1. He declares his joy for their firmness in the Gospel. 4. He amplifies on the person of Christ, against those who pretend that Christ did not really suffer.
1. Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church of God the Father and of the beloved Jesus Christ, which God has mercifully blessed with every good gift because you are filled with faith and charity so that no gift is lacking in you, most worthy of God and fruitful in saints, the church which is at Smyrna in Asia: all joy through his immaculate spirit and the word of God.
Smyrna (Izmir in modern Turkey) was, like Ephesus, a beautiful and prosperous city with a strong allegiance to Rome. A large and influential Jewish population had actively opposed Christianity there, which was why St. John addressed them in Revelation 2:8-11.
Ignatius wrote his earlier letters to the churches from Smyrna; now he is writing them from Troas (3:20).
2. I glorify God, truly Jesus Christ,
who has given you such wisdom.
3. For I have observed that you are settled in an immovable faith, as if you were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ both in the body and in the spirit, and that you are settled in love through the blood of Christ because you are fully persuaded of those things which relate to our Lord.
Compare with: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
4. Who truly was of the race of David according to the flesh, but the Son of God according to the will and power of God, and truly born of the Virgin and baptized by John so that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him.
That Christ was baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness is in Matthew 3:15.
5. He was also truly crucified by
Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch, being nailed for us in the
flesh so that we are the fruits of his most blessed passion.
6. That he might set up a token for all ages through his resurrection to all his holy and faithful servants, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, in one body of his church.
Compare with: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
7. Now all these things he suffered for us so we might be saved. And he suffered truly, as he also truly raised up himself, and not, as some unbelievers say, that he only seemed to suffer, they themselves only seeming to be.
This could be understood to mean "they themselves only seeming to be Christians," but see the note on his Epistle to the Trallians 2:13.
8. And as they believe, so will it
happen to them when they are divested of the body and become mere
9. But I know that even after his resurrection he was in the flesh, and I believe that he is still so.
10. And when he came to those who were with Peter, he said to them, Take, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit. And straightway they felt and believed, being convinced both by his flesh and spirit.
See Luke 24:39.
11. For this cause they despised death and were found to be above it.
It is almost impossible for us to appreciate the absolute certitude of those first disciples who saw, touched, talked and ate with Christ after the resurrection. It is worth meditating on, for it explains so much. Consider the following:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen [it], and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship [is] with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:1-3)
St. John is believed to have been the youngest Apostle and also "the beloved disciple" of Christ (John 13:23; 21:7, 20); on the cross Jesus entrusted his mother, the Virgin Mary, to him; he witnessed the Roman soldier pierce Christ's side and saw blood and water come out (John 19:34, 35); he was "the other disciple" who, being the younger, outran Peter to see the empty tomb (John 20:2-8); he was present at the first and third time (at least) Christ appeared after the Resurrection (John 20:19-31; 21:7-14) and saw his Ascension (Mark 16:19 and Luke 24:51).
John was a "pillar" of the church in Jerusalem, and later moved to Ephesus for the rest of his ministry. During the reign of the tyrannical Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96), he was exiled to the nearby island of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation about A.D. 95. Upon the emperor's death he returned to Ephesus to resume his episcopacy and to write his Gospel about A.D. 96. The last remaining of the Twelve Apostles, John was nearly a hundred when he died about A.D. 96-100.
It was this last of the Twelve Apostles who ordained Polycarp bishop of Smyrna, and Ignatius wrote this epistle within a decade after his death.
12. But after his resurrection, since he was flesh, he ate and drank with them, although as to his spirit he was united to the Father.
Luke 24:42,43 says the risen Christ ate "a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb" with his disciples. See also John 21:13.
1. He exhorts them against heretics. 8. The danger of their doctrine.
1. I call these things to your
attention, beloved, not questioning but that you yourselves also
believe that they are so.
2. But I arm you beforehand against certain beasts in the shape of men, whom you must not only not receive, but, if it be possible, must not even meet with.
Compare with: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." (Romans 16:17); "Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds... from such withdraw thyself." (1 Timothy 6:5); "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
See also note at verse 9.
3. Only you must pray for them so that
if it be the will of God they may repent, which yet will be very
hard. But of this our Lord Jesus Christ has the power, who is our
4. For if all these things were done only in show by our Lord, then I also only seem to be bound.
See his Epistle to the Trallians 2:13, where he makes the same point.
5. And why have I given up myself to
death, to the fire, to the sword, to wild beasts?
6. But now the nearer I am to the sword, the nearer I am to God. When I shall come among the wild beasts, I shall come to God.
7. Only in the name of Jesus Christ I undergo all to suffer together with him, who was made a perfect man, strengthening me.
8. Whom some not knowing deny, or rather have been denied by him because they are the advocates of death rather than of the truth. Whom neither the prophecies, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel itself even to this day, nor the sufferings of every one of us have persuaded.
Compare with: "...If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16:31)
9. For they think also the same things of us. For what does a man profit me, if he praises me, and blasphemes my Lord by not confessing that he was truly made man?
Compare with: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come int he flesh is not of God: and this is that [spirit] of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." (1 John 4:1-3); "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.... Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." (2 John 7, 9-11)
10. Now he that does not confess this,
in effect denies him and is in death. But since those who do this
are unbelievers, I thought it not fitting to write their names to
11. Yes, God forbid that I should make any mention of them, till they will repent to a true belief of Christ's passion, which is our resurrection.
12. Let no man deceive himself: both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels and princes, whether visible or invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, they will be condemned.
Compare with: "But though we, or an
angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that
which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Galatians
13. He that is able to receive this, let him receive it. Let no man's place or state in the world puff him up, for nothing is to be preferred to faith and charity.
Compare with: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity." (1 Corinthians 13:13)
14. But consider those who are of a
different opinion from us, how contrary they are to the design of
God as to what concerns the grace of Jesus Christ that is come to
15. They have no regard to charity, no care of the widow, the fatherless, the oppressed, the bond or free, or of the hungry or thirsty.
16. They abstain from the Eucharist, and from the public prayers, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered for our sins, and whom the Father of his goodness raised again from the dead.
17. And for this cause contradicting the gift of God, they die in their disputes; but much better would it be for them to receive it, that they might one day rise through it.
18. It will therefore be right for you to abstain from such persons and not to speak with them, neither in private nor in public.
19. But to pay attention to the prophets, and especially to the Gospel, in which both Christ's passion is manifested to us, and his resurrection perfectly declared.
20. But flee all divisions as the beginning of evils.
Compare with: "Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds.... But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." (1 Timothy 6:5,11)
1. He exhorts them to follow their bishop and pastors, but especially their bishop. 6. He thanks them for their kindness, 11. and acquaints them with the ceasing of the persecution at Antioch.
1. See that you all follow your bishop
as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as the
Apostles. And reverence the deacons as the command of God.
2. Let no man do anything of which belongs to the church separately from the bishop.
3. Let that Eucharist be looked upon as well established, which is either offered by the bishop, or by him to whom the bishop has given his consent.
4. Wherever the bishop will appear, there let the congregation also be; as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic church.
There was no other church; the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church did not occur until 1054, or the Protestant movement until 1537.
5. It is not lawful without the bishop,
neither to baptize, nor to celebrate the Holy Communion; but
whatever he will approve of, that is also pleasing to God; that
so whatever is done may be sure and done well.
6. For what remains, it is very reasonable that we should repent while there is yet time to return to God.
7. It is a good thing to have a due regard both to God and to the bishop, for he that honors the bishop will be honored of God. But he that does anything without his knowledge, ministers to the devil.
8. Let all things therefore abound to you in charity, seeing that you are worthy.
9. You have refreshed me in all things, and so Jesus Christ will refresh you. You have loved me both when I was present with you, and now being absent, you cease not to do so.
10. May God be your reward, for while you undergo all things, you will attain to him.
11. You have done well in that you have received Philo, and Rheus Agathopus, who followed me for the word of God, as the deacons of Christ our God.
12. Who also gave thanks to the Lord for you because you have refreshed them in all ways. Nor will anything that you have done be lost to you.
13. My soul be for yours, and my bonds which you have not despised nor been ashamed of. For that reason neither will Jesus Christ, our perfect faith, be ashamed of you.
14. Your prayer is come to the church of Antioch in Syria. From where being sent bound with chains that flatter God, I salute the churches. I am not worthy to be called from there, for I am the least among them.
By "not worthy to be called," he means to have been called as the bishop of the church at Antioch.
15. Nevertheless by the will of God I
have been thought worthy of this honor, not that I think I have
deserved it, but by the grace of God.
16. Which I wish may be perfectly given to me, that through your prayers I may attain to God.
17. And therefore that your work may be fully accomplished both upon earth and in heaven, it will be fitting for the honor of God that your church appoint some worthy delegate to come as far as Syria, so he may rejoice together with them that they are in peace and restored to their former size and greatness.
This and "your prayer is come to the church of Antioch" (verse 14) refers to the news he had just received that persecution had ended at Antioch. Now it can regain members and thus be "restored to their former size and greatness."
18. So I should think it a worthy action
to send someone from you with an epistle to congratulate them on
their peace in God, for through your prayers they have now gotten
to their harbor.
19. For to the extent you are perfect yourselves, you ought to think those things that are perfect. For when you desire to do well, God is ready to help you do it.
20. The love of the brethren who are at Troas salute you; from where I write to you by Barrhus whom you sent with me, together with the Ephesians your brethren, and who has in all things refreshed me.
21. And I request God that all would imitate him as a pattern of the ministry of God. May his grace fully reward him.
22. I salute your very worthy bishop, and your venerable presbytery, and your deacons, my fellow-servants, and all of you in general, and every one in particular, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in his flesh and blood, in his passion and resurrection both bodily and spiritually, and in the unity of God with you.
The "worthy bishop" at Smyrna was Polycarp.
23. Grace be with you, and mercy, and
peace, and patience, forevermore.
24. I salute the families of my brethren, with their wives and children, and the virgins that are called widows. Be strong in the power of the Holy Spirit. Philo, who is present with me, salutes you.
The "virgins" were the deaconesses, a rather honorary designation to the devout widows who served the poor in that office.
25. I salute the house of Tavias and
pray that it may be strengthened in faith and charity, both in
body and spirit.
26. I salute Alce my well-beloved, together with the incomparable Daphnus, and Entechnus, and all by name.
27. Farewell in the grace of God.
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