Saturday, January 26, 2013

Polycarp 13 to 14 - Imagine no Scriptures

This is a continuation of my series on Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. If you are unfamiliar with Polycarp or his letter to the Philippians, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

Imagine being a church in need of some help and not having any scriptures to turn to. When these early writers spoke of "scriptures" they were referring to a loose collection of "Old Testament" writings. There were, at that time, no "New Testament," just a series of letters and memoirs that were circulated among the different churches.
"Both you and Ignatius wrote to me, that if any one went [from this] into Syria, he should carry your letter with him; which request I will attend to if I find a fitting opportunity, either personally, or through some other acting for me, that your desire may be fulfilled. The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest [of his Epistles] which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord. Any more certain information you may have obtained respecting both Ignatius himself, and those that were with him, have the goodness to make known to us." (Polycarp 13)
It is a bit hard to understand what Polycarp meant when he said he would meet their request if he found an "opportunity" while at the same time meeting their request with the letter he was sending. My best guess is that Polycarp was saying that he was always willing to meet their requests for anything that would be helpful to them with the soonest fitting opportunity, such as he was with this letter and the others that are attached with it.

For the first several centuries, help for churches in need was provided by letter written by the Apostles and/or Bishops of that time. These letters were not seen as "scripture" but rather the kind help and wisdom of those whom were entrusted with the gospel. There was something very personal and relational in the interchange between the churches of this age.

In the last sentence, Polycarp asks for any additional information regarding his friend Ignatius. He, by this time, knew of his martyrdom but did not know any of the specific. He was obvious interested in knowing the particulars of his friend's final confession and the grace that was evident in his live as he was martyred for his faith; a touching tribute to his long time friend.

Polycarp ends his letter with a final closing.
"These things I have written to you by Crescens, whom up to the present time I have recommended unto you, and do now recommend. For he has acted blamelessly among us, and I believe also among you. Moreover, ye will hold his sister in esteem when she comes to you. Be ye safe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with you all.Amen." (Polycarp 14)
Without the pervasive means of communications that we enjoy, people traded on relationships and recommendations, and so it was with those whom Polycarp sent. With many of the impersonal helps available to us, it is easy for us to lose the relational aspects between ourselves and between our churches. However, it is my opinion that in this lose, we too suffer lose.

David Robison

1 comment:

  1. really interesting letter. I have to admit I had no idea who polycarp was (I thought he might be a pokemon) but it is interesting to see how the church coped in those early times.