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01.2.1 Ignatius as an Example of the Problems in Studying Early Church Writings

Ignatius, a.d. 30-107, is a man who sat at the feet of the apostles. There is a claim that Ignatius As a very small  child was held by Jesus and that is why he is named Theophorus which means “carried by God”[1]

Ignatius played an instrumental role both as the Bishop of Antioch, and a prolific writer.  Just how prolific is a matter of dispute.  There are 15 epistles credited to his name, only seven of which are agreed upon by scholars as genuine.  The problem gets even more complicated due to the fact that there are both longer and shorter versions of  epistles agreed upon as genuine.

The following have been deemed to be spurious:

  • To the Virgin Mary,
  • Two to the Apostle John,
  • To Mary of Cassobelae,
  • To the Tarsians,
  • To the Antiochians,
  • To Hero, a deacon of Antioch,

The above epistles have references to things after the date of Ignatius’s life.[2]  Neither Jerome or Eusebius makes any mention of them.  But the following epistles are agreed upon to be the genuine work of Ignatius:

  • To the Philippians
  • To the Ephesians,
  • To the Magnesians,
  • To the Trallians,
  • To the Romans,
  • To the Philadelphians,
  • To the Smyrnaeans,
  • To Polycarp.

The following is an example of the shorter and longer version in the epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians

Chap. VI. — Have Respect to the Bishop as to Christ Himself.

Shorter Version Longer Version
Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence,17 the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Comp. Mat_24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect18 has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth. The more, therefore, you see the bishop silent, the more do you reverence him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Comp. Mat_24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would look upon the Lord Himself, standing, as he does, before the Lord. For “it behoves the man who looks carefully about him, and is active in his business, to stand before kings, and not to stand before slothful men.” (Pro_22:29, after LXX.) And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect18 has any dwelling-place among you. Nor indeed do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd and Teacher. And ye are, as Paul wrote to you, “one body and one spirit, because ye have also been called in one hope of the faith. (Eph_4:4) Since also “there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.” (Eph_4:5-6) Such, then, are ye, having been taught by such instructors, Paul the Christ-bearer, and Timothy the most faithful.

Comparing the shorter and longer versions we find that the longer version usually has explanations and elaborations, often with relevant Scripture references, of the shorter version.  While the meaning of each section is basically the same it is clear that someone either he elaborated on Ignatius’ writing, or abridged it.  The consensus is that the shorter versions are genuine, and the longer versions are some later scribes’ attempts to elaborate more fully on Ignatius’ points.  Still some make a case for the longer versions, and while the versions are very similar in meaning they are not identical.  In other words the longer is not merely the shorter version with more words added.  Also the longer version is not longer in each chapter, occasionally the “long” version of a chapter is shorter than the “short” version of a chapter.  Go figure!

What is clear is that having numerous writings that don’t appear genuine, and having multiple versions of the ones that are genuine complicates what should be a simple study of reading some letters by an early bishop in the church.  Add that to the fact that most of the writings attributed to Ignatius are probably forgeries, and it makes all the reading at least slightly suspect.

Ignatius is probably the most egregious example of the failure to transmit documents accurately through out the ages.  But there are so many spurious writings, and numerous versions of documents throughout the early church period that it is easy to understand why processing the information in these valuable writers’ documents requires careful deliberation.

[1] INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE MARTYRDOM OF IGNATIUS. E-Sword Program
[2] INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO THE EPISTLE OF IGNATIUS TO THE EPHESIANS. E-Sword Program

Author’s note: Michael W.Holmes, in his book THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS, defines three recensions. What is stated as the short version above he calls the middle recension. He defines the short recension as a “Syriac abridgment of the letters to the Ephesians, the Romans, and Polycarp.[3]

[3] THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS, edited by Michael W. Holmes, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1999, p. 131

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

July 9th, 2010 Posted by | Movements | no comments

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