This letter is taken from THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS, Volume I, and updated to modern language. The original translation is about 120 years old and is in university-style English.
We’ll begin with the introduction by Ignatius, and then there’s 21 chapters to cover. The chapters are only a paragraph long each, so this letter is not much longer than Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There’s just more chapters.
Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the church which is at Ephesus in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fullness of God the Father and predestined before the ages to always be for a lasting and unchangeable glory; united and chosen in true suffering by the will of the Father and Jesus Christ, our God:
Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ and his undefiled grace.
Theophorus means "God-bearer." Obviously, Ignatius was respected as a man of God to receive a name like this from the church.
Apparently, name changes were still in vogue in Ignatius’ time. We know that in Scripture Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul, and Barnabas was once Joseph.
Some of those name changes were probably Jewish believers adopting Greek names, although even then the names meant something. Paul, for example, means "small." The chances are good that this name was chosen on purpose, perhaps to keep Paul humble.
Scripture gives us the meaning of Peter and Barnabas. The former is "rock" and the latter "son of comfort." We are certain that Peter (originally, the Hebrew Cephas) was given with the meaning in mind because Matthew 18 says so. The chances are good we can safely assume the same with Barnabas.
The Repentance of the Ephesians
Surely, after Rev. 2:4 tells us that the Ephesians had lost their first love and the next verse tells us that Jesus was considering removing their candlestick—their light as a church—we must wonder what became of the Ephesian church.
It is not only Ignatius who tells us. 70 years later Irenaeus uses the church at Ephesus as an example of the apostolic faith (Against Heresies III:3:4), and 30 years after that Tertullian does the same (Prescription Against Heretics 36).
Ignatius tells us they are deservedly most happy. I think we can be confident that the testimony of tradition is that Ephesus repented at the letter of Christ.
Shouldn’t that be what we assume, anyway?
I’ve been told before that the rebukes to churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are evidence that the early church fell away. This is used as an excuse to ignore the writings of the apostolic churches when they tell us modern Christians that something we believe is false.
But why would we believe Jesus wrote a letter to no purpose?
Sure, it’s possible those churches ignored a letter from Jesus Christ himself, but it seems unlikely. If the pagan Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, should we expect that a church like Ephesus—which rejected false apostles, suffered, had patience, and labored without growing tired—repented at the direct admonishment of the Lord Jesus himself?
Now we have evidence. Three witnesses tell us that Ephesus was a shining example of the apostolic faith for the next hundred years after they received a letter from the Lord Jesus.
This introduction by Ignatius touches on a couple modern doctrines.
One is Calvinism, the doctrine of predestination, that we are predestined to be saved or condemned. The other is the Trinity, for Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as "our God."
On the first, we should note that Ignatius tells us that the Ephesian church was predestined before the ages to always be for an enduring and unchanging glory. It does not say that individual Ephesians were predestined to be saved or unsaved.
This is an important fact to remember when reading Romans 9 through 11, the definitive text on predestination in the New Testament.
In that passage of Scripture, Paul does mention God choosing Jacob over Esau and choosing Pharaoh as an instrument of wrath. However, the subject of Romans 9-11 is the rejection of Israel and the choosing of the Gentiles, not the choosing of individuals to be saved or lost.
Also, as a side note, the reference to loving Jacob and hating Esau in that passage is from Malachi chapter one. There, the "Jacob" and "Esau" being referenced are their descendants, the nations of Israel and Edom, not the individuals.
God tells us directly in several places that he wants all men to be saved, not just some. If he elects some and does not elect others, it is not unconditional. If it were unconditional, then all would be saved because that is the will of God (e.g., 2 Pet. 3:9).
This reference by Ignatius is one of many that references predestination and election, yet the early Christians writings universally reject the idea that God might will that anyone be lost.
For example …
There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil way of life, because you are a free man; nor from seeking and finding out who is the Lord of all; nor from serving him with all your heart. For with him there is no reluctance to give the knowledge of himself to those that seek it, according to the measure of their capacity to know him. (Melito of Sardis, Discourse in the Presence of Antoninus Caesar, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. VIII, A.D. 170)
That is just one example; there are many.
The reference by Ignatius to Jesus Christ as our God is both unusual and not unusual. It is not unusual because there are many references in both the New Testament and in the early church fathers to Jesus as God. It is unusual because there are almost no references in either to Jesus Christ as God when the Father is also mentioned.
In fact, in the New Testament, if the Father and Jesus are mentioned together, Jesus is not called God even once. (Please feel free to let me know if there’s a reference I missed.)
The reason for this is given by Tertullian around A.D. 200. He is sometimes called the father of the Trinity by historians because he is the first early Christian to actually use the term. He has a couple works addressing the Trinity. They are orthodox in the sense that they agree with everything written prior to the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), to the creed given at Nicea, and to the Apostles Creed, which is the Nicene Creed with a couple additions.
Tertullian writes …
I shall follow the apostle [Paul], so that if the Father and the Son are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father "God" and invoke Jesus Christ as "Lord."
But when Christ alone [is invoked], I shall be able to call him "God." As the same apostle says, "Of whom is Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever" [Rom. 9:5].
For I should give the name of "sun" even to a sunbeam, considered by itself. But if I were mentioning the sun from which the ray emanates, I would certainly withdraw the name of sun from the mere beam. For although I do not make two suns, still I shall reckon both the sun and its ray to be as much two things—and two forms of one undivided substance—as God and his Word, as the Father and the Son. (Against Praxeas 13).
We find that the Nicene Creed (or Apostles Creed) agrees with Tertullian. In that creed, considered the standard of orthodoxy by most Christians, we read …
We believe in one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God
That part of the creed is practically a direct quote of 1 Corinthian 8:6.
The fact is, Tertullian is correct. It’s simply true that when the Father and Jesus are mentioned together, in virtually every case except this introduction by Ignatius and one other, also by Ignatius, the Father is called God and the Son is called Lord.
You can find a thorough description of the early Christian (and apostolic) view of the Trinity on video in the Trinity section of Christian History for Everyman. Following all the links there will give you nearly an hour’s reading, rife with references and quotes, on exactly how the apostles explained the relationship between the Father and the Son.
But here’s the short version.
Before the beginning, there was just God, with his Word inside him. There were not multiple persons of God, there was just one.
My heart has emitted a good Word.
That Logos, or Word, as we like to translate it in English, was the Son.
The reason the Council of Nicea anathametized anyone who said "there was a time when the Son did not exist" is because, according to apostolic doctrine, the Son always existed, though in eternity past, before the ages and the initial creation of the heavens and the earth, his existence was inside of God, not separate.
Tertullian writes …
Before all things God was alone. … He was alone because there was nothing external to him but himself. Yet even then he was not alone, for he had with him that which he possessed in himself—his Reason [ed. note: Tertullian expressly says he is translating Logos when he uses Reason to refer to the Son]. … Although God had not yet sent his Word, he still had him within himself. (Against Praxeas 5)
The Son, then, is called God because he has the right to be called God, being fully and completely divine. However, since he is the Word of God, come out of God, when they are mentioned together, the Father is called God, and the Son is referred to as Lord.
I mentioned in the last post, which was actually just a few hours ago, that we could talk about a thousand things from Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. I hope you can tell from what we’ve discussed in the introduction that this is only barely an exaggeration.
In fact, I am simply quitting now. I have not run out of things to talk about. It’s hard not to chase every rabbit trail. For example, in mentioning that Peter means rock, above, it is hard not to talk about the false but common Protestant teaching that Peter is Petros or pebble, while the rock upon which the church is built is Petra or boulder.
When the event recorded in Matthew 16:18 happened, Jesus was speaking Aramaic (the form of Hebrew spoken in Israel in the first century), and he was calling Peter Cephas, not Petros or Petra. It was not until Matthew (or a translator) wrote his Gospel in Greek that we read that Jesus called Simon Petros.
In Aramaic, both terms are the same. Jesus calls Peter Cephas, and upon Cephas he builds his church. But in Greek, Matthew couldn’t translate to Petra, the word for boulder. Petra is female. He had to use Petros, the male form.
Greek isn’t English, and you can’t simply use a female form of a name when speaking of a man. Their language emphasizes gender, and even inanimate objects have gender in Greek. So do abstract concepts. For example, kingdom in Greek is feminine; spirit is neuter; law is male.
So Matthew was not distinguishing Peter from the rock upon which the church is built in Matthew 16:18. Everyone who mentions that passage for centuries afterward, including the Greek-speaking 2nd and 3rd century Christians, understood that Jesus was saying that Peter was the rock upon which the church was built. So distinguishing Petros and Petra is simply a mistake made by English speakers who don’t understand gender because our language doesn’t use it.
Yet this doesn’t mean that Peter was a pope because …
Oops, there I go again. This post is almost 2000 words now, and it will be 2000 words before I get this conclusion done, I’m sure.
I hope I’ll see you tomorrow for chapter one …