writers, usually referred to as the “apostolic fathers” (about AD 90–125),^2 and then present some historical statements in a few writings that immediately followed this earlier period.
Clement of Rome
One of the most important apostolic documents, Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthian church is generally considered to be the earliest extra-New Testament Christian writing. Clement was the leading elder in the church at Rome and wrote Corinthiansabout AD 95 to help end a dispute between the church members and elders at Corinth.
Although Corinthiansis largely doctrinal and moral in nature, it contains at least one important historical reference to Jesus and earliest Christianity: The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first- fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.^3
In this passage, Clement of Rome claims several facts. (1)The gospel or good news of the Kingdom of God was the major Christian message. (2)This gospel had been given to the apostles by Jesus himself even as it came from God. (3)Jesus’ resurrection provided the assurance of the truthfulness of these teachings.
1 Therefore, some well-known works such as the Shepherd of Hermaswill not be included in this discussion at all, since it contains little that might be counted as historical information concerning Jesus.
2 Quotations from the apostolic fathers are taken from J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers.
3 Clement of Rome, Corinthians, 42.
From Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus – Ancient Evidence For The Life Of Christ (in print at Amazon)
(4)With the additional certainty of Scripture, the apostles spread the gospel. (5)Wherever the gospel was preached and local congregations were started, leaders were chosen to minister to the believers.
This certification of a chain of authority from God to Jesus to the apostles to the early Christian elders is interesting not only in that it was the basis for early doctrinal proclamation and church organization. Additionally, Clement of Rome anchors this authority in the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead and in the Scripture. A miraculous event in history was thus taken as the basic sign of authority behind the preaching of the earliest Christian message. Ignatius