Did the Church Fathers View Their Own Writings as “Inspired” Like Scripture?

by Michael J. Kruger

A number of years ago, Albert Sundberg wrote a well-known article arguing that the early church fathers did not see inspiration as something that was uniquely true of canonical books.[1]  Why?  Because, according to Sundberg, the early Church Fathers saw their own writings as inspired.   Ever since Sundberg, a number of scholars have repeated this claim, insisting that the early fathers saw nothing distinctive about the NT writings as compared to writings being produced in their own time period.

Just recently, Lee McDonald has repeated this claim numerous times in his latest volume, The Formation of the Biblical Canon, vol. 2 (T&T Clark, 2017), particularly as he responds to my own work.  To be sure, McDonald has done some great work on canon, and I appreciate much in this new volume.  But, I have to disagree with him on this point.

Of course, now is not the time for a full-scale response. But we can (briefly) observe several factors that speak against this idea that the church fathers saw their own writings as on par with the apostles.

First, the early church fathers repeatedly express that the apostles had a distinctive authority that was higher and separate from their own.  So, regardless of whether they viewed themselves as “inspired” in some sense, we have to acknowledge that they still viewed the inspiration/authority of the apostles as somehow different.

A few examples should help…

Did the Church Fathers View Their Own Writings as “Inspired” Like Scripture?