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

Thursday 3 September 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (3): Ignatius of Antioch

The Epistles of Ignatius are seven letters attributed to Ignatius, a Bishop of Antioch who is purported to have written them while on his way to martyrdom in Rome. The letters are generally dated to the early or mid second century. Some or all of the letters appear in three different recensions, of which the 'middle' recension is regarded as closest to the original text. Six of these are addressed to churches (at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna) and one to an individual (Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna).1

The Devil in Ignatius' Letters

Ignatius' letters refer to the devil (ho diabolos, four times: Ign. Ephesians 10.3; Ign. Trallians 8.1; Ign. Romans 5.3; Ign. Smyrnaeans 9.1) and Satan (ho satanas, once: Ign. Ephesians 13.1), and to the same concept by another title, 'the ruler of this age' (ho archōn tou aiōnos toutou, six times: Ign. Ephesians 17.1; 19.1; Ign. Magnesians 1.2; Ign. Trallians 4.2; Ign. Romans 7.1; Ign. Philadelphians 6.2). These references are spread across six of the seven letters; the letter to Polycarp is the only one in which none of these terms occur.2

Ignatius' terminology stands in continuity with other early Christian literature. ho satanas and ho diabolos are the two most common designations for Satan in the New Testament, while referring to Satan as a 'ruler' is also common (Matthew 12.24-29; Mark 3.22-27; Luke 11.15-21; John 12.31; 14:30; 16:11; Ephesians 2.2; Epistle of Barnabas 4.13; 18.2; Ascension of Isaiah 1.3; 2.4; 4.2-4; 10.29). There are other texts where the concept of rulership is applied to Satan without the word 'ruler' being used (Hermas, Similitudes 1.3-6?; Luke 4:5; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19).

The exact term 'the ruler of this age' does not occur in the New Testament, but it closely parallels a term used for Satan in the Gospel of John: 'the ruler of this world' (ho archōn tou kosmou toutou, John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; John is very fond of the word kosmos).3 Gokey,4 however, thinks the closest prototype for Ignatius' term is Paul's plural term 'the rulers of this age' (hoi archontes tou aiōnos toutou) in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8.5 Ignatius' terminology can be seen as a conflation of the plural term found in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 with the singular 'the god of this age' (ho theos tou aiōnos toutou) found in 2 Cor. 4:4 (which most scholars regard as a reference to Satan).6

The Satan figure in Ignatius' epistles is clearly a supernatural personal being (a point conceded even by Christadelphian apologist Jonathan Burke).7 For instance, in IgnEph 19.1 we read,
The virginity of Mary and her giving birth escaped the notice of the ruler of this age; so too did the death of the Lord – three mysteries of a cry which were accomplished in the silence of God.
This clearly does not refer to a human ruler. Is it unclear why a human ruler should have been interested in Mary's virginity or giving birth. Moreover, there is no specific human ruler of any relevance who was in power from the time of Jesus' birth until his death (and indeed until the time of Ignatius' writing). Additional evidence for the supernatural nature of the Ignatian Satan can be seen in the association of Satan’s powers with heavenly warfare (IgnEph 13.1-2), and the implicit identification of the devil with the heavenly, invisible realms (IgnTral 4.2-5.2; IgnRom 5.3).

The range of functions and novelty of ideas associated with Satan suggests a robust Satanology on Ignatius’ part. Satan is at once a seducer and a bully. He is behind the persecution of the church (IgnMag 1.2; IgnRom 5.3; 7.1), but also behind false doctrine and insubordination within the church (IgnEph 17.1; IgnSmyrn 9.1), as well as temptation more generally (IgnTral 8.1; IgnPhld 6.2). Moreover, he may be thwarted by unity in the church (IgnEph 13.1) and by humility (IgnTral 4.2). It is disputed whether the metaphor "weed of the devil" (IgnEph 10.3) refers to heresy8 (note the use of plant imagery for heresy in IgnTral 6.1; cf. IgnPhld 3.1) or whether "the concern is more general."9

Does Ignatius' belief in a supernatural devil mean he has abandoned belief in non-supernatural sources of wickedness known from the New Testament, such as 'the flesh' and 'the world'? Not at all. In an apparent allusion to Romans 8:5, 8,10 Ignatius states, “Those who belong to the flesh cannot do spiritual things” (IgnEph 8.2). Those who live according to the flesh will die, and those who corrupt the faith are “filthy” (IgnEph 16.2; cf. IgnRom 8.3). The Magnesians are instructed, “No one should consider his neighbour in a fleshly way, but you should love one another in Jesus Christ at all times” (IgnMag 6.2). The Trallians are commended because “you appear to me not to live in a human way but according to Jesus Christ” (IgnTral 2.1).

He warns the Ephesians against "wild animals...raving dogs" who "bear the name in wicked deceit,"  (IgnEph 7.1) and the Philadelphians about "seemingly trustworthy wolves [who] use wicked pleasure to capture those who run in God's race" (IgnPhld 2.2). Both of these images suggest an animalistic model of human sinfulness.

Moreover, Ignatius can, in a typically Pauline manner, personify sinful attributes. The Romans are told, “Let no envy dwell among you… My passion has been crucified” (IgnRom 7.2). Thus envy is personified as an unwanted guest, and passion as a victim of crucifixion. In IgnPoly 4.3, Ignatius warns against setting slaves free through the common fund lest they become "slaves of lust." Here, 'lust' is personified as an evil master. Finally, in IgnMag 5.2 Ignatius represents a dualistic conflict between God and "this world."

Broadly speaking, Ignatius' understanding of sin stands in continuity with the New Testament. Thus, the fact that he can hold individual (the flesh), corporate (the world) and supernatural (the devil) sources of sin in tension suggests this is not foreign to early Christian thought. Accordingly, we have no reason to assume that when New Testament writers refer to the devil, they are simply referring to the flesh or the world by another term.

Ignatius' prescribed responses to sin and evil also stand in continuity with the New Testament. His clear belief in a supernatural devil and in demons (see below) have not resulted in a special emphasis on exorcism, for instance (which he never mentions). Instead, the main antidotes for sin are just those found in New Testament epistles, such as prayer, repentance, holiness, self-control, humility, gentleness, fellowship, unity and the like (IgnEph 10.1-3; 13.1-2; IgnTral 4.2; 8.1; IgnPhld 6.211). Striking are the statements in IgnEph 13.1-2 that when the church comes together, war is waged in heaven and Satan’s powers are vanquished; and in IgnTral 4.2, "And so I need humility, by which the ruler of this age is destroyed." All of this shows that these kinds of responses to evil are perfectly compatible with belief in a supernatural devil.

Ignatius' letters are helpful in reconstructing Christian beliefs about Satan not only after but also within the New Testament period, for the following reason. In his letters to established Christian congregations in six different locations spanning Asia, Greece, and Italy, Ignatius shows no hint that his depiction of Satan is in any way innovative or controversial (we would hardly expect a condemned man on his way to execution to be developing theological novelties). He does not attempt to explain or justify his Satanology but simply assumes that these churches shared the same understanding. What is remarkable about this is that four of the six cities to which he wrote were recipients of New Testament letters which mention Satan or the devil (Ephesus: Eph. 4:27; 6:11; Philadelphia: Rev. 3:9; Smyrna: Rev. 2:9-10; Rome: Rom. 16:20). Revelation may have been written as little as two decades prior to Ignatius' letters.

Hence, within a fairly short window of time (although we cannot be exact as to how short), we have New Testament references to Satan/the devil (where the meaning is assumed to be understood by the audience), and Ignatius' references to Satan/the devil (where the meaning is assumed to be understood by the same audience). The obvious inference is that the same meaning of Satan/the devil was generally understood by all of these writers and audiences. Indeed, there is absolutely no evidence of any dispute in the early church over the meaning of the terms 'Satan' or 'devil'. Since it is admitted that Ignatius understood Satan/the devil to be a supernatural being, the inference is that at least some of the New Testament writers (John of Patmos and, in all probability, Paul) did as well. The only alternative is to argue that the early Christian understanding of Satan radically changed between the time Revelation was written and the time Ignatius' epistles were written; and that this change took place seamlessly and without leaving any record of controversy. This is not a very plausible hypothesis!

Other supernatural evil beings in Ignatius' Letters

There is one passage in Ignatius' letters which, properly understood, implies a belief in demons. In IgnSmyrn 2.1, he warns concerning heretics who deny a physical resurrection that they themselves will become daimonikois. This term is variously translated 'demonic', 'like the demons' or 'demonlike'.12 BDAG lexicon defines the word as “pertaining to being like a spirit or phantom”.13 Ignatius is not necessarily equating post-mortem existence with being a demon but with being like a demon. In similar fashion, in IgnSmyrn 3.2, Ignatius quotes an otherwise unknown Jesus tradition comparable to Luke 24:39 but distinct in terminology, saying that in a resurrection appearance Jesus told the disciples, "Reach out, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless demon (daimonion asōmaton)."

It has been argued by some that the word 'demon' here has a neutral connotation like 'phantom' and does not carry the negative sense which it normally has in the New Testament.14 However, closer study of the passage reveals that the negative sense is there. Schoedel argues that the terminology in 2.1 is prompted by that in 3.2. He explains the background as follows:
the docetists apparently spoke of the resurrection positively and probably taught a spiritualized version of it; and thus Ignatius’ reference to their becoming bodiless and demonic must also have functioned to make the point not only that they would lack bodily substance (which would not have concerned them) but also that what they thought of as a rarefied spiritual state would in fact be ‘demonic’ in character.15
Schoedel goes on to explain the key to Ignatius’ rhetoric:
the wordplay did not involve the term ‘spiritual’ but had to do with the use of the term ‘demonic’ (phantom-like) in the saying of Jesus, taken more or less accurately as the key to docetic theology by Ignatius, and his use of the same term in a different sense (anti-divine) to express disapproval.16
Hence, the demonology that Ignatius presupposes here is not merely about ghosts but something more sinister. In a more detailed study of this text, Proctor comes to a similar conclusion. He argues that Ignatius exhibits “an ‘apocalyptic’ daimonology, where daimons were understood as part of a pervasive onslaught of evil powers” whose origin was rooted in the Watchers myth.17 Commenting specifically on the claims that ‘demon’ is a neutral term synonymous with ‘phantom’ in IgnSmyrn, Proctor states:
To put it succinctly, daimons are almost exclusively evil within early Christian literature, and carried increasingly sinister undertones within ‘pagan’ Greek literature at the time when Ignatius’ letters would have been composed and initially interpreted.  In light of this larger tradition, it is highly improbable that Ignatius’ opponents (or other Christians) would equate the risen Jesus with a daimon, and such usage does not correspond to the docetic terminology attested in our ancient sources (i.e., ‘phantasmal,’ ‘angelic,’ and ‘pneumatic’).18
Hence, for Ignatius, “Jesus’ denial that he is a ‘bodiless daimon’ functions as a rhetorical absurdity, implying that Ignatius’ opponents equate the risen Jesus with an (evil) daimon.”19

Proctor goes on to note that Gnostic texts often value bodiless existence, so that if Ignatius had condemned his docetic opponents to a phantasmal afterlife, “it likely would have been met with indifference.” Instead, Ignatius associates docetic Christians “with daimons, entities that were not only bodiless, but also, within Christian circles, malevolent, monstrous, and destined for a morose afterlife.”20

Hence, when read in the context of Ignatius’ rhetorical purpose, ‘demon’ is seen to refer to a supernatural being with a decidedly negative connotation, as elsewhere in early Christian tradition.

Ignatius' letters also imply a belief in other supernatural evil beings analogous to the much-debated 'powers' of the Pauline corpus. The statement in IgnRom 5.3, “May nothing visible or invisible (τῶν ὁρατῶν καὶ ἀοράτων) show any envy toward me, that I may attain to Jesus Christ”, made in the immediate context of a reference to the devil, implies the existence of two distinct, populated realms: the visible and the invisible. This distinction parallels Col 1:16, which uses it to make exhaustive the list of creatures created through the Son. ‘Invisibility’ as a defining characteristic of the spirit world appears elsewhere in the Pauline corpus and in Hebrews, chiefly as an attribute of God (Rom 1.20; 1Tim 1.17; Heb 11.3; 11.27; cf. Matt 6.6; 6.18; 2Cor 4.18).

A further reference to such invisible beings is found in IgnSmyrn 6.1: “Judgment is prepared even for the heavenly beings, for the glory of the angels, and for the rulers both visible and invisible, if they do not believe in the blood of Christ.” Ignatius, like Col 1:16, affirms the existence of invisible ‘rulers’. He equates them with angelic, heavenly beings who are, at least potentially, subject to unbelief and judgment (cf. Rom 8.38; 1 Cor. 6.3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Ignatius also regards invisibility as a characteristic of God (IgnMag 3.2; IgnPoly 3.2). It is possible that the 'aeons' of IgnEph 19.2 are also to be understood as supernatural beings.21


Ignatius' letters provide us with evidence that a supernatural understanding of Satan and demons was in place as established theology in major Christian centres (e.g. Antioch, Asia, Rome) by the early to mid second century. Given that the same terminology is used in the New Testament, and that there is no evidence of dispute or polemic in the early church concerning the correct understanding of these terms, we have a compelling argument that Ignatius' understanding of Satan and demons as supernatural personal beings represents the view shared by Christians from the beginning.


  • 1 For introductory issues (date, authorship, recensions, etc.) see Ehrman, B.D. (2003). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. I). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 203-217; Foster, P. (2006). The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Part 1). The Expository Times, 117(12), 487-495; Foster, P. (2006). The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Part 2). The Expository Times, 118(1), 2-11. Ehrman, op. cit., is the critical text relied on here, and translations are from him, unless otherwise indicated.
  • 2 The absence of any reference to Satan in Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp provides a useful corrective to arguments from silence which claim that, because a document does not refer to Satan, its author had no place for Satan in his theology. To the contrary, Ignatius clearly had a place for Satan in his theology, yet he did not consider it obligatory to mention this concept in every letter he wrote.
  • 3 For studies of 'the ruler of this world' in the Gospel of John, see Kovacs, J.L. (1995). ‘Now Shall the Ruler of This World Be Drive Out’: Jesus’ Death as Cosmic Battle in John 12:20-36. Journal of Biblical Literature, 114(2), 227-247; Löfstedt, T. (2009). The Ruler of This World. Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok, 74, 55-79.
  • 4 Gokey, F.X. (1961). The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, p. 75 n. 2.
  • 5 It is disputed amongst scholars whether 'the rulers of the age' in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 refer to demonic or angelic beings, earthly political rulers, or both. See Aune, D.E. (1999). "Archōn". In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P.W. Van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (pp. 82-85). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 84.
  • 6 Harris, M.J. (2005). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. University Park: Penn State Press, p. 328 n. 49, states that almost all commentators interpret 'the god of this age' as a reference to Satan.
  • 7 Burke, J. (2015). Then the Devil Left: Satan’s lack of presence in the Apostolic Fathers [WWW]. Available at http://www.academia.edu/10324205/Then_the_Devil_Left_Satan_s_lack_of_presence_in_the_Apostolic_Fathers (Accessed 22 May 2015), p. 37, states, "Ignatius treats the diabolos as a supernatural evil being."
  • 8 Gokey, op. cit., p. 77 n. 6.
  • 9 Schoedel, W.R. (1985). Ignatius of Antioch. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, pp. 69-70.
  • 10 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 227 n. 2, acknowledges this as the source of Ignatius' statement here.
  • 11 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 203, comments on IgnPhld 6.2, “The main effect of the devil’s activity is to negate ‘love.’ Common worship is the cure (cf. [IgnEph] 13.” Commenting on IgnTral 8.1, idem., pp. 149-150, writes, “The ability of the Trallians to resist Satan is described in terms of a renewal of faith and love” and “The corollary of the self-renewal of the Trallians against the snares of the devil (that is, against pride) is now stated: having nothing against one’s neighbor.”
  • 12 Translating 'demonic' are Schoedel, op. cit., p. 225; Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 251. Translating 'like the demons' is Ehrman, op. cit., p. 297. Translating 'demonlike' are Gokey, op. cit., p. 71; Sibinga, J.S. (1966). Ignatius and Matthew. Novum Testamentum, 8(2), 263-283, here p. 273.
  • 13 Arndt, W., Danker, F.W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 210.
  • 14 Mitchell, M.W. (2010). Bodiless Demons and Written Gospels: Reflections on ‘The Gospel According to the Hebrews’ in the Apostolic Fathers. Novum Testamentum, 52(3), 221-240, here p. 224.
  • 15 Schoedel, op. cit., pp. 225-226.
  • 16 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 226 n. 5.
  • 17 Proctor, T.W. (2013). Bodiless Docetists and the Daimonic Jesus: Daimonological Discourse and Anti-Docetic Polemic in Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrnaeans. Archiv für Religionsgeschichte, 14(1), 183-204, here p. 185 (note: page numbers for Proctor are approximate since I do not have access to the published version but only a pre-submission draft available on academia.edu).
  • 18 Proctor, op. cit., p. 196.
  • 19 Proctor, op. cit., p. 187.
  • 20 Proctor, op. cit., p. 200.
  • 21 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 91 n. 24.

Monday 1 June 2015

The High Christology of Ignatius of Antioch: A Response to Dave Burke

1.       Introduction

This article is written in response to a study of Ignatius’ letters posted on the web by Christadelphian apologist Dave Burke twelve years ago. Dave referred others to this material in the context of his Trinity debate with Rob Bowman five years ago (here too). His summary of his findings was as follows:

The epistles of Ignatius are shockingly interpolated and need to be approached with care. Nevertheless I believe that it is possible to winnow the wheat from the chaff and arrive at a clear view of Ignatius’ beliefs, which were, in my opinion, perfectly sound… I have conducted a study of every single letter that Ignatius wrote, and I have concluded that the very few places where he appears to display binitarian or Trinitarian tendencies can be rejected as later interpolations.
“Perfectly sound,” coming from a Christadelphian apologist, presumably means “compatible with biblical unitarianism.”

When pressed by an online interlocutor (one Xavier) as to whether he had any scholars to back up these claims, Dave replied, “Yes, I do have scholars to back that up. Read my article.”

I don’t know if Dave’s stance on Ignatius is the same today as it was in 2003, but as recently as 2014, in teaching material delivered to a Christadelphian audience, Dave maintained the same basic claims: Ignatius’ letters were corrupted, but his theology can be recovered and it is entirely consistent with New Testament theology (from a Christadelphian point of view). In this talk, Dave gave his audience no indication that his claims regarding Ignatius’ theology were in any way controversial.[1]

Another online interlocutor, Helez, having read Dave’s study of Ignatius’ christology, offered the following criticism:

In regard of Ignatius' epistle to the Ephesians, you sometimes regard the shorter Greek version to be the authentic one, but when it's more to your liking, you disregard that shorter version in favor of the longer version. Sometimes you reject *both* versions, based on theological bias. Anyway, Jesus is undeniably referred to as theos by Ignatius in both versions.
In my view, this criticism was spot-on. However, it didn’t get any response, and as far as I can tell, Dave’s study has been sitting in cyberspace for twelve years without anyone ever having critiqued it. I think some frank criticism is long overdue. The basic point I want to make is that Dave’s study ignores contemporary scholarship about the Ignatian letters and misrepresents their Christology.[2]

2.       Background on Ignatius’ Letters

First, a bit of background for readers who may not be familiar with Ignatius’ letters.[3] There are seven letters that are generally accepted as authentic: to the Ephesians (IgnEph), Magnesians (IgnMag), Trallians (IgnTral), Romans (IgnRom), Philadelphians (IgnPhld), Smyrnaeans (IgnSmyrn), and to Polycarp (IgnPoly). These letters are preserved in three distinct forms or “recensions,” known to scholars as the short, middle, and long recensions. There is virtually unanimous agreement today that the short recension and long recension represent an abridgment and expansion of the middle recension, respectively. Accordingly the middle recension is regarded as closest to the original text.

These letters appear to have all been written within a short span of time as Ignatius, who was (or had been) bishop of Antioch, was en route to martyrdom in Rome. The majority of scholars date Ignatius’ letters to the latter part of the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan, between about 110-117 AD,[4] though Foster suggests a slightly later date (between 125-150 AD).[5] A few scholars in the 20th century challenged the authenticity of some or all of these seven letters but did not succeed in overturning the consensus.

3.       Assessing Dave’s claims

Dave’s methodology is to go through some christological texts in Ignatius’ letters and line up the short and long recensions side by side. He treats the middle recension[6] as the “default” reading but is prepared to consider the long recension as well to help recover the original text. He doesn’t tell us which translation he is using, but it appears to be that of Roberts & Donaldson from 1867.[7]

The texts that Dave analyses are as follows: IgnEph inscription, 1.1, 7.2, 18.2, 19.3, IgnMag 6.1, 8.2, IgnRom inscription, and IgnPoly 8.3.

His analysis is, to a large extent, text-critical: he seeks to recover the original text of Ignatius’ letters. However, his method of textual criticism is primarily theological: if the language in the text is not “biblical”, then it “must therefore be regarded as spurious.” Hence, Dave prefers the long recension readings over those of the middle recension, even as “obviously” correct, when the Christological assertions are more to his liking.

However (to make an understatement), revising a text to conform to other texts, or to one’s own interpretation of those texts, is not an accepted method of textual criticism. Ironically, Dave’s methodology is closer to that of the interpolator(s) of the long recension than that of modern textual critics!

A further major problem with Dave’s textual criticism of these texts is that, despite his claim to Xavier that he has scholars to back up his claims, Dave does not appeal to any critical texts of the Ignatian letters. This is important, because the critical texts rule against him in every single case where he sees an interpolation in the middle recension. These include the two critical texts of Holmes and Ehrman,[8] as well as Lake’s older text (which is in the public domain).[9] For instance, in IgnEph inscription, Lake,[10] Holmes[11] and Ehrman[12] read “Jesus Christ our God”, and in IgnEph 1.1, all three scholars read “blood of God.” Dave would emend the former to “Jesus Christ our Saviour” and the latter to “blood of Christ”, following the long recension. Similarly in IgnEph 18.2: the critical texts have “our God, Jesus Christ” following the middle recension,[13] while Dave instead follows the long recension, which refers to “the Son of God, who was begotten before time began.” Dave quotes from the 19th century theologian Cardinal Newman in support of his claim that this language sounds Arian. This is irrelevant, however, since the critical texts do not contain these words. Moreover, even if this were the correct reading, it would be difficult to argue that this language is Arian since very similar language is used of Christ in the Chalcedonian definition![14] Furthermore, even if this language were Arian, it would provide little support to Dave’s claim that Ignatius was a proto-Christadelphian, since Christadelphian Christology is not Arian.

Coming back to IgnEph 7.2, Dave claims that the words “who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible” from the middle recension are “absent from the Greek copy, being found only in the Latin.” It is not clear where he got this information since he doesn’t cite a source, but the critical texts show that this section does occur in both the Greek and Latin text of the middle recension.[15] It is only the phrase that immediately follows, “Jesus Christ our Lord,” which is absent from the Greek. However, this phrase is unimportant since the text still clearly refers to Christ. In this text, then, the incarnation language is present in both middle and long recensions, though expanded in the long. Dave needs to explain in what sense Christ could be described as “both born and unborn”[16] by someone whose Christology was unitarian.

Commenting on this text, Schoedel notes that “orthodox Christology and theology later confined the adjective ‘begotten’ to the Son and the adjective ‘unbegotten’ to the Father.”[17] Hence, it is very unlikely that this text represents a later Trinitarian interpolation, since it doesn’t coincide with later Trinitarian terminology.

Pertaining to IgnEph 19.3, Dave accepts the middle recension (“God became manifest in a human way”),[18] which he regards as a “blunt Unitarian statement” parallel to the theology of Christadelphian founder John Thomas. It’s not our place here to compare Ignatius’ Christology with that of John Thomas, but suffice it to say that it cannot be assumed that the language of ‘manifestation’ is being used in the same way by both writers. Indeed, the next text we look at will strongly suggest otherwise.

Next Dave turns to IgnMag 6.2, which reads in the middle recension, “Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the ages and has been manifest at the end.” Dave pauses to observe that pre-existence language is present in both recensions (more expansively in the long), and then gives his judgment: because this language is ‘unbiblical’, he dismisses both recensions as interpolated. Again, his conclusions run counter to the critical texts.[19]

He next comes to IgnMag 8.2, where he says he is “perfectly happy” with both recensions. It seems both pass the crucial text-critical criterion of being theologically pleasing to Dave! The middle recension (retained in critical texts) refers to “one God, who manifested himself through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word that came forth from silence.”[20] Interpreting the Logos Christology found here is beyond the present scope so we will leave the matter.[21]

Next up is IgnRom inscription, in which both recensions refer to “Jesus Christ our God,” which is retained in the critical texts.[22] While Dave had earlier argued (under IgnEph inscription) that referring to Jesus as “our God” would be uncharacteristic and therefore “spurious,” he now finds that ‘our God’ has a biblical precedent (Titus 2:13). That is, as long as we ignore the critical texts and follow the long recension reading, “our God and Saviour.” He hedges his bets with a further parenthetical comment: “The words ‘Our God and Saviour’ could be translated ‘God and our Saviour’, thereby precluding any Trinitarian argument from this Epistle.” In fact, they could not,[23] but this is irrelevant since “Jesus Christ, our God” is the preferred reading according to the critical texts.

Finally, Dave turns to IgnPoly 8.3, which similarly refers to “our God, Jesus Christ,” a reading supported by both recensions and retained in the critical texts.[24] Predictably, Dave ignores the evidence and "discards" this reading as "fraudulent" because "this term has no Biblical precedent." Dave then summarizes his findings:

From a total of seven authentic letters, we have seen a mere nine clauses which might give Unitarians cause for concern. Moreover: (1) None of these clauses are distinctly Trinitarian. (2) All of these clauses are perfectly compatible with Arianism. (3) The vast majority of them are easily disposed of by (4) an appeal to the alternate Recension. (5) an appeal to the Biblical standard (6) an appeal to mainstream commentators and standard authorities.
It is certainly debatable whether all of these clauses are compatible with Arian Christology (see Schoedel’s comments below on IgnRom 6.3). However, they are certainly compatible with Chalcedonian Christology, and more to the point, they are certainly incompatible with unitarian Christology and therefore not “perfectly sound” from a Christadelphian perspective. Dave himself repeatedly described as ‘unbiblical’ phrases which are retained in the critical texts.

As to whether Dave has backed up his claims with scholarship, as he assured Xavier, we can note that he did not appeal to any critical text when making text-critical judgments concerning the letters of Ignatius. The sources to which he did refer (none of which support his text-critical judgments) are Schaff (1859), Roberts & Donaldson (1867), Newman (1870), the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917), Srawley (1927), and Broughton & Southgate (1995). Dave has cited only one source from within the past 75 years, which is none other than an anti-Trinitarian polemical work written and published by Christadelphians!

4.       Some texts not mentioned in Dave’s study

However, the problems don’t stop here. Had Dave shown due diligence in consulting “mainstream commentators and standard authorities,” he would have been aware of other texts in the Ignatian letters that are incompatible with a unitarian Christology. We now turn to these.

IgnEph 15.1-2a

It is better to be silent and to exist than to speak and not exist. It is good to teach, if the one who speaks also acts. For there was one teacher who spoke and it happened. And the things he has done while remaining silent are worthy of the Father. The one who truly possesses the word of Jesus is able to hear his silence as well.[25]
The ‘one teacher’ is clearly Christ, as the following clauses show (cf. “Jesus Christ, our only teacher” in IgnMag 9.1). The words “who spoke and it happened” (εἶπεν καὶ ἐγένετο) appear to be an allusion to OT texts about God’s creative acts, especially Ps. 33:9 (“For He spoke, and it was done”, NASB). That this text is the possible source here is noted by Ehrman,[26] and Schoedel notes that IgnEph 15.1 is “usually regarded as a reflection” of this text.[27] Schoedel himself thinks it more likely “that Ignatius reflects the basic elements repeated in the first chapter of Genesis where God ‘spoke’ (εἶπεν) the various words of creation ‘and it was so’ (καὶ ἐγένετο).” In either case, this text represents an affirmation of Christ’s personal participation in creation, within the parameters of a Logos Christology. Schoedel comments,

since Ignatius elsewhere refers to Christ as God’s ‘mouth’ (IgnRom 8.2), it is understandable that Christ himself could be regarded as speaking these creative words… If this is correct, Ignatius views Christ as active in creation.[28]
IgnRom 6.3

Allow me to be an imitator of the suffering of my God. If anyone has him within himself, let him both understand what I want and sympathize with me, realizing the things that constrain me.[29]
Ignatius is referring to his own martyrdom here (cf. IgnRom 5.3), and longs to “attain to Jesus Christ.” In this context it is obvious that “the suffering of my God” refers to the passion of Christ. Not only is there no evidence of interpolation here, but such language is unlikely to have been used by a later interpolator:

That ‘God’ suffered (see Rom. 6.3) was acceptable language before criticism required some refinement of the conviction that God (or God’s Son) had become man and died on the cross.[30]
Schoedel regards this text (together with IgnEph 1.1) as particularly significant for understanding the sense in which Ignatius regarded Christ as God:

It has sometimes been thought that since Ignatius regularly refers to Christ as ‘our’ or ‘my’ God (Eph. 15.3; 18.2; Rom. Inscr; 3.3; 6.3; Pol. 8.3) or adds some qualifying phrase (Eph. 7.2; 19.3; Sm. 1.1), and since other more direct references to Christ as God are textually suspect (Tr. 7.1; Sm. 10.1), he did not view Christ as God in an absolute sense. But such an interpretation seems forced, especially since Ignatius also speaks simply of ‘the blood of God’ (Eph. 1.1), and ‘the passion of God’ (Rom. 6.3). ‘Our (my) God’ may be compared with ‘our Lord,’ common especially in Paul’s letters, as an expression of deep attachment to Christ; similarly, ‘my Lord and my God’ (John 20:28; cf. 8:54)[31]
IgnSmyrn 2.1

For he suffered all these things for our sake, that we might be saved; and he truly suffered, just as he also truly raised himself – not as some unbelievers say, that he suffered only in appearance.[32]
Here we have a clear reference to Christ having raised himself from the dead. This is obviously incompatible with a unitarian Christology. Schoedel comments:

Only here does Ignatius speak of Christ raising himself. For this there are Johannine parallels (John 2:19; 10:18). Elsewhere Ignatius reflects the more common view of the NT that God raised Jesus from the dead. [IgnTral 9.2; IgnSmyrn 7.1][33]
IgnPoly 3.2

Be more eager than you are. Take note of the seasons. Await the one who is beyond the season, the one who is timeless, the one who is invisible, who became visible for us, the one who cannot be handled, the one who is beyond suffering, who suffered for us, enduring in every way on our account.[34]
Here we have yet another striking Christological statement which Dave has overlooked. This text implies not only incarnation, but also personal pre-existence. The invisible one became visible in order to save us. Elsewhere in Ignatius’ letters, ‘invisibility’ is a characteristic used to distinguish the spirit world (including God) from the physical world.[35] Schoedel comments:

The christological attributes of Pol. 3.2 find their closest parallel in Eph. 7.2, but there are also important differences between the two texts. First, we have seen that the last element in our passage (‘one who endured…’) stands apart and determines the purpose for the passage as a whole. Second, Pol. 3.2 is dominated to a greater extent by negative attributes of God (or Christ) and is thus closer to its philosophical sources. This probably explains the fact that whereas in Eph. 7.2 mention of Christ’s earthly condition precedes that of his heavenly status, the reverse is true in Pol. 3.2: the preponderance of negative attributes is correlated with the fact that Ignatius here chose to speak first of Christ’s place in the sphere of the divine. The second and fourth of these attributes (‘invisible’ and ‘impassible’) are followed by antitheses (‘visible for our sakes’ and ‘passible for our sakes’) appropriate in an anti-docetic context (‘passible’/’impassible’ occurs in Eph. 7.2). The first and third attributes (‘non-temporal’ and ‘intangible’) lack antitheses only because they are linguistically impossible (‘temporable’) or theologically odd (‘tangible’).[36]
Having looked at texts mentioned by Dave and those not mentioned by Dave, we now look at scholars’ views on Ignatius’ Christology. We have already seen Schoedel’s comments on several individual texts. This comment sums up his view well:

When Ignatius refers to Christ as ‘both fleshly and spiritual’ (Eph. 7.2; cf. Sm. 3.3), he has in mind the union of the divine and human in the God-Man and thus anticipates the classical two-nature christology.[37]
Foster, meanwhile, after citing IgnEph 7.2 and IgnRom 6.3, writes:

Further examples could be given where Ignatius freely identifies Jesus as God, in a manner that assumes this is a natural and uncontested designation, at least among the recipients of his letters…in a number of the credal statements he utilises carefully balanced pairings that support the divine/human duality of Christ. Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this occurs in I.Eph. 7.2, where Ignatius describes Jesus as the ‘one physician’ who is ‘both fleshly and spiritual, begotton and unbegotten, God come in the flesh’. While both sides of Jesus’ nature are confessed, no attempt is made to explain how these twin aspects are held together in union… There is much distance to travel between the primitive Christological statements articulated by Ignatius and the more detailed and reflective creeds and discussions of the fourth and fifth centuries, which were formulated as responses to the Christological controversies of their own times. Notwithstanding this caveat, Ignatius can be seen as one who, at least in embryonic form, resonates with key features of those later ‘orthodox’ statements. He relentlessly declares the humanity and divinity of Christ, and his views of divinity incarnated in human form reveal that he does not hold to adoptionistic interpretations of Christ being clothed with divinity at either his baptism or resurrection.[38]
Again, Adamson argues that Ignatius’ letters represent the earliest attempt to harmonize Jesus’ pre-existence with his virgin birth (both of which, in his view, are present individually in the NT). He calls this “the doctrine of Incarnation through parthenogenesis.”[39]

Finally, Talbert argues that one finds four Christological models, which are distinct but not necessarily in conflict, in the first hundred years of Christianity. The third model, which he calls the epiphany model, is “that of a pre-existent being who descends into this world, fulfils the descent’s aim, and then ascends back into the heavens.”[40] This is one of the models which Talbert regards as present in the Ignatian epistles:

The appearing/incarnation of the pre-existent one is assumed (Eph. 7:2 – God became incarnate; 19:3 – God appeared in human form; Mag. 6:1 – Jesus Christ who from eternity was with the Father finally appeared).[41]
Talbert regards this as fully integrated with two other of his models: that of an immortalized human or demi-god and that of a deity which descends and indwells a person. “In Ignatius, the three models are so integrated that one can only see synthesis dominating.”[42]

There seems to be wide agreement amongst scholars that Ignatius’ Christology includes the notions of pre-existence and incarnation and is thus proto-orthodox.[43] I am not aware of any scholars who regard Ignatius’ Christology as unitarian in character. Moreover, the scholars who claim Ignatius’ Christology was high cannot be accused of naively ignoring the possibility of Trinitarian interpolation of the letters. Schoedel, for instance, doubts the authenticity of the words “according to the flesh” in IgnMag 13.2, which is absent from the Armenian and Arabic versions. The first phrase, he says,

looks suspiciously like an addition made by an interpolator bent on eliminating any suggestion of subordinationism in the text. Such fears were groundless, as we have seen (see on Eph. 3.2), but in the age of trinitarian disputes there would have been great sensitivity on these points.[44]
5.       Conclusion

To sum up, we first found that Dave’s text-critical judgments on a number of Ignatian Christological texts were without any basis besides his own theological biases. In the judgment of expert textual critics, these passages belong in the text, together with their high Christological affirmations. We then looked at four further Christological texts not mentioned by Dave, all of which are highly problematic for a unitarian reading of Ignatius. Finally, we cited several modern scholars who concur with our finding that Ignatius’ Christology included pre-existence and incarnation and was thus proto-orthodox.

Now what are the implications of the Christology of the Ignatian letters? If the scholarly consensus concerning their authenticity and date is correct, then we have a major Christian leader from Antioch (who may have sat under apostolic teaching) writing to churches across Asia, Greece, and Italy within a couple decades of the last apostle’s death. He is able to assume without any detailed argumentation that references to Christ as God, or to Christ’s pre-existence or incarnation, are acceptable to these churches. Moreover, the preservation of the letters implies that their Christology was deemed acceptable. In this respect we have also the testimony of Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians 13.2 that readers of Ignatius’ letters would “be able to profit greatly from them.”[45]

All of this would suggest one of two things: either “high Christology” was already popular in apostolic times, or it was unknown to the apostles but arose very soon after their time and spread with extreme rapidity across a wide geographic area. The former hypothesis is simpler and thus intrinsically more likely, even apart from evidence of high Christology that one finds in several strands of New Testament tradition.

[1] Dave also neglected to tell his audience that Ignatius’ letters clearly reflect belief in a supernatural devil, a point his brother Jonathan now concedes; but our focus here is on Christology.
[2] I want to stress that there is nothing personal in the criticism. I haven’t met Dave personally, but everything I know of him from being a Facebook friend suggests he’s a devoted family man and an earnest leader in his church. One can admire Dave’s tenacity in Christadelphian apologetics and appreciate shared convictions even while sharply disagreeing with some of his methods and views.
[3] For an introduction to Ignatius’ letters, see Ehrman, B.D. (2003a). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 203-217; Foster, P. (2006a). The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Part I). The Expository Times, 117(12), 487-495; Foster, P. (2006b). The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Part II). The Expository Times, 118(1), 2-11; Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 166-181. Schoedel, W.R. (1985). Ignatius of Antioch. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, pp. 1-7.
[4] Schoedel 1985: 5; Foster 2006a: 492; Holmes 2007: 170.
[5] Foster 2006a: 492. Ehrman (2003a: 203) only refers to an “early second century” setting for the letters and does not suggest a date, though he notes that a date in the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD) “coincides well with certain aspects of the letters” (2003a: 205).
[6] Dave refers to the middle recension as the “short” recension, reflecting 19th century nomenclature.
[7] Roberts, A. & Donaldson, J. (Eds.) (1867). The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: Clark.
[8] Granted, Ehrman’s critical text was only published in 2003, and Dave wrote his study in January 2003 and thus could not have accessed it at that time. However, he could certainly have produced an updated edition of his study in the intervening twelve years. In any case, the first edition of Holmes’ critical text was published in 1999.
[9] Lake, K. (1912). The Apostolic Fathers, with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann.
[10] Lake 2012: 172-173.
[11] Holmes 2007: 182-183.
[12] Ehrman 2003a: 218-219.
[13] Ehrman 2003a: 236-237; Holmes 2007: 196-197; Lake 1912: 190-191.
[14] “He was begotten before the ages from the Father according to his deity, but in the last days for us and our salvation, the same one was born of the virgin Mary, the bearer of God, according to his humanity.” (quoted in Fairbairn, D. (2009). Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 144.)
[15] Ehrman 2003a: 226; Holmes 2007: 188; Lake 1912: 180. There is a text-critical problem over whether we should read ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ θεός (‘God in man’, so Lake) ἐν σαρκὶ γενόμενος θεός (‘God become incarnate’, so Ehrman; Holmes) but θεός is present in all Greek and Latin manuscripts.
[16] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 227.
[17] Schoedel 1985: 61.
[18] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 239.
[19] Ehrman 2003a: 246-247; Holmes 2007: 206-207; Lake 1912: 202-203.
[20] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 249
[21] Dave devotes some space to discussing possible meanings of the word ‘eternal’ before ‘Word’, but as this is absent from the critical texts (not even noted as a variant) this seems unnecessary.
[22] Ehrman 2003a: 270-271; Holmes 2007: 224-225; Lake 1912: 226-227.
[23] The long recension, according to the translation quoted by Dave, reads, “the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour.” This would obviously not make sense if translated, “the faith and love of Jesus Christ, God and our Saviour.”
[24] Ehrman 2003a: 320-321; Holmes 2007: 270-271; Lake 1912: 276-277.
[25] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 235.
[26] Ehrman 2003a: 235n4.
[27] Schoedel 1985: 77.
[28] Schoedel 1985: 78.
[29] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 279.
[30] Schoedel 1985: 42.
[31] Schoedel 1985: 39. Schoedel seems to be mistaken regarding IgnRom 6.3, since the critical texts do have "suffering of my God" without noting any textual variants. However, the point holds true for IgnEph 1.1; and perhaps more importantly, in both cases the Christological referent of θεός is left implicit.
[32] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 297.
[33] Schoedel 1985: 225n1.
[34] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 315.
[35] IgnMag 3.2; IgnTral 5.1-2; IgnRom 5.3; IgnSmyrn 6.1.
[36] Schoedel 1985: 267.
[37] Schoedel 1985: 20.
[38] Foster 2006b: 5-6. Emphasis added.
[39] Adamson, G. (2014). Christ Incarnate: How Ancient Minds Conceived the Son of God. PhD Dissertation, Rice University, p. 2.
[40] Talbert, C.H. (2011). The Development of Christology in the first 100 years: A modest proposal. In The development of Christology during the first hundred years and other essays on early Christian Christology (pp. 3-44). Leiden: Brill, p. 17.
[41] Talbert 2011: 36.
[42] Talbert 2011: 36.
[43] Contra the Christadelphian scholar Gaston, who finds only one explicit reference to pre-existence in the epistles (IgnMag 7.1; he apparently means IgnMag 6.1), which he regards as “pre-existence in terms of foreknowledge” (Gaston, T.E. (2007). PROTO-TRINITY: The Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity in the First and Second Christian Centuries. MPhil Dissertation, University of Birmingham, p. 36).
[44] Schoedel 1985: 131.
[45] trans. Ehrman 2003a: 351.