Many times I study the Word and wish I could ask Jesus or one of the apostles if this or that is what they REALLY meant when they said or wrote something. Often there appears to be biblical support for a number of different interpretations.I say a great deal. Why? Because the ECF's are from the very same community that wrote the Scriptures by the inspiration of God. They know what the Scriptures mean b/c the Scriptures are the written testimony of what they themselves were teaching, and learning, and believing.
So my question is, can the writings of the early church fathers settle the tie, so to speak? I know their writings aren't inspired. However, many of them are thought to have known the apostles personally and were appointed by them. So how much weight should their writings have in our understanding and interpretation of scripture?
Before anything was ever written down, Christians learned by the mouths of the apostles, and by the "faithful men" that they established in every place to "guard the deposit" handed on to that church. This is why we find Paul saying to Timothy, "what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2) and again, "O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you" (1 Tim 6:20, ESV).
This deposit was passed on with the utmost care and fidelity. Nothing was true that did not come from the mouths of the apostles or from the "faithful men" that they established (cf. Gal 1:8). In time, much of this teaching was written down as circumstances in the various churches required. And so, the deposit lives on, both in the written record and in the ordinary teaching of the Church.
I hope that helps.