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Showing posts with label patristic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label patristic. Show all posts

Sunday 24 September 2023

Early Jewish-Christian Christology in the Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus

The Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus (DJP) is a little-known early Christian text that describes a theological dialogue between Jason (a Jewish Christian) and Papiscus (a non-Christian Jew). It does not survive except for a few fragments and summaries preserved by later authors, but is believed by scholars to have been used as a source by later Christian-Jewish dialogue texts, starting with Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho (c. 160 C.E.).1 The earliest mention of DJP is in Origen's Against Celsus 4.52-53 (written 249 C.E.). The exact title Origen gives to the work is "A Controversy between Jason and Papiscus about Christ".2 Origen reports that Celsus had attacked this work in his ante-Christian polemic, which scholars date to c. 176-180 C.E.3

John of Scythopolis (6th century) ascribes the work to Aristo(n) of Pella (an attribution widely accepted by modern scholars), while noting that Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd century) had attributed the work to St. Luke the Evangelist.4 Eusebius of Caesarea names Aristo of Pella as a source for his knowledge of the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 C.E.),5 for which reason scholars typically date DJP to c. 140 C.E. (later than the Bar Kochba Revolt, but early enough to have influenced Justin Martyr and Celsus).6

Scholarly knowledge of DJP has grown significantly since the discovery and publication in the early 21st century of a fragment of the text preserved in its original language, Greek.7 Known as the Sinaiticus Fragment (due to its discovery at St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai desert), it is contained in a sermon delivered by Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, on 1 January 635, who names the "Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus" before quoting from it at length. Sophronius' sermon asserts that St. Luke the Evangelist wrote DJP. Celsus Africanus (not Origen's opponent) referred to the author of DJP as a Hebrew Christian,8 which modern scholars such as Lawrence Lahey accept.9 

That the Jewish Christian author of DJP held a high Christology (i.e., affirmed Christ's preexistence and divinity) is evident from the Sinaiticus Fragment and other surviving fragments. The Sinaiticus Fragment includes the following passage:
Papiscus said, “I would like to learn for what cause you honor the first day after the Sabbath.” Jason answered, “In this way, God commanded this through Moses, saying: ‘Behold! I am making the last things just as the first!’ The last [day of the week] is the Sabbath, but day one after the Sabbath is first, for on it, by the word of God, the beginning of the entire universe took place, as also the scripture of Moses declares, just as God spoke, ‘let there be light and there was light.’ The Logos which came forth from God and made the light was Christ, the son of God through whom all things came to be.10
Thus, DJP evidently held a Logos Christology similar to that found in the prologue of the Gospel of John. Writing at the end of the fourth century, St. Jerome, in his Hebrew Questions on Genesis , reports that DJP offered a reading of the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 that begins with "In the Son" rather than "In the beginning":
'In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.' The majority believe, as it is written in The Dispute Between Jason and Papiscus, and as Tertullian in his book Against Praxeas contends, and as Hilary also asserts in the exposition of a certain psalm, that in the Hebrew it is '[i]n the son, God made heaven and earth.' The fact of the matter proves that this is a mistake.11
Although St. Jerome is rightly dismissive of this rendition of the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1, the point is that it shows that DJP held a pre-existence Christology in which the Son was present at creation. 

Finally, Lawrence Lahey observes that multiple Christian-Jewish dialogues from the fifth and sixth centuries (the Acts of Sylvester and the Dialogue of Timothy the Christian and Aquila the Jew) contain a similar passage in which a Jew offers objections to Christ's divinity on the grounds that the frailties of corporeal existence are unbefitting of God. Lahey notes the resemblance of this passage to material in Anastasius the Sinaite's Hodegos 14 (c. 685 C.E.), who attributes the objections to Philo of Alexandria in a disputation with "Mnason", a disciple of the apostles. Noting that "Mnason" and "Jason" are variant forms of the same name in Greek NT manuscripts of Acts 21:16, that Papiscus is called an Alexandrian Jew (like Philo) by Celsus Africanus, and that Anastasius was probably working from memory in the Sinai desert without access to books, Lahey argues that Anastasius "likely quotes a Jewish reply from [DJP]".12 The parallel passage in the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila 5.12-17 reads thus:13
(Aquila said:) For concerning this Jesus, just as his memoirs contain, in those you call Gospels, we find from where he is, and his parents with him, and how is this one God? But is God suckled or does he grow and become strong? And I will say that which Luke says concerning him. For the point now is  concerning this one who also fled when John was beheaded by Herod, and then was handed over by his own disciple, and bound, and mocked, and scourged, and spat upon, and was crucified, and was buried, but even first also hungered, and thirsted, and was tempted by Satan. Does God submit to these things done by men? But who can see God? Let me not say that he was also handled, and suffered so many things which indeed it is impossible for God to suffer these things; but also sour wine was drunk, and he was fed gall, and was struck on his head with a rod, and was crowned with thorns, and finally was sentenced to death, and was crucified with thieves. I am astonished. How are you not ashamed saying that God himself entered a womb of a woman and was born? For if he was born, he did not then exist before eternity, but also presently where is he?"14
If Lahey is correct that the above paraphrases an objection from Papiscus originally found in DJP, the substance of the objection implies that the Hebrew Christian apologist Jason was defending a Christology of divine incarnation.

To conclude, then, the surviving fragments of and references to the Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus provide evidence that a Jewish Christian apologist, writing within living memory of the time of the apostles, defended a divine preexistence Christology. It adds an additional nail in the coffin of the idea, popular among unitarian apologists today, that incarnational Christology was a product of Gentile imaginations such as that of Justin Martyr.

  • 1 Oskar Skarsaune argues at length for Justin's dependence on DJP (The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition [Leiden: Brill, 1987], 234-42).
  • 2 Henry Chadwick, trans. Contra Celsum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 227.
  • 3 François Bovon and John M. Duffy, "A New Greek Fragment from Ariston of Pella's Dialogue of Justin and Papiscus", Harvard Theological Review 105 (2012): 457-65.
  • 4 See discussion in Harry Tolley, "The Jewish–Christian Dialogue Jason and Papiscus in Light of the Sinaiticus Fragment", Harvard Theological Review 114 (2021): 1-26.
  • 5 Church History 4.6.3.
  • 6 Lawrence Lahey, "Evidence for Jewish Believers in Christian-Jewish Dialogues through the Sixth Century (excluding Justin", in Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik (eds.), Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007), 581-639.
  • 7 See Bovon and Duffy, "New Greek Fragment"; Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue".
  • 8 "That noble, memorable, and glorious Dispute occurred between Jason, a Hebrew Christian and Papiscus an Alexandrian Jew; the obstinate heart of the Jew was softened by the admonition and gentle chiding of the Hebrew, and the teaching of Jason on the giving of the Holy Spirit was victorious in the heart of Papiscus." (Celsus Africanus, Ad Vigilium Episcopum de Iudaica Incredulitate, trans. Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue", 23.)
  • 9 "It was written by a Jewish believer, for in contrast to all known dialogues through the sixth century, the Christian participant (Jason), is said to be a Hebrew Christian... If JP had survived, it would be an important source of Jewish Christian theology and of its view of and arguments towards other non-believing Jews" ("Evidence for Jewish Believers", 585-86).
  • 10 trans. Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue", 25.
  • 11 trans. Tolley, "Jewish-Christian Dialogue", 22.
  • 12 "Evidence for Jewish Believers, 589-91, 601-603. Lahey makes the argument at greater length in another work to which I do not have access ("Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Genuine Jewish-Christian Debate in The Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila", Journal of Jewish Studies 51 (2000): 281-96.
  • 13 I could not find an English translation of the relevant portion of Anastasius' Hodegos 14, and don't trust myself to try and translate 7th-century Greek. The Greek text and a Latin translation can be viewed at Patrologia Graecae 89.244-48. The substance of the passage is basically the same, consisting of objections to the notion that God became incarnate and thus subjected himself to human weaknesses such as hunger, thirst, bleeding, and death.
  • 14 trans. Lahey, "Evidence for Jewish Believers", 602 n. 100.

Sunday 24 July 2022

Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian (7): "Who can describe his generation?" (Isaiah 53:8)

Addendum (24 September 2023):
When I wrote this article last year, I indicated that the New Testament does not contain any interpretation of Isaiah 53:8b. However, I've since become aware of the possibility that John 7:27 alludes to this passage. There, "the people of Jerusalem" raise an objection to the notion that Jesus is the Messiah: "Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from" (NRSV). Jesus' declares in vv. 28-29 that where he is from is the Father ("you know where I am from...I am from [the one who sent me]"), thus implying a transcendent origin. 

Later in the chapter, "there was a division in the crowd because of him", since some felt that Jesus' coming from Galilee disqualified him from being the Messiah, since Scripture said the Messiah comes from Bethlehem (7:42). So there are two objections here about where Jesus comes from vs. where the Messiah comes from: Jesus' place of origin is known, while the Messiah's is unknown; Jesus' hometown is in Galilee, while the Messiah's is Bethlehem.

It is obvious that those who believed the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem took the idea from Micah 5:2 (cp. Matthew 2:5-6), but what was the proof text for those who claimed that "when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from"? Although the latter part of Micah 5:2 ("whose origin is from of old, from ancient days") is a possibility, in context this seems to refer to the when of the referent's origins, not the where (which the text says is Bethlehem). The best candidate for the text behind the claim in John 7:27 seems to be the one discussed in this article, namely Isaiah 53:8b LXX ("Who can describe his generation?") This connection is noted by a number of post-Nicene Church Fathers, including St. Augustine (Tract in Joannem 31.2) and St. Cyril of Alexandria (On the Gospel according to John 5.653-54). In light of Jesus' reply in John 7:28-29, it is possible that the Fourth Evangelist already hints at a transcendent Christological interpretation of Isaiah 53:8b.

In this seventh installment of our series on Reading Isaiah like an Early Christian, we delve into what was perhaps the most famous celebrated Isaianic passage of all among early Christians: the Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).1 The words of this oracle—much like those of Isaiah 9:5-6 ("Unto us a child is born...")—are assumed by most Christians to be a messianic prophecy. Well, they do not just assume this; they read it in the New Testament. Most famously, in Acts 8:26-35, an Ethiopian eunuch is at a loss to identify the Suffering Servant until Philip explains to him about Jesus. However, at a grammatical-historical level it is by no means obvious that deutero-Isaiah, the author who wrote these words around the time of Cyrus, had a future Messiah in mind. As Rosenberg writes,
Jewish exegesis sees the Servant most frequently as the Jewish people, or its pious remnant, while conservative Christian exegesis insists that he is the Messiah. Modern scholars have attempted to identify the Servant with Jehoiachin or Zerubbabel, with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Deuter-Isaiah himself, or with the 'prophet' class as a whole. None of these suggestions is completely satisfactory.2
Thus, we must reiterate a point made in the first article in this series: if we identify as Christians and affirm the authority of the New Testament, we cannot confine our interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) to the literal, grammatical-historical meaning, because the New Testament writers did not do so. If we seek to read Isaiah like an early Christian, we must also examine the Jewish Scriptures mystically through the lens of the Christ-event. This will enable us to find buried treasure: veiled references to Christ and his redemptive work.  To take the Song of the Suffering Servant as an example, the Gospel of John has understood the Servant's "lifting up" (52:13) as referring to the manner of Jesus' death (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34). Paul has understood the rhetorical questions in 53:1 as foretelling that many would reject the gospel (Romans 10:16). Matthew has understood "carried (away) our diseases" (53:4) as foretelling Jesus' healing ministry (Matt. 8:17). Peter has understood "he committed no sin" (53:9) as foretelling Jesus' sinlessness (1 Pet. 2:22-23) and "he was wounded for our transgressions" (53:5) as foretelling the atoning power of his death (1 Pet. 2:24). And so on.

Our interest in this article lies in a single clause of Isaiah 53:8. In the MT, it reads, weʾęṯ-dôrô mîy yeśôḥēḥ. Depending how one interprets the noun dôr (period; age; generation [of time or of people]; dwelling-place) and the verb śîâḥ (complain; muse; talk about; meditate; consider) here,3 numerous renderings of the Hebrew are possible: "Who could have imagined his future?" (NRSV); "Who could describe his abode?" (JPS); "Yet who of his generation protested?" (NIV); "And as for his generation, who considered...?" (NASB); "And who could even think about his descendants?" (ISV); "and who shall declare his generation?" (KJV).

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) translation disambiguates the Hebrew, rendering dôr with genea (generation [of time; of people]; race; family history) and śîâḥ with diēgeomai (tell; relate; describe);4. thus, tēn genean autou tis diēgēsetai;5 "Who will describe his generation?" (NETS)6 This rhetorical question is perhaps most naturally read as a futuristic lament, akin to, "Who will [be left to] relate his family history?" However, this is not the interpretation of Isaiah 53:8 LXX that gained currency in the early church. A future indicative verb in ancient Greek can bear a deliberative rhetorical function more commonly associated with the subjunctive,7 and thus tēn genean autou tis diēgēsetai could be read as, "Who can describe his generation?"

Compare the following instances where the italicised future indicative verb has a deliberative sense, closer to "can" than "will":

      The heart is deep above all else, 
         and so is man, 
         and who [shall? can?] understand him? (Jeremiah 17:9 NETS)

      Sand of seas and drops of rain 
         and days of eternity—who [shall? can?] enumerate? (Sirach 1:2 NETS)

      For who [shall? can?] say, “What have you done?” 
         Or who [shall? can?] withstand your judgment? (Wisdom 12:12 NETS)

BDAG lexicon notes that genea is "a term relating to the product of the act of generating and with special reference to kinship, frequently used of familial connections and ancestry".8 Indeed, the word has a close etymological relationship to gennaō (beget; give birth to). This rhetorical question was therefore ripe for interpretation in line with early Christian beliefs about Jesus' supernatural origin, akin to "Who can describe his lineage/origin?"

This rhetorical question is quoted once in the New Testament, in Acts 8:32-33, where the narrator quotes Isaiah 53:7-8 LXX to explain which passage of Isaiah the Ethiopian eunuch was reading (presumably in Greek). However, while it is obvious from Philip's response that he (and the author of Acts) understand the prophet to be speaking about Jesus, no specific interpretation of the rhetorical question is provided. While numerous NT writers (some cited above) understand the Song of the Suffering Servant messianically, unfortunately no divinely inspired interpretation of the rhetorical question in Isaiah 53:8b is preserved. All is not lost, however, since a number of early patristic writers have left their interpretations on record.

The earliest clear reference—after Acts 8:33—to our rhetorical question in extant early Christian literature is found in Justin Martyr's first Apology, written in the mid-second century.9 The apologist declares,
And in order that the prophetic Spirit might make known to us that the one who suffers these things has an ancestry that cannot be described and reigns over his enemies, it spoke thus: ‘Who shall describe his descent? Because his life is removed from the earth, he has come to death from their crimes. (1 Apology 51.1)10
In his later work, the Dialogue with Trypho, Justin refers to our text no less than five times. It refers to the "mystery of the birth of Christ," which is "inexpressible" (Dialogue 43.3; cf. 89.3); showing that he "did not have mere human origin" (63.2); "that he is not of human generation" (68.4); "that his origin is indescribable, and no mere man has such an origin" (76.2).11 Thus, for Justin, Isaiah 53:8b refers to the virgin birth, but also to Christ having an indescribable "ancestry" (Greek: genos) and being divine ("no mere man").

In his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, Irenaeus writes:
Then he says: Who shall declare His generation? Lest we despise Him as a man insignificant and of little account, because of His foes and because of the pains of His sufferings, this was said to put us right; for He who underwent all these things has a generation that cannot be declared, for ‘generation’ means His lineage, and that is, His Father is beyond declaration and expression. Recognise, therefore, even this as the lineage of Him who underwent all these sufferings, and despite Him not for the sufferings which He deliberately underwent for thy sake; but fear Him for His lineage. (Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 70)12 
Irenaeus has, like Justin, understood genea in the sense "ancestry" or "lineage," which is indescribable because Christ was begotten by God himself.

The Acts of Peter is an apocryphal acts that focuses primarily on a wonder-working contest between Peter and the heretic Simon Magus. The composition of the text is usually dated to the late second century, although it survives only in a Latin version of the fourth century, whose faithfulness to the lost Greek original is a subject of some debate.13

In an exchange in the Acts concerning the deity of Christ, Simon Magus asks, "Men of Rome, is a God born? Is he crucified? Whoever has a master is no God." Peter responds, "Cursed be your words against Christ. You spoke in these terms whereas the prophet says of him, 'Who shall declare his generation?'" (Acts of Peter 23-24)14 Evidently, this work understands Isaiah 53:8 as attesting to the ineffability of Christ's origin, and thus as refuting Simon Magus' challenge, "Is a God born?"

Tertullian, writing around the beginning of the third century, interprets our text in a slightly more mundane way, as referring to people's inability to recognise Christ in his human condition, rather than to the incomprehensibility per se of his origin:
Then those who pierced him will know who he is, and will smite their breasts, tribe to tribe—because in fact they formerly failed to recognize him in the humility of human condition: ‘And he is a man,’ says Jeremiah, ‘and who shall know him?’ Because also, Isaiah says, ‘His nativity, who shall tell of it?’ (Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.7.6)15

Eusebius, in his work Proof of the Gospel, written a decade or less before the Council of Nicaea of 325 (which he attended), anticipates its language about Christ in his interpretation of Isaiah 53:8, which he understands to be about "the ineffable generation" of the Son (Proof of the Gospel 4.15.53).16 Indeed, this is a very important biblical passage for Eusebius:
I am accustomed to quote in every question that is debated about His Godhead, that reverent saying: 'Who shall declare his generation?' (Proof of the Gospel 4.15.53)17
The following excerpt captures his understanding of the verse, which is indebted to Origen's ideas on the eternal generation of the Son:
the scope of the theology we are considering far transcends all illustrations, and is not connected with anything physical, but imagines with the acutest thought a Son Begotten, not at one time non-existent and existent at another afterwards, but existent before eternal time, and pre-existent, and ever with the Father as His Son, and yet not Unbegotten, but begotten from the Father Unbegotten, being the Only begotten, the Word, and God of God, Who teaches that He was not cast forth from the being of the Father by separation, or scission, or division, but unspeakably and unthinkably to us brought into being from all time, nay rather before all times, by the Father's transcendent and inconceivable Will and Power. 'For who shall describe his generation?' he says, and 'As no one knoweth the Father save the Son, so no one knoweth the Son save the Father that begat Him. (Proof of the Gospel 4.3.13)18

Although the Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) was being interpreted Christologically already in the earliest decades of the Christian movement, no canonical interpretation of Isaiah 53:8 LXX ("Who will/can describe his generation?") is preserved in the New Testament. Patristic testimony from the ante-Nicene period suggests that there was an established tradition of reading this question as pointing to the indescribable mystery of Christ's origin.  

  • 1 The full passage reads thus in the NRSV: "13 See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high. 14 Just as there were many who were astonished at him—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals—15 so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. 53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. 4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases, yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with affliction. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out himself to death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors."
  • 2 Roy A. Rosenberg, "Jesus, Isaac, and the 'Suffering Servant,' Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965): 381.
  • 3 BDB 189-90, 967.
  • 4 BDAG 191-92, 245.
  • 5 Joseph Ziegler (ed.), Septuaginta (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983), 14:320.
  • 6 Trans. Moisés Silva, "Esaias," in New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 866.
  • 7 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 465.
  • 8 BDAG 191.
  • 9 There may be an earlier, albeit oblique, allusion to Isaiah 53:8b in the Odes of Solomon, a proto-Gnostic 'hymnbook' usually dated to the early second century. Of the Word of truth, the twelfth Ode says, "And he never falls, but stands firm. And not known (is) his descent nor his way." (Odes 12.6, trans. Franzmann 101). However, while this text may witness to a mystical interpretation of Isaiah 53:8b, the Word in the Odes is an abstract hypostasis not readily identifiable with the person of Christ.
  • 10 Trans. Denis Minns and Paul Parvis, Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 209.
  • 11 St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser, trans. Thomas B. Falls, rev. Thomas P. Halton (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 118.
  • 12 Trans. Joseph P. Smith, S.J., St. Irenaeus: Proof of the Apostlic Preaching (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1952), 93. Irenaeus also quotes our text in his better-known work (cf. Against Heresies 2.28.5). Here, he uses it against Gnostics who claim to delineate in crudely exact terms the manner of the Word's generation by the Father.
  • 13 Callie Callon, "Acts of Peter," in Oxford Bibliographies in Biblical Studies (2021). doi: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0285
  • 14 Trans. J. K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 527-28.
  • 15 Trans. Ernest Evans, Tertullian: Adversus Marcionem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 189.
  • 16 Trans. W. J. Ferrar, The Proof of the Gospel, Being the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius of Caesarea (2 vols.; London: SPCK, 1920), 1:201.
  • 17 Trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 1:201.
  • 18 Trans. Ferrar, Proof of the Gospel, 1:168. See also Proof of the Gospel 5.1.14-25.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (8): The Didache

The Didache is a document which most scholars date "sometime around the year 100, possibly a decade or so later."1 A minority of scholars date the text much earlier, to the mid-first century.2 As to the place of origin, "it is now widely accepted that the text originates in the general area of Syria, or more narrowly in Antioch."3

The Didache is a compilation of different source materials and therefore a "generically mixed composition"4 which "cannot be considered a homogeneous text."5 As a whole its genre is usually described as a church manual or something similar. Concerning the theology of the work, Niederwimmer (one of the world's foremost Didache experts) offers some important caveats:
[The Didache] is aimed practical needs and lacks any theoretical or even speculative exposition of Christian belief…The Didache is not a ‘theological’ work but a rule for ecclesiastical praxis, a handbook of church morals, ritual, and discipline.6
Later, Niederwimmer adds:
His book tells us little or nothing of his ‘theology,’ if he had one at all. It is written without any theoretical claims and is entirely focused on the praxis and order of community life. Individual theological motifs are evident, but only in passing and without systematic reflection. A reconstruction of the ‘theology of the Didache’ would therefore be a foolish enterprise. All we can say is that attention should be paid to the author’s fundamentally conservative stance.7
Bearing these caveats in mind, our aim here is not to reconstruct the theological beliefs of the Didachist concerning supernatural evil. Rather, we will investigate whether there are any indications within the text that it reflects a tradition or a community which believed in supernatural evil.

There are a number of relevant passages which require close exegesis. Due to the space constraints of a blog post, the exegesis will be abbreviated here, but most of the material is covered in more detail in a previous work.8

The 'de-angelization' of the Two Ways tradition

The Didache opens with an ethical teaching which contrasts right and wrong ways of living.
There are two paths, one of life and one of death, and the difference between the two paths is great. (Didache 1.1)9
It is one of a number of early Christian works to make use of a traditional Two Ways teaching. The Epistle of Barnabas and the Doctrina Apostolorum explicitly contain cosmic dualism in their Two Ways material: in Barnabas 18.1-2 the light-bringing angels of God are juxtaposed with the angels of Satan, while in Doctrina 1.1 one reads of two angels, one of righteousness, the other of iniquity. By contrast, the Didache's Two Ways material makes no reference to angels, good or bad. What are we to make of this?

First of all, in their reconstruction of the hypothetical Jewish Two Ways source on which these Christian texts ultimately depend, van de Sandt and Flusser conclude that the Doctrina follows the original wording.10 Similarly, Draper argues that the reference to Satan has been added by Barnabas rather than being taken over from his source.11 What this means is that the Didachist has not removed a reference to Satan (because his source did not contain any reference to Satan), but he has removed the reference to the two angels.12

The question is, why was the reference to the two angels removed? This is, of course, not something we can know for certain. Van de Sandt and Flusser mention two possibilities:
The absence of these elements from the Didache might have occurred by accident in the course of transmission or might have been the result of a deliberate attempt to ethicize the tradition.13
It appears that the majority of scholars favour the second view, that the removal of the angels represents a deliberate ethicizing or demythologizing move.14 Of these scholars, Milavec goes into the most detail on the suggested motive. He suggests novice Christians who had abandoned idolatry might have feared retribution from the gods had their power been equated with supernatural power. Hence the Didache's diminution of supernatural evil in this passage is due to its pastoral, or more specifically catechetical, purpose.

It should be noted, however, that others who see the removal of the angels as deliberate propose quite different motives. Both Chester and Jenks think the motive is to make the apocalyptic ending of the Didache (chapter 16) more climactic.15 Niederwimmer states that the two angels motif may have been omitted simply "because it plays no part in the exposition that follows."16

Reconstructions of the Didachist's motives in the apparent excision of the two angels motif are ultimately conjectural. They may suggest a relative lack of interest in cosmic dualism or in the spirit world on the part of this author in comparison to the author of Barnabas, for instance. What it does not suggest, however, is that the Didachist denied the existence of supernatural evil. (To my knowledge, no scholar has defended such a claim in print). If one were to argue this from the omission of the two angels motif here and the Didache's alleged silence elsewhere on supernatural evil (on which see below), one might as well argue that the Didachist did not believe in angels at all. The evidence is the same: the Didachist has removed a reference to an angel of righteousness from the Two Ways tradition, and the extant text of the Didache makes no mention of angels.17

tou ponērou in the Lord's Prayer

Didache 8.2 contains a version of the Lord's Prayer which "agrees strongly with the one handed on by Matthew, with some characteristic deviations from the latter."18
Nor should you pray like the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, you should pray as follows: 'Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread [Or: the bread that we need; or: our bread for tomorrow]. And forgive us our debt, as we forgive our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one [Or: from evil]. For the power and the glory are yours forever. (Didache 8.2)19
While it was previously assumed that the Didache is dependent on Matthew, the scholarly consensus is now that the two writers drew on shared tradition but have no literary dependence on one another.20 Accordingly the similarities in the Lord's Prayer are held to "rest on a common liturgical tradition."21

The petition that interests us is identical in Matt. 6:13 and Didache 8.2 (but absent from Luke 11:2-4): alla rhusai hēmas apo tou ponērou. It is grammatically ambiguous whether tou ponērou is masculine or neuter, and the meaning of this term in the Matthean prayer is a famous exegetical problem which has been debated since the patristic period. The majority of contemporary scholars regard tou ponērou as masculine in Matt. 6:13, meaning 'the evil one' par excellence, i.e. Satan,22 while a minority take it to mean 'evil' abstractly.23 In the case of Didache 8.2, it is unclear which reading enjoys majority support, with a roughly equal number (according to this author's survey) rendering 'evil'.24 and 'the evil one.'25

The incongruity in scholarly opinion concerning tou ponērou in Didache versus Matthew is surprising since the literature cited above contains virtually no exegetical arguments on the phrase's meaning in the Didache specifically. Presumably the incongruity is because there is no contextual basis in the Didache for Satanological use of this term, whereas Matthew clearly uses the masculine ho ponēros for Satan (Matt. 13:19; cf. 5:37; 13:38). However, since the petition is identical in both documents and is believed to pre-date both documents, it is more likely than not that the same understanding of the petition prevailed in both Matthew's and the Didachist's community. Thus 'the evil one' is the more likely meaning in Didache 8.2 as in Matt. 6:13. ho ponēros seems to have been the third most widely used Satanological designation in the early church, after ho diabolos and ho satanas.26 Certainly the probability of a reference to Satan here is high enough to render dubious any argument from silence for the Didache community's non-belief in supernatural evil.

The spirit in which false prophets speak

The Didache makes no explicit reference to demons or exorcism. This silence is most notable in Didache 6.3, where the rejection of idol food is enjoined without reference to demons. We have already referred to Milavec's suggestion that this silence is part of a pastoral strategy for the Gentile initiates for whom the Two Ways teaching is intended. It does not necessarily represent a comprehensive polemic against idolatry. Indeed, the claim that idols are dead gods is similar to the claim of Justin Martyr that idols are "lifeless and dead." Justin, however, still proceeds to link idols to demons (1 Apology 9). Hence, the Didache's brief polemic against idolatry here does not prove that the writer disbelieved in demons.

One passage which may implicitly presuppose the existence of demons is the warning against false prophets in Didache 11.7-12.
7 Also, do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. 8 However, not everyone who speaks in the spirit is a prophet, but only if he exhibits the Lord's ways. By his conduct, therefore, will the false prophet and the prophet be recognized. 9 Furthermore, any prophet who orders a meal in the spirit shall not partake of it; if he does, he is a false prophet. 10 If any prophet teaches the truth, yet does not practice what he teaches, he is a false prophet. 11 But any prophet proven to be genuine who does something with a view to portraying in a worldly manner the symbolic meaning of the church (provided that he does not teach you to do all that he himself does) is not to be judged by you, for his judgment is with God. Besides, the ancient prophets also acted in a similar manner. 12 But if anyone should say in the spirit, 'Give me money' or anything else, do not listen to him. But if he tells you to give on behalf of others who are in need, let no one judge him. (Didache 11.7-12)27
The passage refers to prophets speaking en pneumati. Some translations render this 'in the Spirit' or 'in the spirit',28 while others render it 'in a spirit'.29 Since en pneumati is used of both genuine and false prophets, there are no grounds for translating it 'in the [Holy] Spirit' when applied to the genuine prophets and 'in a [demonic?] spirit' when applied to false prophets.30 As Tibbs states, "All of the statements [in Didache 11.7-12] are uttered by a prophet en pneumati, indicating that a foreign spirit is speaking through the prophet."31 The key point here is that the text neither explicitly differentiates between the kind of spirit inspiring the two types of prophets, nor does it imply that they are possessed by the same spirit.32 It simply states that they speak under inspiration of a spirit.33

Tibbs appears to favour Richardson's view that in the Didache, lalounta en pneumati means "literally, speaking in a spirit, i.e. speaking while possessed by a divine or demonic spirit."34 Thompson similarly describes the false prophets of Didache 11.8, 12 as "spirit possessed."35 Other scholars who regard it as likely that en pneumati, as applied to false prophets here, refers to demonic inspiration, include De Halleux36 and Draper.37

That the Didache envisions false prophets as inspired by an evil spirit is enhanced by comparison with other early Christian texts. The first comparison is with Paul. Both the Didache and Paul give an example of something bad a spirit-inspired person might hypothetically say: in the Didache's case, "Give me money" (Didache 11.12) and in Paul's case, "Jesus is accursed" (1 Cor. 12:3). However, while the Didache asserts that someone speaking en pneumati might say such a thing, Paul asserts that someone speaking en pneumati theou could never say such a thing. It is clear that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit (or at least a holy spirit) since he supplies the qualifier theou. If the Didache's en pneumati refers to the Holy Spirit (or a holy spirit) then it contradicts Paul's statement. If, however, the Didache envisions a false prophet as inspired by a demonic spirit, then Didache 11.12 and 1 Cor. 12:3 are harmonious. No one speaking in a/the spirit of God can say bad things, but a person speaking in evil spirit might.

The second comparison is with the Shepherd of Hermas.38 In Mandates 11.1-3, Hermas asserts that false prophets are filled with the devil's spirit.39 This passage otherwise contains parallels with Didache 11.7-12; for instance, both writings advise using a prophet's behaviour as a criterion by which to discern true and false prophets.40

Other early Christian texts which appear to presuppose that false prophets and teachers can be inspired or possessed by spirits other than a/the Holy Spirit include 1 John 4:1-3,41 1 Cor. 12:10,42 and 1 Tim. 4:1.43

The world-deceiver

The world-deceiver (Greek: ho kosmoplanēs) is a figure who appears in the Didache's brief apocalyptic ending:
For when lawlessness increases they will hate, persecute and betray one another. Then the world-deceiver will be manifest as a son of God. He will perform signs and wonders, and the earth will be delivered over into his hands. He will perform lawless deeds, unlike anything done from eternity. (Didache 16.4)44
This is the only extant occurrence of the noun kosmoplanēs in early Christian literature.45 Is the world-deceiver a supernatural figure? One encounters three different answers to this question in the scholarly literature. (1) Some scholars regard the world-deceiver as a human persecutor with no supernatural empowerment.46 (2) Some scholars regard the world-deceiver as a human persecutor who has diabolical or demonic connections.47 (3) Some scholars think the world-deceiver is Satan.48

There is no explicit indication in Didache 16 that the world-deceiver is Satan or is associated with satanic or demonic power. However, two lines of evidence point to at least an association, if not identification, of the world-deceiver with Satan. The first line of evidence consists of tradition-historical parallels. The closest early Christian parallel to the term 'world-deceiver' is ho planōn tēn oikoumenēn holēn ('the one deceiving the whole world') in Rev. 12:9, which is a description of Satan. Niederwimmer notes numerous parallels to the idea of "The devil who alters his appearance" (just as the world-deceiver is "manifest as (hōs) a son of God"),49 and also to the idea of an evil eschatological figure who deceives the world50 and uses signs and wonders.51 Other important parallels include Ascension of Isaiah 4 and Apocalypse of Peter 2. Draper adds that eschatological opponent traditions in the Qumran literature provide valuable background to Didache 16, and that in these texts, "The underlying conception is that the Sons of Darkness are marshaled and inspired by a particular representative of Belial."52

The second line of evidence is that the language used of the world-deceiver has supernatural connotations. He is manifest (phanēsetai) as a son of God, and he performs signs and wonders (sēmeia kai terata). The verb phainō is frequently used of appearances by transcendent figures such as angels and Jesus.53 Meanwhile, sēmeia kai terata is a hendiadys which in the New Testament denotes "miracles worked by Jesus or his followers, on the one hand, and by those opposed them, on the other."54 This phrase has its biblical background in the LXX, where it is frequently used of divine miracles.55 Twelftree states that
among educated Greeks of the period the phrase was used of purported marvels, such as lightning strikes, showers of stones, stars shining for seven days, dreams, an eclipse of the sun, monstrous births and a statue moving.56
There is a widespread early Christian tradition of "signs and wonders" being performed by eschatological evil figures, including in the NT.57 The most likely biblical background to this idea is Deut. 13:1-5,58 which legislates concerning false prophets or dreamers who are nonetheless capable of announcing signs and wonders which take place.

Numerous scholars regard the signs and wonders in Didache 16.4 and other similar texts as real manifestations of supernatural power which are deceitful in their intent, rather than merely feigned signs and wonders which lack any power.59

Hence, while it is impossible to be certain about the precise relationship between Satan and the world-deceiver of the tradition preserved in Didache 16.4, there is ample evidence to conclude that this figure, even if merely human himself, is regarded as having access to supernatural power (like the 'man of lawlessness' of 2 Thess. 2).

The Didache's lost ending

Most scholars agree that the Didache's ending in the only full manuscript (the Bryennios manuscript) is incomplete.60 This is based on physical evidence in the manuscript, as well as the abruptness of the extant ending, which does not deal with the demise of the world-deceiver or the destiny of the saints. A fourth-century document known as the Apostolic Constitutions contains a paraphrase of the Didache. Its version of Didache 16.8 (where the Bryennios manuscript breaks off) reads and continues as follows:
Then the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven with the angels of His power, in the throne of His kingdom, to condemn the devil, the deceiver of the world, and to render to every one according to his deeds. Then shall the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous shall enter eternal life, to inherit those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, such things as God hath prepared for them that love Him. And they shall rejoice in the kingdom of God, which is in Christ Jesus. (Apostolic Constitutions 7.32.2f)61
This passage "has been widely accepted as proof for a ‘lost ending’ of the Didache which can or must be accepted as that text which fits into the last seven lines of the Bryennios manuscript."62

Aldridge, who offers a detailed analysis of the matter of the Didache's lost ending, concludes concerning the above passage from Apostolic Constitutions, "There is good evidence that this is the Didache's true ending (approximately)."63 His best effort at a reconstruction of the Didache's lost ending consists of this passage, verbatim.64 Draper similarly states that it seems likely that Apostolic Constitutions has "preserved the ending faithfully."65 Others are more cautious. Niederwimmer allows that the lost ending of the Didache might have been similar either to what we find in Apostolic Constitutions or the ending of the Georgian version of the Didache (which reads quite differently), but prudently states, "I shall not be bold enough to attempt to reconstitute the lost conclusion of the Didache by conjecture."66 Verheyden and van de Sandt and Flusser also regard the Apostolic Constitutions as being of some value but only as a paraphrase of the Didache and hence insufficient for reconstruction of the lost ending.67 Milavec denies that Apostolic Constitutions preserves the lost ending to any degree and expresses doubt that there ever was a lost ending!68

The importance of this Apostolic Constitutions passage to our topic is that, if it preserves the Didache's lost ending word-for-word, then the original text of the Didache contained an explicit reference to the devil, and confirms the satanic identity of the world-deceiver. Scholars who have commented on this point specifically doubt that the Didache itself mentioned the devil explicitly at this point.69 Stylistically, it seems more likely that the Didache would identify the eschatological opponent as the devil immediately in 16.4 rather than using the term world-deceiver without qualification and only subsequently identifying this figure as the devil. Accordingly, we can conclude that it is improbable (but not impossible) that the original ending to the Didache explicitly mentioned the devil. Even so, Apostolic Constitutions is still of value for exegesis of Didache 16.4 because it means that the earliest extant interpretation of this text identifies the world-deceiver as the devil.


The passages from the Didache which are relevant to our topic contain significant exegetical difficulties so that it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about the presence of supernatural evil in this text. This document apparently shows a certain reticence to discuss transcendent beings (good and evil), at least in its catechetical material (Didache 1.1). The Didache may contain two distinct references to Satan and/or an eschatological figure with satanic associations (Didache 8.2; 16.4 and lost ending), although in neither case can the satanic referent be established beyond doubt. A fairly strong circumstantial case can be built that Didache 11.7-12 presupposes that false prophets are inspired by a diabolical or demonic spirit. All told, Niederwimmer is right that it would be foolish to try to dogmatically reconstruct the Didachist's theology. However, there is nothing in the Didache that is out of sorts with the worldview that emerges from the other Apostolic Fathers writings we have considered, which collectively witness to a belief in supernatural evil beings.


  • 1 Ehrman, B. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 411.
  • 2 Draper, J. A. (2006). The Apostolic Fathers: The Didache. The Expository Times, 117(5), 177-181. Here p. 178.
  • 3 ibid.
  • 4 Niederwimmer, K. (1998). The Didache: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 1.
  • 5 Van De Sandt, H. & Flusser, D. (2002). The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity. Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, p. 28.
  • 6 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 2; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. xv make a similar observation
  • 7 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 228.
  • 8 Farrar, T.J. (2015). Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers: A Response to J. Burke. Retrieved 05/11/2015 from http://www.dianoigo.com/publications/Satan_and_Demons_in_the_Apostolic_Fathers_-_A_Response_to_%E2%80%98Then_the_Devil_Left%E2%80%99_by_J._Burke.pdf, pp. 7-20.
  • 9 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 417.
  • 10 van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 128.
  • 11 Draper, J.A. (1995). Barnabas and the Riddle of the Didache Revisited. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 17(58), 89-113. Here pp. 98, 102.
  • 12 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 63; Kloppenborg, J.S. (1995). The Transformation of Moral Exhortation in Didache 1-5. In C.N. Jefford (Ed.), The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission (pp. 88-109). Leiden: Brill, pp. 93, 97; Suggs, M.J. (1972). The Christian Two Ways Tradition: Its Antiquity, Form and Function. In A.P. Wikgren & D.E. Aune (Eds.), Studies in New Testament in Early Christian Literature: Essays in Honor of Allen P. Wikgren (pp. 60-74). Leiden: Brill, p. 71; Milavec, A.E. (2003). The Didache: Faith, Hope and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities. Mahwah: Paulist Press, p. 65; Jefford, C.N. (1989). The Sayings of Jesus in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Leiden: Brill, p. 27; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 119. It is also possible that the angels were removed at an intermediate stage between the original Two Ways source and the Didache, as noted by Niederwimmer.
  • 13 van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 63; similarly Jefford, op. cit., p. 27.
  • 14 van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 119; Suggs, op. cit., p. 71; Draper, J.A. (1983). A Commentary on the Didache in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related documents. PhD Dissertation, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge, p. 19; Kloppenborg, op. cit., pp. 99f; Milavec, op. cit., p. 65.
  • 15 Chester, A. (1992). The Parting of the Ways: Eschatology and Messianic Hope. In J.D.G. Dunn (Ed.), Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135 (pp. 239-314). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 287; Jenks, G.C. (1990). The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, pp. 308-310.
  • 16 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 63.
  • 17 The hagioi of Didache 16.7, a quotation from Zech. 14:5 LXX, are agreed by most scholars to be the resurrected saints (Bauckham, R. (1990/2004). Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. London: T&T Clark, p. 291; Varner, W. (2007). The Way of the Didache: The First Christian Handbook. Lanham: University Press of America, p. 44; Peerbolte, L.J.L. (1996). The Antecedents of Antichrist: A Traditio-Historical Study of the Earliest Christian Views on Eschatological Opponents. Leiden: Brill, p. 179; Strecker, G. (2000). Theology of the New Testament. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 646; Milavec, A.E. (1995).The Saving Efficacy of the Burning Process in Did. 16.5. In C.N. Jefford (Ed.), The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission (pp. 131-155). Leiden: Brill, p. 152 n. 51; Verheyden, J. (2005). Eschatology in the Didache and the Gospel of Matthew. In H. van de Sandt (Ed.), Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the Same Jewish-Christian Milieu? (pp. 193- 216). Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, p. 211.). It is possible that the Didache's lost ending (on which see below) mentioned angels, since the Apostolic Constitutions and the Georgian version of the Didache do at this point in the text. However, this is far from certain. For instance, Garrow's reconstruction of the Didache's ending makes no mention of angels (Garrow, A.J.P. (2009). The Eschatological Tradition behind 1 Thessalonians: Didache 16. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 32(2), 191-215. Here pp. 203-204.)
  • 18 Niederwimmer, op. cit., pp. 135-136.
  • 19 Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 429-430.
  • 20 Milavec, A. (2005). A Rejoinder. Journal of Early Christian Studies, 13(4), 519-523; Young, S.E. (2011). Jesus Tradition in the Apostolic Fathers: Their Explicit Appeals to the Words of Jesus in Light of Orality Studies. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 209-210; Van De Sandt, H. (2008). Matthew and the Didache. In D.C. Sim & B. Repschinski (Eds.), Matthew and his Christian Contemporaries (pp. 123-138). London: T&T Clark, p. 124.
  • 21 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 136; so also van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 295.
  • 22 E.g. Ayo, N. (2002). The Lord's Prayer: A Survey Theological and Literary. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, p. 95; Goulder, M.D. (1963). The Composition of the Lord’s Prayer. Journal of Theological Studies, 14(1), 32-45. Here p. 42; Kistemaker, S.J. (1978). The Lord’s Prayer in the First Century. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 21(4), 323-328. Here p. 324; Van Tilborg, S. (1972). Form-criticism of the Lord’s Prayer. Novum Testamentum, 14(2), 94-105. Here p. 104; Garland, D.E. (1992). The Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. Review & Expositor, 89(2), 215-228. Here p. 226; Bruner, F.D. (2012). Matthew: The Christbook, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 314; Carson, D.A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D.E. Garland (Eds.), Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (pp. 23-670). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, p. 269; Davies, W.D. & Allison, D.C., Jr. (1988/2004). Matthew 1-7. London: T&T Clark, p. 614; De Bruin, T. (2014). The great controversy: The individual’s struggle between good and evil in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and in their Jewish and Christian contexts. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 166 n. 11; Evans, C.A. (2012). Matthew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 148; Grimshaw, J.P. (2008). The Matthean Community and the World: An Analysis of Matthew’s Food Exchange. Bern: Peter Lang, p. 208 n. 52; Gundry, R.H. (1994). Matthew: A Commentary on his Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 109; Keener, C.S. (1999). A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 223; Talbert, C.H. (2010). Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 89; Turner, D.L. (2008). Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 189; Tournay, R.J. (1998). Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation. Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 120(3), 440-443; Branden, R.C. (2006). Satanic Conflict and the Plot of Matthew. Bern: Peter Lang, p. 111; Page, S.H.T. (1995). Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 114; Garrow, A.P. (2003). The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache. London: Bloomsbury, p. 172; Witherington, B., III. (2009). The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament (Vol. 1). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 149; Wold, B. (forthcoming). Apotropaic Prayer and the Matthean Lord’s Prayer. In B. Wold, J. Dochhorn & S. Rudnig-Zelt (Eds.), The Devil, Demons, and Dualism. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck; Lanier, D.E. (1992). The Lord’s Prayer: A Thematic and Semantic-Structural Analysis. Criswell Theological Review, 6(1), 57-72. Here p. 61. Space does not permit a discussion of the exegetical points relating to Matt. 6:13 here.
  • 23 Grayston, K. (1993). The Decline of Temptation—and the Lord's Prayer. Scottish Journal of Theology, 46(03), 279-296. Here p. 294; O’Neill, J.C. (1993). The Lord’s Prayer. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 16(51), 3-25. Here pp. 18-19; Subramanian, J.S. (2009). The Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. In A.J. McNicol, D.B. Peabody & J.S. Subramanian (Eds.), Resourcing New Testament Studies: Literary, Historical, and Theological Essays in Honor of David L. Dungan (pp. 107-122). London: T&T Clark, p. 122; Vögtle, A. (1978). The Lord’s Prayer: A Prayer for Jews and Christians? In J.J. Petuchowski & M. Brocke (Eds.), The Lord’s Prayer and Jewish Liturgy (pp. 93-118). London: Burns & Oates, p. 101.
  • 24 Scholars who read 'evil' include: Bigg, C. (1905). Notes on the Didache. Journal of Theological Studies, 23, 411-415. Here p. 412; Glimm, F.X., Marique, J., & Walsh, G.G. (trans). (1947). The Fathers of the Church (Vol. 1). Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, p. 178; Milavec, 2003, op. cit., p. 312; Johnson, L.J. (2009). Worship in the Early Church: An Anthology of Historical Sources (Vol. 1). Collegeville: Liturgical Press, p. 37; Cody, A. (1995). The Didache: An English Translation. In C.N. Jefford (Ed.), The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission (pp. 3-14). Leiden: Brill, p. 9 (who includes ‘the evil one’ as a parenthetical alternative); Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 134 (who includes ‘the evil one’ as a parenthetical alternative); O’Neill, op. cit., pp. 18-19 (who argues concerning the prayer in both Matthew and the Didache that the petition covers “the widest possible range of the evils from which a worshipper would ask God’s help in deliverance”, inclusive of both internal sources of temptation and external such as the devil); Draper, J.A. (2000). Ritual Process and Ritual Symbol in Didache 7-10. Vigiliae Christianae, 54(2), 121-158. Here p. 137 (who refers to “the petition not to be subjected to trial but to be snatched from the evil (one)”, allowing the ambiguity to stand).
  • 25 Scholars who read 'the evil one' include Lake, K. (1912). The Apostolic Fathers with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann, p. 321; Ehrman, op. cit., p. 429 (who includes ‘evil’ as a parenthetical alternative), Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 357; Sorensen, E. (2002). Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament and early Christianity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 199 n. 82 (who notes the ambiguity); Varner, W. (2005). The Didache’s Use of the Old and New Testaments. The Master’s Seminary Journal, 16(1), 127-151. Here p. 147; Lietzmann, H. (1979). Mass and the Lord’s Supper: A Study in the History of the Liturgy (Vol. 1). Leiden: Brill, p. 374; Brown, R.E. (1961). The Pater Noster as an Eschatological Prayer. Theological Studies, 22(2), 175-208. Here pp. 206-208 (who is referring to the prayer in both Matthew and the Didache); Richardson, C. (1953). Early Christian Fathers. New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 175; 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. 851 (who note however the possibility of an abstract referent); Collins, R.F. (2002). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 287 (who is referring to both Matthew and the Didache).
  • 26 Other than the four Matthean texts mentioned and Didache 8.2, see Eph 6:16; 2Thess 3:3; John 17:15; 1 John 2:13-14; 3:12; 5:18-19; Barnabas 2.10; 21.3; Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.1.
  • 27 Holmes, op. cit., p. 363.
  • 28 'in the Spirit': Richardson, op. cit., p. 177; Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 435-436; 'in the spirit': Holmes, op. cit., p. 363.
  • 29 E.g. Lake, op. cit., p. 327; Tibbs, C. (2007). Religious Experience of the Pneuma: Communication with the Spirit World in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 318.
  • 30 Tibbs, op. cit., pp. 317-318, makes this point.
  • 31 ibid., p. 222.
  • 32 Callan states, "it seems clear that NT prophecy is a matter of spirit possession" (Callan, T. (1985). Prophecy and Ecstasy in Greco-Roman Religion and in 1 Corinthians. Novum Testamentum, 27(2), 125-139. Here p. 126).
  • 33 Milavec describes this as 'speaking in spirit/Spirit' and observes, "The exact nature of such speaking is not defined; hence, it can be assumed that this was well known to the hearers of the Didache" (Milavec, A. (1994). Distinguishing True and False Prophets: The Protective Wisdom of the Didache. Journal of Early Christian Studies, 2(2), 117-136. Here p. 129).
  • 34 Tibbs, op. cit., p. 222 n. 26. The citation is from Richardson, op. cit., p. 176 n. 64.
  • 35 Thompson, L.L. (2004). Spirit Possession: Revelation in Religious Studies. In D.L. Barr (Ed.), Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students (pp. 137-150). Leiden: Brill, p. 147 n. 35
  • 36 De Halleux writes, "But what is meant by speaking en pneumati (11:7-12)? It is apparently not the Holy Spirit, warranted by the tradition, that he designates by this formula, since he also affirms that the false prophet speaks in a spirit in the same way (11:8; 11:12), perhaps under the inspiration of demons who knew the future and the hidden things; hence the caution of the translators, who write here ‘esprit’ (‘spirit’) without a capital" (De Halleux, A. (1995). Ministers in the Didache. In J.A. Draper (Ed.), The Didache in Modern Research (pp. 300-320). Leiden: Brill, p. 309).
  • 37 Draper writes, "CD 12:2f envisages a man speaking under the dominion (משל) of Belial, the Spirit of Darkness, and the true prophet would no doubt speak under the dominion of the Spirit of Light. All mankind is under the dominion of one or the other. This understanding may well be what lies behind the expression in Did." (Draper, 1983, op. cit., pp. 244-245).
  • 38 This document will be covered in a subsequent post in this series.
  • 39 The same idea is found in Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 82.2-3.
  • 40 Osiek notes two criteria mentioned by Hermas to identify false prophets. The first is that they “give oracles to consulters,” i.e. only after they have been solicited by other people. She adds, "But there is yet another, time-honored criterion by which to test or discern (dokimazein) the true prophet, the criterion that places this discussion firmly within the early Christian tradition of discernment of prophecy: from the prophet’s way of life" (Osiek, C. (1999). Shepherd of Hermas. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 143).
  • 41 Goulder writes, "John commends applying a criterion to distinguish divine from demonic spirits, ‘for many false prophets have gone out into the world’. The demonic spirits lie behind the false prophets, visiting holy men who are not part of the community" (Goulder, M. (1999). A Poor Man’s Christology. New Testament Studies, 45(3), 332-348., p. 342).
  • 42 Tibbs notes, “In the commentaries, the phrase ‘discernment of spirits’ is usually explained as a discernment between the Holy Spirit and other demonic spirits or human spirits.” Tibbs himself disputes that a single ‘Holy Spirit’ is in view here, but argues that Paul is referring to “a discernment of holy spirits apart from unholy spirits” (Tibbs, C. (2008). The Spirit (World) and the (Holy) Spirits among the earliest Christians: 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 as a test case. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 70(2), 313-330. Here pp. 322-323). Lienhard notes that patristic exegesis of 1 Cor. 12:10 was dominated by the idea that demonic spirits had to be identified and distinguished from good spirits (Lienhard, J.T. (1980). On discernment of spirits in the early church. Theological Studies, 41(3), 505-528).
  • 43 Kelly writes that this text refers to demons which "employ human agents" (Kelly, J.N.D. (1963). The Pastoral Epistles. London: A&C Black, p. 94). Towner explains, "'Deceiving spirits,' a part of the eschatological paradigm, are demonic influences or forces believed to be actively at work promoting the falsehood of the heresy. The internalization of this activity in the opponents can be seen in 2 Tim 3:13... where the cognate verb is central in Paul's caricature of the false teachers... 'things taught by demons'... [indicates] the source of the doctrines as being the demonic realm." (Towner, P.H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 290).
  • 44 Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 441-442.
  • 45 So Lampe, G.W.H. (1961). A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 770.
  • 46 Milavec asserts that in the Didache, "the events associated with the Lord’s coming unfold without any angelic or demonic forces playing any role whatsoever" (Milavec, 2003, op. cit., p. 63). He further claims that "The end-times scenario of the Didache deliberately removes any reference to Satan" (ibid., pp. 332, 648). Garrow refers to the world-deceiver as a "human persecutor" who is to be distinguished from the devil (Garrow, 2003, op. cit., p. 57), without discussing the possibility that this human persecutor might be in league with the devil. Sorensen regards it as "ambiguous" whether or not the world-deceiver is demonic (op. cit., p. 199 n. 82).
  • 47 Niederwimmer refers to the world-deceiver as a "diabolical" and "demonic" figure (op. cit., p. 219). Jenks refers to the "satanic connections" of this figure (Jenks, op. cit., p. 310), while Verheyden asserts that he has satanic "associations" (op. cit., p. 204). Draper regards the world-deceiver as having been sent by Satan (Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 308 n. 28). Garrett lists Didache 16.4 among texts "in which associations between false prophets and magic, false prophets and Satan, or Satan and magic are presupposed" (Garrett, S.R. (1989). Light on a Dark Subject and Vice Versa: Magic and Magicians in the New Testament. In J. Neusner et al (Eds.), Religion, Science and Magic: In Concert and in Conflict (pp. 142-165). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 154).
  • 48 Making this point explicitly are Peerbolte, op. cit., p. 181; Kierspel, L. (2006). The Jews and the World in the Fourth Gospel: Parallelism, Function, and Context. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 210 n. 230. Also apparently sympathetic to this view are Del Verme, M. (2004). Didache and Judaism: Jewish Roots of an Ancient Christian-Jewish Work. London: T&T Clark, p. 260; Thomas, R.L. (2010). Magical Motifs in the Book of Revelation. London: T&T Clark International, p. 47; Paget, J.C. (2011). Miracles in early Christianity. In G.H. Twelftree (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Miracles (pp. 131-148). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 134; and Glover, R. (1958). The Didache’s Quotations and the Synoptic Gospels. New Testament Studies, 5(1), 12- 29. Here p. 24.
  • 49 Life of Adam and Eve 9; 2 Cor. 11:14; Testament of Job 6.4; Apocalypse of Elijah 3.16-18; Hippolytus, On the Antichrist 6. These are noted in Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 219 n. 6.
  • 50 2 John 7; 2 Thess. 2:3-4; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 110.2; Sibylline Oracles 3.68; noted in Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 219 n. 7.
  • 51 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:13; 19:20; Sibylline Oracles 2.167-68; 3.66-67; Mark 13:22; Matt. 24:24; noted in Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 211 n. 2.
  • 52 Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 308.
  • 53 Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 1047.
  • 54 Remus, H. (1982). Does Terminology Distinguish Early Christian from Pagan Miracles? Journal of Biblical Literature, 101(4), 531-551. Here p. 547.
  • 55 Ex. 7:3; 7:9; 11:9; 11:10; Deut. 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 11:3; 26:8; 29:2; 34:11; Ps. 77:43; 104:27; 134:9; Jer. 39:20-21; Dan. 4:37 OG. Texts where the term does not refer to divine miracles include Deut. 13:2-3; 28:46; Isa. 8:18; 20:3.
  • 56 Twelftree, G.H. (1999). Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 228. Most of these events are not regarded as supernatural from a modern point of view. However, this was not necessarily the case for the ancients; and on any score it would require supernatural power to be able to 'perform' them as the Didache's world-deceiver does.
  • 57 See n. 51 above; in the NT, Mark 13:22/Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9; cf. Rev. 13:13; 16:14; 19:20, which refer only to "signs".
  • 58 So Painter, J. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, p. 211.
  • 59 Evans, C.E. (2005). The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: John's Gospel, Hebrews-Revelation. Colorado Springs: Cook, p. 381; Smith, M. (1996). The Account of Simon Magus in Acts 8. In New Testament, Early Christianity, and Magic (pp. 140-151). Leiden: Brill, p. 148; Lampe, G.W.H. (1973). ‘Grievous Wolves (Acts 20:29).’ In B. Lindars & S.S. Smalley, Christ and the Spirit in the New Testament: Studies in Honour of Charles Francis Digby Moule (pp. 253-268). Cambridge University Press, pp. 253-254; Twelftree, op. cit., p. 256; Remus, op. cit., p. 547; Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 920.
  • 60 E.g. Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 328; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 36; Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 227; Aldridge, R.E. (1999). The Lost Ending of the Didache. Vigiliae Christianae, 53(1), 1-15.
  • 61 Aldridge, op. cit., p. 5, trans.
  • 62 Milavec, 1995, op. cit., p. 153.
  • 63 Aldridge, op. cit., p. 5.
  • 64 ibid., pp. 12-13.
  • 65 Draper, 1983, op. cit., p. 326. He quotes a portion of the Apostolic Constitutions passage including the reference to the devil and comments, "This scenario is broadly supported by Asc. Isa. 4:14, 18, which seems to be closely related to Did. 16, and also by Ba. 4:12."
  • 66 Niederwimmer, op. cit., p. 227.
  • 67 Verheyden, op. cit., p. 207; van de Sandt & Flusser, op. cit., p. 27.
  • 68 Milavec, op. cit., p. 153.
  • 69 Garrow, 2003, op. cit., pp. 56-57; Peerbolte, op. cit., p. 181.

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.