Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans

The two editions of this epistle are again debated, with most scholars believing that the shorter version (thought, in this case, not much shorter!) is the original. We will base our comments on this edition. You can find the Donaldson translation here, and the Lightfoot translation here. The Greek is available here, and the PG edition is here (starts on column 685).

An outline of the epistle follows these lines: Title, I. Desire to see the Romans (ch. 1); II. Desire for martyrdom (chs. 2-5); III. Reasons for desiring martyrdom (chs. 6-8); IV. Conclusion (chs. 9-10).

Ignatius really seems to have a death wish in this letter. He wants to become food for the wild beasts. His words are: “Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” He was, in fact, sentenced to a death by wild beasts in the Colosseum, according to tradition.

One incidental thing needs to be mentioned. I looked carefully for any evidence pro or con the Romanist claims concerning the succession of Peter at Rome. There is no mention of the leadership of the church at Rome. Neither side, therefore, can gain much fodder for their arguments.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians

This epistle, like the others of Ignatius, exist in two editions, a longer and a shorter. We will be looking primarily at the shorter. There are three English translations available on the web: Roberts-Donaldson, Lightfoot, and Hoole. CCEL has a beautiful Greek font edition of the letter. And the PG link is here (the letter in question starts on column 673).

An outline of the epistle can go as follows: I. Beneficent greeting (1); II. Honor the officers of the church (2-3); III. Warning against the Docetists (4-11); IV. Final Exhortations and Greetings (12-13).

There are some very interesting things to note in this letter: Presbyterianism can find historical support in chapter 2: “It is therefor necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ.” Note also the strong emphasis that Ignatius places on the diaconate: “the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire. 3. In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no church” (chapters 2-3).

There is no doubt that the meat of the epistle has to do with Docetism, a heresy that believed that Jesus only appeared to be human, and wasn’t actually human. Therefore, Ignatius spends a great deal of time (chapters 9-10) propounding the reality of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

A Great Opportunity

If you have been wishing that there might be a way to obtain the early church fathers in the original language, there is a solution for a little less than half the problem (order form is here). You can order the complete Greek Migne series here (I have not yet found a place to acquire the Latin series). If you desire to purchase an individual volume, the cost is 38 Euros per volume (a Euro is worth about $1.30 at the moment). If, however, you contract to purchase the whole set, the cost plummets to only 22 Euros per volume. They are flexible as to the number of volumes you get each month. There are 161 volumes in the set. I just received the first 8 volumes in the set, and they are beautifully bound, and Mr. Vasilatos George (the person I have corresponded with) was very polite and efficient. This is the real thing, folks. You can actually have the complete Greek Migne for a VERY reasonable price (I checked, and it is the first edition, which is vastly superior to the second edition). While it is true that the Corpus Christianorum is intended to replace the PG, the problem is that each volume is anywhere from 50-150 Euros, and they haven’t published everything yet. That series is really only practicably accessible in a library. Of course, you can also get the PG volumes online. However, if, like me, you don’t like reading your theology books in electronic form, then this is the way to go. If you decide to go ahead and purchase the set, please let the CPP know that you found them through me! I can get a small benefit on my own subscription if you mention that you found it through me.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians

As we have noted, the epistles of Ignatius have two different versions (and in some cases, three). We will be primarily looking at the shorter versions, which are generally regarded as the originals. We have three English translations available on the web: Roberts-Donaldson, Lightfoot, and Hoole. For the Greek text, go here (it has the Perseus morphology!) and here for the PG (starts on column 661-662).

The purpose of this letter is primarily encouragement. The keyword in chapter 1 is “commend:” he commends the churches to the care of Jesus Christ. As with the letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius encourages the Magnesians to obey their bishop. In the case of the Magnesians, the youth of the bishop was apparently an obstacle to respect. It should not be, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:12 (quoted in the longer version). There will be those that try to stir things up in a negative way (chapters 4-5). The church needs to be aware of them, and strive instead for harmony (chapters 6-7). Chapter 8 is the usual warning against false doctrine. We should live for Christ, and beware of what he calls “Judaizing” (chapter 10). Ignatius evidences great humility by asserting the superiority of the recipients to himself (chapter 12). The final part of the letter is another exhortation to unity based on the truth (no non-doctrinal unity asserted here! Big-tent Presbyterians take note that Ignatius believes in unity around the truth, not unity in spite of truth, or ignoring the truth).

Here is a taste of his own words. He compares believers and unbelievers to two different kinds of coins: “For as there are two kinds of coins, the one of God, the other of the world, and each of these has its special character stamped upon it, [so it is also here.] The unbelieving are of this world; but the believing have, in love, the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ, by whom, if we are not in readiness to die into His passion, His life is not in us” (chapter 5).

One thing is rather unclear (and I am not the only one to notice this). At the end of chapter 6, he says, “Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over, as a type and evidence of your immortality.” We can, of course, understand the commands to avoid division, and to be united with the bishop. However, what do those things have to do with being a type and evidence of immortality? The original Greek might point in a different direction. Instead of “immortality,” it can be translated “incorruption.” Hoole translates it this way, as does Lightfoot. The meaning then might run this way: avoiding divisive doctrines, and instead being of one mind with the bishop is a type and evidence of incorruptibility. This makes a bit more sense to me than translating the word “immortality.”

One last word on the study of doctrine. He commands all the Magnesians to “Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles” (chapter 13). In the context, it is clear that this would be an example of humility (chapter 12), as well as staying in fellowship with the bishop (the rest of chapter 13). This is certainly a vote of confidence in the theological orthodoxy of the bishop. But the point I wish to make is that the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles are the proper study of the people of God.

A few

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians

When we come to Ignatius, we come an odd-ball textual situation. All of his letters exist in at least two different version, and in the case of three of his letters, three or versions (counting the Syriac, Armenian, and Arabic translations). With the fairly recent discovery of these other versions, however, it has become clearer (as it was not in the days of Roberts/Donaldson) that the shorter version published in Schaff’s set is the more reliable, and that the longer versions contain interpolations from other letters that are now usually regarded as not from Ignatius. Take a look at the excellent article on the subject in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, the important part of which was published here. The Anchor Bible entry is at the bottom of the page. The links at the bottom of the first list apply to the Ephesian letter. Unfortunately, no Greek exists on that website. This website, however, has it in a beautiful Greek font. For all you diehards (who may constitute an entire category of, like, 1 person, or may even be a null set!) who want it in the PG series, all of Ignatius’ letters are in volume 5. The Ephesian letter starts on column 643.

The letter to the Ephesians is not terrifically exciting. It consists mainly of praise of the Ephesians alongside exhortations. The outline is as follows (I will be quoting only the shorter version): I. Praise of the Ephesians (chapters 1-4); II. Praise of and exhortation to unity (chapters 5-6); III. False teachers (chapters 7-10); IV. Various exhortations (chapters 11-15); V. False teachers again (chapters 16-17); VI. The Gospel (chapters 18-19); VII. Conclusion (chapters 20-21).

Some interesting points: I liked this quotation from chapter 14: “None of these things is hid from you, if ye perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ Jesus which are the beginning and the end of life. for the beginning is faith, and the end is love.” Also, his stern rebuke against false doctrine bears repeating today when we tend to think of false doctrine as being of almost no consequence whatsoever: “Do not err, my brethren. those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him” (the entirety of chapter 16). False doctrine is wickedness. I wonder how many people today would even think that, much less say it!

A very puzzling statement occurs in chapter 18. The context does not seem very enlightening, either. The statement itself goes thus: “For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water” (end of chapter 18). What in the world does “purify the water” mean? One would assume that baptism, correctly administered, doesn’t need purifying! Does it refer to child-bearing? But how then would His passion purify child-bearing? In the Greek, it looks like “the water” could actually be the subject (being a neuter noun, it could be either accusative or nominative case), and not the object of the verb “purify.” Thus it would be “by His passion, the water might purify,” which would be a lot clearer. Both the Lightfoot and Roberts-Donaldson translate “the water” as accusative case (object of the verb).

One final quotation, which might give too much to the Eucharist, but is still a beautiful way of describing it: “Breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ” (end of chapter 20). I just love that phrase “the medicine of immortality” to describe the Lord’s Supper.

The Martrydom of Polycarp

Put quite simply, this is a stunning document, and all Christians should read it. It is the first account of a martyrdom after the writing of the New Testament, and is still generally considered to be either the best or one of the best. It is quite moving. The letter itself is from the church at Smyrna, where Polycarp was bishop, and is addressed firstly to the church at Philomelium, but secondarily to the entire church. The dating of the actual marytrdom is a matter of dispute, but most scholars seem to be coming down on a date of approximately 155-156 A.D. Polycarp knew the apostle John, and was even appointed by John to the church at Smyrna, according to Irenaeus.

We have some very rich resources for studying this letter, which you can find here. This includes no less than four English translations. I found a new website (new to me, that is!) that has the Greek text with the Perseus project morphology built in! Talk about convenient! The Patrologia volume (number 5) can be found here. The text starts at column 1029.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the text that struck me forcibly with their pathos: “And while he was praying, a vision presented itself to him three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head seemed to him on fire. upon this, turning to those that were with him, he said to them prophetically, ‘I must be burnt alive’” (chapter 5). After he was arrested, but before they took him away to be burned, he offered them hospitality (!): “Immediately then, in that very hour, he ordered that something to eat and drink should be set before them” (the “them” are those who came to arrest him). As a result of this kindness, some repented of doing harm to this kind old man (chapter 7). The following must be quoted at length:

And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” (The atheists were the Christians in such statements, LK). But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists” (meaning non-Christians, LK). Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” (Chapter 9)

Two chapters later, the proconsul threatens him with various tortures, but Polycarp answers as a man:

The proconsul then said to him, “Ii have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.” But he answeed, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.” But again the proconsul said to him, ” I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said, “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.” (chapter 11)

A beautiful account, and very inspiring. Take and read.

The Use of Martyrs

I’m sure that this post will not be exhaustive as to the probable reasons why God has ordained martyrdom for so many of His children, nor will this post exhaust the possible help and benefit we can glean from reading accounts of the martyrs of the faith. However, I merely wish to point out a few helpful things we can learn from them. These thoughts were stimulated by reading the circular letter of the church at Smyrna concerning the martyrdom of Polycarp, surely one of the most moving testimonies of all Christian history.

The first thing that walloped me upside the head was the incongruity between Polycarp’s steadfastness in confessing his Lord and Savior, when compared and contrasted with my own inconstancy and sin. Now, I know that Polycarp could not have been sinless. However, it makes my faith seem cheap, when I am so willing to compromise it for the sake of my own sinful desires, when he was willing to seal his faith with his blood. We need all the inducements against sin we can find. Surely the testimony and confession of Polycarp and the myriad other martyrs in church history can help us: if they were steadfast under the threat of death by the grace of God, surely (again, most certainly by the grace of God!) we can resist under the threat of sin.

Secondly, and I have done this for time out of mind by now, we can think of what we would do, should we ever be forced to make a choice between our faith and our lives. Would we be steadfast? We can pray even now that should ever such a time arise, we would be steadfast.

Thirdly, and most importantly, martyrs bring glory to God. By their lives and by their deaths, they brought glory to God. That is the very meaning of life: we are to bring glory to God. Martyrs show us what is important. They show us what is worth martyrdom. There are many things worth dying for in the Christian walk. The glory of God is the most important thing worth martyrdom. So, read their testimonies, and be moved by them to a more faithful walk with God. Participate in this way with the fellowship of the body of Christ in its suffering. For those who believe, as I do, that the fellowship of the saints is one of the means of grace (iron sharpens iron), then we should not be so narrow or naive as to think that only the church that is currently alive can be of help to us.

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians

By now, you should know the drill. Introduction (including online resources), outline, then highlights.

Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna, and lived from 65-155 AD. He was martyred at an old age, the most moving account of which we will examine in the next post. This letter is usually dated between 120-140 AD (Roberts-Donaldson are non-committal). It is extant in some deficient Greek manuscripts, and chapters 9-14 are only available to us in Latin translation (the most important chapters of which are preserved in long citations from Eusebius). The character of this letter is not original, or particularly eloquent in and of itself. The Roberts-Donaldson introduction says “The Epistle of Polycarp is usually made a sort of preface to those of Ignatius, for reasons which will be obvious to the reader” (p. 31). In chapter 13, we learn that the church of Phillipi had requested the letters of Ignatius to be sent to them, which Polycarp agreed to do. They are even said to be “subjoined to this Epistle” (chapter 13). The same introduction also casts some doubt on the genuineness of chapter 13: “There seems considerable force in the arguments by which many others have sought to prove chap. xiii to be an interpolation.” Be that as it may, this post will assume the chapter is genuine. There is certainly no reason to believe that the letter as a whole is spurious. For English translations, we have easy access to three online: Lightfoot, Roberts-Donaldson, and Lake. The Greek can be found here in Migne. The letter itself starts on column 1005. The link to the beautiful Greek font version on the Early Christian Writings website is unfortunately unavailable at this time.

An outline of the letter is as follows: I. Encouragement of the Philippians (chapter 1); II. Exhortations (chapter 2-12); III. The Epistles of Ignatius (chapter 13); Conclusion (chapter 14). I realize that Roman numeral II in this outline is quite a bit bigger. However, all those chapters are really exhortations, ranging from virtue as a whole (chapter 2) to the duties of deacons, the young, the unmarried (chapter 5), and elders (chapter 6). There are exhortations to avoid heresy (chapter 7), especially the Docetists, it seems. Hope, patience, and the graces of the Christian life take up chapters 8-12.

The one thing that struck my notice was his humility, most evident in chapter 3: “These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so. For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul.” The indications are that he either knew John the apostle, or was only one generation removed from John. So his humility is all the more remarkable. Read and be edified. For this epistle also is Scripture-saturated.

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus

As before, I will offer a brief introduction, sources for further study, and highlights from the document itself.

The author is unknown. We know him as “Mathetes,” but that is merely the Greek word for “student” or “disciple.” He calls himself a “mathetes” of the apostles. Some have come to the conclusion, based on that assertion, that the author knew the apostles personally. Other scholars have denied that this is a necessary inference. Surely yours truly could presently call himself a “mathetes” of the apostles! Estimates of the date of this epistle vary widely. Those who assume it was written by a personal disciple of the apostles date it to the early second century. Those who do not make that assumption date it sometimes at the end of the third century. We know nothing, either, of who Diognetus is, except that he was probably asking questions about Christianity. That is not much to go on, especially since a person could be asking questions from the standpoint of unbelief (even scorn!), or from the standpoint of a new believer. We can probably infer, however, that whoever he was, he was not a mature Christian. That is about all we can say. The nature of the document itself is thoroughly apologetic. In twelve chapters, the epistle starts with the folly of idolatry (chapter 2), moves to an answer of Judaism (chapters 3-4), and ends with a panegyric of the Christian faith (chapters 5-12). Some scholars believe the last two chapters to be spurious, but there is no real way to substantiate such a claim.

To read the document online is easy, as we have both Lightfoot’s translation, and the Roberts-Donaldson translation available. For the original Greek, go here for the text only, and go here for the Patrologia Graeca volume 2 (the epistle itself starts on page 1168). A number of introductions are available on this page.

There are two passages I wish to highlight in this letter. The first is chapter 5, a gorgeous description of Christianity in relation to the world. The writing (which most scholars admit is some of the most polished and beautiful writing of antiquity) is exquisite:

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified.

The whole of that chapter is wonderfully written. I would also like to point out his beautiful words describing justification in chapter 9:

But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it has been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of god, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous one, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

I would ask this question of Romanists: what does “exchange” mean here? Does not his description imply that the two-way exchange works in the same way? If so, then is our wickedness infused into Christ?

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