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Reading for Dec. 8, 2012

Author: Ignatius of Antioch

Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians

Pages: ANF 1:49–58


  1. Andy

    Ignatius refers to the epistle(s) of Paul in today’s reading. Does this suggest (I am uncertain) the writings of the apostles were in wider circulation (and at an earlier date) than some who emphasize an oral tradition in the early church suppose?

    • Lincoln Mullen

      Good question, Andy. You’ve likely noticed that all of the fathers we’ve read so far quote the Scriptures frequently. (The Epistle to Diognetus does not quote very often, but it’s clearly dependent on the letters of Paul.) These fathers frequently quote from the Old Testament; as for what would become the New Testament writings, they quote the documents that they have, which varies from father to father.

      The first thing to note is the date of Ignatius’s letters. Michael Holmes, following J. B. Lightfoot and Eusebius, dates the letters to Trajan’s reign (AD 89–117); some date them to Hadrian’s reign (117–138). Ignatius was thus writing well before the New Testament canon was firmly established. But Ignatius was also writing well after the earliest period of the church about which, as you allude, there is some scholarly debate. Clearly by the second century the epistles of Paul were in wide circulation.

      The second thing to note is the geography of Ignatius’s travels to Rome to be martyred. Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch (in ancient Syria and modern-day Turkey), and as the Acts of the Apostles shows, Antioch was the center of early Christianity. Ignatius likely traveled though Laodicea, Philadelphia, Philippi, and maybe Thessalonica; he sent letters to Ephesus, Rome, and Philadelphia, among other places. (See the map in our introduction.) Those are all places which received the epistles of Paul. Whatever may be the debates about the circulation of the NT writings, it’s at least clear that they got to the churches they were first addressed to!

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