dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label Ignatius. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ignatius. Show all posts

Friday, 17 January 2020

Did Jesus Raise Himself from the Dead?

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a Christian bishop who was martyred in the early second century, wrote the following concerning Jesus Christ in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans:
For he suffered all these things for our sakes, in order that we might be saved; and he truly suffered just as he truly raised himself—not, as certain unbelievers say, that he suffered in appearance only (it is they who exist in appearance only!). (Smyrn. 1.1-2.1)1
In this passage, Ignatius asserts that Jesus had raised himself from the dead. The statement occurs in a longer paragraph in which he praises the Smyrnaean church for their conviction in the concrete historical realities of Jesus' life: his descent from David, birth from a virgin, baptism by John, crucifixion under Pilate and Herod, and resurrection. The point that he is most keen to emphasise is that Jesus' suffering and resurrection 'truly' happened and not did not merely appear to happen. The causal agency of Jesus' resurrection is not a point he belabours; indeed, elsewhere in his writings—including in this same letter—Ignatius describes Jesus as having been raised by the Father.2 Thus, for Ignatius, 'he raised himself' is simply another way of describing Jesus' resurrection. That he provides no further comment or clarification suggests that he does not regard his statement as novel or controversial, but assumed that it would be acceptable to his Smyrnaean readers.

Now, throughout the New Testament literature (all or nearly all of which predates Ignatius), the normative way of referring to Jesus' resurrection is not 'Jesus raised himself from the dead' but 'God raised Jesus from the dead' or simply 'Jesus was raised from the dead,' a divine passive that implicitly identifies God as the subject of the action. The pre-Pauline credal formula quoted in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 uses such a divine passive, and throughout the Pauline corpus we consistently read that God raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 4:24; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; 1 Thess. 1:10). The same language is used throughout Acts (2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 13:30, 34; 17:31) and also appears in 1 Peter (1:21). As for the Gospels, all four of them use divine passives, for instance in the post-resurrection narratives (Matt. 28:6-7; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6, 34; John 21:14).

Juxtaposing the consistency of the New Testament in describing Jesus' resurrection as 'God raised Jesus' with Ignatius' seemingly uncontroversial statement that Jesus 'raised himself' leads to an obvious question: where did Ignatius (and presumably at least some of his contemporaries) get the idea that Jesus raised himself from the dead?

The most plausible answer is that Ignatius took the idea from the Gospel of John. Now, it is not certain that Ignatius knew the Gospel of John. Over a century ago, a committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology made a close study of literary dependence on the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. They gave a 'B' rating to Ignatius' knowledge of John, meaning they considered it 'highly probable,' but not 'beyond reasonable doubt,' that Ignatius knew the Fourth Gospel.3 A subsequent study by Walter J. Burghardt found that literary dependence of Ignatius on John's Gospel was the most plausible explanation of the affinity between the two, but that other forms of dependency (such as oral tradition or the influence of a post-apostolic 'Johannine school') could not be ruled out.4 Thus, we cannot take it for granted that Ignatius knew the text of the Gospel of John as we have it today, but it is almost certain that he was familiar with Johannine ideas in some form.

The Gospel of John does not state as explicitly as Ignatius that Jesus raised himself from the dead. However, there are also two passages in John that imply that Jesus raised himself from the dead. The first of these reads as follows:
19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22 NABRE)
John explains the temple metaphor that Jesus used in this saying: the temple refers to his body (cf. John 1:14, which says literally that the Logos 'tabernacled among us, and became flesh'). Thus, as v. 22 confirms, in saying 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,' Jesus was foretelling his death and resurrection. The first-person statement, 'I will raise it up' (egerō auton) cannot be explained away as though necessitated by the temple metaphor. Jesus could easily have said, 'Destroy this temple and in three days it will rise again' or 'Destroy this temple and in three days it will be rebuilt.' Instead, he foregrounded his own agency. What is more, this statement parallels the fourfold statement of Jesus in John 6:39-54, 'I will raise him/it up on the last day' (although the latter uses a different verb, anastēsō). In that text, Jesus is clearly referring to his own future agency in raising the dead. Thus, we have every reason to think that the same idea is in view in John 2:19: Jesus foretold that he would raise his own body from the dead.5,6 We must emphasise that this notion is not opposed to the idea that Jesus was raised from the dead by God—to the contrary, the latter idea does appear in this very context (v. 22) through the use of a divine passive. (The same is true, as we noted already, in Ignatius' Letter to the Smyrnaeans). 

How could John have conceived of both God and Jesus raising Jesus from the dead? The answer lies in different levels of causal agency. The temple metaphor is helpful here: the Jerusalem temple, forty-six years in the making, was called Herod's Temple because it was Herod's project. However, Herod probably was not involved in the day-to-day construction operations and almost certainly did not do any of the heavy lifting. Thus it would be correct to say that Herod built the temple and it would also be correct to say that workers built the temple. The second Johannine text that implies Jesus' agency in his own resurrection provides more detail about the respective causal roles of the Father and the Son:
17 This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father. (John 10:17-18 NABRE)
Here, Jesus describes his death and resurrection in terms of laying down his life and taking it up again. Notice that he specifically emphasises his volition: 'I lay it down on my own.' He then declares, literally, 'authority I have to lay it down' (or, 'to give it up,' exousian echō theinai autēn), 'and authority I have to take it up again' (or, 'to take it back', exousian echō palin labein autēn). Word order in Greek conveys emphasis and here the word order squarely emphasises Jesus' own agency. According to this text, Jesus took back his life in the same willful sense that he gave it up. As Jerome H. Neyrey states, 'John 10:17-18 and 28-38 both assert that Jesus has God's eschatological power over death, both to raise himself and to raise his followers.'7 However, the text is not saying that this was done independently of the Father. The last clause stresses that the authority with which Jesus was to act was received from the Father.8

Other passages in John's Gospel shed further light on Jesus' role in the resurrection of others (already seen in John 6:39-54). In John 11:24-25, just prior to demonstrating his power to raise the dead by raising Lazarus, Jesus responds to Martha's faith in 'the resurrection on the last day' by declaring his own definitive role therein: 'I am the resurrection and the life'. However, the Gospel's most detailed material on Jesus' role in the resurrection comes in John 5:19-29. The overarching theme here is that, a son does not work independently of his father, and the Son is no different: the Father loves him and shows him all that he does, and the Son does likewise. Here we have precisely the kind of dual Father-Son agency that is implied in the above references to Jesus' involvement in his own resurrection. John 5:21-22 gives two concrete examples of how the Son imitates the Father: resurrection and judgment. 'just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes'. 'Taking back' his own life after giving it up (John 10:18) was just such a volitional act of the Son. Jesus goes on to declare that it is the voice of the Son that will give life to the dead in the resurrection (John 5:25, 28). Jesus says in v. 26 that 'just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself.' 'Having life in oneself' appears to refer to self-existence, a divine attribute. We have then the paradoxical idea that the Son has received self-existence as a gift from the Father. That the Son 'has life in himself' helps to explain how, having died, he would still have authority to reclaim his life.

We can now understand a bold Christological move that was first made in the Fourth Gospel, and then taken up by Ignatius. Because the Father gave the Son to have life in himself, and authorised him to dispense life to whomever he wished—already during his lifetime, in the case of Lazarus, and ultimately 'on the last day'—why should the Son not also have exercised this agency in his own resurrection, by 'taking back' his life as deliberately as he had given it up? After all, Jesus' resurrection was not a separate event from the eschatological resurrection. It was, in Paul's words, the firstfruits of the same harvest (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Or, to return to Ignatius, 'our Lord' was 'truly nailed in the flesh for us under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrach...in order that he might raise a banner for the ages through his resurrection for his saints and faithful people' (Smyrn. 1.2).9

What are the theological implications of the notion that Jesus raised himself from the dead? There are profound implications, not only for Christology—Jesus' divine authority over death is absolute—but also for anthropology. Clearly, in order to raise himself from the dead, Jesus must have still consciously existed while he was dead. This implies that death, for humans, is not the extinction of all existence.10


  • 1 Trans. Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: English Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 186.
  • 2 'They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up' (Smyrn. 6.2, trans. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, 189); 'Be deaf, therefore, whenever anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, who was the son of Mary; who really was born, who both ate and drank; who really was persecuted under Pontius Pilate, who really was crucified and died while those in heaven and on earth and under the earth looked on; who, moreover, really was raised from the dead when his Father raised him up, who—his Father, that is—in the same way will likewise also raise us up in Christ Jesus who believe in him, apart from whom we have no true life' (Trall. 9.1-2, trans. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, 165).
  • 3 A Committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology. The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905).
  • 4 Walter J. Burghardt, 'Did Saint Ignatius of Antioch Know the Fourth Gospel?', Theological Studies 1(2) (1940): 130-56.
  • 5 Robert H. Gundry writes, 'Jesus' saying [in John 2:19] — with John's editorial comment — makes Jesus raise himself from the dead just as in John 10:17-18' ('Jesus' Blasphemy according to Mark 14:61b-64 and Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:5,' in Robert H. Gundry, The Old is Better: New Testament Essays in Support of Traditional Interpretations [Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2010], 109; previously published by Mohr Siebeck).
  • 6 Frederick Dale Bruner writes, 'Usually in the New Testament it is God who is said to raise Jesus. But John here, and notably in chapter 10 (vv. 17-18), records Jesus speaking of raising himself. Most of us are most comfortable with the majority New Testament representation: that God raised Jesus from the dead. But if John is so convinced of Jesus' full deity that he believes Jesus also contributed to his Resurrection, without any compromising of Jesus' true humanity (a true humanity that John, too, is deeply eager to maintain), then most of us have felt we can live with John's record as well, since in the final analysis, a Resurrection is mystery enough in itself' (The Gospel of John: A Commentary [Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012], 195).
  • 7 An Ideology of Revolt: John's Christology in Social-Science Perspective (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2007), 79. Previously published by Fortress Press.
  • 8 Bruner again: 'Usually in the New Testament it is God the Father who is reported to have raised Jesus. But here Jesus speaks of raising himself — though, notice, he says he can both "lay down" and "take back" his life only because, as he continues immediately, "I have authority" to do so (from the Father)' (The Gospel of John, 765).
  • 9 Trans. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, 186.
  • 10 One could escape this implication by asserting that unless death for Jesus was a metaphysically different experience than death for the rest of humanity. This, however, would be a soteriologically dangerous claim to make, since it is precisely our relatedness to Jesus' death that gives us hope (see, e.g., Rom. 6:4-5; Heb. 2:9, 14).

Friday, 22 June 2018

We Have an Altar: The Call to Eucharistic Worship in Hebrews 13:9-16

Hebrews 13:10 reads, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" (NABRE). The purpose of this article is to argue that this verse, understood in context, functions as a call to Eucharistic worship, i.e. to partake of the Lord's Supper. Here is the statement within its immediate context:
9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 The bodies of the animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come. 15 Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind. (Hebrews 13:9-16 NABRE)
One leading New Testament scholar, Helmut Koester, began his study of Hebrews 13:9-14 by calling it "among the most difficult passages of the entire New Testament."1 Another scholar, James W. Thompson, described this as "one of the most complex passages in Hebrews, if not in the entire New Testament," one containing "many exegetical enigmas".2 We should therefore adopt a measure of humility as we attempt to understand the significance of the Christian "altar," which as Thompson noted is one of the areas of scholarly debate.

The central contention of this article is that the "altar" mentioned in Heb. 13:10 refers to the Eucharistic table. In fact, it is my belief that Hebrews 13:9-16 is a call to Eucharistic worship. I would paraphrase the broad sweep of this call as follows:
We would not be strengthened by mere "foods" but by "grace"—heavenly, life-giving grace. How can we access this grace? "We have an altar" that gives us the "right to eat" the "body" of our sin-offering, Jesus, whose blood was brought into the heavenly sanctuary (to which we have access through him). "Let us go to him," in liturgical procession. Where? "Outside the camp," where he suffered—to Golgotha, to the foot of the cross, to our altar; "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God" in the liturgy. Then, let us go forth and "do good and share what we have," bringing the life and goodness we have received to the world.
Now, I would not suggest that this Eucharistic reading of the passage is obvious, or uncontroversial. While "many commentators" have concluded that the "altar" of Heb. 13:10 is the Eucharistic table,3 many others have opposed this interpretation. The New American Bible (Revised Edition), a Catholic translation, states in a footnote on Heb. 13:10 that the altar "does not refer to the Eucharist, which is never mentioned in Hebrews, but to the sacrifice of Christ." Making the same point in greater detail is Baptist theologian Thomas R. Schreiner:
Clearly the author isn’t thinking of a literal altar. The altar where sacrifices were offered points to a better altar where Christ was sacrificed to atone for sins. The author doesn’t think of a literal altar in heaven, for the imagery shouldn’t be pressed to suggest that there is a literal altar in the heavenly sanctuary. Hebrews never mentions a heavenly altar…Those who attend to the earthly tabernacle have no ‘right to eat’ from the altar of Christ, for they are ‘behind the times’ and are still attending to the old altar. Believers, on the other hand, ‘eat’ from this better altar. He refers to Christ’s sacrifice here, the nature of which was explicated previously in the letter. The ‘eating’ again isn’t literal. It is a colorful way of describing the grace believers enjoy through the sacrifice of Christ.4
Norman H. Young calls it "misleading to relate the altar [of Heb. 13:10] to the heavenly sanctuary" and "equally perverse to attempt to find the Eucharist in this reference to an altar".5 In the face of such stringent opposition, we have our work cut out for us in attempting to show that there is an allusion to the Eucharist here.

Before considering arguments for a Eucharistic interpretation of Heb. 13:10, let us consider some arguments against. One argument is that the Eucharist plays no other role in the Letter to the Hebrews. This is a valid point, but it is not decisive. It can be reasonably inferred, on the evidence of the Gospels' Last Supper narratives, as well as John 6, 1 Corinthians 10-11, and the Didache (a first-century church manual that is not in the biblical canon) that the Eucharist was a central part of the spiritual life of early Christian communities, so that an early Christian writer could allude to it abruptly and without explanation.6 Moreover, the last chapter of Hebrews touches on a number of complex theological issues in somewhat rapid-fire fashion, so a passing but rich allusion to the Eucharist would not be out of place.7

A second argument against a Eucharistic interpretation is Schreiner's observation that "Hebrews never mentions a heavenly altar." This is an argument from silence, but it is conceivable that the writer of Hebrews envisions the heavenly "holy places...the true tent" (Heb. 8:1-2) as restricted to the tabernacle proper and not the courtyard that contained the altar.8 The altar on which Jesus offered himself could be understood as the cross of Calvary, whereupon Jesus entered with his blood into the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 9:11-12). However, an identification of the "true" altar with the cross in no way conflicts with a Eucharistic interpretation, particularly if the Eucharist is understood as a memorial and an extension of the sacrifice of Jesus.

A third argument against a Eucharistic interpretation is Schreiner's claim that the altar of Hebrews 13:10, as well as the "eating" mentioned there, are "not literal" but are colourful ways of describing the sacrifice of Christ and the grace it conveys to believers. This insistence on a "non-literal" interpretation seems to cloud an important distinction between the transcendent and the symbolic. For the author of Hebrews, the various features of the Levitical cult are but shadows of a greater, transcendent reality. The heavenly tabernacle is not non-literal but super-literal, more real than its earthly counterpart. The same goes for the transcendent high priest, Jesus. That talk of a transcendent "tabernacle" and "altar" is in some sense analogical does not mean they are mere abstractions. As for non-literal "eating," if the altar symbolises Christ's sacrifice then it seems needlessly oblique to describe the associated grace in terms of eating from the altar. Surely a more natural extension of the metaphor would express the right to approach the altar: compare Hebrews 4:15-16, which emphasises that Christians have the right to "draw near to the throne of grace," and 10:19, which emphasises "confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus". The specific emphasis on the right to "eat" from the altar requires us to seek a connection to a Christian form of religious "eating"—of which the Eucharist is the obvious example.9

From a reader-response perspective, a Catholic or Orthodox Christian today who encounters the words "We have an altar" is likely to picture the Eucharistic altar in the sanctuary at their local church. If such an altar was a typical feature in the house churches known to the author and recipients of Hebrews—admittedly a big "if"—then the declaration "We have an altar" might intentionally draw the readers' attention to these physical altars as the locus of their access to Christ's sacrifice via the Eucharist.

From a historical point of view this argument remains somewhat speculative in that we have no archaeological evidence of what first-century Christian house churches looked like. However, one of the two earliest house churches that has been excavated, from Megiddo and generally dated to the third century A.D., had a worship room described thus:
In the centre of the floor stand two raised stones, which probably served as the base for the podium of the Eucharistic table referred to in one of the inscriptions.10
The floor of the Megiddo house church with Eucharistic table base and inscription

The inscription mentioned is on a floor mosaic in the same room, and reads, "The God-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial." Granted, this church dates from long after Hebrews was written, but it is, after the Dura-Europos house church in Syria, the oldest church that has been excavated. We should thus at least allow the possibility that the earliest readers of Hebrews worshipped in a house church in which an altar-like Eucharistic table featured prominently.

Koester remarks that the Greek formulation of the words translated "We have an altar" is stylistically formal and "reflects the style of credal statements."11 In his view, this is more likely a literary device than a quotation from a creed.12 Nevertheless, the stylistic formality suggests that this declaration is intended to bear great significance and thus merits close study. Since Hebrews nowhere else refers to a Christian altar of sacrifice,13 we may look to other early Christian literature for evidence that the Eucharistic table was understood as an altar.

1 Corinthians

In 1 Corinthians 10:21, Paul refers to the Eucharist as partaking of "the table of the Lord" (trapeza kyriou). This phrase trapeza kyriou occurs in only one passage in the Greek Scriptures known to Paul, the Septuagint, where it refers to the altar of the Levitical cult (Mal. 1:7-12).14 Moreover, Paul has just drawn a parallel between participation in the "altar" by eating the sacrifices in "Israel according to the flesh" (1 Cor. 10:18) and Christian participation in the body and blood of Christ by partaking of "the table of the Lord."15


The Didache  describes the Eucharist as an "offering" and a "sacrifice" (14.1-2). This makes it plausible that, in keeping with such cultic language, the unmentioned place where this "sacrifice" was offered took place was regarded as an altar.

1 Clement

The first-century letter 1 Clement is particularly relevant to this study due to its conceptual similarity to Hebrews. These are the only two first-century Christian documents that describe Jesus as a "high priest" (1 Clem. 36.1; 61.3; 64.1). 1 Clement 36.2-5 contains numerous striking parallels to Hebrews 1, implying either the author's direct knowledge of Hebrews or the use of common traditional material by both authors. Both authors' theologies are deeply influenced by Hellenistic Judaism and the Septuagint and both authors quote from or paraphrase the Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text that was received into the Christian biblical canon (as is evident already in the late-second-century Muratorian Fragment). Undoubtedly, Hebrews and 1 Clement represent a similar early Christian theological milieu.

Edmund W. Fisher concludes in a detailed study of 1 Clement 7.4 ("We should gaze intently on the blood of Christ") that "The church united in its liturgy sees the blood-of-Christ poured out in the eucharist."16 The letter uses similar cultic language for both Levitical and Christian worship in close proximity. In chapters 40-41, the author stresses the importance of keeping the Master's commandments "in an orderly way and at appointed times," "keeping to our special assignments with a good conscience, not violating the established rule of his ministry" (1 Clem. 40.1; 41.1). These instructions are interspersed with references to the Levitical cult, where the writer emphasises that "the sacrificial offerings and liturgical rites" were performed "according to set times and hours," with God having "set forth both where and through whom he wished them to be performed" (1 Clem. 40.2-3). The writer subsequently goes into greater detail on the "where" aspect, observing that the Levitical sacrifices "are not offered everywhere...but in Jerusalem alone," and even there not "in just any place, but before the sanctuary on the altar" (1 Clem. 41.2). The author does not elaborate on the Christian analogue to this "where" aspect (he is more concerned with the "whom"), but he does refer to the bishops as "offering the gifts," which elsewhere in 1 Clement—as well as in Hebrews—is equivalent to offering sacrifices.17 This "offering" of "the gifts" most likely refers to the Eucharist.18 That it matters to the author "where" the offerings take place (otherwise there was no need to emphasise the altar as the necessary locus of Levitical offerings) suggests that there is a place analogous to the Levitical altar where the Eucharist should be offered—in other words, a Christian altar. This can reasonably be inferred even though the author does not mention such a place explicitly, due to his focus being on the "whom" aspect of Christian worship (which was contested in the Corinthian church, giving rise to his letter).

The Letters of Ignatius

The most striking references to a Eucharistic altar in the Apostolic Fathers are in the letters of Ignatius (early second century). In his Letter to the Philadelphians, the bishop of Antioch writes:
And so be eager to celebrate just one eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup that brings the unity of his blood, and one altar, as there is one bishop together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves. Thus, whatever you do, do according to God. (Ign. Phld. 4.4)
Here, Ignatius unmistakably identifies the Eucharist with a Christian altar. That is not all: another passage where Ignatius mentions the Eucharistic altar contains striking parallels to Hebrews 13:9-10:
9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.  (Heb. 13:9-10)
7.2 Let all of you run together as to one temple of God, as to one altar, to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father and remained with the One and returned to the One. 8.1 Do not be deceived by strange doctrines or antiquated myths, since they are worthless. For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace. (Magnesians 7.2-8.1)19
In both passages, a Christian "altar" associated with "grace" is contrasted with a warning against strange doctrines associated with continued observance of the Jewish law. This parallel seems too striking to be coincidental. However, since there is little evidence that Ignatius knew or used Hebrews,20  it seems likely that Hebrews and Ignatius drew on common traditional material. Ceteris paribus, that Ignatius understood the grace-conveying Christian "altar" in Eucharistic terms makes it likely that the writer of Hebrews did too.

There appear to be several nuanced ways in this passage by which the author of Hebrews compares the Levitical altar and the Christian altar. We should bear in mind that already under the Levitical cult, the altar is a sacred place: "There, at the altar, I will meet the Israelites; hence it will be made sacred by my glory" (Ex. 29:43). The immediate purpose of the altar was of course to have animal sacrifices offered upon it. However, the main interest of the author of Hebrews here is in what happens to the sacrificed animal after it is offered. The Torah mentions numerous ordinances concerning consumption of the meat of animal sacrifices (or bread made from grain offerings), which was "holy" food (Lev. 6:17-18; 10:12-13; 21:6; 22:1-12). Depending on the type of offering, there are stipulations as to who can and cannot eat the meat, what parts of the animal they can and cannot eat, when they can and cannot eat it, and where they can and cannot eat it. There were certain persons who were forbidden from eating such holy food (e.g., foreigners, or priests in a state of uncleanness—see Lev. 22).

In Hebrews 13:11, the writer observes that the meat of Levitical sin offerings could not be eaten by anyone but had to be burned outside the camp (Lev. 4:12, 4:21, 6:11, 8:17, 9:11, 16:27-28). Scholars regard this stipulation concerning the Day of Atonement sin offering (Leviticus 16) as particularly relevant,21 given the prior comparison of Christ's sacrifice with this ritual in Hebrews (9:7-12; 9:25-28). However, whereas Leviticus refers to the animals themselves or their "hide" and "flesh" being burned,22 Hebrews refers to "the bodies (Greek: sōmata) of the animals." What is remarkable about this is that Leviticus LXX never uses the word "body" (sōma) for the flesh or carcass of a sacrificed animal. Leviticus uses sōma only for human bodies, and in the Day of Atonement regulations the word is used for body of the high priest as well as the body of the person who goes outside the camp to burn (or release, in the case of the "scapegoat") the animal (Lev. 16:24-28). In Hebrews, Jesus is the high priest, the person who goes outside the camp, and the one whose "body" was specially prepared by God as the once-for-all sin offering (Heb. 10:5, 10). Thus, by stating that the "bodies" of the Levitical sin offerings could not be eaten, the writer is drawing our attention to the "body" of Jesus, our definitive sin offering, which can be eaten from the Christian altar in the Eucharist. The word "body" has powerful Eucharistic connotations, playing a central role in the early Eucharistic liturgy as preserved by Paul (1 Cor. 10:16, 11:24-29) and the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 14:22 par.). Thus, the writer's decision to use this word in his discussion of Levitical sin offerings signals his Eucharistic understanding of the Christian "altar." The other key word in the Eucharistic liturgy is, of course, "blood," and this aspect of the sin offering (both Levitical and Christ's) is also emphasised in Heb. 13:11-12.

Against this background, the following comparisons seem to be implicit in Heb. 13:9-13. (1) Under Levitical worship, the bodies of the sin offerings offered on the altar could not be eaten, but had to be burned outside the camp. Christ, our sin offering, also suffered outside the camp, but his body can be eaten, in the Eucharist. Thus Christians—all Christians ("we")—have a "right to eat" from their altar that not even the priests ("those who serve the tabernacle," cf. Heb. 7:13; 8:5) had under the Levitical religion. (2) In cases where the holy food from the Levitical altars could be eaten, it was still only natural food and thus of no eternal benefit. By contrast, the food from the Christian altar conveys "grace," i.e. brings eternal benefit. (3) The Jewish Christians addressed in Hebrews may be "outside the camp," marginalised from mainstream Jewish worship and suffering persecution, but this brings solidarity with Jesus, who likewise suffered "outside the gate" (of Jerusalem). Collectively, this is a powerful argument for sticking with Christianity and not reverting to non-Christian, mainstream Jewish religion, which seems to be a primary thrust of Hebrews.

The reading suggested above finds further support in other early Christian literature that make points similar to those in Hebrews 13:9-10 while discussing the Eucharist. We have already noted the striking parallel between Hebrews 13:9-10 and Ignatius, Magnesians 7.2-8.1. We now note some texts that highlight (a) the exclusivity of Christian access to the Eucharist (just as Hebrews states that those serving the tabernacle "have no right to eat" of the Christian altar), and (b) the contrast between ordinary food and Eucharistic food (just as Hebrews contrasts "foods" that "do not benefit" with the "grace" of the Christian "altar").

The exclusivity of access to holy food features in the Didache, a first-century church manual (roughly contemporaneous with Hebrews), which stipulates, "But let no one eat or drink from your thanksgiving meal [Greek: eucharistias] unless they have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For also the Lord has said about this, 'Do not give what is holy to the dogs.'" (Did. 9.5). Paul warns Christians against eating Eucharistic food in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27), just as the Torah warns against eating flesh from sacrifices while unclean (Lev. 7:20-21; 22:3-7).

The contrast between holy, grace-bearing Eucharistic food (which brings eternal life) and ordinary food (which has no eternal benefit) also features in multiple other texts. At the close of the Didache's Eucharistic liturgy, the following thanksgiving is offered: "You, O Master Almighty, created all things for the sake of your name, and gave both food and drink to humans for their refreshment, that they might give you thanks. And you graciously provided us with spiritual food and drink, and eternal life through your child" (Did. 10.3). More famously, in John chapter 6 Jesus repeatedly contrasts the manna in the wilderness (itself angelic food: Ps. 78:25; Wis. 16:10), whose eaters still die (John 6:49) with the "true bread from heaven," namely his flesh, of which "Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever" (John 6:58).

My own conviction is that Hebrews 13:9-16 functions as a call to Eucharistic worship in the face of temptations that the readers faced to return (or turn) to non-Christian Jewish forms of worship. Probably few Christians today yearn for Levitical religion, but there are other temptations that can draw us away from the Eucharist: apathy, or forms of Christian worship that neglect the Eucharist. Thus, the writer of Hebrews' emphatic statement, "We have an altar" is as important today as it was to his original readers.

My prayer is that the reader may be moved by the beautiful words of Hebrews 13:9-16 to heed this call, or at least to reflect on whether there might be more significance to the table of the Lord than previously supposed.


  • 1 Helmut Koester, "'Outside the Camp': Hebrews 13:9-14," The Harvard Theological Review, 55 (1962): 299.
  • 2 James W. Thompson, "Outside the Camp: A study of Heb 13:9-14," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 40 (1978): 53.
  • 3 L. Paul Trudinger, "The Gospel Meaning of the Secular: Reflections on Hebrews 13:10-13," Evangelical Quarterly, 54 (1982): 236. Trudinger himself rejects this position.
  • 4 Thomas R. Schreiner, Commentary on Hebrews (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2015), 420.
  • 5 Norman H. Young, "‘Bearing his reproach’ (Heb 13.9–14)," New Testament Studies, 48 (2002): 248-49.
  • 6 This can be seen in other instances in early Christian literature. "Your love feasts" in Jude 12 undoubtedly alludes to the Eucharist, despite the lack of explanation or prior reference to the Eucharist in this short letter. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch (early second century) contain several oblique references to the Eucharist as "the altar." Consider Magnesians 7.2 ("You should all run together, as into one temple of God, as upon one altar, upon one Jesus Christ") and Romans 2.2 ("But grant me nothing more than to be poured out as a libation to God while there is still an altar at hand"). Indeed, these references are so oblique that it might be doubted whether they refer to the Eucharist, were it not for Philadelphians 4.4 (discussed below), which makes clear Ignatius's Eucharistic understanding of the "altar." Note: translations from the Apostolic Fathers, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).
  • 7 Thompson notes that Hebrews 13:9-14 in particular contains "an extraordinary number of references that seem to stand alone in Hebrews, and are thus difficult to interpret in the context of the rest of the epistle" (Thompson, "Outside the Camp," 53).
  • 8 The Book of Revelation envisions a heavenly altar but this corresponds to the golden altar of incense within the tabernacle, not the altar of sacrifice in the courtyard.
  • 9 In both places where Paul mentions the Levitical practice of eating the sacrificial meat, he has a specific reason for stressing the "eating". In 1 Cor. 9:13 he uses it as an argument for the right of Christian ministers to earn a living through their service (since the Levitical priests literally earned their bread and meat through their offerings), and in 1 Cor. 10:18 he mentions the practice specifically to draw a parallel with the Eucharist—precisely as I argue the writer of Hebrews is doing in Heb. 13:10.
  • 10 Edward Adams, "The Ancient Church at Megiddo: The Discovery and an Assessment of its Significance," The Expository Times, 120 (2008): 64-65.
  • 11 Koester, "Outside the Camp," 312.
  • 12 Compare the similar formulation in Hebrews 8:1: "We have such a high priest..."
  • 13 There is a passing reference to the Levitical altar of sacrifice in Hebrews 7:13. The golden altar of incense, which is distinct from the altar of sacrifice, is mentioned in Hebrews 9:4.
  • 14 Similarly, Ezekiel 41:22 LXX refers to the altar in the temple vision as "the table which is before the face of the Lord," while Ezekiel 44:16 foretells that in the future temple the Levitical priests "shall enter into my sanctuary, and these shall approach my table, to minister to me" (i.e., "to offer sacrifice to me, the fat and the blood," v. 15). Elsewhere in the OT, the "table" associated with the Levitical cult is always the table of the showbread, but this is never called the "table of the Lord."
  • 15 The reference to "Israel according to the flesh" in 1 Cor. 10:18 implies that Paul understands the Church as "Israel according to the Spirit" (cf. Gal. 6:16). The kata sarka/pneuma (according to flesh/spirit) contrast is prominent in Paul's letters—especially relevant to 1 Cor. 10:18 is Gal. 4:29, which allegorically identifies unbelieving Israel, enslaved by the law, with Ishmael ("he who was born according to the flesh") and the Church, freed from slavery, with Isaac ("he who was born according to the spirit"). This flesh/Spirit Israelological parallel strengthens the implicit parallel between eating the sacrifices of the Levitical altar and eating the Eucharistic food from the table of the Lord.
  • 16 Edmund W. Fisher, "'Let us look upon the Blood-of-Christ' (1 Clement 7:4)," Vigiliae Christianae, 34 (1980): 234.
  • 17 In 1 Clem. 4.1-2, Abel is said to have offered "a sacrifice from the firstborn of the sheep and from their fat," which is then referred to as "his gifts," showing that "gifts" and "sacrifices" are synonymous terms for this author. 1 Clement also calls Jesus "the high priest of our offerings" (36.1). The same is true in Hebrews, which refers thrice to "gifts and sacrifices" (5:1; 8:3; 9:9).
  • 18 R. P. C. Hanson states, "it is obvious that τά δῶρα refers to the bread and wine in the eucharist, and that the presbyters are thought of as presenting them to God in the eucharist for him to bless them" ("Eucharistic Offering in the Pre-Nicene Fathers," Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, 76 (1976): 79.).
  • 19 Trans. Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 155.
  • 20 The classic work The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers places the relationship between Hebrews and Ignatius in its "D" category, meaning that the book "may possibly be referred to, but...the evidence appeared too uncertain to allow any reliance to be placed upon it" (A Committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology, The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905], iii.)
  • 21 Trudinger argues that the author of Hebrews "is making as much a comparison as a contrast between the Christian and Jewish altars," by specifying "the particular kind of sacrificial altar" he is speaking of to be an "'Atonement Day' sacrifice," which under the Torah the priest had no right to eat. ("Gospel Meaning of the Secular," 236).
  • 22 "The calf," Lev. 4:12, 21; "the offering," 6:11; "the calf, and his hide, and his flesh, and his dung," 8:17; "the flesh and the hide," 9:11; "the calf...and the goat...even their skins and their flesh and their dung," 16:27.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Apostolicity of the Post-Apostolic Church (Part 3 of 3): Historical evidence for apostolic succession

In the first part of this series, I outlined the three aspects in which the post-apostolic Church is apostolic, according to Catholic teaching: it has apostolic origins, apostolic teaching (both written and oral) and apostolic succession. In the second part of the series, I clarified what the Catholic Church claims—and does not claim—regarding the early history of apostolic succession. The Church does claim that the apostles themselves, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, instituted apostolic succession, and that today's bishops continue this unbroken line of succession. However, this does not necessarily entail that apostles' earliest successors were monarchical bishops as that office is understood and executed today.

In this third installment, we finally get into historical evidence relevant to the doctrine of apostolic succession.

1. 2 Timothy and Titus
2. Pseudepigraphy in the New Testament
3. 1 Clement
4. Didache
5. Ascension of Isaiah
6. Ignatius and Polycarp
7. Ptolemy's Letter to Flora
8. The succession lists of Hegesippus and Irenaeus
9. Conclusion

1. Timothy and Titus1

Within the New Testament, Paul's Second Letter to Timothy reads very much like the efforts of an apostle (2 Tim. 1:1) who regards his own death as imminent (2 Tim. 4:6-9) to groom a successor for the challenge of carrying on the ministry after he is gone. This successor, Timothy, has been ordained through a formal, public rite of laying on of hands (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6) and has the authority to lay hands on others (1 Tim. 5:22). He is, accordingly, charged with the task of preserving the "pattern of the sound words" he heard from the apostle; "By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you"—the apostolic tradition, which Paul believes the Lord is capable of preserving until "that Day," i.e. the day of the Lord's coming (2 Tim. 1:12-14).2 2 Timothy depicts Timothy as an apostolic delegate on his way to becoming an apostolic successor. (Indeed, an apostolic successor is chronologically what an apostolic delegate is spatially.)

The case of Titus is similar. Paul has left Titus in Crete "to complete what still needed to be done and to appoint elders in every city, as I myself commanded you" (Tit. 1:5), with these elders either equivalent to or including the "overseer" of v. 7. Clearly, Titus is functioning as an apostolic assistant and protégé.3 In light of what we have seen in 2 Timothy, is there any doubt that Paul would have expected Titus to succeed him in shepherding the churches in Crete in the event of his own death? Moreover, Paul addresses both Timothy and Titus as "true child in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4). Since a son is his father's successor in many ways, this filial imagery adds weight to the idea that Timothy and Titus are heirs to Paul's ministerial responsibilities.

Most contemporary New Testament scholars reject the traditional view that the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy and Titus) were written by Paul. They regard them instead as pseudepigrapha written after Paul's death, perhaps in the early second century, by members of the Pauline circle. If this is correct, we cannot cite 2 Timothy and Titus as firsthand evidence (that is, evidence from an apostle) of apostolic succession. However, if the Pastoral Epistles are pseudepigrapha then we have early (and still canonical) evidence from within the Pauline circle that Timothy and Titus were understood as Paul's hand-picked successors. We also have evidence that someone within the Pauline circle believed they had sufficient apostolic authority to write a letter in Paul's name. The same argument can be made regarding the Petrine Epistles (especially 2 Peter), which most scholars likewise regard as pseudepigraphic. We have an author or authors writing in the late first or early second century claiming the authority to write in Peter's name. Such a person must regard himself as a legitimate successor to Peter's ministry!

The letter known as 1 Clement was written from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, probably near the end of the first century, to address an internal dispute in the latter church. During the patristic period the letter was very highly esteemed; in the important fifth-century biblical manuscript Codex Alexandrinus it is bound together with the New Testament! The author does not identify himself but has traditionally been identified as Clement, an early bishop of Rome. The letter narrates the martyrdom of Peter and Paul (5.1-7), whom the author obviously holds in very high regard. It is possible that he knew them personally (Irenaeus and Tertullian claimed as much—see below), since both are believed to have been martyred under Nero about three decades prior. Although the author's intention is not to provide a theory of church leadership, he makes some comments in this respect that are very significant, especially in chapters 40-44. The reader is encouraged to read these in their entirety; I will provide some excerpts, following Bart D. Ehrman's translation (which can hardly be accused of a Catholic bias!)4

In chapter 40, the author refers to the ministerial orders of the old covenant (high priest, priests, Levites and laity) to show that the Master desires "the sacrificial offerings and liturgical rites" to be performed in an orderly fashion. He continues by exhorting the brothers, "let each of us be pleasing to God by keeping to our special assignments with a good conscience, not violating the established rule of his ministry" (41.1). Within the Church, then, there are specially assigned orders, just as under the old covenant. He continues:
The apostles were given the gospel for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. Thus Christ came from God and the apostles from Christ. Both things happened, then, in an orderly way according to the will of God. When, therefore, the apostles received his commands and were fully convinced through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and persuaded by the word of God, they went forth proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God was about to come, brimming with confidence through the Holy Spirit. And as they preached through the countryside and in the cities, they appointed the first fruits of their ministries as bishops and deacons of those who were about to believe, testing them by the Spirit. And this was no recent development. For indeed, bishops and deacons had been mentioned in writings long before. For thus the Scripture says in one place, 'I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.' (1 Clement 42.1-5) 
It would be anachronistic to read "bishops" here in its later technical sense; as discussed in the previous article, it took time for ecclesiological terminology to become standardised. Nevertheless, there is evidently some kind of implied correspondence between the "special assignments" under the old covenant and those within the Church, which include not only apostles but also bishops and deacons. By adducing Scriptural support (in the first-person voice of God, no less) for "bishops and deacons," the author implies that these are not man-made offices but that they were appointed by the apostles as part of "the established rule of [God's] ministry." This writer obviously holds these ecclesiastical offices in very high regard. He continues with the rhetorical question, "And why should it be amazing if those who were in Christ and entrusted by God with such a work [i.e. the apostles] appointed the leaders mentioned earlier [i.e. bishops and deacons]?" (1 Clement 43.1) He proceeds by again drawing on the old covenant as a template for the rule of Christian ministry. He argues that, just as Moses had anticipated strife over the office of priesthood and so offered divine proof (Aaron's blossoming rod) of the Levites' authority,
So too our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that strife would arise over the office of the bishop. For this reason, since they understood perfectly well in advance what would happen, they appointed those we have already mentioned; and afterwards they added a codicil, to the effect that if these should die, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. Thus we do not think it right to remove from the ministry those who were appointed by them or, afterwards, by other reputable men, with the entire church giving its approval. For they have ministered over the flock of Christ blamelessly and with humility, gently and unselfishly, receiving a good witness by all, many times over. Indeed, we commit no little sin if we remove from the bishop's office those who offer the gifts in a blameless and holy way. (1 Clem. 44.1-4)5
This passage is so important to the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession that it is quoted almost verbatim in the discussion of apostolic succession in Lumen Gentium (III.20). What does it tell us about apostolic succession? Firstly, note that the entire passage focuses on bishops, not deacons, suggesting (as do the words episkopos and diakonos) that overseer/bishop is the higher office. Secondly, note that bishop is an "office," just as was the Levitical priesthood according to 1 Clem. 43.2 (cf. also 1 Tim. 3:1). Thirdly, the apostles did not merely create and fill this office as a once-off measure; they legislated for the perpetuity of the office by succession (just as Moses had done for the priesthood). Fourthly, the means by which a vacancy in the office of bishop was to be filled was that, just as the apostles had appointed bishops, so should bishops be appointed by "other reputable men." The writer adds that the bishops who had been deposed in Corinth had been appointed "with the entire church giving its approval."

What we find in 1 Clement coheres well with what we find in 2 Timothy and Titus: the apostles appointed bishops who had the delegated authority to appoint other ministers, including other bishops, thereby ensuring the survival of the apostolic ministry through succession.

Within the Didache, the three most important kinds of ministerial functionaries are apostles, prophets and teachers. Every apostle who comes is to "be welcomed as if he were the Lord" (11.4). Prophets too are very highly regarded: they can give thanks at the close of the Eucharistic meal however they wish; they are not bound by the prescribed liturgy (Did. 10.7). Prophets who speak in the spirit may not be tested; this is an unforgivable sin (11.7). The prophets are to be given the firstfruits of wine, wheat and livestock, "for they are your high priests" (Did. 13.3)! Teachers, too, are to be welcomed as one would welcome the Lord (Did. 11.1-2) and are worthy of their food (Did. 13.2). All three of these ministries seem to be itinerant rather than resident.6 Like the office of bishop in 1 Clement, the role of the prophets and teachers in the Didache seems to be understood by analogy to the Levitical priesthood. Given this and the close link between the prophets and teachers and the apostles, it is possible to understand the prophets and teachers as among, or including, early apostolic successors. Timothy and especially Titus also seem to have been itinerant rather than resident in one local congregation (see Tit. 1:5), and so could easily be classified as "teachers" (or "prophets," if they had a prophetic gift) in Didache terminology.

The Didache also contains a passing reference to bishops and deacons, who are apparently resident as opposed to itinerant:
1 And so, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons who are worthy of the Lord, gentle men who are not fond of money, who are true and approved. For these also conduct the ministry of the prophets and teachers among you. 2 And so, do not disregard them. For these are the ones who have found honor among you, along with the prophets and teachers. (Did. 15.1-2, trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:441).
This passage might give the impression of an autonomous, congregational, democratic leadership structure for the local church, since the congregation is told to "elect for yourselves bishops and deacons." However, the matter is not as simple as that. Firstly, we must remember the voice of the Didachist here: "elect for yourselves" is an imperative from an external authority.7 Secondly, the statement that the bishops and deacons "conduct the ministry of the prophets and teachers" may imply the subordination of bishops and deacons to prophets and teachers (similar to the bishops' and deacons' subordination to the apostles in 1 Clement 42).8 Thirdly, the text is very light on detail concerning how this election process was meant to work: were the bishops and deacons "elected" by vote, by lot or some other means? De Halleux assumes that "the bishops are elected democratically, by a vote of hands raised in assembly," but the text does not say this. Nevertheless, de Halleux helpfully observes that such a democratic process would "not exclude however a consecration of the newly elected by the laying on of hands by their peers."9 One would not necessarily expect to find instructions about ordination or consecration in the Didache, especially if this were understood to be the prerogative of external ministers such as prophets and teachers.10 All told, while the Didache does not contain the kind of unambiguous evidence for apostolic succession that we find in the Pastoral Epistles and 1 Clement, it is consistent with that evidence (after allowances are made for the non-standardised terminology in use in this early period).

The Ascension of Isaiah is an apocalypse that is now understood by scholarly consensus to be a Christian composition, with chapters 6-11 most likely written in the late first century and chapters 1-5 added in the early second century. There is material relevant to ecclesiastical orders in Asc. Isa. 3.13-4.2. The key passage is as follows:
21 And afterwards, at his approach, his disciples will abandon the teaching of the twelve apostles, and their faith, and their love, and their purity. 22 And there will be much contention as his coming and at his approach. 23 And in those days (there will be) many who will love office, although lacking wisdom. 24 And there will be many wicked elders and shepherds who wrong their sheep, [and they will be rapacious because they do not have holy shepherds].(Asc. Isa. 3.21-24)11
The words translated "elders" and "shepherds" are respectively presbuteroi and poimenes.12 Norelli states that the Ascension presupposes a time when the twelve apostles are no more and prophets are regrettably scarce (3.27).13 Moreover, notwithstanding the author's negative perception of the "elders and shepherds," the community structure presupposed by the text is a college of presbyters, among whom the shepherds or bishops seem to be distinguished by particular authority.14 By condemning the presbyters and shepherds for loving office but lacking wisdom, the author may be drawing attention to their lack of charismatic gifts.15

As Knight points out, the situation reflected in Ascension of Isaiah 3-4 is that of "a dispute about authority," centering on "the question of whether the prophets or the institutional leaders should hold authority in the church."16 "The Ascension of Isaiah was written by a group of prophets, perhaps a small group (cf. 2.7-11), who had seen their authority eroded and who found themselves without power in their dealings with the church leaders (3.31)."17 Knight sees the situation in Ascension of Isaiah as a reversal of that in the Didache. In the Didache, the prophets are dominant and the bishops and deacons need to be legitimated in relation to the prophets and teachers. In the Ascension of Isaiah, however, the institutional leaders are dominant and the prophets are in decline. In this sense, the Ascension of Isaiah anticipates the Montanist controversy that would arise a few decades later.18

Seven letters of Ignatius are generally accepted as authentic (in the so-called "middle recension"). Most scholars maintain the traditional dating of the letters to the reign of Trajan (98-117 A.D.) in line with Eusebius's dating of Ignatius's martyrdom (Eccl. Hist. 3.36),19 though some would allow for a slightly later date, c. 125-150.20 Ignatius wrote these letters while en route from Antioch (where he was bishop; cf. Rom. 2.2) to his martyrdom in Rome.

Ignatius has surprisingly little to say about apostolic succession per se, but provides crucial evidence for the monarchical episcopate in the early second century. In the Letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius refers to "the bishops who have been appointed throughout the world [who] share the mind of Jesus Christ" (Eph. 3.2; cf. Smyrn. 10.2).21 The honour that is due the bishop recalls the honour due the prophets and teachers in the Didache: "And so we are clearly obliged to look upon the bishop as the Lord himself" (Eph. 6.1). Even a youthful bishop should receive "all due respect according to the power of God the Father," because to defer to the bishop is to defer to "the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of all" (Magn. 3.1). Ignatius presupposes a three-tiered ministerial order, "the harmony of God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and the deacons, who are especially dear to me, entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ" (Magn. 6.1). The bishop and presbyters are repeatedly related to the apostles by analogy or association (cf. Magn. 7.1; 13.1-2; Trall. 3.1; 7.1; 12.2; Smyrn. 12.1), though Ignatius never explicitly states that the bishops (or presbyters) are the apostles' successors. Nevertheless, the bishops' ministry is divinely ordained. The bishop of Philadelphia, according to Ignatius, "did not obtain his ministry to the community from himself, nor through humans, nor according to pure vanity, but by the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philad. 1.1). The monarchical character of the episcopate is made clear in passages such as Philad. 4.1: "For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup that brings the unity of his blood, and one altar, as there is one bishop together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves." The "council of the bishop" (Philad. 8.1) should be understood by analogy to the Jewish Sanhedrin (with the bishop presumably presiding), for which the same Greek word sunedrion is used.

Ignatius's understanding of episcopacy is corroborated by the testimony of his contemporary, Polycarp of Smyrna. One of Ignatius's letters was addressed to Polycarp and another to his church, and Ignatius refers to Polycarp as "the bishop of the Smyrnaeans" (Magn. 15.1; Polyc. prescript). In Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians we have the earliest reception-history of Ignatius's letters. Polycarp tells the Philippians that he has received Ignatius's letters, that he is forwarding them along with his own letter, because the Philippians "will be able to profit greatly from them" (Phil. 13.1-2). We have here a ringing endorsement of Ignatius's letters, including their characterisation of Polycarp himself as bishop of Smyrna and their monarchical understanding of the episcopal office.22

Polycarp's implicit support for Ignatius's view of the episcopate is highly significant because of Polycarp's importance in early Christian history. Irenaeus, writing a few decades later, likewise refers to Polycarp as the bishop of Smyrna (Against Heresies 3.3.4), reports that he was appointed to this office by the apostles, and mentions his successors. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, which is widely regarded as having a historically accurate core, states that at the time of Polycarp's death (c. 155 A.D.) he had been in Christ's service for 86 years (M. Polyc. 9.3). This corroborates that he was a contemporary of the apostles and could have been appointed by them as a bishop. Thus Polycarp provides a direct link between second-century, monarchical episcopacy and the apostles, which supports the claim that the monarchical bishops of the second century were in fact successors of the apostles.

The Letter to Flora is one of the few surviving examples of literature from the early days of the school of Valentinus, who was a leading Gnostic thinker in Rome during the mid-second century. The fourth-century Church Father Epiphanius preserved the Letter to Flora in full in his heresiological work Panarion. The author of this letter was Ptolemy, a disciple of Valentinus. Irenaeus also discusses and condemns Ptolemy's teachings in Book I of his work Against Heresies (written c. 180 A.D.)

Many scholars believe the Ptolemy who wrote the Letter to Flora is the same Ptolemy martyred in Rome under the prefect Urbicus as discussed by Justin Martyr in his Second Apology (chapter 2).23 This would allow us to date the Letter to Flora to c. 150 A.D. (since Justin's Apologies are generally dated to the early 150s); if the two cannot be identified, it may be a decade or two later.24

The Letter to Flora is basically an argument for the existence of the Demiurge, a divine being who created the world and gave the Law of Moses but who is not "the perfect God." Toward the end of the letter, Ptolemy makes an important claim about the authority behind his teachings:
For, if God permits, you will receive further enlightenment about their principle and their generation, when you are judged worthy of the apostolic tradition that we too have received by succession, and once again you will measure all of our teachings against the words of the Saviour. (Letter to Flora 7.9, my translation)25 
Ptolemy here refers explicitly to a concept of apostolic tradition (tēs apostolikēs paradoseōs) transmitted by succession (diadochē), and claims that "we" (his school) have such a tradition and succession. What is particularly interesting is that he says we too. Throughout the letter Ptolemy has been attempting to refute Christians who disagree with his position on the Demiurge. Thus, by referring to "the apostolic tradition that we too have received by succession," he is effectively conceding that his proto-orthodox opponents have received apostolic tradition via succession. Indeed, it is precisely because his proto-orthodox opponents have a strong claim to have received apostolic tradition via succession that Ptolemy needs to make the same claim.26 Thus, Ptolemy is a hostile witness showing that the notion of apostolic tradition transmitted by succession was well-established in the mid-second century proto-orthodox Church. The mid-second century is precisely when we would expect the theological importance of apostolic succession to have become pronounced, since living memory of the apostles was fading.

In the second half of the second century, we find the first detailed explanation of the doctrine of apostolic succession. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, writing c. 180-185, argues that the catholic Church's ability to trace its doctrines back to the apostles via succession vindicates their validity. This is similar to Ptolemy's earlier claim, but unlike Ptolemy, Irenaeus produces concrete historical data in support: a succession list for the church at Rome going back to the apostles Peter and Paul, whom he names as its founders:27
After founding and building up the church, the blessed apostles delivered the ministry of the episcopate to Linus; Paul mentions this Linus in the letters to Timothy [2 Tim. 4:21]. Anacletus succeeded him, and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement received the lot of the episcopate; he had seen the apostles and met with them and still had the apostolic preaching in his ears and the tradition before his eyes. He was not alone, for many were then still alive who had been taught by the apostles… Evaristus succeeded this Clement; Alexander [followed] Evaristus; then Xystus was appointed, sixth from the apostles; from him, Telesphorus, who achieved martyrdom most gloriously; then Hyginus; then Pius, whose successor was Anicetus. After Soter had succeeded Anicetus, now in the twelfth place from the apostles Eleutherus holds the episcopate. With the same sequence and doctrine the tradition from the apostles in the church, and the preaching of truth, has come down to us. This is a complete proof that the life-giving faith is one and the same, preserved and transmitted in truth in the church from the apostles up till now.28
How historically reliable is Irenaeus's succession list? Contemporary critical historians offer various judgments. Hall asserts that "[Irenaeus's] list is probably valid from Sixtus (also called Xystos) onwards" but that the earlier names were deduced by "inventive manipulation."29  Lampe avers that Irenaeus's list is "with highest probability a historical construction from the 180s...a fictive construction,"30 while emphasizing (in contrast to Hall) that "The names that were woven into the construction were certainly not freely invented but were borrowed from the tradition of the city of Rome... They had belonged to the presbyters of Roman church history." Strand suspects that Irenaeus probably relied on Hegesippus's work (see below) but also "may very well have consulted records at Rome when he visited there ca. 178."31 The upshot is that we should neither uncritically accept this as an authentic list of monarchical bishops going back to the apostles, nor should we dismiss it via a "hermeneutic of suspicion." It is quite probable, given other information about early church order in Rome, that some of the individuals in Irenaeus's list functioned more like leading presbyters than monarchical bishops. This is still sufficient for the doctrine of apostolic succession.

Irenaeus was actually not the first to compile a Roman succession list. This distinction belongs to Hegesippus, c. 160 A.D. Hegesippus's writings do not survive, but fourth-century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea tells us:
Hegesippus has left a full record of his beliefs in five books that have come down to us. In them he tells of traveling to Rome and finding the same doctrine among all the bishops there. After some comments about Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians, he writes: 'The Corinthian church remained in the true doctrine until Primus became bishop. I conversed with the Corinthians on my voyage to Rome, and we were refreshed by the true doctrine. After arriving in Rome I compiled the succession down to Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. Anicetus was succeeded by Soter and he by Eleutherus. In each succession and in every city, preaching corresponds with the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord.'32
Scholars have proposed two models for the origin of the concept of episcopal succession, one being the succession of philosophers in a philosophical school and the other being "Jewish, Maccabean sacerdotal succession lists."33 The fourth-century writer Epiphanius (Panarion 27.6.1-7) also provides a Roman succession list that he claims to have taken from "certain historical works," widely regarded as a reference to Hegesippus's works.34 Epiphanius's list is identical with Irenaeus's except that Anicletus is called Cletus and that Epiphanius's list ends with Anicetus. Lampe argues that Hegesippus's comments show no concern with "a succession of monarchical bishops from the apostles to the present," but rather with "chain bearers of correct belief."35. I think Lampe's statement is correct up to a point. Hegesippus is explicitly concerned with the succession chain at the level of local churches, and he explicitly ends his list with an individual, Anicetus, who was his contemporary and whom he regarded as holding an individual office (monarchical bishop?), since he "was succeeded by Soter." Though one must concede that Hegesippus is not explicitly interested in a monarchical episcopate here, it does appear that he understood his list to consist of individual leaders in the church at Rome.

At the beginning of the third century, Tertullian makes an argument similar to that of Irenaeus, though he does not provide full succession lists:
But if any heresies venture to plant themselves in the apostolic age, so that they may be thought to have been handed down by the apostles because they existed in their time, we can say, Let them exhibit the origins of their churches, let them unroll the list of their bishops, coming down from the beginning by succession in such a way that their first bishop had for his originator and predecessor one of the apostles or apostolic men; one, I mean, who continued with the apostles. For this is how the apostolic churches record their origins. The church of Smyrna, for example, reports that Polycarp was placed there by John, the church of Rome that Clement was ordained by Peter.36
Tertullian's statement that Clement was ordained by Peter appears to conflict with the list of Irenaeus and Epiphanius, in which Clement is the third successor from the apostles. Epiphanius is already aware of this problem and discusses possible solutions. Bévenot has also suggested a solution under which Linus and Anencletus are mentioned parenthetically in Irenaeus's list.37

Thus we have reasonably early and reliable historical testimony from several writers concerning a succession of individual bearers of apostolic tradition going back to the apostles. The succession lists appear in the historical record right where we would expect them to, because by the mid- to late second century living memory of the apostles had faded, and competing Gnostic claims to have true apostolic doctrine had to be countered.

This article has served to introduce the reader to some of the most important historical evidence related to the doctrine of apostolic succession. The Pastoral Epistles and 1 Clement provide strong evidence that the apostles appointed other individuals to succeed them in their ministry, made provision for this succession to continue beyond the lifetime of their direct successors, and understood this office of "bishop" to be divinely ordained. The phenomenon of apostolic pseudepigraphy (represented, according to many scholars, in New Testament epistles such as 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Ephesians and 1 and 2 Peter), suggests that there were individuals in the early post-apostolic period who understood themselves as having apostolic authority to the extent that they could write under an apostle's name. In the Didache and the Ascension of Isaiah, we find some tension between the itinerant leadership of prophets and teachers and the resident leadership of bishops and/or presbyters and deacons. The ministry of the itinerant prophets and teachers is linked closely to that of the apostles, while the ministry of the resident bishops and deacons is identified with that of the itinerant prophets and teachers. In Ignatius of Antioch's letters we find for the first time a strong notion of monarchical episcopacy, a notion that receives the implicit endorsement of no less a figure than Polycarp of Smyrna in his Letter to the Philippians. In his mid-second century Letter to Flora, the Valentinian Gnostic Ptolemy tacitly concedes his proto-orthodox opponents' claim to have received apostolic tradition by succession. By the late second century, we have a well-developed doctrine of apostolic succession substantiated by succession lists for the church at Rome. By contrast, as Jones states, "In no case [in the first and second centuries] do we have any evidence of a loose egalitarian, wholly collegial form of government".38 All of this evidence is consistent with the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession, as defined in the previous two articles.


  • 1 I hope Catholic readers will not take offence at my decision not to use the prefix "St." with the names of apostles and other saints in this article. I do so to avoid the appearance of anachronism in what is primarily an historical study.
  • 2 Towner states that "the command 'guard the deposit' involves both preserving and proclaiming the apostolic gospel", adding that "Within the flow of thought, succession is very much in mind" (The Letters to Timothy and Titus [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006], 476). He adds that "at v. 12 it becomes clear that Paul is not simply calling Timothy to a renewal of previous duties; he is rather preparing Timothy to be his successor in the mission" (ibid., 476-477). Again, "The continuity between Paul's ministry and Timothy's (and of those who will follow; cf. 2:1-2, which uses the same language) is underscored in the phrase 'what you heard from me.' It is precisely this apostolic continuity that ensures the purity of the message on into the next generation" (ibid., 477).
  • 3 Concerning Titus's task of appointing elders in every town, Towner writes, "Paul uses a verb that signifies official appointment, but he does not indicate much more about the procedure and how it is to be carried out. Most of the discussion in the commentaries concerns the degree to which the task is Titus's or to be shared by the church. At a minimum, given the Cretan churches' early state, probably the candidates would have been selected by the communities that knew them best, with Titus's delegated apostolic authority being applied as the final seal of recognition and appointment to leadership (signified publicly by the laying on of hands; cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6)" (ibid., 680).
  • 4 translations of Apostolic Fathers texts are taken, unless otherwise indicated, from Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).
  • 5 Note the vexing text-critical problem surrounding the Greek phrase that Ehrman translates, "added a codicil." Holmes translates, "they gave the offices a permanent character," and comments, "lit. (reading epimonēn, the emendation printed by Lightfoot) have given permanence, i.e., to the offices of bishop and deacon. The witnesses vary widely, with the most likely reading being that of A, epinomēn. But it is difficult to make sense of the word unless one either assumes the existence of a secondary meaning such as 'injunction' (a meaning otherwise unattested) or gives it the same meaning as the cognate word epinomis, a 'codicil' or 'supplement'. The translation would then run something like 'added a codicil' or 'made a decree'" (Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007], 78 n. 108). The possibility of an apostolic decree is supported by the decree on requirements of Gentile converts found in Acts 15:22-29.
  • 6 Cf. Stephen J. Patterson, "Didache 11-13: The Legacy of Radical Itinerancy in Early Christianity," in Clayton N. Jefford, ed., The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 315-318.
  • 7 See Towner's comment in note 3 above about Titus's modus operandi in appointing elders in every town: this may have involved a process where the local congregation elected a candidate whom Titus then approved and ratified. Note also how Ignatius urges Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, to "call a council that is pleasing to God and to elect someone whom you hold most dear and resolved" to travel as a messenger to Syria (Polyc. 7.2). This illustrates how a communal "election" was not necessarily a wholly egalitarian process but could occur under the instructions and supervision of authority figures. Note also de Halleux's comment on the Didachist's voice: "as soon as the compiler emerges timidly from the traditions which he transmits and betrays something of his identity, it is in order to appear as the messenger of a ‘teaching’, in other words as a teacher 1:3; 2:1; 6:1; 11:1-2). However, unlike the prophet, an inspired teacher who receives revelations from on high and penetrates the secrets of the heart, the humble teacher is a man of tradition, of halakah, only concerned with faithfulness in the transmission of the past. That our Didachist fits into this last category, stands out clearly from the content and style of all he has written, and the appeal to the prophet as guardian of the traditional doctrine of the church, sanctioned by the Spirit, would not here be an abuse of language." (André de Halleux, "Ministers in the Didache," in Jonathan A. Draper (ed.), The Didache in Modern Research [Leiden: Brill, 1996], 319).
  • 8 "It is clear that, whenever this instruction was added to the Didache, such persons were not routinely being given high honours—and perhaps never had been. The prophets, not surprisingly, emerge as highly honored persons (see, e.g., Did. 13.3), and together with the teachers their treatment sets the example for the honour to be given these others.” (Jonathan Schwiebert, Knowledge and the Coming Kingdom: The Didache's Meal Ritual and its Place in Early Christianity [London: T&T Clark, 2008], 95).
  • 9 De Halleux, op. cit., 313.
  • 10 Sullivan states, "Would the community have asked a prophet to lay hands on those whom they chose as overseers and deacons? There is no mention of this, but it does not seem unlikely, as this was a gesture of prayer, calling down the Spirit on those chosen for ministry. One can recall that at Antioch, the other prophets laid hands on Barnabas and Saul when they were sent out as missionaries (Acts 13:3)" (Francis Aloysius Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church [Mahwah: Newman, 2001], 90). Similarly, Carrington: "The local churches had a ministry of bishops and deacons which they were directed to appoint for themselves, the first and indeed the only case in which appointments are said to be made by the congregation. In the Acts, seven ‘deacons’ were nominated by the congregation for ordination by the apostles, and possibly the Didache visualized a similar procedure, but it says nothing about the manner of ordination" (Philip Carrington, The Early Christian Church, 2 vols. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957], 1:495). Milavec, too, although he is critical of another scholar for discovering "episcopal ordinations hidden behind the silence of the text," himself states: "While the Didache makes no mention of ordination, one can allow that, given the Jewish roots of the framers of the Didache, the laying on of hands may have been used as the normal means whereby bishops admitted an elected candidate into their circle of bishops" (Aaron E. Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. [Mahwah: Newman, 2003], 609, 613).
  • 11 Trans. M. A. Knibb, "Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah: A New Translation and Introduction," in James H. Charlesworth (ed)., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1983/2011], 2:161.
  • 12 Paolo Bettiolo, Alda Giambelluca Kossova, Claudio Leonardi, Enrico Norelli, and Lorenzo Perrone, Ascensio Isaiae: Textus (Brepols: Turnhout, 1995), 45. This passage is, fortunately, part of the fragment of the Ascension that is preserved in a Greek manuscript.
  • 13 Enrico Norelli, Ascensio Isaiae: Commentarius (Brepols: Turnhout, 1995), 194-95.
  • 14 This is a loose translation of Norelli's comment, which in Italian reads thus: "La struttura della comunità supposta da AI 1-5 pare fondarsi su di una direzione collegiale di presbiteri, tra i quali sembrano distinguersi i pastori / episcopi dotati di particolare autorità" (Norelli, op. cit., 219).
  • 15 Norelli, op. cit., 195.
  • 16 Jonathan Knight, Disciples of the Beloved One: The Christology, Social Setting and Theological Context of the Ascension of Isaiah (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1996), 198.
  • 17 Knight, op. cit., 202.
  • 18 Knight, op. cit., 202-204.
  • 19 Ehrman, op. cit., 1:205-207.
  • 20 Paul Foster, "The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch, part 1," Expository Times 117 (2006): 492.
  • 21 Trans. Ehrman, op. cit., 1:223.
  • 22 Polycarp's letter is from "Polycarp and the presbyters who are with him" (Phil. prescript), which implies his own preeminence and is consistent with a self-understanding as a monarchical bishop with presbyters subordinate to him.
  • 23 Three points favour this identification. First, both men were Christian teachers named Ptolemy living in Rome in the mid-second century. Justin's Ptolemy was denounced and eventually martyred for teaching Christianity to a certain unnamed woman, while Ptolemy's Letter to Flora contains elementary Christian teaching (of a Gnostic variety) addressed to a woman, Flora. The woman mentioned by Justin was involved in a difficult marriage situation but was implored by her Christian advisers to remain in the marriage; the Letter to Flora mentions and reinforces Jesus's teachings against divorce. These parallels seem too great to be coincidental. The main argument against identifying the two Ptolemies is that Justin paints a very favourable portrait of Ptolemy, whereas the Ptolemy who wrote the Letter to Flora is condemned as a heretic from the Valentinian school by Irenaeus and later authors. What is more, Justin himself, in another work, names the Valentinians among the heretics whom he calls "impious atheists and wicked sinners, men who profess Jesus in name only, but do not really worship" (Dialogue with Trypho 35.5-6, Thomas P. Halton, St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser, trans. Thomas B. Falls [Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003], 55). This difficulty is not insurmountable, however. Justin's Dialogue with Trypho is generally believed to have been written a few years later than the Apologies (the Dialogue mentions an Apology), so it is possible that Justin was not yet familiar with the Valentinians' teachings when he wrote about Ptolemy. Alternatively, Justin may have been familiar with the Valentinians already but may not have known that Ptolemy was a Valentinian. Thus, while we cannot be certain, it appears likely that Ptolemy the author was also Ptolemy the martyr.
  • 24 In Irenaeus's Against Heresies, he refers twice to Ptolemy's followers and only once to Ptolemy directly, which may suggest Ptolemy himself was no longer active by 180 A.D.
  • 25 Quispel's French translation of the verse is as follows: "Car, si Dieu le permet, vous recevrez plus tard des éclaircissements plus précis sur leur principe et leur naissance, quand vous aurez été jugée digne de connaître la tradition des apôtres, tradition que, nous aussi, nous avons reçue par voie de succession. En ce cas aussi, nous confirmerons nos conceptions par les paroles du Sauveur." (Gilles Quispel, Ptolémée, Lettre à Flora: Texte, Traduction et Introduction [Paris: Cerf, 1949], 69).
  • 26 Quispel notes Clement of Alexandria's observation that the heretics claimed that Valentinus was a hearer of Theudas, a pupil of Paul (Strom. 7.106; Clement rejects this and claims that the heretics arose after the apostles' time, during the reign of Hadrian). Perhaps this is what Ptolemy is referring to in his assertion to Flora about apostolic succession. However, the proliferation of "secret gospels" and the like suggests that the Gnostics did not have a reliable claim to apostolic succession, in contrast to the proto-orthodox Church where the apostles' successors held public ecclesiastical office.
  • 27 He claims that such succession could be proven for every church, but that to avoid tedium he is reproducing the list only for Rome, which he considers the preeminent church.
  • 28 Against Heresies 3.3.3, trans. Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (New York: Routledge, 1997), 7-8.
  • 29 Stuart G. Hall, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 60-61.
  • 30 Peter Lampe, Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries: From Paul to Valentinus, trans. Michael Steinhauser, ed. Marshall D. Johnson (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 404-406.
  • 31 Kenneth A. Strand, "Peter and Paul in Relationship to the Episcopal Succession in the Church at Rome," Andrews University Seminary Studies 3 (1992): 221.
  • 32 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.22, trans. Paul L. Maier, Eusebius: The Church History: Translation and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 139.
  • 33 Allen Brent, Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century: Communities in tension before the emergence of a monarch-bishop (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 446.
  • 34 So Strand, op. cit., 221.
  • 35 Lampe, op. cit., 404.
  • 36 Tertullian, Prescriptions against the Heretics 32, trans. Stanley L. Greenslade, Early Latin Theology: Selections from Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Jerome (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1956), 52-53.
  • 37 "Now Clement is ‘in the third place from the apostles’. For us, with this context, 'from the apostles' is equivalent to ‘after the apostles’, and we instinctively think of Linus and Anencletus as being the first two. But ‘after the apostles’ would have been μετὰ τοὺς ἀποστόλους, and not, as Irenaeus wrote, από των αποστόλων. In his mind, the first two were Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman Church, whom he had just named, and not Linus and Anencletus, in spite of his mentioning them. Had Irenaeus been merely giving the order of those who followed the apostles and had meant to include Linus and Anencletus among them, there was no reason for him to add τρίτῳ τόπῳ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποστόλων when introducing Clement. He showed by this that he was by-passing those two, putting them in a kind of parenthesis, and linking Clement directly with the apostles. This is a necessary conclusion from the correct use of από in connexion with some ordinal number; it meant 'beginning with, inclusively', and not ‘from’ in the sense of ‘after’… Irenaeus no doubt found Linus and Anencletus mentioned in his source—the first especially, as having been a companion of St. Paul—but he knew that the one to whom had been transferred the full apostolic authority was Clement and no other. That is why he felt it necessary to add ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποστόλων, which otherwise seems so superfluous, and he repeated the phrase twice more (for Sixtus and for Eleutherus), to remove all doubt that it was indeed from and including the apostles that he was making his enumeration. When he wanted to say ‘after’, he used μετά, which occurs three times in the course of his list. He little realized what problems he was raising; even Eusebius mistook his meaning. But Tertullian did not…" (Maurice Bévenot, “Clement of Rome in Irenaeus’s Succession-List,” Journal of Theological Studies 17 [1966]: 102-105.)
  • 38 David Albert Jones, "Was there a Bishop of Rome in the First Century?", New Blackfriars 80 (1999): 138.