i really love documentaries on the History Channel or PBS or National Geographic. i've just started watching through Ken Burns' 10-part documentary on the history of Jazz when an analogy occurred to me. The historical information for such documentaries is not prepared from a limited set of documents or records, but also whenever is possible, eye-witnesses are interviewed. How do we learn about Louis Armstrong? Not just police records or newspaper articles from his arrest in New Orleans when he was just 10 years old. But also many people who knew and interacted with Louis Armstrong are interviewed. Their comments and experiences are invaluable means by which various other documents or quotes from Louis Armstrong can be understood.
In the case of the Bible, why then not do the same? Shouldn't the writings of, say, Polycarp or Ignatius--people who actually knew and interacted with the apostles--shouldn't their words be considered invaluable sources for understanding the written work of the apostles? Aren't such historical figures as these epistemically better situated than we are to understand the writings and teachings of the apostles? To refuse to allow them to contribute to our understanding of the Bible seems as arbitrary and harmful to our understanding of the Bible as would be History Channel documentaries that refused to include interviews with eyewitnesses or second-generation relatives and friends.