The Shepherd of Hermas is an early Christian text that was highly regarded by some early Christians but did not make it into the final canon of the New Testament. It is a symbolic apocalyptic vision written in the 2nd century AD and divided into three sections known as Visions, Mandates, and Similitudes.
The text presents itself as written by Hermas, a former slave who became a Christian prophet and leader of the church at Rome. However, modern scholars believe the author is unknown and used the name Hermas as a literary fiction. The Shepherd of Hermas was very popular in the early church and was even considered scripture by some. A few early Christian writings like the Muratorian Canon and Irenaeus cite The Shepherd of Hermas as scripture. However, the text was mostly unknown outside of Rome which limited its popularity and canonical status.
The Shepherd of Hermas uses apocalyptic and symbolic imagery to encourage repentance, faithfulness, and adherence to God’s commands. The overarching theme is on resisting temptation, avoiding apostasy, and repentance for those who have fallen away. It provided practical ethical guidance for Christian living and church order. The text relies heavily on allegorical visions and parables to communicate its message.
There has been much debate historically regarding whether The Shepherd of Hermas should be considered scripture and included in the Bible. Some key considerations include:
- The early usage and popularity of the book among some Christians suggests it was highly valued and on par with canonical books for some. However, its limited scope also showed it was not universally valued as scripture.
- The Shepherd of Hermas does not provide definitive theological or historical details and was disputed even early on. Other books were considered more authoritative.
- Its literary form and extensive use of allegory/symbolism makes it difficult to establish concrete doctrines compared to other early Christian texts.
- The Shepherd of Hermas provides helpful ethical guidance for Christian living but does not fundamentally teach or expound upon core Christian theology like canonical New Testament books.
- No credible authorship or apostolic connection makes its origins suspect compared to texts attributed to apostles or those close to Jesus.
- The Shepherd of Hermas has some theological principles and doctrinal stances that are inconsistent with the broader New Testament writings.
There are good reasons the Shepherd of Hermas was appreciated by early Christians but not ultimately included in the New Testament canon. While useful for spiritual guidance, it does not carry the same authority as books that expound definitive Christian theology and doctrine with credible apostolic origins. The Shepherd of Hermas serves more as an example of early Christian apocalyptic literature rather than inspired scripture.
Key reasons The Shepherd of Hermas should likely not be considered scripture or included in the Bible include:
- The content is primarily ethical guidance and allegorical visions rather than concrete theology.
- There is no credible authorship or apostolic connection.
- The limited scope of use among early churches shows it was not universally accepted.
- Contradictory theological principles with other biblical writings.
- The allegorical and apocalyptic nature make it difficult to establish definitive doctrines.
- Was not included in major early canon lists like the Muratorian Canon.
At the same time, The Shepherd of Hermas still provides value in understanding early Christian thinking and spiritual perspectives:
- Demonstrates how apocalyptic literature influenced early Christian writings.
- Provides insight into how early Christians understood repentance and pastoral care.
- Highlights early Christian use of allegorical visions and parables for teaching.
- Contains ethical teachings on marriage, adultery, truth, falsehood, and apostasy still relevant today.
- Shows one application of Christian faith to practical daily life in 2nd century.
The Shepherd of Hermas serves a historical role in understanding the development of Christianity but does not carry the same authority as the theological and apostolic writings that became the New Testament canon. For early Christians, The Shepherd of Hermas was a popular and helpful text for teaching but was not equivalent with the Gospels and letters that established core Christian theology tied to Jesus and the apostles.
There are a few key references to The Shepherd of Hermas in the early church writings and canon lists:
- Irenaeus cited The Shepherd of Hermas as scripture in his work Against Heresies around 180 AD.
- The Muratorian Canon list from the late 2nd century included it as useful for reading but not as scripture.
- Athanasius excluded it from his 367 AD Easter letter that listed canonical books.
- The Council of Carthage in 397 AD listed it as apocryphal rather than scripture.
- Eusebius and Tyrannius also classified The Shepherd of Hermas as disputed rather than canonical.
So while some early prominent Christians like Irenaeus esteemed The Shepherd of Hermas, key leaders and councils by the late 4th century definitively classified it as non-canonical and apocryphal rather than scripture. This settled opinion reflected the wider consensus of the early churches.
Some key similarities The Shepherd of Hermas has with biblical writings include:
- Heavy use of visions, parables, and allegorical imagery like Revelation or parts of the Gospels.
- Focus on ethical living and righteousness as seen in the Epistles and wisdom literature.
- Addressing topics like apostasy, repentance, and standing firm in faith found throughout the New Testament.
- Apocalyptic themes and symbology resembling the book of Revelation.
- Practical pastoral advice for relationships, marriage, and church life evident in the Epistles.
However, there are also substantial differences that distinguished The Shepherd of Hermas from biblical writings:
- No credible claim to authorship by an apostle or anyone close to Jesus.
- Allegorical stories and teachings rather than historical narrative.
- Lack of definitive theological exposition seen in the Epistles.
- Dated perspective tied to a specific early time period and church situation.
- The extensive symbolism makes precise doctrinal teaching difficult.
- Potentially contradictory perspectives to other first century Christian writings.
The Shepherd of Hermas has some high-level similarities to biblical books in terms of literary style, themes, and ethical teachings. However, the canonical New Testament books are rooted in apostolic authority and provide definitive theological exposition that is normative for all Christians everywhere. The Shepherd of Hermas lacks this authoritative foundation.
Some key insights The Shepherd of Hermas offers include:
- God patiently calls all Christians to repentance and renewed faithfulness.
- Turning from sin and apostasy brings joy and restoration.
- Relying on God’s help and strength enables righteousness.
- Christians face temptations and trials requiring perseverance.
- The church collectively suffers when Christians fall into unfaithfulness.
- Falsehood and truth cannot coexist just as death and life cannot.
- God desires to reveal mysteries and insight to those who seek Him.
- Gentleness, truth, simplicity, and innocence reflect the way of Christ.
At the same time, faulty theology and doctrine limit its scriptural authority:
- Allows for one post-baptismal repentance which contradicts biblical calls for ongoing confession and repentance.
- Seems to teach salvation by works rather than grace at points.
- Unclear Christology that does not properly expound Jesus’ divine and human natures.
While The Shepherd of Hermas offers helpful ethical principles, its suspect theology coupled with its anonymity and lack of apostolic origins rightly exclude it from the biblical canon. It serves more as an inspirational treatise than authoritative scripture.
Some key reasons early church leaders debated The Shepherd of Hermas’ canonicity include:
- Its early usage and promotion as scripture by some influential leaders like Irenaeus.
- The allegorical style resembling New Testament apocalyptic writings like Revelation.
- Ethical teachings and visionary imagery that were popular in early church practice.
- Lack of clarity around its origins and authorship compared to other texts.
- Emerging doubts about its apostolic and theological integrity as the canon solidified.
- Questions about the extent of its usage and value to the universal church versus just Rome.
- A genre of apocalyptic vision rather than historical narrative or theological exposition.
- Growing availability and authoritative status of texts tied to apostles or those close to Jesus.
While some leaders like Irenaeus initially accepted The Shepherd based on its popularity and content, key factors like its anonymity and lack of concrete theology raised doubts. Its origins from a single church (Rome) rather than the apostles for the whole church also limited its standing as debates continued. These issues led influential thinkers and church councils by the late 4th century to definitively classify it as non-canonical but helpful spiritual reading.
The Shepherd of Hermas provides a valuable window into early Christianity but differs substantially from New Testament writings in key ways:
- The New Testament canon is rooted in apostolic authority and proximity to Jesus while The Shepherd of Hermas has no definitive authorship or origins.
- The New Testament provides authoritative biographical narratives of Jesus while Hermas uses elaborate allegorical visions.
- New Testament writings expound concrete Christology and theology while Hermas focuses on general ethics and symbolism.
- The New Testament emerged from witnesses of Jesus’ ministry while Hermas developed later in the 2nd century.
- The New Testament books circulated early and were widely used while Hermas had minimal circulation beyond Rome.
- The New Testament presents unified theology while Hermas has contradictions with other scriptural teachings.
The Shepherd of Hermas offers helpful spiritual example but its anonymity, contradiction of scriptural principles, limited use, and lack of developed theology rightly excluded it from the canon that emerged to authoritatively define the Christian faith for the whole church.
The Shepherd of Hermas provides some notable ethical teachings on Christian living including:
- The importance of pursuing righteousness, simplicity, and holiness.
- Warnings against apostasy, unfaithfulness, and falling away from Christ.
- Calls to turn from wickedness and return to God.
- Instructions for harmonious family life and sexual purity in marriage.
- Admonitions against deceit, malice, pride and hypocrisy.
- Encouragement to endure trials and rely on God’s strength.
- Exaltation of truth, innocence, and faith as virtues.
- Critiques of wealth, materialism, and superficial religion.
At the same time, the book has questionable and potentially harmful theological teachings:
- Salvation by means of merits and works rather than grace.
- Possibility of one-time post-baptismal repentance from serious sin.
- Baptism as the means of initial forgiveness and salvation.
- Unclear Trinitarian theology and Christology.
- Reliance on ongoing visions, dreams, and revelation.
The Shepherd of Hermas presents a rigorous call for righteousness and provides insight into early Christian spirituality. However, its errors and lack of firm theological grounding in the apostolic gospel rightly exclude it from biblical canon.
The Shepherd of Hermas provides an inspirational example in some ways but not authoritative scripture. Reasons it falls short of scriptural standing include:
- Lack of apostolic connection or verifiable origins.
- Use of elaborate allegorical visions rather than historical narrative.
- No direct witnesses or proximity to Jesus’ ministry.
- Dated perspectives tied to a specific early church situation.
- Minimal circulation or acceptance beyond the church in Rome.
- Errors and contradictions with New Testament teachings.
- Primary focus on general ethics rather than theological exposition.
- Classification as apocryphal rather than scripture by church leaders.
At the same time, The Shepherd of Hermas still offers value to modern readers in these ways:
- Example of early Christian apocalyptic literature and visionary experience.
- Historical insights into church life, theology, and ethics of the period.
- Inspirational calls to righteous living, endurance, and repentance.
- Extensive use of allegories and symbolic visions in teaching.
- Pastoral advice for marriage, family, and personal conduct.
While The Shepherd of Hermas falls short of scriptural authority, it still has relevance as an inspirational early Christian writing with historical and literary value for modern readers.
In summary, The Shepherd of Hermas provides interesting historical insights but lacks the authoritative theological foundation to be considered scripture. Key reasons it should remain outside the biblical canon include:
- No connection to Jesus or the apostolic eyewitnesses.
- Use of esoteric allegories and visions rather than authoritative teaching.
- Limited scope of circulation and acceptance in early church.
- Dated cultural perspectives tied to 2nd century Rome.
- Contradictory or underdeveloped theology compared to the New Testament.
- Classification as apocryphal rather than scripture by early church leaders.
While The Shepherd of Hermas has inspirational elements, its deficiencies mean it does not meet the standards of New Testament scripture. However, it still has value for providing historical context to early Christianity and spiritual encouragement when read with discernment.