Question: "What is the Shepherd of Hermas and should it be in the Bible?"

Answer: “The Shepherd of Hermas” was a religious literary work of the second and third centuries and was considered a valuable book by many early Christians. “The Shepherd of Hermas” was even considered canonical Scripture by some of the early church fathers such as Irenaeus during the period in which the New Testament was being canonized. Basically, it was written as a call to repentance and adherence to a strict moralistic life.

The author of “The Shepherd of Hermas” is not known. However, a number of ancient sources attribute the work to a Hermas who was a brother of Pius I, the Bishop of Rome from 140 to 155. In the story, Hermas speaks of his life and the development of Christian virtues as he tells of his story as a freed Christian slave. Throughout the book Hermas purports to be just a simple man whose desire is to be devout and diligent in all that he does. The teaching point of the book is mostly ethical, not theological. The work is divided into three main sections with the first section describing five visions, the second section presenting 12 mandates, and the last section composed of ten parables, sometimes referred to as similitudes.

The story involves Hermas, who becomes a slave to a woman named Rhoda. Later, after she had given Hermas his freedom, their paths cross again. Hermas has a vision in which Rhoda appears asking for his forgiveness regarding her, believing he had certain impure thoughts. It is in this vision that an old woman helps him by telling him to do penance as well as make right the sins of his people. In another vision Hermas is visited by an angel of repentance who emerges as a shepherd and delivers certain laws and mandates that become instrumental in the establishments of early Christian ethics. These mandates also appeared in visions as the angel-like shepherd gives his instructions.

“The Shepherd of Hermas" is also significant in that some of its visions definitely seem to subscribe to a premillennial understanding of the end times. Some scholars even see hints of pretribulationism in the "Shepherd of Hermas." The existence of premillennial thinking in a Christian work from the second or third century gives credence to premillennial theologians’ arguments against the idea that amillennialism was the universally held belief in the early church.

But why isn’t “The Shepherd of Hermas" in the Bible? Was it not considered an “inspired book”? Is it considered a “lost book” of the Bible? We must first realize that many biblical scholars acknowledge the existence of false writings that have never been seriously considered for inclusion in the Bible. Examples are “The Assumption of Moses” and “The Book of Enoch.” However, Bible scholars concur that they are not inspired writings. The "Shepherd of Hermas" was thought by some to be authoritative, so it hovered around the canon for some time before it was, at the leading of the Holy Spirit, dismissed.