Shepherd of Hermas

1.0 Translations: A: by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson | B: J.B. Lightfoot

2.0 The Development of the Canon of the New Testament: Shepherd of Hermas[1]

(middle of 2nd century CE)

The Shepherd of Hermas was one of the most popular books produced in the early Church, and for a time it was frequently quoted and regarded as inspired. The book is a picturesque religious allegory, in most of which a rugged figure dressed like a shepherd is Hermas’ guide.

From this the book took its name, ‘The Shepherd’. Comprising a rambling mélange of 5 Visions, 12 Mandates, and 10 Similitudes, the book is characterized by strong moral earnestness. It is primarily a call to repentance and adherence to a life of strict morality, addressed to Christians among whom the memory of persecution is still fresh., and over whom now hangs the shadow of another great tribulation.

The genre of Visions 1-4 is that of a Jewish-Christian apocalypse; except that the interpretation of the vision does not concern the end times, but the possibility of repentance because the end is not yet. The Mandates reflect the form of a typical Jewish-Hellenistic homily.

The closest parallels to the Similitudes are the parables in the book of I Enoch. These parables, in which typically the telling of a parable is followed by a request for and granting of an interpretation, and finally blessings and curses upon those who either do or do not heed it, are more like allegorical similes than the more familiar parables of the synoptic Gospels.

The questions of date and authorship are still unresolved. Perhaps the least unsatisfactory resolution of the conflicting evidence is to suppose that Hermas was a younger contemporary of Clement and wrote (and perhaps published) sections of his rambling treatise at intervals over a considerable period of time, finally gathering them together in one volume toward the middle of the 2nd century. For more discussion of the evidence[2]see [Metzger] pp. 64-65 and [LHH] pp. 190-191.

The personality of Hermas is clearly revealed in the book. With garrulous naïveté he relates all manner of intimate details concerning himself and his family. We learn that, as a Christian slave, he had been sold in Rome to a woman called Rhoda, who set him free.

As a freedman he married, acquired a fortune (though not always by lawful transaction), and through ill luck had again been reduced to poverty. He tells us that during the persecution his children apostatized, that they betrayed their own parents, and that they led a disorderly life.

Hermas depicts himself as slow of understanding but insatiable in curiosity, and at the same time as ‘patient and good tempered, and always smiling’, ‘full of all simplicity and of great guilelessness’ (Vision 1.2). We may conclude that he was a simple man of limited outlook, but genuinely pious and conscientious.

The text of the Shepherd has not been well preserved. Only 3 incomplete Greek manuscripts and a number of small fragments have been discovered, and no Greek text is available for nearly all of 107.3-114.5.

The major extant witnesses are:

codex Sinaiticus, 4th. c. (Greek) 1.1-31.6
codex Athous, 14-15th c (Greek) 1.1-107.2
P. Michigan 129, 3rd c., (Greek) 51.8-82.1
Vulgate translation (Latin) the text used for 107.3-114.5
MS (Ethiopic)

There are also many small fragments in Greek, and fragments of a Middle Persian translation have also been discovered. The book is fairly lengthy; an English translation can be found in [LHH] pp. 194-290.

3.0 Should the Shepherd of Hermas be considered scripture?[3]by Luke Wayne 8/22/16

No, the “Shepherd of Hermas,” was never part of the New Testament and should not be considered scripture.

In the early church, there was a very popular book known as “The Shepherd” by a man named Hermas (today, the book is generally referred to as “The Shepherd of Hermas”). It recorded a series of teachings and parables which, in the narrative of the book, are given to Hermas through visions of a heavenly figure in the form of a shepherd.

The book was written some time in the mid 2nd century and was extremely widely read, copied, and translated by early Christians. We have around 11 surviving manuscripts of The Shepherd that are from the 2nd/3rd century AD (within 150 years of the book’s composition).[4]Larry Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006) 23 

That is an incredible wealth of very early witnesses and speaks to the book’s popularity. The earliest bound copy of the entire Bible as a single book, the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, contains the Shepherd of Hermas at the end of the volume. It is not surprising that this has led some critics to conclude that The Shepherd was once considered Holy Scripture by early Christians and that it was originally part of the Canon of the New Testament before later being removed. One scholar, for example, explains:

“The Shepherd was a popular book among Christians of the first four centuries. Written by Hermas, brother of Pius, Bishop of Rome, during the first half of the second century, the book was regarded by some churches as canonical scripture.

It was eventually excluded from the canon, however, in part because it was known not to have been written by an apostle. Even so, it was still included as one of the books of the New Testament in the fourth century codex Sinaiticus and is mentioned by other authors of the time as standing on the margins of the Canon.”[5]Bart Ehrman, Lost Scriptures (Oxford University Press, 2003) 251

This appears to be a pretty strong case. However, while on the surface one can understand why people would jump to such a conclusion, the facts actually point the other way. On closer examination, it is clear that the book was highly valued by early Christians but was carefully distinguished from canonical scripture and was not publically read or preached upon in the churches as authentic biblical revelation.

In Early Canon Lists:

Several early Christian lists of canonical books directly discussed The Shepherd’s relationship to the canon was. The “Muratorian Canon”, a 2nd century listing of the New Testament books from not long after The Shepherd first began circulating explains:

“But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read, but it cannot be read publicly to the people of the church either among the prophets, whose number is complete, or among the apostles, for it is after [their] time.” Muratorian Canon[6]ibid, 333

In other words, the Shepherd is from a respected source, and it is worth reading, but it is not part of the Old or New Testaments. It is valuable, but it does not possess biblical authority. It is not scripture.

Eusebius, a 4th century Christian historian and theologian, identified the book in a category often translated “spurious,” listing it alongside books like the “Didache” and the “Epistle of Barnabas.”

He explained that such books were generally considered orthodox and useful, but were not to be regarded as inspired or read in formal church gatherings. He not only distinguished these books from true scripture but also from the “disputed” books that were considered scripture by some but were not yet accepted as scripture by all churches at that time (such as 2nd Peter and 3rd John).

He places The Shepherd in a third category this is useful but definitely not scripture.[7]ibid, 338 He thus demonstrates that, while these books were popular among Christians, they were not considered Holy Scripture. This wasn’t even a dispute where some considered it scripture and others didn’t. There was simply no discussion of The Shepherd being part of the Canon.

This is also confirmed in a 4th century letter of Athanasius of Alexandria. After listing the 27 books of the New Testament “without hesitation,” Athanasius went on to write that, “There are books other than these that are not, on the one hand, included in the canon, but that have nonetheless been distinguished by the fathers as books to be read to those who have recently come to the faith and who wish to be instructed in the word of piety.” Shepherd of Hermas was again placed in this category, along with the Didache and others.[8]ibid, 340

The fact that these books are considered beneficial to read to recent converts may well be the reason that they were bound in Codex Sinaiticus after the New Testament. Since owning one’s own personal Bible was not common in this era, the volume probably represented something more like what we would think of today as a local church library. It contained the scriptures for public reading and teaching, but also other useful books for the ministers of the church to use in discipleship, devotional reading, and study.

Irenaeus and The Shepherd:

It is often said that one of the most prominent 2nd century Christian apologists and theologians, Irenaeus of Lyons, directly refers to The Shepherd as scripture. A typical translation of what Irenaeus wrote would be something like:

“Truly, then, the Scripture declared, which says, “First of all believe that there is one God, who has established all things, and completed them, and having caused that from what had no being, all things should come into existence:” He who contains all things, and is Himself contained by no one.

Rightly also has Malachi said among the prophets: “Is it not one God who hath established us? Have we not all one Father?” In accordance with this, too, does the apostle say, “There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all.” Likewise does the Lord also say: “All things are delivered to Me by My Father;” manifestly by Him who made all things; for He did not deliver to Him the things of another, but His own,” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 10, Section 2)

While neither Hermas not his book are mentioned here by name, the first quote in the series is from The Shepherd and is preceded by the words “the scripture declared, which says…” Translated this way, it seems to us that Irenaeus is plainly calling The Shepherd “scripture” as we would understand that term today. The Greek word translated here, however, is “graphe,” which means “writing.” It is often used to mean “scripture” in the technical sense, but is also often used of any written document.

For example, Irenaeus prays regarding his own book that God would, “give to every reader of this book [graphe] to know Thee, that Thou art God alone, to be strengthened in Thee, and to avoid every heretical, and godless, and impious doctrine.”[9]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 10, section 4Irenaeus calls his own book a “graphe”, but no one believes that he thought his own book should be part of the canon. So we have to ask the question: is Irenaeus calling The Shepherd “Scripture” in the technical sense or is he using “graphe” in a more general sense.

It is often pointed out that the citation is in a series that also includes Malachi, Ephesians, and Matthew, and therefore it must mean “Scripture,” but if we look closer at how each of these quotes is cited, we get a different picture. The entire group is not called “graphe” here. Only “The Shepherd” is cited as “the scripture” or “the writing.”

When Malachi is cited, he says, “Rightly also has Malachi said among the prophets…” Malachi is cited by name and listed as being “among the prophets…” Ephesians is likewise cited as, “In accordance with this, too, does the apostle say…” Ephesians is not called a “scripture” or as a “writing,” but as the words of the apostle.

Again, when Matthew is cited, the formula Irenaeus uses here is, “Likewise does the Lord also say…” If “graphe” here meant scripture, it would apply to all these citations. They would ALL be scripture. Instead, Irenaeus cites four different authorities on the matter: the writing, the prophets, the apostle, and the Lord. Irenaeus seems to be citing escalating levels of authority. His argument goes something like:

1.0 A trusted book says this.

2.0 What’s more, the prophets of the old covenant said this.

3.0 Even more, the apostles of Jesus taught this.

4.0 In fact, Jesus Himself taught this.

It is an argument escalating from least to greatest in the minds of the hearers. Implicitly, then, Irenaeus is indicating that Hermas is trustworthy, but is not on the level of the prophets, the apostles, or the Lord. Given what we have read in other early sources, this seems consistent with the perspective widely held by the early church: that the shepherd was a good, useful, and trustworthy book but was not on the level of canonical Holy Scripture.

At any rate, the fact that the word “graphe” is used here in no way demands that Irenaeus regarded the Shepherd as scripture. Even if it could be shown that, against the testimony of other early sources, Irenaeus did regard The Shepherd as scripture, that would by no means be grounds to say that the book really is canonical. It is useful to note, however, that Irenaeus probably did not regard the book that way at all. His statement fits well within the perspective of the other writers we have already looked at.

The 3rd Century Alexandrian Fathers:

It is also often noted that famed early Christian teachers like Clement of Alexandria and Origen quoted and paraphrased from The Shepherd very often and in a quite positive light. What is often ignored in this is that Origen also directly discussed the subject of the canon, including listing the 27 books of the New Testament, and even discussed which ones were still disputed by some churches in his day.

Origen never once even so much as mentions The Shepherd as a possibility in these contexts. He is clear what he and his readers believe the canon to be, and Hermas is not part of it. That The Shepherd was popular among Christians of Alexandria where these men taught is unquestionable.

As we saw above, the later Alexandrian leader, Athanasius, would even recommend the book as useful reading for new converts even though it was not inspired scripture. Likewise, Clement and Origen cite this book the way a modern preacher might cite the words of Martin Luther or passionately quote lines from a well-known hymn like Amazing Grace. These are sources that the pastor and his congregation both respect, trust, and resonate with even though they don’t believe them to be infallible or part of the Canon of the New Testament.


Tertullian (late 2nd/early 3rd century) was one of the early church fathers who was most open to the idea of the continuation of prophetic gifts and divine revelation through the Spirit.

If there was anyone who was going to accept The Shepherd as being divine revelation on par with scripture, one would expect Tertullian to be on board. He was not. In fact, more than once Tertullian was rather harsh on his opponents who would occasionally defend their positions with a citation of the Shepherd without actually backing the position with Canonical Scripture.[10]see, for example, Tertullian, On Modesty, Chapter X

This scenario again fits perfectly well with the situation described plainly in the texts above. The Shepherd was a widely read and highly respected book among early Christians but was not considered to be part of the biblical canon. It is useful to note that Tertullian was a writer of the Latin west.

When we add this to the writers we have already looked at from both North Africa and the Greek-speaking east, we get a pretty clear picture that this was the situation throughout the Christian world.


Of all the books that people claim “should be in the Bible,” the Shepherd of Hermas probably has the strongest case of any of them. Yet even here, we see plainly and clearly that The Shepherd, while popular and considered quite useful by the early church, was never really a contender for a spot in the New Testament.

That is not an insult to the book. It was never supposed to be scripture.

It is no insult to Amazing Grace that we don’t add it to the book of Psalms.

It is no insult to Martin Luther that we don’t add his sermons to the New Testament alongside Paul’s letters.

The church has always found certain writings useful, but Scripture consists only of those books that were infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, and we can be confident that our Bible isn’t missing any.

4.0 The Shepherd of Hermas Ποιμὴν τοῦ Ἑρμᾶ, Poimēn tou Herma (aka)  The Shepherd?[11]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Shepherd of Hermas (Greek: Ποιμὴν τοῦ Ἑρμᾶ, Poimēn tou Herma; sometimes just called The Shepherd) is a Christian literary work of the late 1st or mid-2nd century, considered a valuable book by many Christians, and considered canonical scripture by some of the early Church fathers such as Irenaeus.[12], [13]Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p230 

The Shepherd was very popular amongst Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.[14]“The Pastor of Hermas was one of the most popular books, if not the most popular book, in the Christian Church during the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. It occupied a position analogous in some … Continue reading It was bound as part of the New Testament[15], [16]Aland, Kurt; Barbara Aland (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand … Continue reading in the Codex Sinaiticus, and it was listed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul in the stichometrical list of the Codex Claromontanus.

The work comprises five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it.

The book was originally written in Rome,[17]J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Macmillan & Co., 1891, p. 160; Reprint ISBN 0-8010-5514-8. in the Greek language, but a first Latin translation, the Vulgata,[18]Christian Tornau – Paolo Cecconi (Eda.), The Shepherd of Hermas in Latin. Critical Edition of the Oldest Translation Vulgata, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston 2014 was made very shortly afterwards.

A second Latin translation, the Palatina, was made at the beginning of the fifth century. Only the Latin version has been preserved in full. Of the Greek version the last fifth or so is missing.

The shepherd is one of the meanings that was probably attached to some figurines of the Good Shepherd as well as a symbol for Christ, or a traditional pagan kriophoros.


The book consists of five visions granted to Hermas, a former slave. This is followed by twelve mandates or commandments, and ten similitudes, or parables. It commences abruptly in the first person: “He who brought me up sold me to a certain Rhoda, who was at Rome. After many years I met her again, and began to love her as a sister.” As Hermas was on the road to Cumae, he had a vision of Rhoda.

She told him that she was his accuser in heaven, on account of an unchaste thought the (married) narrator had once had concerning her, though only in passing. He was to pray for forgiveness for himself and all his house.

He is consoled by a vision of the Church in the form of an aged woman, weak and helpless from the sins of the faithful, who tells him to do penance and to correct the sins of his children. Subsequently he sees her made younger through penance, yet wrinkled and with white hair; then again, as quite young but still with white hair; and lastly, she shows herself as glorious as a Bride.

This allegorical language continues through the other parts of the work.

In the second vision she gives Hermas a book, which she afterwards takes back in order to add to it. The fifth vision, which is represented as taking place 20 days after the fourth, introduces “the Angel of repentance” in the guise of a shepherd, from whom the whole work takes its name.

He delivers to Hermas a series of precepts (mandata, entolai), which form an interesting development of early Christian ethics. One point which deserves special mention is the assertion of a husband’s obligation to take back an adulterous wife on her repentance.

The eleventh mandate, on humility, is concerned with false prophets who desire to occupy the first seats (that is to say, among the presbyters). Some have seen here a reference to Marcion, who came to Rome c. 140 and desired to be admitted among the priests (or possibly even to become bishop of Rome).

After the mandates come ten similitudes (parabolai) in the form of visions, which are explained by the angel. The longest of these (Similitude 9) is an elaboration of the parable of the building of a tower, which had formed the matter of the third vision. The tower is the Church, and the stones of which it is built are the faithful. But in the third vision it looked as though only the holy are a part of the Church; in Similitude 9 it is clearly pointed out that all the baptized are included, though they may be cast out for grave sins, and can be readmitted only after penance.

In spite of the grave subjects, the book is written in a very optimistic and hopeful tone, like most early Christian works.


In parable 5, the author mentions a Son of God, as a virtuous man filled with a Holy “pre-existent spirit” and adopted as the Son.[19]“The Holy Pre-existent Spirit. Which created the whole creation, God made to dwell in flesh that He desired. This flesh, therefore, in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, was subject unto the Spirit, … Continue reading 

In the 2nd century, adoptionism (the view that Jesus Christ was at least initially, only a mortal man) was one of two competing doctrines about Jesus’ true nature, the other being that he pre-existed as a divine spirit (Logos); Christ’s identity with the Logos (Jn 1:1) was affirmed in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea.[20]“Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptian … Continue reading 

Bogdan G. Bucur, however, notes how widely accepted the Shepherd of Hermas was among “orthodox” Christians, yet was never criticized for apparently exhibiting an adoption-istic Christology. He suggests that the passage in question should be understood as Jesus making his dwelling within those who submit to his spirit, so that the “adoption” that takes place is not of Jesus but of his followers.[21]Bogdan G. Bucur, The Son of God and the Angelomorphic Holy Spirit: A Rereading of the Shepherd’s Christology.


Textual criticism, the nature of the theology, and the author’s apparent familiarity with the Book of Revelation and other Johannine texts, are thought to set the date of composition in the 2nd century. However, several ancient witnesses support an early dating and there is internal evidence for the place and date of this work in the language and theology of the work.

The reference to an unknown Clement is presumed by some to be Clement of Rome; if this is that Clement, it would suggest a date c. 90 for at least the historicised setting of the first two visions. Since Paul sent greetings to a Hermas, a Christian of Rome (Romans 16:14), a minority have followed Origen of Alexandria‘s opinion that he was the author of this religious allegory.[22]Philip Schaff wrote hopefully, “It would not be a very bold conjecture, that Hermas and his brother were elderly grandchildren of the original Hermas, the friend of St. Paul. The Shepherd, … Continue reading

Three ancient witnesses, one of whom claims to be contemporary, declare that Hermas was the brother of Pope Pius I, whose pontificate was not earlier than 140–155, which corresponds to the date range offered by J. B. Lightfoot (Lightfoot 1891). These authorities may be citing the same source, perhaps Hegesippus,[23]A suggestion made by Bunsen, Hippolyrus and His Age, vol. I p 315. who’s lost history of the early Church provided material for Eusebius of Caesarea.

The witnesses are the following:

• The Muratorian fragment is a list written c. 170 (although some scholars now question this date and prefer to assign the fragment to the 4th century.[24]G. M. Hahneman, The Mutatorian Fragment and the Origins of the New Testament Canon in “The Canon Debate” (ed. L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders): pp. 405–415, 2002, Massachusetts: … Continue reading that may be the earliest known canon of New Testament writings. It identifies Hermas, the author of The Shepherd, as the brother of Pius I, bishop of Rome: 

But Hermas wrote The Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete,[25]This is a specific refutation of the continuing revelations (charismata) expressed by the Montanists. or among the Apostles, for it is after their time.

• The Liberian Catalogue of Popes, a record that was later used in the writing of the Liber Pontificalis, states in a portion under the heading of 235: “Under his [Pius’] episcopate, his brother Ermes wrote a book in which are contained the precepts which the angel delivered to him, coming to him in the guise of a Shepherd.”

• A poem written against Marcion from the 3rd or 4th century, by a writer adopting the name and persona of Tertullian — and sometimes therefore referred to as “Pseudo-Tertullian” — states “Then, after him, Pius, whose brother according to the flesh was Hermas, the angelic shepherd, because he spoke the words given to him.” Note that Pseudo-Tertullian quotes some details from this list which are absent from the Liberian Catalogue, which may mean that that he is independent of it.

The scholar John A. T. Robinson[26]J.A.T.Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 1976, London: SCM makes a detailed argument that in fact Shepherd was written before AD 85.

This is because:

a) Robinson believes that all the canonical New Testament books predate the fall of Jerusalem in AD.70.

b) Irenaeus quotes it as scripture in “Against Heresy” (c. 180) thus undermining the testimony of the Muratorian fragment, which, if believed, would place it during the bishopric in Rome of Pius (140–155). Robinson believes that Irenaeus would not count a 2nd-century text as scripture.

c) Tertullian, in De Pudicitia (c. 215) strongly disparages Hermas, but without mentioning the late composition which would have fatally undermined its canonicity.

d) Origen freely cites Hermas as scripture, and in his Commentary on Romans attributes it to the Hermas of Rom.16:14 (an identification supported by Coleborne [27]W.Coleborn, A linguistic approach to the problem of structure and composition of The Shepherd of Hermas, Colloquium (The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review) 3, 1969, 133–142.

e) Robinson believes that the internal evidence of Vision 2.4.2 refers to Clement, apparently before he became Bishop of Rome, for which Robinson cites in support G. Edmundson’s Bampton lectures of 1913.[28]G. Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century, 1913 Edmundson dates Hermas c. 90 on the basis that Clement became Bishop of Rome in 92. Robinson states that there is no reason to suppose that this reference is a pseudonymous fiction.

f) Robinson discounts the testimony of the Muratonian fragment,[29]J.A.T.Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 1976, London: SCM saying that for no other book should its unsupported evidence be taken seriously, and it is full of palpable mistakes.


The Shepherd makes many allusions to the Old Testament. According to Henry Barclay Swete, Hermas never cites the Septuagint, but he uses a translation of Daniel akin to the one made by Theodotion. He shows acquaintance with one or another of the Synoptic Gospels, and, since he also uses the Gospel of John, he probably knew all four. He appears to employ Ephesians and other Epistles, including perhaps 1 Peter and Hebrews. But the books he most certainly and most often uses are the Epistle of James and the Book of Revelation.


Remarks of Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria give a sense of resistance to the Shepherd among its hearers, and of a sense of controversy about it.

Tertullian implies that Pope Callixtus I had quoted it as an authority (though evidently not as one of the books of the Bible), for he replies: “I would admit your argument, if the writing of the Shepherd had deserved to be included in the Divine Instrument, and if it were not judged by every council of the Churches, even of your own Churches, among the apocryphal and false.” And again, he says that the Epistle of Barnabas is “more received among the Churches than that apocryphal Shepherd” (De pudicitia, 10 and 20).

Though Clement of Alexandria constantly quotes with reverence a work that seems to him to be very useful, and inspired; yet he repeatedly apologizes, when he has occasion to quote it, on the ground that “many people despise it”.

Two controversies divided the mid-century Roman Christian communities.

One was Montanism, the ecstatic inspired outpourings of continuing pentecostal revelations, such as the visions recorded in the Shepherd may have appeared to encourage.

The other was Docetism that taught that the Christ had existed since the beginning and the corporeal reality of Jesus the man was simply an apparition.

Cyprian makes no reference to this work, so it would seem to have gone out of use in Africa during the early decades of the 3rd century. Somewhat later it is quoted by the author of the pseudo-Cyprianic tract Adversus aleatores as “Scriptura divina”, but in Jerome‘s day it was “almost unknown to the Latins”. Curiously, it went out of fashion in the East, so that the Greek manuscripts of it are but two in number; whereas in the West it became better known and was frequently copied in the Middle Ages.

5.0 Shepherd of Hermas[30]

The Shepherd of Hermas is a text from the very early Christian church of the second century, during the period in which the New Testament was being canonized. A popular text during the second and third centuries, the Shepherd was considered scriptural by many of the theologians of the time. It is written as a call to repentance and adherence to a strict moralistic life.


As a witness to early Christianity in Rome, the Shepherd of Hermas includes a distinct Jewish witness to a early Christian form. The author, or authors, of the Shepherd are not known. A number of ancient sources attribute the identity of the author to a Hermas who was a brother of the Bishop of Rome, Pius I. Pius I was Bishop of Rome from 140 to 155.

Language and theology of the work also point to earlier composition of some parts of the Shepherd. Reference in the work to Clement I of Rome suggest that at least the first two visions can be dated from his time as Bishop of Rome, from 88 to 97. Origen proposed that the Apostle Paul was an author, as in (Romans 16:14) he sent greetings to a Hermas, a Christian in Rome. Yet, apparent familiarity in the text with Revelations and other Johannine texts supports a second century composition of the text.


In the Shepherd Hermas speaks of his life and the development of Christian virtues as he relates his life as a freed Christian slave. The teaching point of the book is thus ethical, not theological. The work is divided into three main sections. The first section describes five visions; the second section presents 12 mandates; and the last section presents ten parables, sometimes referred to as similitudes.

Hermas begins the book relating his being sold to a certain Rhoda, who later frees him, and whom he meets again. In his travels Hermas sees her again in a vision in which she relates his need to pray for forgiveness for an unchaste thought that he had had. In his vision, Hermas is aided by an aged woman who tells him to do penance and correct the sins of his children.

In a later vision, an angel of repentance appears in the guise of a shepherd who delivers to Hermas the precepts, or mandates, that in that form present the development of early Christian ethics. The mandates, or similitudes, follow also in the form of visions that are explained by the angelic shepherd.

Throughout the book Hermas presents himself as a simple person who is genuinely pious and conscientious.


Only a limited number of incomplete Greek manuscripts are extant. Additionally, a number of fragments have been discovered, including fragments of a Middle Persian translation. Of note is that the Codex Sinaiticus of the mid third century contains a copy of the Shepherd of Hermas at the end of the New Testament, illustrating its popularity at that time.

6.0 Introductory Note to the Pastor of Hermas[31][Translated by the Rev. F. Crombie, M.a.]

[a.d. 160.] The fragment known as the”Muratorian Canon”is the historic ground for the date I give to this author.[32]P151_2587 I desired to prefix The Shepherd to the writings of Irenaeus, but the limits of the volume would not permit.

The Shepherd attracted my attention, even in early youth, as a specimen of primitive romance; but of course it disappointed me, and excited repugnance. As to its form, it is even now distasteful. But more and more, as I have studied it, and cleared up the difficulties which surround it, and the questions it has started, it has become to me a most interesting and suggestive relic of the primitive age.

Dr. Bunsen[33]P152_3281 calls it”a good but dull novel,”and reminds us of a saying of Niebuhr (Bunsen’s master), that”he pitied the Athenian[34]P153_3441 Christians for being obliged to hear it read in their assemblies.”A very natural, but a truly superficial, thought, as I trust I shall be able to show.

At first sight, Hermas might seem to have little in common with Irenaeus; and, on many accounts, it would be preferable to pair him with Barnabas. But I feel sure that chronology forbids, and that the age of Irenaeus, and of the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, is the period which called for this work, and which accounts for its popularity and its diffusion among the churches.

Its pacific spirit in dealing with a rising heresy, which at first was a puzzle to the Latins,[35]P155_4219 which Pius was disposed to meet by this gentle antidote, with which Eleutherus, in the spirit of a pacificator, tampered to his own hurt, and by which Victor was temporarily compromised, met precisely what the case see-red to demand in the judgment of Western Christians.

They could not foresee the results of Montanism: it was not yet a defined heresy. And even the wise prudence of Irenaeus shows anxiety not too hastily to denounce it; “seeing,”as Eusebius affirms, “there were many other wonderful powers of divine grace yet exhibited, even at that time, in different churches.”

Bunsen pronounces magisterially on the Muratorian fragment as an ill-translated excerpt from Hegesippus, written about a.d. 165. This date may be inaccurate, but the evidence is that of a contemporary on which we may rely.”Very recently,”he says, “in our own times, in the city of Rome, Hermas compiled The Shepherd; his brother, Bishop Pius,[36]P157_5232 then sitting in the cathedra of the Roman Church.” With the period thus assigned, the internal evidence agrees.

It accounts for the anti-Montanism of the whole allegory, and not less for the choice of this non controversial form of antidote. Montanism is not named; but it is opposed by a reminder of better”prophesyings,”and by setting the pure spirit of the apostolic age over against the frenzied and pharisaical pretensions of the fanatics. The pacific policy at first adopted by the Roman bishops, dictated, no doubt, this effort of Hermas to produce such a refutation as his brother[37]P158_6154 might commend to the churches.

Let me present, in outline, the views which seem to me necessary to a good understanding of the work; and as I am so unfortunate as to differ with the Edinburgh editors, who are entitled, primâ facie, to be supposed correct, I shall venture to apologize for my own conceptions, by a few notes and elucidations.[38]P160_6710

As Eusebius informs us, the charismata were not extinct in the churches when the Phrygian imitations began to puzzle the faithful. Bunsen considers its first propagators specimens of the clairvoyant art, and pointedly cites the manipulations they were said to practice (like persons playing on the harp), in proof of this.

We must place ourselves in those times to comprehend the difficulties of early Christians in dealing with the counterfeit.”Try the spirits,”said St. John; and St. Paul had said more expressly, “Quench not the Spirit; despise not Prophesyings; prove all things,”etc. This very expression suggests that there might often be something despicable in the form and manner of uttering what was excellent.

To borrow a phrase of our days, “the human element”was painfully predominant at times, even among those who spoke by the Spirit. The smoke of personal infirmity discoloured genuine scintillations from hearts in which still smouldered the fire of Pentecostal gifts.

The reticence of Irenaeus is therefore not to be marvelled at. He cautioned Eleutherus no doubt, but probably felt, with him, that the rumours from Phrygia needed further examination. The prophetic gifts were said to be lodged in men and women austere as John the Baptist, and professing a mission to rebuke the carnal and self-indulgent degeneracy of a generation that knew not the apostles.

It would not be a very bold conjecture, that Hermas and his brother were elderly grandchildren of the original Hermas, the friend of St. Paul. The Shepherd, then, might be based upon personal recollections, and upon the traditions of a family which the spirit of prophecy had reproved, and who were monuments of its power.

The book supplies us with evidences of the awakened conscience with which Hermas strove to”bless his household.”But, be this as it may, this second Hermas, with his brother’s approbation, undertakes to revive the memory of those primal days portrayed in the Epistle to Diognetus, when Christians, though sorrowful, were”always rejoicing.”He compiles accordingly a non-metrical idyl; reproducing, no doubt, traditional specimens of those”prophesyings,”on which St. Paul remarks.

Hence we infer, that such outpourings as became the subject of apostolic censure, when they confused the order of the Corinthian Church,[39]P163_9267 were, in their nobler examples, such”visions,””mandates”and “similitudes”as these; more or less human as to form, but, in their moral teachings, an impressive testimony against heathen oracles, and their obscene or blasphemous suggestions.

The permissive wisdom of the Spirit granting, while restraining, such manifestations, is seen in thus counterbalancing Sibylline and other ethnic utterances. (Acts 16:16-19.) With this in view, Hermas makes his compilation. He casts it into an innocent fiction, as Cowper wrote in the name of Alexander Selkirk, and introduces Hermas and Clement to identify the times which are idealized in his allegory.

Very gently, but forcibly, therefore. he brings back the original Christians as antagonists of the Montanistic opinions; and so exclusively does this idea predominate in the whole work, as Tertullian’s scornful comment implies, that one wonders to find Wake, with other very learned men, conceding that the Pauline Hermas was its actual author.

Were it so, he must have been a prophet indeed. No doubt those of the ancients who knew nothing of the origin of the work, and accepted it as the production of the first Hermas, were greatly influenced by this idea. It seemed to them a true oracle from God, like those of the Apocalypse, though sadly inferior; preparing the Church for one of its great trials and perils, and fulfilling, as did the Revelation of St. John, that emphatic promise concerning the Spirit, “He shall show you things to come.”

This view of the subject, moreover, explains historical facts which have been so unaccountable to many critics; such as the general credit it obtained, and that its influence was greater in the East than among Latins. But once commended to the Asiatic churches by Pius, as a useful instruction for the people, and a safeguard against the Phrygian excesses, it would easily become current wherever the Greek language prevailed.

Very soon it would be popularly regarded as the work of the Pauline Hermas, and as embodying genuine prophesyings of the apostolic age. A qualified inspiration would thus be attributed to them, precisely such as the guarded language of Origen [40]P166_11633 suggested afterwards: hence the deutero-canonical repute of the book, read, like the Apocrypha, for instruction and edification, but not cited to establish any doctrine as of the faith.[41]P167_11858

It must be remembered, that, although the Roman Church was at first a Grecian colony, and largely composed of those Hellenistic Jews to whom St. Paul’s arguments in his Epistle to the Romans were personally appropriate, yet in the West, generally, it was not so: hence the greater diffusion of The Shepherd written in Greek, through the Greek churches. There, too, the Montanists were a raging pestilence long before the West really felt the contagion through the influence of the brilliant Tertullian.

These facts account for the history of the book, its early currency and credit in the Church. Nor must we fail to observe, that the tedious allegorizing of Hermas, though not acceptable to us, was by no means displeasing to Orientals. To this day, the common people, even with us, seem to be greatly taken with storytelling and “similitudes,” especially when there is an interpreter to give them point and application.

After reading Irenaeus Against Heresies, then, we may not inappropriately turn to this mild protest against the most desolating and lasting delusion of primitive times. Most bitterly this will be felt when we reach the great founder of “Latin Christianity,” whose very ashes breathed contagion into the life of such as handled his relics with affection, save only those, who, like Cyprian, were gifted with a character as strong as his own.

The genius of Tertullian inspired his very insanity with power, and, to the discipline of the Latin churches, he communicated something of the rigour of Montanism, with the natural reactionary relaxation of morals in actual life. Of this, we shall learn enough when we come to read the fascinating pages of that splendid but infatuated author. Montanism itself, and the Encratite heresy which we are soon to consider in the melancholy case of Tatian, were reactions from those abominations of the heathen with which Christians were daily forced to be conversant.

These Fathers erred through a temptation in which Satan was “transformed as an angel of light.” Let us the more admire the penetrating foresight, and the holy moderation, of Hermas. To our scornful age, indeed, glutted with reading of every sort, and alike over- cultivated and superficial, taking little time for thought, and almost as little for study, The Shepherd can furnish nothing attractive.

He who brings nothing to it, gets nothing from it. But let the fastidious who desire at the same time to be competent judges, put themselves into the times of the Antonines, and make themselves, for the moment, Christians of that period, and they will awaken to a new world of thought.

Let such go into the assemblies of the primitive faithful, in which it was evident that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, were called.” There they were, “as sheep appointed to be slain,” “dying daily,” and, like their blessed Master, “the scorn of men, and outcast of the people,” as they gathered on the day of the Lord to “eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”

After the manner of the synagogue, there came a moment when the “president” said, “Brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” But the tongues were ceasing, as the apostle foretold; and they who professed to speak by the Spirit were beginning to be doubted. “Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever? “

It was gratifying to the older men, and excited the curiosity of the young, when the reader stood up, and said, “Hear, then, the words of Hermas.” Blessed were the simple folk, those “lambs among wolves,” who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and who eagerly drank in the pure and searching Scriptural morality of The Shepherd, and then went forth to “shine as lights in the world,” in holy contrast with the gross darkness that surrounded them.

It has been objected, indeed, that the morals of Hermas have a legalizing tone. The same is said of St. James, and the Sermon on the Mount. Most unjustly and cruelly is this objection made to The Shepherd. Granted its language is not formulated Augustine, as it could not be: its text is St. James, but, like St. James, harmonized always with St. Paul.[42]P170_16086 Faith is always honoured in its primary place; and penitence, in its every evangelical aspect, is thoroughly defined.

He exposes the emptiness of formal works, such as mere physical fastings, and the carnal observance of set times and days. That in one instance he favours “works of supererogation” is an entire mistake, made by reading into the words of Hermas a heresy of which he never dreamed. His whole teaching conflicts with such a thought. His orthodoxy in other respects, is sustained by such masters as Pearson and Bull.[43]P171_16678

And then, the positive side of his teaching is a precious testimony to the godly living exacted of believers in the second century. How suitable to all times are the maxims he extracts from the New Law. How searching his exposure of the perils of lax family discipline, and of wealth unsanctified. What heavenly precepts of life he lays down for all estates of men. To the clergy, what rules he prescribes against ambition and detraction and worldly-mindedness.

Surely such reproofs glorify the epoch, when they who had cast off, so recently, the lusts and passions of heathenism, were, as the general acceptance of this book must lead us to suppose, eager to be fed with “truth, severe in rugged fiction drest.”

But the reader will now be eager to examine the following Introductory Notice of the translator:-

The Pastor of Hermas was one of the most popular books, if not the most popular book, in the Christian Church during the second, third, and fourth centuries. It occupied a position analogous in some respects to that of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in modern times; and critics have frequently compared the two works.

In ancient times two opinions prevailed in regard to the authorship. The most widely spread was, that the Pastor of Hermas was the production of the Hermas mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans. Origen[44]P175_18125 states this opinion distinctly, and it is repeated by Eusebius[45]P176_18293 and Jerome.[46]P177_18330

Those who believed the apostolic Hermas to be the author, necessarily esteemed the book very highly; and there was much discussion as to whether it was inspired or not. The early writers are of opinion that it was really inspired. Irenaeus quotes it as Scripture;[47]P179_18627

Clemens Alexandrinus speaks of it as making its statements “divinely; “[48]P180_18731 and Origen, though a few of his expressions are regarded by some as implying doubt, unquestionably gives it as his opinion that it is “divinely inspired.”[49]P181_18914 Eusebius mentions that difference of opinion prevailed in his day as to the inspiration of the book, some opposing its claims, and others maintaining its divine origin, especially because it formed an admirable introduction to the Christian faith. For this latter reason it was read publicly, he tells us, in the churches.

The only voice of antiquity decidedly opposed to the claim is that of Tertullian. He designates it apocryphal,[50]P183_19363 and rejects it with scorn, as favouring anti-Montanistic opinions. Even his words, however, show that it was regarded in many churches as Scripture.

The second opinion as to the authorship is found in no writer of any name. It occurs only in two places: a poem falsely ascribed to Tertullian, and a fragment published by Muratori, on the Canon, the authorship of which is unknown, and the original language of which is still a matter of dispute.[51]P185_19868

The fragment says, “The Pastor was written very lately in our times, in the city of Rome, by Hermas, while Bishop Pius, his brother, sat in the chair of the Church of the city of Rome.”

A third opinion has had advocates in modern times. The Pastor of Hermas is regarded as a fiction, and the person Hermas, who is the principal character, is, according to this opinion, merely the invention of the fiction-writer.

Whatever opinion critics may have in regard to the authorship, there can be but one opinion as to the date. The Pastor of Hermas must have been written at an early period. The fact that it was recognised by Irenaeus as Scripture shows that it must have been in circulation long before his time. The most probable date assigned to its composition is the reign of Hadrian, or of Antoninus Pius.

The work is very important in many respects; but especially as reflecting the tone and style of books which interested and instructed the Christians of the second and third centuries.

The Pastor of Hermas was written in Greek. It was well known in the Eastern Churches: it seems to have been but little read in the Western. Yet the work bears traces of having been written in Italy.

For a long time the Pastor of Hermas was known to scholars only in a Latin version, occurring in several mss. with but slight vacations. But within recent times the difficulty of settling the text has been increased by the discovery of various mss.

A Latin translation has been edited, widely differing from the common version. Then a Greek ms. was said to have been found in Mount Athos, of which Simonides affirmed that he brought away a portion of the original and a copy of the rest. Then a ms. of the Pastor of Hermas was found at the end of the Sinaitic Codex of Tischendorf. And in addition to all these, there is an Aethiopic translation.

The discussion of the value of these discoveries is one of the most difficult that can fall to the lot of critics; for it involves not merely an examination of peculiar forms of words and similar criteria, but an investigation into statements made by Simonides and Tischendorf respecting events in their own lives. But whatever may be the conclusions at which the critic arrives, the general reader does not gain or lose much. In all the Greek and Latin forms the Pastor of Hermas is substantially the same. There are many minute differences; but there are scarcely any of importance,-perhaps we should say none.

In this translation the text of Hilgenfeld, which is based on the Sinaitic Codex, has been followed.

The letters Vat. mean the Vatican manuscript, the one from which the common or Vulgate version was usually printed.

The letters Pal. mean the Palatine manuscript edited by Dressel, which contains the Latin version, differing considerably from the common version.

The letters Lips. refer to the Leipzig manuscript, partly original and partly copied, furnished by Simonides from Athos. The text of Anger and Dindorf (Lips., 1856) has been used, though reference has also been made to the text of Tischendorf in Dressel.

The letters Sin. refer to the Sinaitic Codex, as given in Dressel and in Hilgenfeld’s notes.

The letters Aeth. refer to the Aethiopic version, edited, with a Latin translation, by Antonius D’Abbadie. Leipzig, 1860.

No attempt has been made to give even a tithe of the various readings. Only the most important have been noted.

[It is but just to direct the reader’s attention to an elaborate article of Dr. Donaldson, in the (London) Theological Review, vol. xiv. p. 564; in which he very ingeniously supports his opinions with regard to Hermas, and also touching the Muratorian Canon. In one important particular he favours my own impression; viz., that The Shepherd is a compilation, traditional, or reproduced from memory. He supposes its sentiments “must have been expressed in innumerable oral communications delivered in the churches throughout the world.” ]


1.0) [i] Source: Translation A:

1.0) [ii] Source: Translation B:

2.0) Source:

3.0) Source:

4.0) Source:

5.0) Source:

6.0) Source:

Related: Non Canonical Text

Apocryphal New Testament Writings List

Related: Early Christian Writings


2 see [Metzger] pp. 64-65 and [LHH] pp. 190-191.
3 by Luke Wayne 8/22/16
4 Larry Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006) 23
5 Bart Ehrman, Lost Scriptures (Oxford University Press, 2003) 251
6 ibid, 333
7 ibid, 338
8 ibid, 340
9 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 10, section 4
10 see, for example, Tertullian, On Modesty, Chapter X
11 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
12, 15
13 Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p230
14 “The Pastor of Hermas was one of the most popular books, if not the most popular book, in the Christian Church during the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. It occupied a position analogous in some respects to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in modern times.” (F. Crombie, translator of Schaff, op. cit.).
16 Aland, Kurt; Barbara Aland (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-8028-4098-1.
17 J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Macmillan & Co., 1891, p. 160; Reprint ISBN 0-8010-5514-8.
18 Christian Tornau – Paolo Cecconi (Eda.), The Shepherd of Hermas in Latin. Critical Edition of the Oldest Translation Vulgata, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston 2014
19 “The Holy Pre-existent Spirit. Which created the whole creation, God made to dwell in flesh that He desired.

This flesh, therefore, in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, was subject unto the Spirit, walking honorably in holiness and purity, without in any way defiling the Spirit. When then it had lived honorably in chastity, and had labored with the Spirit, and had cooperated with it in everything, behaving itself boldly and bravely, He chose it as a partner with the Holy Spirit; for the career of this flesh pleased [the Lord], seeing that, as possessing the Holy Spirit, it was not defiled upon the earth.

He therefore took the son as adviser and the glorious angels also, that this flesh too, having served the Spirit unblameably, might have some place of sojourn, and might not seem to have lost the reward for its service; for all flesh, which is found undefiled and unspotted, wherein the Holy Spirit dwelt, shall receive a reward.”

20 “Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptian Christology); or Jesus was regarded as a heavenly spiritual being (the highest after God) who took flesh, and again returned to heaven after the completion of his work on earth (pneumatic Christology).” Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma,
21 Bogdan G. Bucur, The Son of God and the Angelomorphic Holy Spirit: A Rereading of the Shepherd’s Christology.
22 Philip Schaff wrote hopefully, “It would not be a very bold conjecture, that Hermas and his brother were elderly grandchildren of the original Hermas, the friend of St. Paul. The Shepherd, then, might be based upon personal recollections, and upon the traditions of a family which the spirit of prophecy had reproved, and who were monuments of its power.” (Schaff,Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria, introduction to “the Pastor of Hermas”).
23 A suggestion made by Bunsen, Hippolyrus and His Age, vol. I p 315.
24 G. M. Hahneman, The Mutatorian Fragment and the Origins of the New Testament Canon in “The Canon Debate” (ed. L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders): pp. 405–415, 2002, Massachusetts: Hendrickson
25 This is a specific refutation of the continuing revelations (charismata) expressed by the Montanists.
26, 29 J.A.T.Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 1976, London: SCM
27 W.Coleborn, A linguistic approach to the problem of structure and composition of The Shepherd of Hermas, Colloquium (The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review) 3, 1969, 133–142
28 G. Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century, 1913
31 [Translated by the Rev. F. Crombie, M.a.]
32 P151_2587
33 P152_3281
34 P153_3441
35 P155_4219
36 P157_5232
37 P158_6154
38 P160_6710
39 P163_9267
40 P166_11633
41 P167_11858
42 P170_16086
43 P171_16678
44 P175_18125
45 P176_18293
46 P177_18330
47 P179_18627
48 P180_18731
49 P181_18914
50 P183_19363
51 P185_19868

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *