Bavinck on Extrabiblical Terminology

This is an excellent passage in volume two of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, p. 296-97:

True, the use of extrabiblical terms was condemned by the Arians as well as by the representatives of many schools of thought in later times, such as the Socinians, the Anabaptists, the Remonstrants, the [so-called] biblical theologians, and others.  Christian theology, however, always defended it as proper and valuable.  Scripture, after all, has not been given us simply, parrotlike, to repeat it, but to process it in our own minds and to reproduce it in our own words.

Jesus and the apostles used it in that way.  They not only quoted Scripture verbatim but also by a process of reasoning drew inferences from it.  Scripture is neither a book of statutes nor a dogmatic textbook but the foundational source of theology.  As the Word of God, not only its exact words but also the inferences legitimately drawn from it have binding authority.

Furthermore, reflection on the truth of Scripture and the theological activity related to it is in no way possible without the use of extrabiblical terminology.  Not only are such extrabiblical terms and expressions used in the doctrine of the Trinity but also in connection with every other dogma and throughout the entire discipline of theology.  Involved in the use of these terms, therefore, is the Christian’s right of independent reflection and theology’s right to exist.

Finally, the use of these terms is not designed to make possible the introduction of new – extrabiblical or antibiblical – dogmas but, on the contrary, to defend the truth of Scripture against all heresy.  Their function is much more negative than positive.  They mark the boundary lines within which Christian thought must proceed in order to preserve the truth of revelation.  Under the guise of being scriptural, biblical theology has always strayed farther away from Scripture, while ecclesiastical orthodoxy, with its extrabiblical terminology, has been consistently vindicated as scriptural.

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Charles Hodge on 2 Corinthians 3:6

Hodge, Charles.  An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d., 56-58 (Language modernized by N.M. where necessary).

For the letter (i.e., the law) kills, but the spirit (i.e., the gospel) gives life.  This is the reason why God has made Paul the minister of the Spirit.  “God had made us able minsters not of the law but of the gospel, for the law kills, but the gospel gives life.”  This passage and the following context present two important questions.  First, “In what sense does the law kill?”  And second, “How is it that the apostle attributes to the Mosaic system this purely legal character, when he elsewhere so plainly teaches that the gospel was witnessed or taught both in the law and the prophets?”

As to the former of these questions, the answer furnished by the Scriptures is plain.  The law demands perfect obedience.  It says, “Do this and live” (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), and “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10).  As no man renders this perfect obedience, the law condemns him.  It pronounces on him the sentence of death.  This is one way in which it kills.  In the second place, it produces the knowledge or consciousness of sin, and of course of guilt, that is, of just exposure to the wrath of God.  Thus again it slays.  And thirdly, by presenting the perfect standard of duty, which cannot be seen without awakening the sense of obligation to be conformed to it, while it imparts no disposition or power to obey, it exasperates the soul and thus again it brings forth fruit unto death.  All these effects of the law are systematically presented by the apostle in Romans 6 & 7, and Galatians 3.

The second question is more difficult.  Every reader of the New Testament must be struck with the fact that the apostle often speaks of the Mosaic law as he does of the moral law considered as a covenant of works; this is, presenting the promise of life on the condition of perfect obedience.  He represents it saying, “Do this and live;” as requiring works, and not faith, as the condition of acceptance (Rom. 10:5-10; Gal. 3:10-12).  He calls it a ministration of death and condemnation.  He denies that it can give life (Gal. 3:21).  He tells those who are of the law (that is, Judaizers) that they had fallen from grace; that is, had renounced the gratuitous method of salvation, and that Christ should profit them nothing (Gal. 5:2, 4).  In short, when he uses the word law, and says that by the law is the knowledge of sin, that it can only condemn, that by its works no flesh can be justified, he includes the Mosaic law; and in the epistle to the Galatians all these things are said with special reference to the law of Moses.

On the other hand, however, he teaches that the plan of salvation has been the same from the beginning; that Christ was the propitiation for the sins committed under the old covenant; that men were saved then as now by faith in Christ; that this mode of salvation was revealed to Abraham and understood by him, and taught by Moses and the prophets.  This view is presented repeatedly in Paul’s epistles, and is argued out in due form in Rom. 3:21-31; Rom. 4; & Gal. 3.

To reconcile these apparently conflicting representations it must be remembered that the Mosaic economy was designed to accomplish different objects, and is therefore presented in Scripture under different aspects.  What, therefore, is true of it under one aspect, is not true under another.

1. The law of Moses was, in the first place, a re-enactment of the covenant of works.  A covenant is simply a promise suspended upon a condition.  The covenant of works, therefore, is nothing more than the promise of life suspended on the condition of perfect obedience.  The phrase is used as a concise and convenient expression of the eternal principles of justice on which God deals with rational creatures, and which underlie all dispensations, the Adamic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Christian.  Our Lord said to the lawyer who asked what he should do to inherit eternal life, “‘What is written in the law?  What do you read?’  And he, answering, said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’  And he said unto him, ‘You have answered rightly, do this and you shall live'” (Luke 10:26-28).  This is the covenant of works.  It is an immutable principle that where there is no sin there is no condemnation, and where there is sin there is death.  This is all that those who reject the gospel have to fall back upon.  It is this principle which is rendered so prominent in the Mosaic economy as to give it is character of law.  Viewed under this aspect is is the ministration of condemnation and death.

2. The Mosaic economy was also a national covenant; that is, it presented national promises on the condition of national obedience.  Under this aspect also it was purely legal.

3. But, as the gospel contains a renewed revelation of the law, so the law of Moses contained a revelation of the gospel.  It presented in its priesthood and sacrifices, as types of the office and work of Christ, the gratuitous method of salvation through a Redeemer.  This necessarily supposes that faith and not works was the condition of salvation.  It was those who trusted, not those free from sin, who were saved.  Thus Moses wrote of Christ (John 5:46); and thus the law and the prophets witnessed of a righteousness of faith (Rom. 3:21).  When therefore the apostle spoke of the old covenant under its legal aspect, and especially when speaking to those who rejected the gospel and clung to the law of Moses as law, then he says, it kills, or is the ministration of condemnation.  But when viewing it, and especially when speaking of those who viewed it as setting forth the great doctrine of redemption through the blood of Christ, the represented it as teaching his own doctrine.

The law, in every form, moral or Mosaic, natural or revealed, kills.  In demanding works as the condition of salvation, it must condemn all sinners.  But the gospel, whether as revealed in the promise to Adam after his fall, or in the promise to Abraham, or in the writings of Moses, or in its full clearness in the New Testament, gives life.  As the old covenant revealed both the law and the gospel, it either killed or gave life, according to the light in which it was viewed.  And therefore Paul sometimes says it does the one, and sometimes the other.

But the spirit gives life.  The spirit, or the gospel, gives life in a sense correlating to that in which the letter (i.e., the law) kills.

1. By revealing a righteousness adequate to our justification, and thus delivering us from the sentence of death.

2. By producing the assurance of God’s love and the hope of his glory in the place of a dread of his wrath.

3. By becoming, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, an inward principle or power transforming us into the image of God; instead of a mere outward command.

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John Owen was a Funny Guy Sometimes

The following is John Owen’s summary of the Socinian John Biddle’s views in the form of a catechism, as found in Vindiciae Evangelicae (Oxford, 1655). I have modernized the English (especially the spelling) where necessary. In this, Owen demonstrates the absurdity of Biddle’s views. I found it rather humorous in a few places.


To close this whole discourse, I shall present John Biddle’s catechumens with a shorter catechism than either of his, collected out of their master’s questions, with some few inferences naturally flowing from them; and it is as follows.


1.Q. What is God?

A. God is a spirit that has a body, shape, eyes, ears, hands, and feet like us.


2.Q. Where is this God?

A. In a certain place in heaven, upon a throne, where a man may see from his right hand to his left.


3.Q. Does he ever move out of that place?

A. I cannot tell what he ordinarily does, but he has formerly come down sometimes upon the earth.


4.Q. What does he do there in that place?

A. Among other things, he conjectures at what men will do here below.


5.Q. Does he then not know what we do?

A. He does know what we have done, but not what we will do.


6.Q. What frame is he in, upon his knowledge and conjecture?

A. Sometimes he is afraid, sometimes grieved, sometimes joyful, and sometimes troubled.


7.Q. What peace and comfort can I have in committing myself to his providence, if he does not know what will befall me tomorrow?

A. What is that to me? You can see to that yourself.


8.Q. Is Jesus Christ God?

A. He is dignified with the title of God, but he is not God?


9.Q. Why then was he called the only begotten Son of God?

A. Because he was born of the Virgin Mary.


10.Q. Was he Christ the Lord then when he was born?

A. No, he became the Lord afterwards.


11.Q. Does he still have in Heaven a human body?

A. No, but he is made a spirit, so that being not God but man, he was made a God, and being made a God, he is a spirit, and not a man.


12.Q. What is the Holy Ghost?

A. A principal angel.


13.Q. Did death enter by sin, or was mortality actually caused by sin?

A. No.


14.Q. Why is Christ called a Savior?

A. Because at the resurrection he will change our vile bodies.


15.Q. On what other account?

A. None that I know of.


16.Q. How then shall I be saved from sin and wrath?

A. Keep the commandments, that you may have a right to eternal life.


17.Q. Was Christ the eternal Son of God in his bosom, revealing his mind from there, or was he taken up into heaven, and there taught the truths of God, as Mohammed pretended?

A. He ascended into heaven, and talked with God, before he came and showed himself to the world.


18.Q. What did Christ do as a prophet?

A. He gave a new law.


19.Q. What did he do in it?

A. He corrected the Law of Moses.


20.Q. Who was it that said of old, “you will love your neighbor and hate your enemy”?

A. God, in the Law of Moses, which Christ corrects.


21.Q. Is Christ to be worshiped because he is God?

A. No, but because he redeemed us.


22.Q. May one that is a mere creature be worshiped with divine or religious worship?

A. Yes.


23.Q. How can Christ, being a mere man, and now so far removed from the earth, understand and hear all the prayers and desires of the hearts of men, that are put up to him all the world over?

A. I cannot tell, for God himself does not know that there are such actions, as our free actions are, but upon inquiry.


24.Q. Did Christ give himself for an offering and sacrifice to God in his death?

A. No, for he was not then a priest.


25.Q. Did Christ by his death make reconciliation for our sins, the sins of his people, and bear their iniquities that they might have peace with God?

A. No, but only died that they might turn themselves to God.


26.Q. Did he so undergo the curse of the law and was so made sin for us? Were our iniquities so laid on him, that he made satisfaction to God for our sins?

A. No, there is no such thing in the Scripture.


27.Q. Did he merit or procure eternal life for us by his obedience and suffering?

A. No, this is a fiction of the generality of Christians.


28.Q. Did he redeem us properly with the price of his blood, that we should be saved from wrath, death, and hell?

A. No, there is no such use or fruit of his death and the shedding of his blood.


29.Q. If he neither suffered in our stead, nor underwent the curse of the law for us, nor satisfied justice by making reconciliation for our sins, nor redeemed us by the price of his blood, what did he do for us? On what account is he our Savior?

A. He taught us the way to heaven, and died to leave us an example.


30.Q. How then did he save them, or was he their Savior, who died before his teaching and dying?

A. He did not save them, nor was their Savior, nor did they ask anything in his name, or received anything on his account.


31.Q. Did Christ raise himself according to how he spoke of the temple of his body, “destroy this temple and on the third day I will raise it again”?

A. No, he did not raise himself at all.


32.Q. Has God from eternity loved some even before they did any good, and elected them to life and salvation to be obtained by Jesus Christ?

A. No, but he loved all alike.


33.Q. Did God in the sending of Christ aim at the salvation of a certain number of his elect?

A. No, but he aimed at the salvation of men in general, whether any are ever saved or not.


34.Q. Are all those saved for whom Christ died?

A. The least part of them are saved.


35.Q. Is faith worked in us by the Spirit of God, or are we converted by the efficacy of his grace?

A. No, but of our selves we believe and are converted, and then we are made partakers of the Spirit and his grace.


36.Q. Are all true believers preserved by the power of God unto salvation?

A. No, many of them fall away and perish.


37.Q. Is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us for our justification?

A. No, but our own faith and works.


38.Q. Are we to receive or apprehend Christ and his righteousness by faith, that we may be justified through him?

A. No, but believe on him that raised him from the dead, and without that, it suffices.


39.Q. Are we able to keep all God’s commandments?

A. Yes.


40.Q. Perhaps in our sincere endeavors? But can we do it absolutely and perfectly?

A. Yes, we can keep them perfectly.


41.Q. What need then is there for a man to apprehend Christ’s righteousness and apply it to himself by faith.

A. None at all, for there is no such thing required.


42.Q. What shall become of wicked men after the resurrection?

A. They shall be so consumed, body and soul, as not at all to remain in torments.


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The Love of Money and the Sin of Valens in Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians


In the summer of 115 AD, Polycarp, one of the πρεσβύτεροι of the church in Smyrna, met Ignatius, an ἐπίσκοπος from Antioch who was passing through Smyrna in the custody of Roman soldiers.[1] After spending some time corresponding with nearby churches, Ignatius left Smyrna, continuing on toward Rome and toward martyrdom. A couple months later, Polycarp received a letter from his friends at the church in Philippi, where Ignatius had recently passed through.[2] Polycarp wrote a letter in response, a letter that continues to provoke study to this day, nineteen centuries later.

Some of the questions that are still asked about Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians[3] are these: What were the purposes of Pol. Phil.? What is the relationship between the discussion of righteousness, the sin of Valens (one of the πρεσβύτεροι in Philippi), and the purpose of Pol. Phil.?[4] What was the sin of Valens?[5]

Most of the recent secondary literature on Pol. Phil. is by Kenneth Berding,[6] Paul A. Hartog,[7] and Michael W. Holmes.[8] Berding and Hartog have both written books on Pol. Phil. recently, and Holmes is currently writing a commentary on Pol. Phil.[9] Allen Brent[10] and Clayton N. Jefford[11] have written articles recently that deal with Pol. Phil. The two most recent articles that discuss Pol. Phil. and deal with Valens’ sin specifically are by Harry O. Maier and Peter Oakes.[12] These two articles both introduced new ideas about Valens’ sin that were formerly absent in the secondary literature on Pol. Phil.
In this paper, I will argue that the set of questions raised above can best be answered with this thesis: The sin of Valens was likely a denial of the faith in order to avoid economic persecution. This conclusion is not certain, but it is a reasonable conclusion that is worth seriously considering in one’s reading and interpretation of Pol. Phil.
To explain this thesis, I will first examine the historical setting of Philippi and note the significance of Ignatius’ arrival in town. Next will follow an idea regarding the social status of Valens. From these I will attempt to present an historical reconstruction of the events that happened between when Ignatius left Smyrna and when Polycarp received a letter from the Philippian church.

To defend this thesis, I will compare my proposed answers to the set of questions above to the answers found in the secondary literature. I will also show that this thesis is supported by other early Christian literature and that this thesis gives additional clarity and unity to Pol. Phil.


Philippi was a Macedonian town with a strong Roman character. The Roman empire first settled veterans in Philippi between 42 and 30 BC. They were given land, and they and their descendants became the ruling class, administrators, and magistrates in Philippi.[13] As a Roman colony, Philippi enjoyed certain legal privileges that set it apart from other nearby cities in Greece, Macedonia, and Asia Minor.[14] The most important religion in Philippi was the Imperial cult.[15] “Given the town’s history, the citizens would have taken great pride in their citizenship.”[16]

The population of Philippi in the first century has been estimated to be between 9,000 and 15,000.[17] “At the time of Paul’s visit,” in the middle of the first century, “the population of the colony would have included a relatively privileged core of Roman veterans and their descendants; Greeks descended from the inhabitants of the earlier Hellenistic cities and from other Greek settlements in the area; Greeks involved in commerce who had migrated from Asia Minor; and native Thracians.”[18] Philippi was a primarily agricultural town.[19] Many of the Roman landowners would live in the town itself while they paid others to live and work on their farms around the town.[20]

Ignatius’ journey through Philippi was different than his journey through Asia Minor. Philippi was much smaller than the cities in Asia Minor.[21] Philippi’s strong Roman character was also unlike the previous cities. The journey through Philippi likely had a significant negative impact on the popular opinion of Christians, especially among Philippians who were proud of their Roman citizenship and devoted to the Imperial cult. Oakes is the first scholar to point out that Ignatius’ journey through a small town with a strong Roman character likely drew “negative attention” to the Philippian Christians and likely resulted in economic persecution.[22] Ignatius’ visit would give the citizens of Philippi a reason to look down on Christianity as an anti-Roman religion.

Maier raises another idea about the historical context. He argues that in the early second century, “wealthy members of the community were candidates for church leadership.”[23] Maier’s reasons are worth quoting at length:

“Because of the willingness of householders to welcome Christian travellers, to welcome the local community of faith into their homes, and their ability to manage their households well, apostles and teachers like Paul found in their well-to-do hosts not only a source for the financial patronage necessary for the continuation of the church, but also a pool of leaders well-qualified to provide a secure venue for meetings and to lead the community in their absence.”[24]


If Maier’s argument here is true, what does this say about Valens’ social status?[25] In addition, Valens is a Roman name, not a Greek name.[26] It cannot be said for certain, but it’s an intriguing possibility to consider that Valens may have been a wealthy descendant of the Roman veterans who settled Philippi and one who was associated with or part of the Roman elite in the town. The church at Philippi may have met at his house. He may have contributed to the support of poor members of the Philippian church.

With the preceding information, I would propose this historical context for Pol. Phil. On August 24, 115 AD, Ignatius left Smyrna. He arrived in Philippi on September 2.[27] Members of the Philippian church met with Ignatius. The citizens of Philippi had previously been viewing the Christians as odd and socially different, but they weren’t concerned about it as long as they were good citizens. After, however, seeing their joyous association with and great respect for an anti-Roman prisoner who had been sentenced to death, public opinion of Christians in Philippi took a nose dive, especially among the Roman elite. Ignatius left Philippi, accompanied by a few members of the Philippian church for the next ten days. Before they parted, Ignatius dictated a second letter to Polycarp.[28] The members of the Philippian church returned to Philippi on September 23.

In the weeks following Ignatius’ visit, Valens received serious social pressure to stop associating with the Christians.[29] Valens and his wife gave in to the pressure and denied the faith in order to preserve their wealth and social status. Other Christians in Philippi also faced economic consequences during these weeks. Some would have been merchants, just like Lydia, the first Philippian Christian.[30] It was not economically profitable to be identified as a Christian in the Philippian marketplace. Some were facing the same temptation as Valens, to deny Christ in order to stay in business. Others may have feared that worse persecution was on the horizon.

This is the situation that the church in Philippi was facing when it wrote to Polycarp. Since Ignatius passed through town, Christians in Philippi were suffering economically. The Philippian church wrote to Polycarp, informing him of this situation and asking him for advice: “What does righteousness look like in our situation?” Polycarp received this letter in early October, and then wrote Pol. Phil. addressing this situation.


Hartog and others have said that the Philippians wrote to Polycarp asking for advice on what to do with Valens.[31] Berding points out that Pol. Phil. is not clear about whether they mentioned Valens in their letter.[32] Holmes suggests that Polycarp may have heard about Valens’ sin from the letter carrier.[33] Berding and Holmes make more sense here. Pol. Phil. isn’t telling them what to do with Valens, it’s teaching them how to live righteously in the face of economic persecution.

Likewise, scholars present a variety of views regarding the relationship between Valens’s sin and the purpose of Pol. Phil. Berding and others hold that Valens’ sin is not related to the main purpose of Pol. Phil.[34] Holmes leaves the connection as a possibility.[35] Maier argues that Valens’ sin caused social chaos among the Christian community in Philippi, so the purpose of Pol. Phil. is to urge all to conform to a pattern of purity in order to maintain peace and order.[36] Hartog sees a strong connection between Valens’ sin and the purpose of Pol. Phil., though he argues that Polycarp is concerned more with the response of the Philippian community than Valens’ sin itself.[37] None of these views interact with the possibility that the purpose of Pol. Phil. was to encourage the Philippian church to endure economic persecution and Valens was an example of one who did not endure.

In his discussion of Valens’ sin, Polycarp wrote, “I warn you, therefore: avoid love of money.”[38] Consequently, most scholars have seen some kind of connection between Valens’ sin and the warnings throughout Pol. Phil. to avoid the love of money.[39] Berding and others see it as a lesson to the Philippians to learn to avoid the love of money through Valens’ bad example.[40] Charles E. Hill suggests that is because Polycarp’s own church in Smyrna was dealing with greed.[41] Hartog argues that Polycarp is repeating his admonition to avoid the love of money, not because he thinks it’s a sin that the other Philippian Christians are in danger of falling into, but because he wants to demonstrate to the angry Philippians that he takes Valens’ sin seriously.[42] Roman Garrison suggests that Polycarp wrote against the love of money because almsgiving was necessary “for the redemption of post-baptismal sin.”[43]

Another major theme throughout Polycarp’s epistle is that of endurance.[44] Hartog is the only scholar that has written about the importance of this theme. His view is that the Philippian church was suffering financially because Valens stole from them, and they need to endure by continuing to give to the poor.[45] With both this theme and the theme of the love of money, there is little secondary literature that addresses the possible connection between these themes in Pol. Phil. and a situation in Philippi involving economic persecution.

When it comes to identifying Valens’ sin specifically, some scholars simply say he sinned.[46] Berding, Holmes, and others take the most common view, saying that it is some kind of sin involving money without being any more specific.[47] Hartog and others argue that the most likely explanation is that Valens stole from the church funds.[48] Another explanation that has been proposed is that Valens’ sin involved not giving to the poor.[49]

James Donaldson argued that the most likely explanation was that Valens was guilty of adultery, and his wife had told lies to protect the character of her husband.[50] Peter Meinhold suggested that Valens sinned by accepting a monetary gift from the heretic Marcion.[51] Neither Donaldson’s nor Meinhold’s explanations have found any contemporary supporters.

Maier considers several possible explanations of Valens’ sin. He “has succumbed to avarice.”[52] It may have been his own money or the church’s money that he sinned with.[53] He may not have been caring for the church’s poor.[54] He concludes that Valens’ sin “is best interpreted by placing it in a social setting in which well-to-do presbyters continue to enjoy and secure prosperity by retaining socio-economic links within pagan society. On this view, Polycarp’s reference to Valens’ avarice is that the presbyter has strayed too close to the world.”[55] Berding considers Maier’s explanation to be a legitimate possibility, though Hartog rejects it.[56]

There is one scholar who presented a different view of Valens’ sin. After showing that Ignatius’ journey through Philippi would have likely resulted in economic persecution for Philippian Christians, Oakes briefly mentions Valens’ sin and remarks, “One possibility about Valens is that he had compromised his Christianity to escape economic suffering.”[57]

For most of the possible explanations given for the sin of Valens in the secondary literature, a common assumption is that a sin committed because of the love of money was likely a sin committed with money. This is not necessarily so. Polycarp himself wrote that “the love of money is the beginning of all troubles,”[58] echoing the Pauline teaching that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.”[59] We can see this by briefly surveying other references in early Christian literature to sins caused by the love of money. One kind of evil caused by the love of money is stealing from the church funds, in the example of Judas.[60] Another is teachers asking for money selfishly.[61] Another is unwillingness to give to the poor, in the example of the rich young ruler.[62] Another is taking advantage of the poor.[63] Finally, there is the evil of apostasy in the face of persecution. Demas left Paul because he was “in love with this present world.”[64] This phrase is also echoed in Pol. Phil.[65] A few decades after Valens sinned, certain rich Christians were described this way: “These are the ones who have faith, but also have the riches of this world. Whenever persecution comes, they deny their Lord because of their riches and their business affairs.”[66] This is likely an apt description of the sin of Valens and his wife.

There are some features of Pol. Phil that fit well with a setting where the Philippian church is facing economic persecution after Ignatius’ visit. The first thing Polycarp wrote is that he rejoiced with them because they welcomed Ignatius.[67] The themes of love of money and endurance throughout Pol. Phil. fit this context.[68] Polycarp described the endurance of Christ, Ignatius, Paul, and other martyrs who endured persecution, and he said they were examples to be imitated by the Philippian Christians.[69] Those three chapters immediately precede the mention of the sin of Valens.[70] Polycarp wrote that the Philippians should pray for those who persecute and hate them.[71] At the end of Pol. Phil., Polycarp wrote that the Philippians “will be able to receive great benefit” from Ignatius’ epistles, “for they deal with faith and patient endurance.”[72] Pol. Phil. deals with both Ignatius’ journey through Philippi and Valens’ sin. By seeing the two events as related to each other, Pol. Phil. gains a certain unity throughout. This is absent in every other explanation that regards Ignatius’ journey and Valens’ sin as merely coincidental, with both happening around the same time and being addressed in the same letter.[73]


Based on the historical setting of Philippi, the significance of Ignatius’ arrival, and the social status of Valens, a possible context for Pol. Phil. can be proposed in which the church in Philippi is facing economic persecution. Valens likely denied the faith in order to avoid persecution, and others in the church were tempted to do the same. This explanation of the sin of Valens and the setting for Pol. Phil. is at least as reasonable as any of the other explanations that have been proposed. It fits well with other early Christian writings and consistently makes sense of Pol. Phil. Therefore, this interpretation of Valens’ sin is worth seriously considering when interpreting Polycarp’s epistle.




Bakirtzis, Charalambos and Helmut Koester, eds. Philippi at the Time of Paul and after His Death. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 1998.


Barclay, William. Letters to the Seven Churches. Nashville: Abingdon, 1957.


Barnard, L.W. “The Problem of St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians.” In Studies in the Apostolic Fathers and Their Background, 31–39. New York: Schocken, 1966.


Berding, Kenneth. “John or Paul? Who Was Polycarp’s Mentor?” Tyndale Bulletin 59, no. 1 (2008): 135–143.


———. Polycarp and Paul: An Analysis of Their Literary and Theological Relationship in Light of Polycarp’s Use of Biblical and Extra-Biblical Literature. Leiden: Brill, 2002.


———. “Polycarp’s Use of 1 Clement: An Assumption Reconsidered.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 19, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 127–139.


Brent, Allen. “Ignatius and Polycarp: The Transformation of New Testament Traditions in the Context of Mystery Cults.” In Trajectories Through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, 325–349. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Cardman, Francine. “Rethinking Early Christian Ethics.” In Studia Patristica. Vol. 40. Edited by F. Young, M. Edwards, and P. Parvis, 183–189. Leuven: Peters, 2006.


de Vos, Craig Steven. Church and Community Conflicts: The Relationships of the Thessalonian, Corinthian, and PhilippianChurches with Their Wider Civic Communities. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999.


Di Berardino, Angelo., ed. Encyclopedia of the Early Church. 2 Volumes. Translated by Adrian Walford. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.


Donaldson, James. A Critical History of Christian Literature and Doctrine from the Death of the Apostles to the Nicene Council. Vol. 1: The Apostolical Fathers. London: Macmillan, 1864.


Döpp, Siegmar and Wilhelm Geerlings., eds. Dictionary of Early Christian Literature. Translated by Matthew O’Connell. New York: Crossroad, 2000.


Drobner, Hubertus R. The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction. Translated by Siegfried S. Schatzmann. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.


Ehrman, Bart D., ed. The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.


———. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.


———. The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.


Farrar, Frederic W. Lives of the Fathers: Sketches of Church History in Biography. Vol. 1. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1907.


Ferguson, Everett, ed. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland, 1990.


Foster, Paul, ed. The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers. London: T&T Clark, 2007.


Freedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 Volumes. New York: Doubleday, 1992.


Garrison, Roman. “The Love of Money in Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians.” In The Graeco-Roman Context of Early Christian Literature, 74–79. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.


González, Justo L. Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money. San Francisco: Harper, 1990.


Gregory, Andrew F. and Christopher M. Tuckett, eds. The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.


———, eds. Trajectories Through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Hartog, Paul A. “The Opponents of Polycarp, Philippians, and 1 John.” In Trajectories Through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, 375–391. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


———. Polycarp and the New Testament: The Occasion, Rhetoric, Theme, and Unity of the Epistle to the Philippians and its Allusions to New Testament Literature. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002.


Hill, Charles E. “The Epistula Apostolorum: An Asian Tract from the Time of Polycarp.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 7, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 1–53.


———. From the Lost Teaching of Polycarp: Identifying Irenaeus’ Apostolic Presbyter and the Author of Ad Diognetum. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006.


Holmes, Michael W., ed. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.


———. “A Note on the Text of Polycarp Philippians 11.3.” Vigiliae Christianae 51, no. 2 (May 1997): 207–210.


———. “Polycarp of Smyrna, Epistle to the Philippians.” In The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Paul Foster, 108–125. London: T&T Clark, 2007.


———. “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians.” The Expository Times 118, no. 2 (2006): 53–63.


———. “Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians and the Writings that Later Formed the New Testament.” In The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, 187–227. New York: Oxford Univ., 2005.


———. Review of Polycarp and Paul: An Analysis of Their Literary and Theological Relationship in Light of Polycarp’s Use of Biblical and Extra-Biblical Literature, by Kenneth Berding. Journal of Early Christian Studies 12, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 121–123.


Jefford, Clayton N. “Household Codes and Conflict in the Early Church.” In Studia Patristica. Vol. 31. Edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, 121–127. Leuven: Peeters, 1997.


———. Reading the Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.


Koukouli-Chrysantaki, Chaido. “Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis.” In Philippi at the Time of Paul and after His Death, edited by Charalambos Bakirtzis and Helmut Koester, 5–35. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 1998.


Lawson, John. A Theological and Historical Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers. New York: Macmillan, 1961.


Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. The Apostolic Fathers. Part 2, Vol. 1. London: Macmillan, 1889.


Maier, Harry O. “Purity and Danger in Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians: The Sin of Valens in Social Perspective.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 1, no. 3 (Fall 1993): 229–247.


———. The Social Setting of the Ministry as Reflected in the Writings of Hermas, Clement, and Ignatius. Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University Press, 1991.


Moreschini, Claudio, and Enrico Norelli. Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History. Vol. 1. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.


Oakes, Peter. “Leadership and Suffering in the Letters of Polycarp and Paul to the Philippians.” In Trajectories Through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, 353–373. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Quasten, Johannes. Patrology. Vol. 1. The Beginnings of Patristic Literature. Utrecht: Spectrum, 1950.


Richardson, Cyril C., ed. Early Christian Fathers. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1953.


Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson, eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 1. The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994.


Schoedel, William R. “Polycarp’s Witness to Ignatius of Antioch.” Vigiliae Christianae 41, no. 1 (March 1987): 1–10.


Streeter, Burnett Hillman. The PrimitiveChurch: Studied with Special Reference to the Origins of the ChristianMinistry. New York: Macmillan, 1929.


Weidmann, Frederick W. Polycarp and John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to the Literary Traditions. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999.


Winslow, David F. “Poverty and Riches: An Embarrassment for the Early Church.” In Studia Patristica. Vol. 18, bk. 2. Edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, 317–328. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercia, 1989.


Witherington, Ben, III. Friendship and Finances in Philippi: The Letter of Paul to the Philippians. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1994.



[1]. Scholars place the date of this meeting in the years 108–117 AD. I have used the year 115 in order to coincide with the earthquake in Antioch during Trajan’s visit. For the discussion of the dating of Ignatius’ journey, see Paul A. Hartog, Polycarp and the New Testament: The Occasion, Rhetoric, Theme, and Unity of the Epistle to the Philippians and its Allusions to New Testament Literature (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 58–60. I have also chosen to refer to Polycarp as a presbyter and Ignatius as a bishop based on the terms they use for church leadership in their respective epistles.

[2]. For Polycarp’s prior relationship with the church at Philippi, see Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 78–81.

[3]. In this paper, I have abbreviated Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians as Pol. Phil. in accordance with the standards of the SBL.

[4]. “In the letter, Polycarp addresses the Philippians’ request for a discussion of ‘righteousness’ (3.1–10.3) and the problem of Valens, an avaricious presbyter (11.1–4). A major interpretive question is the relationship (or lack thereof) between these two main issues and the extensive exhortation.” Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 2007), 274. See also Michael W. Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians,” The Expository Times 118, no. 2 (2006): 56.

[5]. Some earlier scholarship has considered the warning against heresy in 7.1 to be a major purpose of Pol. Phil. A discussion of all the relevant literature on that warning would be outside the scope of this paper; rather, I will be focusing here on the sin of Valens.

[6]. Kenneth Berding, Polycarp and Paul: An Analysis of Their Literary and Theological Relationship in Light of Polycarp’s Use of Biblical and Extra-Biblical Literature (Leiden: Brill, 2002); Kenneth Berding, “John or Paul? Who Was Polycarp’s Mentor?” Tyndale Bulletin 59, no. 1 (2008): 135–143; Kenneth Berding, “Polycarp’s Use of 1 Clement: An Assumption Reconsidered,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 19, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 127–139.

[7]. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT; Paul A. Hartog, “The Opponents of Polycarp, Philippians, and 1 John,” in Trajectories Through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, ed. by Andrew F. Gregory & Christopher M. Tuckett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 375–391.

[8]. Michael W. Holmes, “A Note on the Text of Polycarp Philippians 11.3,” Vigiliae Christianae 51, no. 2 (May 1997): 207–210; Michael W. Holmes, “Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians and the Writings that Later Formed the New Testament,” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, ed. by Andrew F. Gregory & Christopher M. Tuckett (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 187–227; Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians,” 53–63; Michael W. Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Epistle to the Philippians,” in The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, ed. by Paul Foster (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 108–125; Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 272–279.

[9]. Foster, Writings, xii.

[10]. Allen Brent, “Ignatius and Polycarp: The Transformation of New Testament Traditions in the Context of Mystery Cults,” in Trajectories, by Gregory & Tuckett, 325–349.

[11]. Clayton N. Jefford, “Household Codes and Conflict in the Early Church,” in Studia Patristica, Vol. 31, ed. by Elizabeth A. Livingstone (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 121–127.

[12]. Harry O. Maier, “Purity and Danger in Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians: The Sin of Valens in Social Perspective,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 1, no. 3 (Fall 1993): 229–247; Peter Oakes, “Leadership and Suffering in the Letters of Polycarp and Paul to the Philippians,” in Trajectories, by Gregory & Tuckett, 353–373.

[13]. Chaido Koukouli-Chrysantaki, “Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis,” in Philippi at the Time of Paul and after His Death, ed. by Charalambos Bakirtzis & Helmut Koester (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 1998), 23.

[14]. “[Octavian] rebuilt Philippi as a military outpost, populated it with Roman soldiers, made it a colony, and even gave it the ius italicum, that is, the legal character of a Roman territory in Italy which was the very highest honor ever bestowed on a provincial city. In practical terms this means that there would be no poll or land taxes in Philippi, and colonists could purchase, own, or transfer property plus engage in civil law suits.” Ben Witherington, III, Friendship and Finances in Philippi: The Letter of Paul to the Philippians (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1994), 21.

[15]. Craig Steven de Vos, Church and Community Conflicts: The Relationships of the Thessalonian, Corinthian, and PhilippianChurches with Their Wider Civic Communities (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 249.

[16]. Ibid., 251.

[17]. Ibid., 239. De Vos gives a population estimate of 9,000–11,500. Oakes gives a population estimate of 10,000–15,000 in “Leadership and Suffering,” 355.

[18]. David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 5:315.

[19]. Oakes, “Leadership and Suffering,” 355.

[20]. De Vos, Church and Community Conflicts, 240. The preceding paragraph is a description of Philippi in the middle of the first century. There was no indication in the literature on Philippi that there would have been any significant difference in its population and demographics between Paul’s day (50–60 AD) and Polycarp’s day (115 AD).

[21]. Ibid., 87. De Vos gives first century population estimates of 75,000 for Smyrna and 200,000 for Ephesus.

[22]. Oakes, “Leadership and Suffering,” 365–366.

[23]. Harry O. Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry as Reflected in the Writings of Hermas, Clement, and Ignatius (Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University Press, 1991), 147. In this book, Maier argues that Polycarp was wealthy based on the statements in the account of his martyrdom regarding houses and slaves (Mart. Pol. 5.1–7.1).

[24]. Maier, “Purity and Danger,” 233.

[25]. “Given the fact that Valens was a presbyter of a community established by Paul, and that evidence from Pauline communities roughly contemporary with Polycarp’s letter indicates that the pattern initiated by Paul probably continued into the second century, it is reasonable to argue that a similar leadership arrangement was in place at Philippi when Polycarp wrote his letter.” Ibid., 237.

[26]. Oakes, “Leadership and Suffering,” 355. “Valens was a common name in Philippi.” Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 86. Of the five names associated with the church in Philippi in the New Testament, four (Lydia, Epaphroditus, Euodia, and Syntyche) are Greek names. “Of those cited in [Paul’s] letter, only Clement (4:3) has a Roman name. We know nothing about him except that he has some sort of leadership role in the church.” De Vos, Church and Community Conflicts, 255.

[27]. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 155.

[28]. “Phil 1 does not state how far members of the Philippian assembly escorted the Ignatian entourage. We do know that the Ephesian churches sent Burrhus, who accompanied Ignatius as far as Troas (150 miles). Burrhus most likely acted as Ignatius’ amanuensis and letter carrier. Similarly, a few Philippian members may have accompanied Ignatius along the Egnatian Way even as far as Dyrrhacium (370 miles), though about half that distance may seem more reasonable. Perhaps along the way or at the end of their accompaniment, Ignatius may have dictated another letter to Polycarp, asking him to carry a Philippian congratulatory note to Antioch (implied in Phil 13).” Ibid., 116.

[29]. I would imagine it was along these lines: “You know, Valens, we like you. You’re a good guy. We have a lot of respect for your grandfather and what he did for the emperor. But would he have ever associated with people like the Christians? They’re clearly un-Roman, and we know you’re better than that. You’re a loyal citizen, aren’t you? Anyway, we’ve been talking with several other members of the council, and if you want to keep your position in this town, your association with the Christians needs to end.”

[30]. Acts 16:14.

[31]. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 86. For others, see Angelo Di Berardino, ed., Encyclopedia of the Early Church, tr. by Adrian Walford (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 2:701; Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 451–452; Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 340; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:391; Cyril C. Richardson, ed., Early Christian Fathers (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1953), 122–123; Burnett Hillman Streeter, The Primitive Church: Studied with Special Reference to the Origins of the Christian Ministry (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 284; Frederick W. Weidmann, Polycarp and John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to the Literary Traditions (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 4.

[32]. Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 24. See also Siegmar Döpp and Wilhelm Geerlings, eds., Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, tr. by Matthew O’Connell (New York: Crossroad, 2000), 494.

[33]. “They may have raised the matter of Valens (an avaricious presbyter) on their own initiative as well (alternatively, however, it is possible that Polycarp learned of this matter via the letter carrier). Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians,” 56.

[34]. Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 25–26; Clayton N. Jefford, Reading the Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 78. “P.N. Harrison exemplifies a traditional approach which generally (a) sees no connection between the two issues, and (b) thinks that the problem of ‘heresy’ (which Harrison argued was sparked by Marcion) is the major problem.” Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians,” 56.

[35]. Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians,” 56. See also Döpp and Geerlings, Dictionary, 494.

[36]. Maier, “Purity and Danger,” 246. It is unfortunate that Maier follows up his intriguing suggestion about the social status of Valens with post-modern concepts of “social space” (246) and “self-definition” (247), concepts that are certainly foreign to the second century thinking of Polycarp and the recipients of his letter.

[37]. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 87, 137.

[38]. Pol. Phil. 11.1.

[39]. For uses of φιλαργυρία, see Pol. Phil. 2.2, 4.1, 4.3, 5.2, 6.1.

[40]. Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 26. For others, see Ehrman, NT: Historical Introduction, 451–452; Frederic W. Farrar, Lives of the Fathers: Sketches of Church History in Biography (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1907), 1:87; Jefford, Reading the Apostolic Fathers, 80.

[41]. Charles E. Hill, “The Epistula Apostolorum: An Asian Tract from the Time of Polycarp,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 7, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 31.

[42]. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 139.

[43]. Roman Garrison, “The Love of Money in Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians,” in The Graeco-Roman Context of Early Christian Literature (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 79.

[44]. For uses of ὑπομονή, see Pol. Phil. 8.2, 9.1, 12.2, 13.2; for uses of ὑπομένω, see Pol. Phil. 1.2, 8.1.

[45]. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 143.

[46]. Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York: Garland, 1990), 742; John Lawson, A Theological and Historical Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 164.

[47]. Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 25, 181; Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 274. For others, see L.W. Barnard, “The Problem of St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians,” in Studies in the Apostolic Fathers and Their Background (New York: Schocken, 1966), 34; Di Berardino, Encyclopedia of the Early Church, 2:701; Farrar, Lives of the Fathers, 1:87; Hill, “Epistula Apostolorum,” 31; Jefford, Reading the Apostolic Fathers, 80; Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli, Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature: A Literary History, tr. by Matthew J. O’Connell (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 1:110; Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, 122–123.

[48]. “Perhaps this section is evidence that Valens stole from the common church funds.” Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 143. “Lightfoot, Glimm, and Koester maintain that it involved stealing from the church’s common fund.” Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 86–87. For others, see Bart D. Ehrman, ed., The Apostolic Fathers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 1:325; Ehrman, NT: Historical Introduction, 451–452; Ehrman, NT: A Reader, 340; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:391; and Garrison, “Love of Money,” 79.

[49]. “Harrison, Bauer, and Paulsen argue that the greed entailed Valens’ hoarding of his own wealth.” Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 86.

[50]. James Donaldson, A Critical History of Christian Literature and Doctrine from the Death of the Apostles to the Nicene Council (London: Macmillan, 1864), 1:185–186. Hartog points out the difficulty of this explanation and how it doesn’t work with the theme of avoiding the love of money throughout Pol. Phil. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 86.

[51]. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 107; Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians,” 56. This explanation is dependent on the two-letter hypothesis, the view that Phil was originally two separate letters, the first sent shortly after Ignatius left Philippi and the second sent around 20 years later. Hartog and Holmes both reject the two-letter hypothesis. Hartog devotes chapter 10 of his work to arguing for the unity of the epistle. Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 148–169. Holmes argues for the unity of the epistle. Holmes, “Polycarp of Smyrna, Letter to the Philippians,” 60–62. Berding accepts the two-letter hypothesis, but he dates the second letter within a couple years of the first letter, not decades later. Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 15–17. Barnard popularized the two-letter hypothesis with an earlier dating for the second letter. Barnard, “Problem,” 31–39. When Holmes reviewed Berding’s book, he spoke negatively of “Berding’s uncritical acceptance of Harrison’s two-letter hypothesis, whose foundation is nothing more than a set of psychologizing assumptions.” Michael W. Holmes, review of Polycarp and Paul: An Analysis of Their Literary and Theological Relationship in Light of Polycarp’s Use of Biblical and Extra-Biblical Literature, by Kenneth Berding, Journal of Early Christian Studies 12, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 121.

[52]. Maier, “Purity and Danger,” 229.

[53]. Ibid., 237.

[54]. Ibid.

[55]. Ibid., 238.

[56]. “It should be noted that this scenario makes adequate sense of the text (as a sub-theme), but so do other scenarios such as a situation where Valens pilfered the community purse.” Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 26. For Hartog’s discussion of Maier’s view, see Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 106–107.

[57]. Oakes, “Leadership and Suffering,” 369.

[58]. Pol. Phil. 4.1.

[59]. 1 Tim. 6:10. Berding, Hartog, and Holmes all agree that Polycarp is here echoing the language of 1 Tim. 6:10 intentionally. Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 67; Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 179; Holmes, “Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians,” 215–216.

[60]. John 12:6.

[61]. Did. 11.6, 11.12.

[62]. Matt. 19:16–30; Mark 10:17–31; Luke 18:18–30.

[63]. James 5:4–5.

[64]. 2 Tim. 4:10.

[65]. Pol. Phil. 9.2. Berding, Hartog, and Holmes all agree that Polycarp is here echoing the language of 2 Tim. 4:10 intentionally, though it is not as strong as the 1 Tim. 6:10 reference. Berding, Polycarp & Paul, 100; Hartog, Polycarp & the NT, 179; Holmes, “Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians,” 217–218.

[66]. Herm. 14.5. Herm. originated in Rome. The ways in which Philippi was modeled after the city of Rome could lead one to think that the kinds of economic persecution in one would be similar to the kinds of economic persecution in the other.

[67]. Pol. Phil. 1.1. Garrison views this as Polycarp commending the Philippian Christians for their hospitality rather than Polycarp commending the Philippians for receiving Ignatius and consequently receiving economic persecution as a consequence. Garrison, “Love of Money,” 76–77.

[68]. See notes 39 and 44 above.

[69]. Pol. Phil. 8.1–10.3. The naming of Paul in 9.1 is noteworthy because of an early church tradition that Paul’s final imprisonment and martyrdom was in Philippi, not Rome. See Charalambos and Koester, Philippi, and the geographic references in 2 Tim. 4.

[70]. Pol. Phil. 11.1–4.

[71]. Pol. Phil. 12.3.

[72]. Pol. Phil. 13.2.

[73]. As is evident in this paragraph, my thesis is dependent on the unity of Pol. Phil. and a rejection of the two-letter hypothesis.

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How The Battle Is Won

stone wall

After the dreadful fighting of the battle of Second Manassas, an aide observed to Jackson that the Confederates “have won this battle by the hardest kind of fighting.” Jackson, who had worked during the battle like a whirlwind, would not hear of it: “No, no, we have won it by the blessing of Almighty God.””

Mark A. Noll. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Kindle Locations 1134-1136). Kindle Edition.

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Boyd, Oh Boyd

It’s been a while since I’ve picked up the pen, but here’s a brief article in response to Greg Boyd:

Boyd says that just because we believe Jesus is Lord of our life doesn’t make him Lord. We don’t make Jesus Lord of our lives, Jesus is already Lord. There is no making Jesus anything. The only difference is that some confess Him as Lord and others do not, but confessing in the affirmative doesn’t grant Him the crown, that crown is self-appointed.

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Pietism: A New Monasticism

How much good it would do if good friends would come together on a Sunday and instead of getting out glasses, cards, or dice would take up a book and read from it for the edification of all or would review something from sermons that were heard!  If they would speak with one another about the divine mysteries, and the one who received most from God would try to instruct his weaker brethren! . . . If this should happen, how much evil would be held in abeyance, and how the blessed Sunday would be sanctified for the great edification and marked benefit of all!  It is certain, in any case, that we preachers cannot instruct the people from our pulpits as much as is needful unless other persons in the congregation, who by God’s grace have a superior knowledge of Christianity, take pains, by virtue of their universal Christian priesthood, to work with and under us to correct and reform as much in their neighbors as they are able according to the measure of their gifts and their simplicity.

Throughout church history, preachers have called ordinary believers to extraordinary levels of spirituality.  In late seventeenth century Germany, Philip Jacob Spener, pastor of the Lutheran church in Frankfurt, exhorted believers to gather together in small groups, read the Scriptures, and teach each other.  Though well-intentioned, this attempt to call ordinary believers to extraordinary levels of spirituality had the negative consequence of creating a type of two-tier Christianity.  As this type of pastoral exhortation has been repeated in different ways at different times throughout church history, the Protestant confessions included certain statements to safeguard against getting carried away by the negative side effects of pietism.

It is fascinating to observe some of the parallels between Spener’s pietistic proposals and similar statements made by John Chrysostom.  There are similarities and differences in their historical contexts, but there is an uncanny resemblance between the two.

In the late fourth century, Antioch was one of the largest and most important cities in the Roman Empire, excepting Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome itself.[1]  Antioch had a Christian presence since the apostolic era, and it had become predominantly Christian by the middle of the fourth century.[2]  Following the Council of Constantinople in 381, catholic orthodoxy had finally emerged victorious over the Arians.  Here, in 391, John Chrysostom preached the following to his congregation in Antioch:

“For which of you when in his house takes some Christian book in hand, and goes over its contents, and searches the Scriptures?  None can say that he does so, but with most we shall find draughts and dice, but books nowhere, except among a few.  And even these few have the same dispositions as the many; for they tie up their books, and keep them always put away in cases, and all their care is fore the fineness of the parchments, and the beauty of the letters, not for reading them… The Scriptures were not given us for this only, that we might have them in books, but that we might engrave them on our hearts.”[3]

Chrysostom exhorted his congregation to read the Scriptures instead of playing games with dice, similarly to what Spener would say thirteen centuries later in Germany.

The similarities continue as one examines Spener’s classic work on the subject, Pia Desideria.[4]  Spener lamented the current state of the church, how it is on the one hand orthodox, yet on the other hand lacks vitality, with church members being involved in drunkenness and lawsuits.[5]  Chrysostom likewise described a similar situation in his day, where the church is orthodox, yet the typical church members are not as fully committed to living as Christians as he would like.  In his case, it is rather the frequenting of the theater that he saw as the socially acceptable sin for Christians in Antioch.  Spener looked at the example of the early church in Jerusalem’s community of goods as an example of Christian love to be emulated.[6]  This, again, was a theme that was predominant throughout Chrysostom’s preaching, with him likewise using the early church in Jerusalem as an example to be imitated.  Spener looked forward to a conversion of the Jews based on his interpretation of Romans 11.[7]  When Chrysostom preached through Romans, he presented a similar interpretation of Romans 11.[8]  Spener taught that the holy lives of believers will be a means for unbelievers’ conversion.[9]  Chrysostom also taught that the holy lives of believers will be a means for unbelievers’ conversion.[10]  Further areas of similarity could be produced in regards to Spener’s recommendations regarding the priority of practice over knowledge and the conduct of religious controversies.

Not all was identical between Spener’s and Chrysostom’s setting and preaching, though.  In Chrysostom’s day, he exhorted members of his congregation to acquire and read copies of the Bible themselves, an exhortation that would be unexpected in the fourth century were it not that many citizens in Antioch were “comfortably off and quite educated,”[11] and therefore able to do what Chrysostom urged.  In Spener’s day, it was taken for granted that everybody in the congregation owned a Bible and could read it, so he specifically encouraged members to get together with other believers to discuss what they read.  When it came to the reformation of schools, Spener’s and Chrysostom’s recommendations differed greatly due to the large difference in form in which education took in the different times.  Chrysostom also commonly extolled the virtues of a life of virginity, something that isn’t mentioned in Pia Desideria.

The benefit of seeing the similarities between Spener’s recommendations in seventeenth century Frankfurt and Chrysostom’s preaching in fourth century Antioch is that one can recognize in what sense both are examples of a theme that is common throughout church history, while at the same time recognizing the individual qualities of each occurrence in its own historical setting.  In that light, seventeenth century German pietism shows a remarkable affinity with fourth century Antiochene monasticism.  Chrysostom spent six years as a monk in the mountains outside of Antioch before he was ever a deacon, priest, or bishop, and he “remained a monk at heart (what, after all, was a monk but a Christian striving to live out the gospel to the full?).”[12]  In his life, Chrysostom remained a monk in the city, and in his preaching he called his congregation to be fully committed to living the Christian life, as it was then exemplified in monasticism.  While Spener wasn’t recommending that people become monks, he was also calling on people to be fully committed to living the Christian life rather than to settle for simply being an orthodox member of the church.

The benefit of Spener’s recommendation is clear and readily apparent.  His first recommendation, a more extensive use of the Word of God, is in fact beneficial for the members and the church as a whole, just as following Chrysostom’s exhortations was beneficial for his congregants.  Members of the congregation are able to profit more from sermons when they’re more familiar with the texts that are being preached.

The disadvantage of Spener’s recommendation, though, is not so readily apparent.  The main problem with pietism, as expected, is the same as the main problem with monasticism.  It creates a two-tier kind of Christianity, where most Christians are on the “lower level,” but there are certain Christians who are on the “higher level,” those who are the real spiritual Christians, the ones fully committed to living the Christian life.  “Lower level” Christians are constantly exhorted to become one of the “higher level” Christians, and everyone knows that the “higher level” Christians are better and more valuable, even when they don’t outright say so.

Monasticism presented Christendom with a millennium of this kind of two-tier Christianity, and it was rightly rejected by the reformers in the sixteenth century.  Monasticism also didn’t take centuries to develop into a two-tier kind of Christianity.  In Chrysostom’s day, monasticism was still a relatively recent phenomenon, but he already speaks of the single life as being more honorable than the married life.  Similarly, pietism didn’t take long to develop into a two-tier kind of Christianity.  Within a few years, a collegia pietatis in one church refused communion because they saw the other members of the church as unworthy.  In fact, problems of this kind caused Spener to spend his later years trying to correct these problems in his later writings.

The Protestant evaluation of a two-tier kind of Christianity can be seen in the Protestant confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  Whether addressing the medieval monasticism that preceded their writing, the pietism that arose later, or modern forms of two-tier Christianity, the Protestant confessions stand opposed to them in how they speak of Christians.

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith gives a number of safeguards against forms of two-tier Christianity in Chapters 13 to 16.[13]  First, in Chapter 13, it addresses the topic of sanctification.  All who are united to Christ and regenerated are being sanctified (13.1), yet sanctification is incomplete in this life (13.2).[14]  There is no category distinction between Christians who aren’t being sanctified and Christians who are, as if only the “higher level” Christians were becoming holy.  Whether a monk, a pietist, or a common Christian, every Christian is being sanctified.  Similarly, there is no category distinction between Christians who are partially sanctified and Christians who are fully sanctified, as if there were “higher level” Christians who have been fully sanctified.  When it comes to sanctification, Christianity does not admit a two-tier system.

Chapter 14 of the LBCF addresses saving faith.  “The grace of faith… is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthened (14.1).”[15]  The relevance of this statement is that forms of two-tier Christianity inevitably involve looking for growth in faith outside of the ordinary means of grace.  The practices of monasticism or the practices of pietism become the new means of grace, and the spiritual lives of Christians are evaluated by the presence or absence of means which were not “appointed of God.”

Chapter 15 of the LBCF addresses repentance, and its emphases are similar to the chapter on sanctification.  There is no one that doesn’t sin, and “the best of men may… fall into great sins” (15.2).[16]  Consequently, “repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives” (15.4).[17]  Again, this militates against any kind of two-tier Christianity.

Finally, Chapter 16 of the LBCF addresses good works.  This chapter warns against regarding any kind of extra-biblical work as a good work.  “Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word; and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intentions” (16.1).[18]  While the practices of monasticism or pietism may be helpful for some of those who practice them, they should not be regarded as good works unless there is Biblical warrant to do so, and if there is, then it’s a practice for all Christians, not just some of them.

How then, in conclusion, should Christians evaluate the common theme throughout church history of preachers calling ordinary Christians to extraordinary levels of spirituality?  Can Christians appropriate the benefits of what Spener called for without falling into a form of two-tier Christianity?  The key to doing so, as expressed in the confessions, is to always and explicitly recognize the difference between, on one hand, the God-ordained means of grace and what the Bible calls good works, and on the other hand, potentially helpful practices that Christians are at liberty to do or not to do.


Downey, Glanville.  A History of Antioch in Syria: From Seleucus to the Arab Conquest.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961.

Harris, William V.  Ancient Literacy.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Kelly, J.N.D.  Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom – Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Krupp, R.A.  Shepherding the Flock of God: The Pastoral Theology of John Chrysostom.  New York: Peter Lang, 1991.

Renihan, Mike, ed.  A Confession of Faith, 1677.  AKA: The Second London Baptist Confession & the “1689”.  Auburn, MA: Baptist & Reformed, 2000.

Schaff, Philip, ed.  The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.  First Series, Vol. 11, St. Chrysostom: Homilies on Acts and Romans.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

Schaff, Philip, ed.  The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.  First Series, Vol. 14, St. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John and the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994.

Spener, Philip Jacob.  Pia Desideria.  Translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002.

[1]. Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria: From Seleucus to the Arab Conquest, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 419.

[2]. Ibid., 382.

[3]. Homily 32 on John, in Philip Schaff, ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 14, St. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John and the Epistle to the Hebrews, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 114.  Similar exhortations are found in Homily 11 on John, in Schaff, NPNF, 1:14, 38, and Homily 53 on John, in Schaff, NPNF, 1:14, 193.  I am indebted to R.A. Krupp for bringing these passages to my attention in Shepherding the Flock of God: The Pastoral Theology of John Chrysostom, (New York: Peter Lang, 1991), 142-143, 149.

[4]. Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria, Translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002).

[5]. Ibid., 58-60.

[6]. Ibid., 60-62.

[7]. Ibid., 76.

[8]. Homily 19 on Romans, in Philip Schaff, ed., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 11, St. Chrysostom: Homilies on Acts and Romans, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 486-495.

[9]. Spener, Pia Desideria, 77.

[10]. Homily 6 on Romans, in Schaff, NPNF, 1:11, 374.

[11]. William V. Harris, Ancient Literacy, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 304.

[12]. J.N.D. Kelly, Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom – Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), 35.

[13]. See also Chapters 13 to 16 of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration of Faith for virtually identical statements earlier from the Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

[14]. Mike Renihan, ed., A Confession of Faith, 1677.  AKA: The Second London Baptist Confession & the “1689” (Auburn, MA: Baptist & Reformed, 2000), 44-45.

[15]. Ibid., 46-47.

[16]. Ibid., 49.

[17]. Ibid., 50.

[18]. Ibid., 51.

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Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola

“To Have the True Sentiment Which We Ought to Have in the Church Militant, Let the Following Rules be Observed.  Rule Thirteen: To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls.  Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.”

In the mid-sixteenth century, Europe was full of competing ideas regarding Christianity.  Many advocated reforms of varying kinds.  Some favored doctrinal and practical reforms, while others favored moral reforms.  A major component of the debates between the advocates of different kinds of reforms was the question of whether or not the Church could be trusted.  Could the Church’s claims of authority in spiritual matters be trusted?  Could it be trusted at all times?  Could it be trusted at all?  And how much?  Ignatius of Loyola claimed that the Church could be trusted unreservedly, and it should be trusted, even if one’s own senses say the opposite.  However, Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” is both impractical and antithetical to the teaching of the New Testament, and it was therefore rejected by the Protestants.

The beginning of the Protestant Reformation is traditionally dated to October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg.  There had been movements advocating reform in earlier generations, yet there were two characteristics of this movement that set it apart from its predecessors.

First, the Protestant Reformation resulted in the permanent separation of a number of branches of Christianity from each other.  The most recent division had been the separation of the Greek churches in the east from the Latin churches in the west in 1054.  The reform movements in the centuries preceding the sixteenth century hadn’t resulted in an institutional separation from the hierarchical Church.

Second, the Protestant Reformation was discussed among the laity extensively in the common tongue.  It was not merely an academic debate in Latin among scholars and clergy.  Luther wrote his 95 theses in Latin with the intent of debating them with other scholars, yet they were quickly translated into German and dispersed throughout the land.  Both Lutheran and Reformed Protestants used the printing press to propagate their particular views among the common people, and in many areas of Europe there were public disputations regarding doctrinal disagreements.

The third through fifth decades of the sixteenth century, then, were an environment where the laity, not just the clergy or scholars, were discussing the current theological controversies.  This environment is the historical context in which Ignatius of Loyola wrote his Spiritual Exercises.  Following his spiritual conversion in 1521, Ignatius first composed Spiritual Exercises from 1522 to 1524, and he finally published it in 1548.  Europe was already discussing Luther’s and others’ teaching before Ignatius began work on his book, and when it was finally published, the Council of Trent had not yet finished responding to Protestantism.

Many parts of the Spiritual Exercises repeat ideas and practices that had been present in earlier moral reform movements, encouraging a more in depth practice of medieval piety without addressing doctrinal matters.  In the section where Ignatius asserts that the Church should be trusted unreservedly, however, he is presenting a list of eighteen rules that are all about the doctrinal debates of his day.  For example, the second rule addresses auricular confession, the third the Mass, the fifth vows of poverty, the sixth veneration of relics and praying to saints, the seventh fasting and penance, and the eighth images and ornamentation in churches.  Later, the fourteenth through seventeenth rules in this list advocate caution when speaking about predestination, faith, and grace.[1]

One could characterize this list of rules as eighteen rules for how to remain loyal to the Roman Church in a place and time where everybody is talking about the issues raised by the Protestants.  In addition, Ignatius’ book was written for the laity, not the clergy alone, and it was these people who were reading and discussing Protestant literature.  Yet if the common people would follow these rules by speaking well of the distinctly Roman features of Christianity, trusting the hierarchical Church in all matters, and not speaking much about predestination, faith, and grace, then popular support for Protestantism could be eradicated.

The advantage to Ignatius’ rule is clear.  Whatever the matter of debate, there is an answer: simply go with what the hierarchical Church says.  If the hierarchical Church says that bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ, though it does not appear so to one’s own eyes, then one simply needs to believe what the hierarchical Church teaches.  For those whose faith could be shaken by a multiplicity of voices all claiming that theirs is the correct version of Christianity, they can have assurance that they are indeed following the correct version because they’re doing what the hierarchical Church says to do and believing what the hierarchical Church says to believe.  It isn’t necessary to read the Scriptures (in the original languages if possible), carefully understand the various positions and the arguments for and against the different positions, and then make a choice about who to follow, whether the Romanists, the Reformed, the Lutheran, or one of the Anabaptist groups.  Instead, one can simply believe that God will not allow his one true hierarchical Church to err and then always know where to look to get the right answer for any theological question.

The first problem with Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen,” though is that it is impractical.  While it sounds useful in theory, in reality it doesn’t work.  The first question is determining who speaks for the hierarchical Church.  Is it the Pope or the Ecumenical Councils?  What if there are more popes than one, as there were in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, for example?  The popes claimed to have authority over the councils, and the Councils of Pisa and Constance claimed to have authority over popes.  How does one follow Ignatius’ rule when there are multiple popes and councils, all claiming to be the highest authority in the hierarchical Church?

Similarly, the second question is the same as the first, yet not chronologically concurrent.  If one decides in favor of popes and there is only one person claiming to be pope at a time, what then if the first pope says it’s black, the next pope says it’s gray, and the next pope says it’s white?  Is the way to follow the hierarchical Church to follow whatever the current pope says, even if it disagrees with his predecessors?  This line of thinking would have led believers to uncritically accept Monothelitism if they happened to live during the reign of Pope Honorius I in the seventh century.  The hierarchical Church condemned Honorius and his heresy afterwards.  If one believes that the pope is kept from error when speaking on matters of faith and doctrine, what should then be believed when the current pope says that an earlier pope taught heresy?

The third question that shows the impracticality of Ignatius’ rule is the question of interpretation.  What do you do when there are competing interpretations of what the hierarchical Church teaches?  Protestants hold to the infallibility of Scripture, yet Protestants disagree among themselves when they hold to different interpretations of Scripture.  Likewise, those who follow Ignatius’ rule are holding to the infallibility of the hierarchical Church, yet they would also disagree among themselves when they hold to different interpretations of what the hierarchical Church says.

The second problem with Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” is that it is antithetical to Scripture.  Even if one were to suppose, for the sake of argument, that the hierarchical church always spoke with a single voice, never contradicted itself, and was never subject to differing interpretations, it still would remain a problem that Ignatius’ rule is not how Scripture teaches us to evaluate what teachers in the church say.

On the level of practical examples, one can consider how and why the apostle Paul taught that his teaching should be accepted.  Those in authority in the hierarchical Church have supposedly succeeded the apostles in the Church, so it would be incongruous for them to be more trustworthy than the apostles.  Yet Paul and the other apostles never taught that they should be believed simply because they speak for the Church.  Paul defended his arguments with Scripture, whether speaking to unbelievers in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2-3) or writing to believers in Rome (Romans 15:1-4).  The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were commended because they examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching was true.

Along with the confirmation of their teaching by Scripture, the apostles’ teaching should be believed because it’s eyewitness testimony and was confirmed by miracles (Acts 10:41; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-3).  This doesn’t correspond to Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen.”  The apostles’ teaching should be believed if it is supported by Scripture, involves eyewitness testimony, and is accompanied by supernatural signs.  Yet Ignatius says that the hierarchical Church should be believed unreservedly, even though it is not supported by Scripture, it doesn’t involve eyewitness testimony, and is not accompanied by supernatural signs.  In addition, Ignatius’ rule doesn’t take into account what the New Testament teaches about false teachers.  Almost every book in the New Testament speaks about false prophets or false teachers, all of whom are or were part of the visible church, and nowhere does the New Testament present the hierarchical Church’s decisions as the antidote to false teaching.

Concluding that Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” is impractical and antithetical to Scripture, when then did the Protestant Reformers propose instead?  How did they view the authority of the hierarchical Church?  “I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other,” is a line traditionally ascribed to Martin Luther’s speech at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  Whether he actually said this or not, it exemplifies the Protestant response.  The hierarchical Church cannot be trusted unreservedly because it contradicts itself.

The Protestant confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in opposition to Ignatius’ rule and in accordance with the teaching of the Scriptures, affirm that Scripture can be trusted, as “the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.”[2]  What is to be believed is determined by Scripture, not the hierarchical Church.  In fact, the teachings of the hierarchical Church are themselves to be judged by Scripture.  It is “the supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits are to be examined.”[3]

There came from the sixteenth century debates, then, two different irreconcilable views towards the relative authority of Scripture and the hierarchical Church.  Ignatius’ “Rule Thirteen” from his Spiritual Exercises chose the impractical and unscriptural view that the hierarchical Church should always be trusted.  The Protestants instead saw that unchanging Scripture needed to be viewed as the “absolute norm”[4] rather than the changing hierarchical Church, whose popes and councils have contradicted each other.









Ignatius of Loyola.  The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works.  Edited by George E. Ganss, S.J.  New York: Paulist, 1991.


Renihan, Mike, ed.  A Confession of Faith, 1677.  AKA: The Second London Baptist Confession & the “1689”.  Auburn, MA: Baptist & Reformed, 2000.


Waldron, Samuel E.  A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  3rd ed.  Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1999.


[1]. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, ed. by George E. Ganss, S.J. (New York: Paulist, 1991), 211-214.

[2]. Mike Renihan, ed., A Confession of Faith, 1677.  AKA: The Second London Baptist Confession & the “1689” (Auburn, MA: Baptist & Reformed, 2000), 1.  See also Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Chapter 1 of the Savoy Declaration of Faith for virtually identical statements earlier from the Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

[3]. Ibid., 9.

[4]. Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 3rd ed. (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1999), 42.

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A Short Exegesis of Revelation 5:1-5


by Felipe Diez III

            John’s remarkable vision in Ch.4 of the great apocalypse is before Him, with a scenario he paints as exceedingly bright, bombastic, and remarkable. A great door, a voice, twenty four thrones with 24 elders seated on them, lamps, a rainbow, gems, a sea of glass, torches, and four living creatures uttering praises are listed. The chapter ends with the twenty four elders worshipping the Lord along with the creatures. This 5 verse short essay will raise several questions while attempting to make some sense of the text, referencing a few verses from the Old Testament which at times makes sense of the New, and vice-versa. Here is the text:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Verse one presents a scroll in the hand of the Lord, “Him who was seated on the Throne.” There is writing “within” and “on the back.” Presumably, the reason for this kind of writing is that it resembles a Roman contract with an external summary and details on the inside. Some more official contracts are written in this manner and it is probably that the scroll given to Ezekiel (2:9-3:3) was of similar nature. His scroll might have been smaller, containing words on only one side of it. At any rate, the scroll in Revelation 5 is sealed with 7 seals (the number generally thought to be one of perfection in Ancient Near East and biblical symbolism). The “and” at the beginning of all 5 verses (kai” in Greek) in the Greek manuscripts is significant, for repetition is of great importance for John and in biblical writing in general, especially as it is culturally and linguistically a way for Jews and other Semitic people to express boldness or importance in writing. Both Greek and Hebrew contain very few exclamation symbols as we do in our English language. The ESV translation of the verses provided above omits 2 “ands” from the 5 total found in the manuscripts. Other English translations omit even more to, in the opinion of the translators, simplify the translation although I would argue that this is faulty translation methodology.

The great scroll may symbolize the fact that in Roman law, a document was to be sealed with 7 witnesses. Considerable debate has occurred concerning the contents of the seal. Whether it is the whole of human history, God’s covenant blessings and curses, or the rest of what was to be John’s rendition of the content of the book of Revelation is not indubitably clear.  The strong angel in verse 2 poses a great question, but it does not seem seriously inquisitive. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (ESV) is not so much a question as it is a statement. The Greek reading is “tis axion estin anoixai to biblion kai lusai tas sfragidas autou?” In my opinion, a better way to translate this to English is “Who is worthy to open the book and to loose its seals?” It seems closer, in my opinion, to the original Greek, or at least a better choice of words. A couple of translations render it “break its seals” since to many modern translators it seems more linguistically feasible to use “break” than “loose its seals,” but although “lusai” (luo as the stem) can at times mean “to break”, and even could in this instance, the term “to loose” seems to better convey the idea of taking a seal apart. So I argue that “breaking” is not the best word to use for “lusai” but this is not at all a major issue in the verse.

Back to the strong angel’s question in verse 2. The focus of the question is not so much focused on the book itself, or the seal, or the contents of the scroll, but of “axion estin” or “who is worthy?” The questioning angel is not implying that, like for example King Arthur’s sword in that legend, any strong creature may be able to open the biblical seal. In that mythical story, the challenge posted to anyone was that a person able to take out Excalibur from the rock was automatically worthy to be King. In the biblical story, the King is able to open the seal because He is worthy. To put it another way, the angel could have just as well said: “None of us is worthy to do this, so I will point you to the Only One Who Is.” The use of the word ischuron” (strong) was possibly meant even to convey that the angel was posing a challenge (I’d like to privately think not too unlike the Excalibur one) to the other creatures, maybe even the demons?John’s use of spatial language (heaven, earth, under the earth) captures the weakness and fallibility of creatures in comparison to the Creator who is both able and worthy to open the seal with no difficulty. But since no creature was found “axion” (worthy) to open up the book nor peer into its contents, John began to weep loudly.

Why did John weep in verse 4? Was it a lack of faith, or a sudden outburst of mood caused by the ecstatic meta-vision? Many commentators suggest that the contents of the Great Will are precisely God’s will for His people and the universe – the whole of God’s plan, and John, in anticipation of this, could not fathom why it was so difficult to open. Perhaps he greatly desired to know exactly what was in it, and wept in frustration that the challenge went unheeded. Matthew Henry states: “Those who have seen His glory desire to know His will.” I will add that those who know His will desire to see Him glorified. An elder approaches John in verse 5, who apparently was at peace with the state of affairs and comforts the grieved apostle. “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered.” (v.5a) these two names given to Jesus Christ are key to determining a great part of the key to understanding the situation. A cross reference of this passage is Genesis 49:8-12 where a blessing is given by Jacob to the tribe of Judah, the wellspring of David’s rule. 49:9a, “you are a lion’s cub, Judah,” may refer to the title “Lion” given to Jesus. This animal, being the “king of the beasts,” is adequate to relate Jesus to – just as adequate as “Lamb” referenced in verse 6. The lamb that was slaughtered for our sins in a weak and horrific state is now depicted as a triumphant Lion, completely glorified and worthy of all praise from all creatures in all areas of God’s creation.  “Enichesen” (conquers; has conquered) has to do with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins and His conquering of Satan, sin, and death, having perfectly obeyed the Father. His Person and Work make Him worthy of this great honor reserved only for Jesus. Now He can open the scroll and its seven seals” (5b). All of revelation up to this point has prepared John for the experience of finding out who it was that would have this honor, Him whom the living creatures and the 24 elders were worshipping in the previous chapter. At least concerning the living creatures and God’s people in the future, this praise is and will be eternal. The Lord has the right to create beings for Himself that will extol Him at all times, since He alone is worthy of worship. His Son is worthy to open the seals that announce a wonderful and powerful message which embody the verses to come. It is filled with as much apocalyptic imagery which becomes terrifying and at last exceedingly hopeful. Later chapters will reveal what this is.

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Mark Jones Identifies A Form Of Antinomianism

At stake is not whether certain theologians and preachers affirm the third use of the law, but what use is made of the law in preaching and teaching, and whether it is presented in all of its aspects: not only as terrible to sinners, but also as graciously guiding the converted—and not only irritating the unregenerate, but also encouraging the regenerate. Especially in preaching, where God’s people are gathered to worship, the law should be principally used as a gracious guide to the converted, as Calvin argued. But antinomian theology inverts this order and gives a preference to the terrifying aspect of the law in contrast to the sweet promises of the gospel. In short, the proof is in the pudding. One might theoretically affirm the third use of the moral law and yet preach only the second use.

There have been many controversies on the topic of antinomianism simply because of what people have failed or refused to say, rather than because of what they have affirmed. Our sins of omission are typically harder to identify than our sins of commission, and this is unquestionably the case when it comes to the subject of antinomianism. Thus, as this book has argued, and will continue to maintain, the problem of antinomianism is an acute one. This chapter has aimed to show that the moral law is friendly to the Christian and decidedly unfriendly to the non-Christian. The law is friendly to the Christian only because of Christ’s mediation, which makes us friends of God. And the law is friendly to the Christian because it is accompanied by the Spirit, so that our obedience may truly be said to be gospel obedience.*

*Jones, Mark (2013-11-10). Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (p. 60). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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