Biblical References by
Early Church Fathers
Although no early Church Fathers put forth a list of books accepted as Scripture, many of them did appear to regard certain first century works as Scripture and quoted them as such. Of the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome was the first to mention the Apostle Paul by name in his Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Clement 5:5 & 47:5). The only letters of Paul’s that he makes use of, however, are Paul’s letter to the Romans (e.g., 1 Clem. 35:5-6; cf.
Rom. 1:29-32) and the first letter to the Corinthians (1 Clem. 47:1-4). He does use Hebrews (1 Clem. 36), but does not mention an author. Ignatius of Antioch mentions Paul by name in his Epistle to the Ephesians (12.2) and the Epistle to the Romans (4.3). Ignatius does not otherwise use Paul’s letters although he is aware of several Pauline letters (cf. Eph. 12.2). Polycarp of Smyrna mentions Paul by name and references letters that Paul wrote (Phil. 3.2; 9.1; 11.2, 3). Papias of Hierapolis wrote five books on the Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord, but his works are preserved only fragmentarily in later writers, such as Irenaeus (Haer. 5:33:4) and Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 3.39). In this work, Papias recorded that Mark wrote down the words of Peter and ‘Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language’ (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3:39: 15-16).
Later Church Fathers would continue to quote the Gospels and Paul’s letters with even broader use. Justin Martyr in the mid-second century uses the phrase ‘the memoirs of the apostles’ and explains that these memoirs are read in the public assembly (1 Apology 67.3). In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (106:3), he cites a passage as coming from the memoirs of Peter (Mark 3:16-17 as early tradition holds that Mark wrote on behalf of Peter). At Dialogue 103.8, he mentions that these memoirs were composed by the apostles and those who followed them. Justin Martyr does seem to recognize the Septuagint and the Deuterocanon as Scripture; In Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, he notes that Trypho’s teachers “refuse to admit that the interpretation made by the seventy elders” (i.e., the Greek Septuagint) and have “taken away many Scriptures” from that translation. (Dialogue with Trypho, 71-72). Justin makes ample use of the Greek Septuagint in his Dialogue with Trypho. Theophilus of Antioch, from the late-second-century, quotes portions of 1 Tim. 2:2 and Tit. 3:1 as the divine word (Apol. Ad Autolycum 3.14). In 171 A.D. Dionysius of Corinth apparently viewed 1 Clement as Scripture as in a letter to Pope Soter, he says 1 Clement is read publicly. Eusebius would later echo this sentiment of 1 Clement as he notes that this letter was “publicly read for common benefit, in most of the churches” (Church History 3:16), and because of its early origin “it is probable that this was also numbered with the other writings of the apostles” (3:38).
Irenaeus of Lyons quoted or alluded to all of the Pauline letters, with the exception of Philemon. Regarding the New Testament canon, Irenaeus states in Adversus Haereses that there are only four Gospels and would quote from all the books of the New Testament with the exception of II Peter, III John, and Jude. However, he also treated both I Clement (Adv Haer 3:3:3), and the Shepherd of Hermas (Adv Haer 4:20:2) as Scripture. On Shepherd of Hermas, St. Irenaeus of Lyons directly describes it as “Scripture” (Against Heresies 4:20:2). Clement of Alexandria would echo this sentiment as he repeatedly used the work and said it was written “by divine inspiration” (Stromateis 1:29:181:1). In the early 200s, Origen also referred to it as Scripture, though he said it was “not acknowledged by all to be divine” (Commentary on Matthew 14:21). In the 300s, it was included in Codex Sinaiticus. Clement of Alexandria cites all the books of the New Testament as Scripture with the exception of Philemon, James, II Peter, II John, and III John. He would, however, also treat some additional works not found in the New Testament as Scripture. He referred to the Apocalypse of Peter as Scripture (Eclogae Propheticae 41) and attributes it to Peter. According to Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria considered the Letter of Barnabas to be Scripture (Church History 6:14). He would also quote as Scripture; The Gospel of the Hebrews (Strom II:9:45, Strom V:14:96), I Clement (Strom III:45, III:63, III:64, III:66, III:97), and the Didache (Strom I:100:4).
- Edmon L. Gallagher and John D. Meade. The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis. Oxford University Press. 2017
Books Quoted as Scripture
by Early Church Fathers:
Source Used: Edmon L. Gallagher and John D. Meade. The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis. Oxford University Press. 2017
The New Testament Canon:
Quoted by Irenaeus of Lyons:
Quoted by Clement of Alexandria:
Modern N.T. Canon
Luke / Acts
Gospel of the Hebrews
Epistle of Barnabas
|Shepherd of Hermas|
|Shepherd of Hermas|
Apocalypse of John (Revelation)
|Revelation||Apocalypse of Peter|