Friday, January 19, 2018

The Vision (1.19.18): Lord, to whom shall we go?

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 6:59-71.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked with him no more (John 6:66).

Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

Reading this, you are left to ask: Which kind of “disciple” are you going to be?

Are you going to be the type who follows for a season, looking to get your stomach filled, but who then turns back when you don’t get everything you thought you were going to get from Jesus?

Or, are you going to be the type who says, Lord, if we did not have you, to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.

The false disciples say, Jesus we can’t follow you!

The true disciples, however, say, Jesus we can’t NOT follow you. We have no other choice. We have no other option. We have no one else to whom we can turn. You are not one option among many for us. You are the only option for us.

The skeptic asks: How can you possibly follow Jesus? We say: How can we NOT follow him?

There is a saying among those called to ministry: If you can do anything else, do it.

This statement can be modified and applied to all believers: If you can follow anyone other than Jesus, follow him. But if you see in the Lord Jesus Christ the only one you could possibly follow, if you can’t NOT follow him, then follow him.

Profess your faith in him among men as Peter did: “And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). Profess your faith in obedience in baptism as the Ethiopian Eunuch did: “And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). Finally, live for him who died for you.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Reviews: Currid on Ecclesiastes; Poh on The Fundamentals of Our Faith

I just posted my two short book reviews which appear in the new issue of Puritan Reformed Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1 (January 2018). I also recorded an audio version of each review and posted them to Here is the info:

Book Review of John D. Currid, Ecclesiastes: A Quest for Meaning. Find the pdf here on my site or here on Listen to the review here.

Book Review of Boon Sing Poh, Fundamentals of Our Faith: Studies in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Find the pdf here on my site or here on Listen to the review here.

I read Currid's book while preaching through Ecclesiastes last year and found it to be helpful.

I also read Poh's boook last year and have found it useful during my current Sunday pm series through the 1689 Baptist Confession.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Interactions with Dr. Peter J. Gurry on "The Ending of Mark as a Canonical Crisis"

Image: Phoenix Seminary campus

When I presented my paper on “The Ending of Mark as a Canonical Crisis” at Houston Baptist University back in March, I shared a draft copy of it with Dr. Peter J. Gurry of Phoenix Seminary, whose PS colleague John Meade had also presented a paper at the HBU conference.

When my article based on this paper came out in the PRJ (see this blog post), I sent a copy to Peter. He then kindly sent me some thoughtful comments and questions on the paper yesterday (1.16.18), I responded, and then he sent me some further points of clarification today (1.17.18), to which I also responded.

With his permission, I am going to share my two interactions with Peter, relating to my article (which also include his comments, questions, and points of clarification):

Comments and questions (1.16.18):


Many thanks for reading the paper and offering these valuable comments and questions. I wish I had had them earlier. They will be useful if I revise the paper and use it in another format.

Let me offer a few replies (with your comments in italic):

You wrote:

I noticed there is no mention of the Sinaitic Syriac. Was this intentional? Its text is, per Metzger, as early as late 2nd/early 3rd century and it lacks the Longer Ending. This is a problem for you claim on p. 39 that there is no “inkling of controversy” in this period. I note this manuscript is also missing from the extended quote of Lunn at the end. I also noticed there was no mention of the Sahidic Coptic or 308 cited in NA28.

Response: My main focus was to survey the Greek mss. evidence for the traditional ending, so I did not give much focus to the versional evidence, which is extremely scanty pre-300.

If I revise the paper I will try to add something on the Sinaitic Syriac. Of this, notice two things:

1.    Metzger/Ehrman say the work was copied in the fourth century (so it would be post-300), though they speculate that it preserves “the form of the text” from the “beginning of the third century” (p. 96). No footnote or source is cited.  This seems speculative to me at best, so I did not include this as a sure pre-300 witness to the ending of Mark.

2.    Metzger/Ehrman also note that the Sinaitic Syriac (a palimpsest) was not discovered at St. Catherine’s on Mt. Sinai till 1892 (p. 96). This means that it had no bearing in WH’s decision to end Mark at Mark 16:8 in their 1881 Greek NT. This decision by WH was based on the evidence of Sinaiticus and Vatincanus, not the Sinaitic Syriac.

As for the Sahidic Coptic, the NA28 apparatus notes two or more mss. ending at 16:8 but does not identify or date them. In the discussion in Metzger/Ehrman no specific Sahidic mss. are cited which are pre-300 (see pp. 110-112).

As for 304 (I assume this is what you meant rather than 308) my understanding, drawn from J. Snapp, was that the ending of this ms. is damaged, so that it is not a valid witness for the ending. Also, according to the NA28 it is dated to the XII century so it is not relevant for the pre-300 discussion.

I tried to stress my overall focus on the Greek mss. in the first line of the second paragraph on p. 35 when I wrote (emphasis added): “Upon examination of the early Greek manuscript evidence for the ending of Mark, one can tentatively suggest at least three distinct periods or phases in the early transmission of the ending of Mark.”

On p. 39 I made this statement regarding the pre-300 evidence for the ending of Mark: “If we had only the evidence from this period we would hardly have any inkling of controversy over the text of Mark, but would assume the Traditional Ending as the undisputed conclusion of the second Gospel.” In light of the evidence, I think this statement is accurate. We do not, for example, have any patristic evidence of any dispute about the ending, which we do find (in Eusebius, et al) post-300.

Did you intend not to give your own view as to the originality of the Longer Ending? Even if not decisive to the issue of canonicity, do you think it pertinent?

Response: I believe that 16:9-20 is original and by the hand of Mark. However, I also think that one can believe it was not written by Mark and still hold that is canonical (as Metzger, David Alan Black, and you hold). I did not address this, since the issue of originality was not my main concern to defend in this article, but I see how it might be helpful to make my view plain if I revise it.

I thought it a bit odd that the silence of Origen et al. was rejected as an argument from silence but the codicology of 01 and 03 wasn’t. In any case, the notion that 03 left space for the Longer Ending and still left it out has always seemed like a point against authenticity.

Response: I’m not sure I follow you here. Origen does not explicitly address the ending of Mark, so it is assumed by some that he did not know the ending. This is an argument from silence (assuming he is a witness against the LE, because he does not address it). I’d consider the absence of the LE from 01 and 03 not to be an argument from silence but another matter altogether. Clearly, the LE was rejected by them. The strange ending markers, however, show that they knew of a longer ending and were apparently suppressing it. These are two different kinds of arguments.

You may know this, but codex W has recently been re-dated to sixth century by Ulrich Schmid (see The Free Biblical Manuscripts book). This would affect your statement on p. 45 that it is one of the earliest witnesses to the Longer Ending so you may want to cite this.

Response: Suggested re-dating of W: I did not know this. I will look for the source and cite it if I ever revise the paper. As noted in the table I was relying on the 2012 dates in the NA28, the most recent edition of the critical text. Do you think this date will be altered in NA29, based on this research?

Though many critics of reasoned eclecticism have latched onto comment by Parker and a few others about the goal of NTTC, it is not true that Vincent’s 1899 goal has “largely been abandoned by academic text critics.” I’ve attached a list I put together for Dan Wallace not long ago showing many who still affirm the traditional goal. I could add myself—if that wouldn’t be too presumptuous of me—and the editors of the new THGNT to the list as well.

Response: Though I agree that some scholars still hold to Vincent’s goal, and many of them would be evangelicals of one stripe or another, it seems clear that a shift has taken place from the modern twentieth century goal of reconstructing the original autograph to a postmodern twenty-first century goal of reconstructing the earliest “Initial Text.” Note that even several of those in your list are from the later twentieth century or early 2000s. I am guessing that I could compile a substantial list of quotes on the other side, and not just from Parker.  And it seems, the ones of the other side are the ones who are the real “gatekeepers” with regard to the critical text. Even among evangelicals, as I point out in my article, look at the way the NLT presents the ending of Mark with multiple options (not to mention mainline Protestant translations like the NRSV). I think this represents a new paradigm.

Just for interest, have you seen the article by Elijah Hixson on Spurgeon’s view of textual criticism? You may find it interesting. It’s attached.

Response: I was not aware of this article by Hixon. Look forward to reading it. Though I make the point in my article that Spurgeon upheld the authenticity of the LE, I am not surprised to see that he is inconsistent with dealing with the issue of text. I have seen other compilations of him making contradictory statements about translations (and thereby upon the underlying texts of the translations), at some points praising the KJV and at others extolling the REV. I’m not sure if Hixon did so, but it would be interesting to notice the dates when the comments on text were made and if there were fluctuations. My guess is that his position evolved in response to the publication of the REV in 1881, 1885. I also would not be surprised to find that his view swung back to the KJV in light of the “downgrade controversy” near the conclusion of his ministry. I’ve heard it said that Spurgeon is often hard to pin down on some matters, like eschatology, where evidence can be found in various sermons for just about every millennial position. His views on text, no doubt, reflect the shifts created by the rise of modern text criticism and the work of WH in his day. As for the theme of this article, however, he appeared, at least, to uphold the LE of Mark. I drew attention to Spurgeon, in part, due to irony of the fact that MacArthur, in particular, so admires Spurgeon and is often compared to him. I think most would agree that Spurgeon’s strength was as a preacher and not as a textual scholar.

Finally, I found your comparison of modern evangelicals and influential proponents of TC from the late 19th–20th centuries. WH, of course, left the longer ending in their main text because they felt it should not be removed altogether. What’s more, S. P. Tregelles thought it was not original but still canonical thereby sharing your view. And he, of course, included it in his edition. So, it would seem that modern evangelicals are following this tradition when they continue to print it in the text, thereby letting the reader decide what to do with it. Have I perhaps misunderstood your point of the comparison I wonder?

Response: Yes, modern evangelicals seem to be following in the nineteenth/twentieth century pattern of leaving the ending of Mark open to the judgment of the reader. I am saying that I do not think this is good decision. I would prefer we follow the pattern of the confessional Reformers who embraced the traditional ending and included it in the text without brackets, comments on mss. that omit it, or reference to spurious, very late additions (like the Shorter Ending or the Freer Logion), etc. I would rather follow the pattern of Tyndale, Calvin, the Geneva Bible, the KJV, Owen, Poole, and Henry, etc., rather than Westcott and Hort or Metzger, and simply include 16:9-20 as the ending without distinction or comment.

Many thanks for sending the paper and for your work on it. I happen to think 16.9-20 is not original and that 16.8 is not the original ending. But like you, I think of the traditional ending as Scripture, something like an ancient appendix.

Response: Thanks again for the time you took to read the article and for your helpful comments. I see 16:9-20 as original, based on the arguments from both external and internal evidence (which I find convincing) and also on confessional/theological grounds. I know that questions have been raised about the Biblical books and editorial process (e.g. the final form of the torah, the conclusion to Ecclesiastes [12:9-14], the conclusion of John [21:24-25], or a suggested composite nature for some of Paul’s letters [like 2 Corinthians], etc.). It seems that most of these ideas, however, have only emerged in the post-Enlightenment, modern period with the rise of “source criticism.” IMHO, I think there is an inherent challenge to the integrity and thus the authority of the Gospel of Mark if we conclude that the ancient ending is only an appendix. There is also a matter of integrity. If the ancient Christians gave it the title “The Gospel According to Mark” my sense would be that they took Mark 16:9-20 not as a non-Markan appendix but as the authentic and original ending to the Gospel, from the hand of Mark.

Grace, JTR

Points of Clarification (1.17.18):

Thanks again Peter. Follow ups to your points of clarification (in italic):

On the Sinaitic Syriac, yes there is uncertainty about the date, but everyone seems to agree that it is 4th cent. at the latest and 2nd cent. at the earliest. NA28 itself gives 3/4 on p. 70*. So if you’re going to follow NA28 dates, it seems worth mentioning. Pete Williams discusses the dating a bit in his article on the Syriac in The Text of the NT, p. 146. Of course, there is the issue of whether Sinaitic or Curetonian MS represents the original text of the translation for Mark 16, but it still seems important to mention.

Response: Again, I have not yet been able to find any firm evidence that dates the Sinaitic Syriac to pre-300.

Regarding the argument from silence, my point was just that the interpretation offered for empty space in 03 is one from silence. It may be that the space is because the scribe knew the longer ending, but we have no way to know this positively; the codicological evidence is entirely negative. What’s more, since the end of Tobit in 03 also ends half-way down the middle column with Hosea starting on the next page, the spacing at the end of Mark is not anomalous as said on p. 43. As for the ending of Mark in 01, you may want to consult Dirk Jongkind’s work on this (Scribal Habits, p. 45). He notes, citing Milne and Skeat, that the sheet containing the end of Mark was rewritten and that the longer ending of Mark “could never have fit on this sheet.” It may be that the rubricated coronis that ends Mark has to do with the rewriting of this sheet and not with a known alternate ending. As for examples where the diple fills the end of a line, Jongkind notes that it happens in this same replacement sheet at the very end of BL f. 227r [= leaf 227 in the manuscript’s numeration]. So perhaps that shape was already on the brain, if I can put it that way. Things to consider at least.

Response: Thanks for the information. Obviously, we agree that 01 and 03 are certainly witnesses against the inclusion of the LE in Mark. It is less certain as to how to interpret the scribal notations. Given the pre-300 evidence from Patristic sources, I think we can assume that the LE was known by the scribes, and so it seems reasonable to assume an attempt at suppression, and not just omission, is, at the very least, possible, and, perhaps, even probable.

As to the date of W, it is not re-dated in NA28 although I’m not sure I would expect them to since most of the work for NA28 was in the Catholic Letters not the Gospels. It will be interesting to see if that changes going forward.

Response: Yes, look forward to looking into this and to seeing how this is dated in NA 29.

As for the goal of TC, I would still contest your read of the situation on several counts. Many of the publications that argue against the traditional goal are also not from the 21st century and, in any case, using that break is fairly arbitrary. More importantly, Holger Strutwolf is certainly not an evangelical and, as the head of INTF, he is very much a “gatekeeper” (if such a thing even exists) and yet he is quite clear that the goal of the original text is both appropriate and desirable. Stephen Carlson is another who is quite clear in defending the traditional goal and, so far as I know, he too is not evangelical. Much confusion has been caused, I’m afraid, by the term “initial text” and some Evangelicals have badly overreacted to it. It is true that the term does not necessarily refer to the author’s text but it is equally true that it can refer to such and, in the case of the ECM, it essentially does. I have written about this at some length though so permit me to avoid repeating myself and I will just attach that. In any case, Evangelicals need to be more careful about claiming that the quest for the original text has been abandoned. It may fit with some larger narrative about the paganism infesting Biblical scholarship, but it is simply overstated and in some forms a false claim. Many in the academic guild of NTTC (in which I include myself) are still happily after the original, authorial text.

Response: I understand that you and other evangelicals in doing NTTC are attempting to hold on to some form of the “classical” goal of text criticism. It seems clear, on the other hand that a shift has taken place and continues to take place, and this has affected and will affect this discipline and those who practice it, even evangelicals. And one can make this observation and point out perceived dangers in it without falling off the deep end.

I was influenced here by the analysis of Robert Hull, Jr. in chapter 8 “New Directions: Expanding the Goals of Textual Criticism” of The Story of the New Testament Text: Movers, Motives, Methods, and Models (SBL, 2010): 151-167. Some quotes:

The sketch above suggests that there has been a major shift of emphasis away from the goal of recovering the original text of the New Testament (p. 156).

Has the search for the original text been surrendered as the major goal of New Testament textual criticism? For some scholars it has, but most textual critics in their papers and articles still write as if they assume there is an original reading (p. 157).

To be sure, the confident and optimistic climate that ushered in Westcott and Hort’s New Testament in the Original Greek has long since vanished. There is considerable doubt about the possibility of reconstructing the original Greek text in all its particulars. Nevertheless, efforts to edit and publish better editions of the Greek New Testament remain a major goal of textual critics (p. 159).

As for Strutwolf and others who have stewardship of the critical text, they may be more cautious than Parker, but they clearly do not have the same confident view of WH or even Bruce Metzger that they can “reconstruct” the original. I look forward to reading the section you sent on initial text. Again thanks.

Grace and peace, JTR

Augustine, the Manicheans, and the Text of Scripture

In Book V, Chapter XI of the Confessions, Augustine describes his pre-conversion days among the heterodox Manicheans. He notes, in particular, that “the things they censured in thy Scriptures I thought impossible to be defended.”

He makes reference to a Christian named Elpidus in Carthage who effectively used Scripture to refute the Manicheans:

For already the words of one Elpidus, who spoke and disputed face to face against these same Manicheans, had begun to impress me, even when I was at Carthage; because he brought things out of the Scriptures that were not easily withstood, to which their answers appeared to me feeble.

This man apparently sowed Scriptural seeds of doubt in Augustine’s mind about the Manichean system.

Augustine also notes how the Manicheans privately claimed that the Christian Scriptures had been corrupted:

One of their answers they did not give forth publicly, but only to us in private—when they said the writings of the New Testament had been tampered with by unknown persons [cum dicerent scripturas novi testamenti falsatas fuisse a nescio quibus] who desired to ingraft the Jewish law into the Christian faith. But they themselves never brought forward any uncorrupted copies [atque ipsi incorrupta exemplaria nulla proferrent].

His comments show that the text of Scripture was an apologetic flashpoint in Augustine’s day and that heterodox sects, like the Manichaeans, claimed not only that the orthodox text was corrupted but also that they had preserved or could reconstruct the “pure text” but, alas, they were never able to present these “uncorrupted copies [incorrupta exemplaria]” to him.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

PRJ Article Posted: The Ending of Mark as a Canonical Crisis

The article version of the paper I present last year at Houston Baptist University’s theology conference titled "The Ending of Mark as a Canonical Crisis" has just come out in the latest edition of Puritan Reformed Journal Vol. 10, No. 1 (January 2018): 31-54.

I have uploaded a pdf of my article to my page at (look here). You can also find the pdf of the entire PRJ issue here or order a hard cop of the issue here. I also posted an abbreviated audio version of my paper presentation last year as WM 72 (see this blog post with link to audio here).

Here's the concluding paragraph of the article:

In our present day, this renewed challenge to the Traditional Ending of Mark has created a new canonical crisis. I believe it is reasonable and right to advocate for a new consensus to emerge which reaffirms the Traditional Ending of Mark as the authoritative, fitting, and canonical conclusion to Mark. Such a consensus would again provide consistent and authoritative translations to be read by God’s people both privately in personal devotion and publicly in corporate worship and would allow ministers to preach this text with confidence as the Word of God.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Calvin on unbelief (John 6:64a)

But there are some of you that believe not (John 6:64a).

I preached yesterday at CRBC on John 6:59-71. In reading Calvin’s commentary on the passage, I was struck by his analysis of John 6:64a:

….for unbelief, as it is always proud, will never understand any thing in the words of Christ, which it despises and disdains. Wherefore, if we wish to profit at all under this Teacher, let us bring minds well disposed to listen to him; for if the entrance to his doctrine be not opened by humility and reverence, our understandings are harder than stones, and will not receive any part of sound doctrine. And therefore, when in the present day we see so few people in the world profiting by the Gospel, we ought to remember that this arises from the depravity of men. For how many will you find who deny themselves, and truly submit to Christ? As to his saying only that there were SOME who did not believe, though almost all of them were liable to this charge, his reason for doing so appears to have been that, if there were any who were not yet beyond the possibility of cure, they might not cast down their minds in despair.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

WM 88: Polycarp of Smyrna

Image: A depiction of the martyrdom of Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155).

Note: I just posted WM 88: Polycarp of Smyrna (listen here).

Regarding Polycarp of Smyrna:

Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, an early center of Christianity in Asia Minor (see Rev 2:8-11). The dates for his life are traditionally set as AD 69-155. Eusebius, however, says he was put to death during the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) which would move the dates for his life further back (see EH IV.XIV). As a younger man he had met with Ignatius of Antioch when Ignatius passed through Smyrna on his way to martyrdom in Rome (c. 107). One of Ignatius’ seven letters was directed to Polycarp.

In the report of his martyrdom he claims to have served Christ for 86 years. Does this mean he was 86 and had been baptized as an infant? Or was he saying that he had, in some way, been serving the Lord (even before his conversion)? Or had he perhaps been converted as, say, a ten year-old child and met his death at age 96? We do not know.

Louth notes that both Tertullian and Irenaeus reported that he had been a direct disciple of the apostle John (125).

Let’s look at two reminiscences from Irenaeus recorded in Eusebius’ EH:

First, see EH V.XX.4-8 where Eusbebius cites a letter from Irenaeus to Florinus.

Irenaeus here makes reference to being in Polycarp’s house as a child and listening to him firsthand as he “reported his intercourse with John and the others who had seen the Lord.” He recalls that he listened eagerly and made notes “not on paper, but in my heart.”

Second, see EH IV.XIV.3-9, where Eusebius quotes from book III of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies:

He also notes here how he saw Polycarp in his childhood and reports that he “constantly taught those things which he had learned from the apostles.”

It reports that he visited Rome and many heretics were converted under his ministry.

It is said that he told how he was with John in Ephesus in the baths when the Gnostic Cerinthus entered and John fled saying, “Let us flee, lest even the bath-house fall in, for within is Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth.”

It is also said that on a visit to Rome he met the Gnostic Marcion who demanded he recognize him, to which Polycarp responded, “I do, I recognize the first-born of Satan!” Compare his “Away with the infidels!” quip in the martyrdom report.

We have two documents related to Polycarp: (1) a letter from Polycarp to the Philippians and (2) an account of Polycarp’s martyrdom.

1.    Polycarp to the Philippians:

This letter is from Polycarp and his “clergy” (elders) to “the colony of God’s Church at Philippi” in Macedonia. We have Luke’s report of this church’s founding in Acts 16 and Paul’s letter to this church.

Polycarp apparently wrote this earlier in his ministry with regard to the journey of Ignatius of Antioch through Philippi.

In chapter 1 he speaks those in chains as “badges of saints” (Louth says this is likely Ignatius and his fellow prisoners).

In chapter 2 he offers exhortations which include this, “and bear in mind the words of our Lord in his teaching” and proceeds to quote from the Sermon on the Mount.

This leads to one of the key values of this letter: Its frequent citations from various NT books, showing the early acceptance and authority of the NT books.

See this table:

Poylcarp to the Philippians
NT and [Apocrypha] citations
Ch. 2
Matt 7.1; Matt 5:3
Ch. 4
1 Tim 6:7
Ch. 5
Gal 6:7; Gal 5:17; 1 Cor 6:9
Ch. 6
2 Cor 5:10
Ch. 7
1 John 4:2-3; 1 Peter 4:7; Matt 6:13; Matt 16:41
Ch. 8
1 Peter 2:22, 24
Ch. 10
[Tobit 12:9]
Ch. 11
1 Cor 6:2; 2 Cor 3:2
Ch. 12
Eph 4:26

In chapter 3 Polycarp notes that he does not have the wisdom of “our blessed and glorious Paul.” Note: He acknowledges that the age of the apostles has passed.

In this chapter he also makes reference to faith, hope, and love, likely drawing on 1 Corinthians 13, though not directly quoting any verses.

In chapter 4 he quotes 1 Timothy 6:7. I suppose this is the earliest citation from a Pastoral epistle. At the least it demonstrates the antiquity of the Pastoral epistles and, in my view, demonstrates its authenticity. Rather than recognize what to the traditionalist sees as obvious (Paul wrote the Pastoral epistles and Polycarp recognized them as Scripture), Louth notes that the German scholar Hans von Campenhausen argued that Polycarp was the author of the Pastoral epistles!

In chapter 5 he speaks about deacons being beyond approach and he also gives exhortations to younger men and women (as in Titus 2), as well encouraging obedience to elders and deacons (as in Ignatius).

In chapter 7 he cites 1 John 4:2-3 regarding the antichrists who deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. He adds: “To contradict the evidence of the cross is to be of the devil.”

In chapter 9 he calls for holiness recalling the examples of godly men, including Paul and the apostles. Again, this reflects his awareness of the apostolic age having passed.
In chapter 10 he urges the Philippians, “Stand firm,” and adds: “Be fixed and unshaken in your faith; care for each other with a brother’s love, and make common cause for the truth.”

Note that Louth sees here a citation (or allusion?) to Tobit 12:9. It might be a citation, but that does not mean that Polycarp saw the apocrphya as Scripture, while there is no doubt that he sees the NT as Scripture.

In chapter 11, Polycarp makes reference to an elder named Valens who had failed in his ministry, perhaps due to an “excessive fondness for money.”

He also cites 1 Cor 6:2 as Paul’s teaching and refers to the Philippians as those “with whom the blessed Paul labored.” Think about it. He is writing to some who had perhaps known Paul personally!

In chapter 13 he notes that he is sending along Ignatius letters by the hand of Crescens (ch. 14).

This is a very valuable letter.

2.    The Martyrdom of Polycarp:

Louth says this is considered “the earliest surviving authentic account of Christian martyrdom outside the NT” (127). It is in the form of a letter sent from the church at Smyrna to the church at Philomelium in Phrygia. It is signed by the scribe Evarestus.

The letter begins by noting the heroic deaths of Christian martyrs including one named Germanicus who was given over the beasts. But this does not satiate the blood lust of the pagans who screamed, “Down with the infidels! Go and find Polycarp!” (ch. 3).

The author also mentions the failure of a man named Quintus who had voluntarily offered up himself, but then suffered a failure of nerve, took the oath and offered incense to Caesar (ch. 4). The author argues against such volunteering for martyrdom, perhaps tempering the zeal demonstrated by Ignatius.

Polycarp was not alarmed but was urged to leave the city. He left for the country, but three days before his arrest while in prayer he had a vision of his pillow on fire and told his companions, “I must be going to be burned alive” (ch. 5).

He went to a farm but the authorities tracked him down, tortured  slave boy to find his precise whereabouts, and encircled the place where he was staying late at night. Polycarp then surrendered himself, saying, “God’s will be done.” He calmly greeted those coming to arrest him, chatted with them, and they were struck by his calmness (cf. the calmness of Socrates before his death in Plato’s Apology).

He was brought into the city riding on a donkey (paralleling the triumphal entry) and urged to say, “Caesar is Lord” (ch. 8). He refused and was taken to the city circus.

Chapter 9 notes a voice from heaven told him to be strong and play the man. When urged to say, “Down with the infidels!” he turned instead to the pagan crowd and said, “Down with the infidels!”

When the governor urged him, “Revile your Christ!” he offered his famous reply, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

When the governor persisted, Polycarp told him, “I am a Christian” and if you want to know more about the meaning of Christianity, just name the day and hour and I will explain it to you (ch. 10).

When the governor threatened to burn him to death lest he recant, he replied, “The fire you threaten me with cannot go on burning for very long” (ch. 11).

He was eventually condemned to be burned and taken to the place of execution, stripped of his clothing, and tied to a stake to be burned (ch. 13).

The author said he was “like a noble ram” offered as a sacrifice (ch. 14). He lifted his eyes to heaven and thanks God that he might be “numbered amongst the martyrs.”

When the prayer ended, the fire was lit, but miraculously there was something like a “hollow chamber” formed around his figure and he was “like a loaf baking in the oven” that emits a “delicious fragrance” (ch. 15). There are, no doubt, allusions here to the three Hebrew youths in the burning fiery furnace in Daniel 3.

Finally, some “ruffians” were sent in with daggers to stab Polycarp. When, they did a dove flew out from his body and such a “copious rush of blood” issued from him that it extinguished the flames (ch. 16). The final verdict of the author is that Polycarp was clearly a great man among the elect, who “combined both apostle and prophet in his own person.”

The author notes how the authorities tried to stop the Christians from taking Polycarp’s remains as relics, fearing lest, “they should forsake the Crucified and take to worshipping this fellow instead” (ch. 17).

A centurion, however, took the body and had it burned and the Christians were able to gather up the bones, which to them were “more precious to us than jewels, and finer than pure gold” (ch. 18). The author also notes their practice of assembling where these remains were and remembering “the birthday of his martyrdom.”

Louth notes that this work provides “the earliest evidence for the preservation of the relics of the martyrs … and for the celebration of the anniversary of the martyrdom, the ‘heavenly birthday’ of the saint” (117).

The author concludes: “Not only was he a famous Doctor, he was a martyr without a peer; and one whose martyrdom all aspire to imitate, so fully does it accord with the Gospel of Christ” (ch. 19).


First: Polycarp was a student of John the apostle and an important transition figure from the age of the apostles to the post-apostolic age.

Second: His epistle to the Philippians shows how the NT was being looked to as Scripture from the earliest times.

Third: The Martyrdom of Polycarp follows the accounts of NT martyrs, like Peter (John 21:18-19), Stephen (Acts 7), James (Acts 12), and Antipas of Pergamum (Rev 2:13).

It includes many more legendary elements and a focus on relics and memorials, not seen in the NT accounts. This demonstrates a drift from the apostolic accounts that will continue and which will attempt to be purified during the Reformation.

We should note, however, that the early Protestants will also claim Polycarp’s martyrdom as part of their history. The account of Polycarp’s martyrdom appeared in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (without the reference to relics or memorials).

It remains a source of inspiration and encouragement for believers today, especially for the persecuted church.