View Article  The Acts of the Apostles, Ch. 1-2 From Easter to Pentecost

May 1, 2011 – “From Easter to Pentecost”  -- led by John Weicher


The Acts of the Apostles, Ch. 1-2



Since Pentecost is often considered to be the birth of the church, it seems worthwhile to study what happened after the resurrection for the four weeks in between, even though Pentecost actually is described in Ch. 2   Our plan is to study the first eight chapters of Acts, ending as Paul makes his appearance.


The Acts of the Apostles begins with the 11 remaining apostles and the process of determining who will replace Judas.  This brings up a question:  how many of the apostles actually act in Acts?  The answer:  three. In fact, the answer is very nearly one.


Peter is the dominant figure in the early chapters of Acts, for both the selection of the 12th apostle in Ch. 1 and the events of Pentecost in Ch. 2, and beyond. 


Philip is the second.  He is told by an angel of the Lord to go toward Gaza, where he meets an Ethiopian official who is reading the book of Isaiah; he instructs and baptizes the official, and that is the scriptural basis for Ethiopia’s claim to be the first Christian kingdom.  This led to a discussion of Armenia’s claim to be first, which Eusebius describes with copious quotations from letters and documents we do not have.   Much of Eusebius’ History of the Church consists of apparently genuine documents which he often quotes at length; perhaps he is doing the same here. 


James the brother of John is the third.  In Ch. 12 he is beheaded by Herod – Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great. 


The others do not appear as individuals at all.  There are traditions concerning all of them – where they preached, where and how they died.  There are traditions concerning Matthias, who was chosen by lot to be the twelfth; there appear to be no traditions at all concerning Joseph Barsabbas, who lost on the first-century equivalent of a coin toss.  But they are never mentioned in Acts by name after Ch. 1.

View Article  Matthew 23-25

April 17, 2011 – “The Parables of Holy Week” (continued)  -- led by John Weicher


Matthew, Ch. 23-25


In the remaining three chapters before Good Friday, Jesus starts with a strong denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, blaming them for the bloodshed of the righteous starting with Abel and ending with Zachariah son of Barachiah.  He foretells the destruction of the temple, the persecution of the disciples, the coming of false messiahs, and finally the coming of the Son of Man.  He finishes with five parables, two of which are also in Mark and three in Luke (The Lesson of the Fig Tree and the Necessity for Watchfulness in both, the Parable of the Talents in Luke).   These parables appear to be intended for his disciples, while the parables in Ch. 21-22 are pointed responses to the Pharisees and Sadducees. 





View Article  Matthew 20-22

April 10, 2011 - “The Parables of Holy Week”  -- led by John Weicher


Matthew: Ch. 20-22


Having finished Justin Martyr’s First Apology three weeks before Easter, the class turned to the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and what happened immediately afterwards.  Matthew’s is the gospel that cites all sorts of prophecies from the Hebrew Bible, but doesn’t quite make sense of some of them – most notably, what Jesus rode as he entered Jerusalem.  Matthew has him riding on both a donkey and the foal of a donkey, somehow, not recognizing that Zechariah is following the common Hebrew Bible practice of “Parallelism,” saying the same thing twice, in different words. 

Neither Mark nor Luke have any problem with this; they say he rides on a colt, period.  Neither does John, quoting Zechariah simply as referring to a donkey’s colt.  (For that matter, neither does Justin Martyr, fond as he is of quoting Matthew.)  John, however, is the only writer to mention “palm leaves.”


Peter has called our attention to the oddity of Jesus knowing where to send the disciples to find the donkey, and the apparent password that “The Master has need of him.”  In The Man Who Would be King, Dorothy Sayers imagines a plausible story to explain this.  The leader of the Zealots (Baruch, not a historical person, but imagined by Sayers) sends Jesus a message, asking whether he comes in peace or in war – if in war, the Zealots will rise up and follow him; if in peace they will wait for another Messiah.  Jesus is to respond by sending disciples to a particular house, where there will be both a horse and a donkey, saddled and ready to ride.   If he comes in war, he should ride the horse; if in peace, he should ride the donkey.  And thus Zechariah ‘s prophecy is fulfilled in the ordinary course of events.


Once he arrived, Jesus was very busy: first cleansing the temple, and then having 10 verbal encounters with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests, a lawyer – one after another.  As Dottie said, “they are at him and at him.”  All of his responses are pointed criticisms of his questioners.   One can imagine the increasing frustration and fear of the scribes and the Pharisees.


Eight of the 10 passages in Chapters 21 and 22 also appear in Mark, the exceptions being the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32) and the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), and they are in the same order.  Six are in Luke, also in the same order; he omits the cursing of the fig tree and the greatest commandment, as well as the two omitted by Mark.  






View Article  Justin Martyr Chapter 61

April 3, 2011 – “How Christians Worship”  -- led by John Weicher


Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 61; 65-68



Dottie offered a summary judgment about Justin, quoting from The Rise of Christianity by W.H.C. Frend (1984), p. 237:

"Compared with him [Diognetus], Justin Martyr was verbose, inconsistent, and not always convincing.  A Platonist before he became a Christian, he never grasped the essential incompatibilities between Platonism and Christianity.  There is no evidence that he was influenced by any of the writers of the New Testament.”


To which the class said, “Amen.”  (Although he does know quite a bit of the New Testament, particularly Matthew but more than Matthew.)


But at the end of the First Apology, Justin switches from doctrine to practice.  What do Christians do when they assemble and worship?  First, they baptize (Ch. 61), cleansing the convert of his sins.  Then they bring him “to the place where the brethren are assembled” (Ch. 65), and they pray for the one who is baptized, and for themselves, and “for all others in every place.”  Then they have communion, in both kinds.



There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.


Then the deacons bring it to everyone; and the bread and wine, blessed by their prayer, is the body and blood of Christ (Ch. 66).  The deacons take the bread and wine to those who are unable to attend.  “And this food among us is called the Eucharist.”


When they meet on Sunday morning (Ch. 67), “the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits” (how long is that?); then the president “verbally instructs” the assembly; they pray; they have communion; they take up a collection and give succor to the poor.


This service should sound very familiar.  Our services add only one more activity: singing hymns.  But we know from Pliny’s letter to Trajan about 50 years earlier, that Christians sang hymns as part of their devotions.  It is refreshing to think that our services today can be linked to the services of our religious forebears some 1950 years earlier. 


According to Justin, Christians engage in two activities – Baptism and the Eucharist – which we now know as Sacraments.  He makes no mention of the other five Catholic sacraments.  Almost 1500 years later, Martin Luther considered that there were only these two sacraments, because only they have Biblical authority.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Lutherans venerate Justin Martyr, even though he by no means believed in predestination.

View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 51-55 Plato, Student of Moses

March 27, 2011 – “Plato, Student of Moses”  -- led by John Weicher


Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 51-55


Justin finally finishes with prophecies from the Hebrew Bible, which is a relief.  But instead he reverts to parallels between Christianity to paganism, arguing that pagans took their myths from Jewish prophecy:


  1. If Christ  rose to heaven on the foal of a donkey, :so did Bellerophon on Pegasus;
  2. If Christ was born of a virgin, so was Perseus;
  3. If Christ was “strong  as a giant to run his course,” Hercules was stronger;
  4. If Christ healed the sick miraculously, so did Aesculapius.


But the pagans have said nothing about the cross, because they don’t understand it, and the cross is the centerpiece of Christianity.  By this time, however, the Emperor or his censors and advisers might be pardoned if they’d given up taking any of Justin’s arguments and analogies seriously.


View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 44-50 Socrates the Christian

March 20, 2011 – “Socrates the Christian”



Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 44-50


In chapters 44-50 Justin continues to quote Isaiah, ten times from various chapters including the first and last, prophesying the coming of the Messiah.   By this time he has out-Matthewed Matthew in culling fulfilled prophecies from the Hebrew Bible.  Matthew has a dozen, possibly one or two more; Justin has more than twice that many.  One has to wonder yet again why he thinks the Roman Emperor would be persuaded by Jewish scripture.


He then invites the emperor to worry about the loyalty of the Christians with a reference to the oracles of Hystaspes, foretelling the fall of the Roman Empire, the return of rule to the east, and the coming of the Savior.  Hystaspes was borrowed from Zoroastrianism, where his name was Vashtaspa; his name was attached to a set of prophecies dating apparently from the first century BC; the book was banned in Rome, but Justin knows what’s in it.  So we have a Christian protesting his loyalty to the emperor about 20 years after Bar Kochba’s rebellion, and dragging in a reference to subversive writings. 


In chapter 46 he refers to Socrates and Heraclitus as Christians because they “lived reasonably,” and adds Abraham, Elijah, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego on the same basis.  This calls to mind C.S. Lewis’ comments in Reflections on the Psalms concerning Vergil as very nearly anticipating Christianity and perhaps coming to know the full truth after his death



View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 36-43

In chapters 36-41 Justin continues to quote prophecies of the coming Messiah from the Hebrew Bible, mainly from Isaiah and Psalms – seven from the former and five from the latter, including all of Psalms 1 and 2, as a single quote.  Chapter 41 ends with a quotation from Psalm 96, most of the first ten verses.  The last sentence (10a) is “the Lord reigneth from the tree.”  Neither the Septuagint nor the Masoretic text have anything like “from the tree,” but both Tertullian and Augustine have it, as well as Justin.  The Epistle of Barnabas talks about “the tree” also (chapter 8).  It appears that the early church fathers believed that the original psalm included those words, but the rabbis deleted it, ostensibly to discourage anyone from concluding that David foresaw Jesus and his crucifixion.   


We remain puzzled why Justin would expect a Roman emperor to be persuaded by Jewish prophecies that Jesus was the Son of God and Christianity was the only true religion. 


Chapter 42 reminded us of “Alice’s axiom,” but in reverse.  Alice’s axiom is, “Ex Eventu prophecy is very accurate.”  Put differently, if you know something has happened, you predict that it will happen.  Justin turns that around.  If the prophets know that something will take place (thanks to God), they speak as if it has already taken place.  Dating anything on that basis would be a mare’s nest.


In chapter 43, Justin proves he is no Protestant, and especially no Presbyterian.  He scorns the idea of predestination, rips it up, down and sideways, and he doesn’t believe in justification by faith alone, either.   



View Article  Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 30-35


After reading the schedule section aloud to myself (Ch. 30-39), I decided to shorten it, which seemed to work well. 


In these chapters Justin develops an argument from Hebrew Bible prophecy to prove that Jesus was the Son of God, quoting not only the common passages from Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Micah, but several other passages from Isaiah, and also Genesis (Ch. 49) and Psalms (16).  He knows how the Septuagint was produced, without mentioning the notion that all 70 translators independently wrote exactly the same words; and he knows better than Matthew that Jewish writers often employed “parallelism” in poetry and prose – he doesn’t follow Matthew into the absurdity that Jesus rode two animals at once into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Class discussion raised the possibility that Justin wasn’t really writing to the Emperor at all, but to Jews who he thought should become Christians.  It seems unlikely that a Roman Emperor would find consistency with Jewish prophecy to be strong evidence of Jesus’ divinity, but the ancient world did believe in oracles.


View Article  Apologia I 23-29

Justin continues to argue that Christians should not be persecuted for what they believe, carrying the argument into the pagans’ camp by observing that various people worship “mice and cats and crocodiles,” and tells the Emperor, “you very well know that the same animals are with some esteemed gods, with others wild beasts, and with others sacrificial victims.”  Then he criticized Simon the Samaritan, who a century ago was considered a god by the Samaritans and had a statute built to him in Rome – “to Simon the Holy God” – and Marcion of Pontus, who is accused of teaching his disciples “to believe in some god greater than the Creator.”  Simon is probably the same Simon mentioned in Acts 8:9-24, although the story in Acts doesn’t seem consistent with Justin’s version, and Marcion is certainly the heretic who argued that the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible and the God of the Christians were not the same god, and further than the only true Scripture was Luke-Acts and 10 epistles.  Considering that Justin had just quoted half of the Sermon on the Mount, and what he quoted had very little overlap with Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, it’s not surprising he considered Marcion to be aided by “the devils.” 


Justin then argues against the practice of exposing children, which surprised us; it’s not something we’ve attributed to the Romans.  He thinks abandoned children are mostly picked up and raised as prostitutes, rather than being left to die.  In this section, he makes reference to “Felix the governor in Alexandria,” either now or a short time ago.  Felix was named as prefect in a surviving Roman document as of 151, which goes a long way toward dating the First Apology.  

View Article  Apologia 16-22

 Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 16-22


In Chapter 16 and 17 Justin continued to quote scripture, first from the Sermon on the Mount (as in Chapter 15) and then from elsewhere in Matthew and also Mark and Luke, including one or two sentences that are not in the Bible, which last has been important to some commentators.  The quotations are intended to explain why Christians behave as they do; Justin seems to believe that the behavior of Christians is more important than doctrine in persuading non-Christians to convert.  So far, so good.  Then he switches to comparing Christianity to other religions, arguing that every miracle attributed to Christ or God can be found in the Roman state religion, often attributed to Jupiter.  Justin’s basic argument is that Christians should not be persecuted for what they believe, but should be held responsible for what they do – what Christians believe isn’t unique to them.  But at the same time he doesn’t think much of the behavior of the gods (especially Jupiter, who was the chief Roman god and was not celebrated for monogamy), and he seems rather scornful of the evidence that emperors are resurrected, and rise to heaven from their funeral pyre.  His attitude and language can hardly have appealed to Antoninus Pius, who forced a reluctant Senate to deify his predecessor.

-- John Weicher

View Article  Apologia 7-15

Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 7-15    led by John Weicher


Justin continued his argument that Christians should not be punished simply because they were Christians, broadening it to talk about what Christians believe and how they behave.  In Ch. 15 he begins to tell the emperors “What Christ Taught,” quoting liberally from The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), specifically the latter part.  This is written around 150 A.D., before there was agreement as to what constituted the New Testament.  He quotes quite a bit more, from other books of the Bible, as the Apology continues.  This is some of the earliest evidence of what Christians were reading and hearing. 

View Article  Justin Martyr Apologia I Chs 1-6

Sue Laden and Harold Shanks were apparently still in Alexandria, pursuing the Morton Smith forgery issue.

We looked at the correspondance between Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Tarjan on the subject of arresting Christians. They were in agreement that Christians shouls be arrested, interrogated, and, if they would not recant, be sent to Rome if they were Roman citizens, or simply executed if they were not. However, anonymous denunciations were to be ignored.

The letters mention no specific charge -- to be a Christian seemed to be an offense in itself.

This was the issue taken up by Justin Martyr in the first of his apologia. Christians should only be punished if they were "evil-doers", not merely becaiuse they were Christians. To be a Christian should be seen as an indication of excellence. As to whether they were atheists, they did indeed worship no gods but one.


View Article  Secret Gospel of Mark

"The Secret Gospel of Mark"


The Secret Gospel of Mark continues to be in the news, with the imminent departure of Sue Laden and Herschel Shanks to Egypt to consult with handwriting experts about the possibility that Prof. Morton Smith forged the letter from Clement of Alexandria that quotes from, and denounces the "Secret Gospel of Mark".


Morton Smith claimed the have discovered the letter in the binding of a book while he was cataloging documents at the monastery of Mar Sabah.  The letter, which has been described as plausible by experts on Clement, accuses the Carpocratians of having added spurious material toe the Secret Gospel.  The letter in fact talks of an original gospel by Mark, while in Rome with Peter, and states that Mark then traveled to Alexandria to produce an expanded version, and then a "secret version" of the gospel.  Clement cites parts of the Carpocratian version, which is our only source for this material.


The idea that gospels were produced by compilation is confirmed by scripture, particularly the opening of Luke's gospel. Evangelicals such as F.F. Bruce follow Clement’s view that the original gospel was subject to amendment by various parties . It is, of course, commonplace that Matthew and Luke have material common with Mark, and is commonly accepted that they were based on Mark, with the addition of such sources as “Q”.   Smith reverses this position, and sees canonical Mark as the result of censorship by what became orthodox Christianity. His book “The Secret Gospel of Mark” is largely about his view that magic played a role in the early church, and this is developed further in his book “Jesus the Magician”.



View Article  Paul-Seneca 8-14

In order to get an impression of the style of the "genuine" Seneca, we read part of one of his Moral Epistles, "On Learning Wisdom in Old Age". This gives a good idea of Seneca's approach to Stoicism, with its emphasis on the behavioral aspects of philosophy. We discussed the implied belief in a natural law, and compared this with CS Lewis' treatment of the same subject in "Mere Christianity".

We read the remainder of the Paul-Seneca correspondence, much of which, oddly, is taken up by a discussion of the order of names in the address. To some of us, the very trivial nature of the discussions was a mark of authenticity, since a forger would surely give a positively Christian bias to Paul's letters, at least.

We were left with a hung jury.


View Article  Paul-Seneca 1-7

We noted that Seneca the Younger was a noted Roman philosopher, writer, and politician.   His date of birth is uncertain, but may have been between 4 BCE and 1CE.   His death, by judicial suicide, was in 68 CE, perhaps six years after Paul's execution.


The Paul-Seneca correspondence was accepted by Jerome and Augustine.  Tertullian refers to "our Seneca".  In recent times the letters have almost unanimously been declared fictitious.  However, some of the arguments put forward for falsity, such as vocabulary counts, have recently be shown to be erroneous. 


We looked at the first seven items in the "Paul-Seneca" correspondence.


We notes that the extant manuscripts are in Latin, and there was little evidence that Paul spoke or wrote Latin.  However, at one point he writes of "hearing" Seneca's letters, which may indicate the use of a translator, since Paul could and did write in Greek.


We had some difficulty in placing the letters in Paul’s life; he appears to be able to move freely in Rome, though the end of Acts shows him under house arrest in Rome.  Equally, if he were under arrest by imperial forces, Seneca should have had no difficulty in commanding his appearance.   However, there is a (minority) view that Paul survived his first arraignment, and that he went to Spain.  If this be so, there could have been a period when he was at liberty in Rome.


The reference to Poppaea, Nero’s wife, is interesting.  Poppaea is known to have been a Jewess, and the comment that she was angry at Paul’s presentation would have been in character.

View Article  Didache 9-16

Didache 9-16

The church to which the Didache is addressed appoints its own bishops and deacons. It has visits from prophets and "apostles" together with a number of "false prophets". The criteria given for detecting if a prophet is false is if he stays morte than three days. However a true prophet must be honored and when he speaks in ecstasy, his words should not be questioned.

The Didache contains the first known eucharistic prayers, unlike those in use today -- indeed, we toyed with the idea that these were Jewish prayers with some of the names changed.

The symbolism is unfamiliar; the broken bread is a symbol of the dispersed church, and the wine reflects the "vine of David".

The Didache ends, rather unexpectedly, with a dramatic description of the Last Days.

View Article  The Didache 1-8

The Didache was well known to many early authors, but disappeared from view until the late 19th century, when a full copy was found in the Constantinople library of the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

We compared it to documents such as the Presbyterian Book of Order, and the Methodist Book of Discipline, documents that specify how churches are to be run. The Didache has a global view, and appears to be an early one, before the emphasis of the power of the bishop (monoepiscopy) developed.

Though differently worded, the opening treatment of "The Two Ways" is evocative of the final section of the Epistle of Barnabas. It is interrupted by an extensive set of dominical statements.

The long list of prohibitions in "The Way of Death" include abortion and child murder, not mentioned in the New Testament. Possibly they became necessary as Christianity moved into the Graeco-Roman world where such practices were tolerated. However, slavery is assumed. The position on food offered to idols is halfway between the Jerusalem total prohibition and Paul's "don't ask" advice.

Baptism is defined by procedure, with a tolerance for for different methods of implementation: running or stored water may be used, and its temperature is irrelevant. It is seen as a ritual of entry into the church..

We discussed some forerunners to Christian baptism -- the Essene purification baths, and purification rituals in the Jerusalem temple.


View Article  Barnabas 18-end

November 14, 2010


The final section of the Epistle of Barnabas suddenly jumps into a treatment of "The Two Ways". This concept is also found in the Didache, and there is considerable discussion about their interdependence, if any.

Barnabas presents each of the two ways in terms of negatives. His lists of sins include "Corrupting Minors" and Abortion, neither of whoich is mentioned in the New Testament. Personal ownership is also condemned (cf. Acts 4:32), which might suggest a very early date of authorship.

The world is to be destroyed, together with the Evil One, in the near future.

View Article  Epistle of Barnabas 11-17

We reviewed chapters 1-10, and the corresponding quiz.

The reference to "smite the shepherd" appears to be to Zechariah, and we intend to review this, with its tale of the "wicked shepherd" in the next session.

We reviewed the concepts of exegesis and eisogesis.

We then read Chapters 11-17.

We noted that Barnabas believed that the universe would have a total life of 6000 years, and that his reference to "the eighth day" hay be the first record of Sunday observance. Like Paul, he saw the body as a "temple", though he believed it was inhabited by demons befiore conversion.

Barnabas mentions the construction of a model serpent by Moses. In II Kings, this is linked to the account of the destruction of the Nehushtan image by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4)

The eponymous accounts of Rebecca and Manassah were left until the next class.



View Article  Epistle of Barnabas 5-10

October 24, 2010

Epistle of Barnabas 5-10

These five chapters include an exposition of the doctrine of atonement which would not be out of place in a Pauline epistle, a Kabbalistic interpretation of an obscure verse from Genesis, and a remarkable allegorical treatment of the rejection of the Mosaic covenant by "the Jews"

We looked at the concepts of exegesis and eisogesis, and downloaded a piece from Wikipedia on the various forms of exegesis.


View Article  Epistle of Barnabas 1-4

The Codex Sinaiticus contains the "Epistle of Barnabas" in full, but it is not in the agreed New Testament canon, and it was included in the list of "Disputed Books" by Eusebius. However, parts of it are cited by several patristic writers.

The writer claims that God's covenant with Israel was cancelled when Moses broke the tablets on coming down from the mountain to find ther Israelites worshipping a golden calf. The writer quotes from several Old Testament writers attacking sacrifices, including Isaiah and the writer of the Psalms.

The writer uses eschatological language, believing the world to be under the control of "The Active One" -- "The Black One" -- who even has power to eject people from the kingdom of heaven.

The thrust of the witer's argument is similar to that of Amos, seeing social responsibility as more important than liturgical observance.

View Article  Epistle of Diognetus


 The Epistle to Diognetus


This epistle, known from a sole 14th century copy, is full of puzzles.


The addressee is unknown, though a tutor to Marcus Aurelius and a 2/3 century Procurator of Alexandria have both been suggested.


Equally the writer is unknown.  He uses language that is very close to the Pauline epistles, and also to the Gospel of John.


The document is in letter form, but is similar to Third Century apologetics.


The opening condemns "idol-worshippers" and Jews in simplistic terms, but the core of the document powerfully puts forward the concept of Christians as temporary sojourners who are citizens of a heavenly kingdom.  We theorised that this might not be the best way to approach a Roman official; third century persecutions fixated on the "disloyalty" of Christians.

View Article  Martyrdom of Polycarp

Leaving the schedule, we looked in detail at the Martyrium of Polycarp. We were struck by its apparent realism, and the humor of Polycarp. Many of the issues seemed to relate to what we know of events in Africa at the beginning of the Third Century, such as the martyrdom of Perpetua, which might suggest the later of the possible dates for Polycarp, though it makes it more difficult to believe that he was a pupil of John the Apostle.

View Article  Polycarp to the Philippians

Polycarp is the third of the Apostolic Fathers, with Ignatius and Clement. His death can be dated by one formula to 156 CE, and by another to 170. In the well-regarded Martyrium of Polycarp, he is quoted as having said "Eightysix years have I served my master -- should I blaspheme him now?" This indicates that, like John the Apostle, he lived to a great age, and to some extent supports the claim that he was a disciple of John, though which John is perhaps unclear.

His Letter to Philippi is a cover letter, enclosing a package of letters by Ignatius for study by the Philippians. In contrast to the sometimes harsh tone of the letters of Clement and Ignatius, he "comes across" as a friendly, tolerant personality. There are even contemporary jokes told about him, particularly his encounters with Cerinthus and Marcion, and even in the arena facing imminent death.


View Article  Ignatius to Polycarp

At Troas, Ignatius writes another letter to Smyrna, this time to the venerable bishop, Polycarp. Polycarp is by now a semi-legendary figure, being over 80 years old, and, according to Eusebius and Irenaus, having learned Christianity from John and other apostles.

Nevertheless Ignatius lectures Polycarp on his episcopal duties. He even goes so far as to enjoin the biushop to "Flee evil arts". Chapter 6 either shows Ignatius forgetting his audience, or is a fragment from another letter; since it enjoins the readers to "obey their bishop".

The fact that Ignatius uses the image of a ship's "pilot" is consonant with his having recently been on a ship, as is his mention of "tempests". Ignatius specifically says that he is having to restrict his letter-writing because he is being hurried to "set sail" for Neapolis, the port of Philippi. We played with the idea that some of the letters got mixed in the confusion of his departure.

View Article  Ignatius to Smyrna

Sunday, February 21, 2010

(There were no classes February 7 or 14, because of snow)

Ignatius to Smyrna

Ignatius is in Troas, and he writes back to Smyrna (present-day Izmir) which he had recently visited.

He seems concerned with Docetic tendancies at Smyrna, and essays a joke that if Christ only "seemed" to exist, than his own trials only "seemed" to be. More seriously he even expresses the hope that his opponents, once they have lost their mortal bodies, will be left as demons. Docetists, it seems, refused communion and abstained from prayer. In language reminiscent of the Epistle of James -- "I will show you my faith by what I do" -- Ignatius notes that they "have no regard for love, no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed, of the bond or the free, of the hungry or the thirsty".

He uses the term "Catholic Church" for the first time, though Protestants prefer to believe that he was referring to the Church Universal. Ignatius also states that only bishops can baptize or celebrate communion; this is not in accord with current Catholic practice, but john pointed out that he may be writing in a time when "bishop" and "priest' were synonymous.


View Article  Ignatius to Philadelphia

After a remarkable digression into Steady State/Big Bang theory, and cosmological mathematical modelling, we reviewed the possibilities that a) Ignatius and his guard traveled to Rome by boat with several stops (b) that he traveled by land, and (c) a combination of the above.

Philadelphia seems to be neither on the land route not the sea route, but apparently Ignatius met members of the Philadelphian church at Troas.

Ignatius told the Philadelphians to ignore Jewish law

We compared this with -- :

Paul says Jewish law helps you tell right from wrong, but has no saving power

James the Just, head of Jerusalem church was famous for his devotion to the law

Marcion, the famous second century heretic, denounced the "Jewish god" as evil, togther with the law.


Oddly, Ignatius asks the Philadephians to send a delegate to Antioch to congratulate them on the lifting of persecution. This seemed a long way to go for a courtesy visit, and we wondered whether some kind of inter-church conference was in prospect.


View Article  Ignatius to Rome

We looked at an excerpt from a somewhat suspect document -- the Martyrium of Ignatius. In what purports to be an transcript of Ignatius' interview with the Emperor Trajan in Antioch, Ignatius offends Trajan by referring to his gods as "demons" is condemned to death, and sent off to face the lions in the Coliseum in Rome. At least one commentator assumes that Ignatius made most of the journey by sea, and this might explain why time was found on the journey for his many meetings with church officials, in spite of the unfriendly nature of his guards. However, the existence of the imperial edict would be difficult to contravene, even when news arrived from Antioch that persecution had ceased. The only place where effective action could be taken on Ignatius' behalf would be in Rome itself, and it appears from his letter that this is exactly what happened, as his friends rallied to his defence. Ignatius, however, is determined on a course of martyrdom, and begs his friends not to defend him.

Catholics quote Ignatius' Letter to Rome as the earliest document from a non-Roman claiming overall authority for the Roman church; however we found it difficult to draw this from the text, either from the Greek, or from a Catholic-approved translation.

View Article  Ignatius to the Trallians

Tralles is a small town on the highway into Ephesus. Confusingly, it has had several names -- in Roman times it was renamed Caesarea, and under Turkish government became Aydin, which is its current name.

It is not clear that Ignatius actually visited the church of Tralles, but he did meet their Bishop, Polybius, in Smyrna. Polybius seems to have told him about unorthodox ideas that were current in Tralles.

The first is mentioned in Chapter 5, and seems to imply some kind of Gnosticism, including esoteric information about angels and heavenly principalities. Ignatius rather charmingly says that he is too young in the faith to have any knowledge of such ideas, but counsels against pursuing them.

He is more forceful in countering a form of Docetism, which believed that Jesus was pure spirit, and any observation of his body, and particularly of his suffering and death, was illusory. Ignatius drily observes that if Jesus only "seemed to exist" then perhaps the Docetists only "seemed to exist" and perhaps he and his suffering were only illusions.........

As an aside, why was Ignatius still travelling to Rome for execution, when persecution in Syria appeared to have ceased? However, those in the group with first-hand experience of the ways of bureaucracies had little difficulty with the thought that once the mechanism of sending him to Rome was under way, it would be difficult -- and perhaps nobody's responsibility -- to reverse.


View Article  Ignatius to Magnesia

Magnesia is a small town a few miles from Ephesus.

It has given its name to the magical rocks that could either attract or repel each other -- "magnets".

The river has also given its name to the loops formed in the lower course of a river -- the River Meander.

A problem at Magnesia was that the bishop was young and inexperienced; some members of the church had taken to ignoring him and holding meetings independently. As might be expected, this was denounced by Ignatius, who, he thinks, should see the bishop as one standing in the place of God.

An odd slip of the pen has Jesus being _born_ under the governemnt of Pontius Pilate; even taking the view that the Lukan nativity story implies his birth in 6 CE, the governor then would be Coponius, some thirty years before Pilate.

Verse 9:1 is sometimes quoted as the first evidence for Christians observing Sunday rather than the Sabbath, but this turns on a point of translation (