Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Ignatius to the Smyrneans - A Gospel of flesh

This is a continuation of my series on Ignatius and the seven letters he wrote while on his way to be martyred in Rome. If you are unfamiliar with Ignatius, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.

Ignatius begins his letter by greeting the Smyrneans.
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and of the beloved Jesus Christ, which has through mercy obtained every kind of gift, which is filled with faith and love, and is deficient in no gift, most worthy of God, and adorned with holiness: the Church which is at Smyrna, in Asia, wishes abundance of happiness, through the immaculate Spirit and word of God." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Introduction)
The church at Smyrna was a church that was blessed by God. They had obtained every kind of gift from God, were full of love for God and one another, and were adorned with true holiness in their actions and their inward thoughts. Ignatius'  prayer was that, along with all of this, they would also find and receive an abundance of happiness through God.

Of chief importance to Ignatius for the church is Smyrna was to remind them of the truth of the Gospel.
"I Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 1)
Ignatius congratulated them that they had become immovable in their faith, just as if they had been also nailed immovably onto the cross with Christ. The central theme of Ignatius' recitation of the Gospel was the physical participation of Jesus in all these events. Jesus was not some phantom, he was not an apparition, nor was he made of some kind of psudo-flesh, rather he partook of flesh and blood just like us. He was both God and Man. The truth of this fact Jesus entrusted to the church as both "the pillar and support of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:15)
"Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 1)
This faith in the fleshy participation of Christ was central to the truth of the Gospel and the core beliefs of the one Body of Christ, which is His church. The reason that Ignatius held this truth to be so essential and critical to our faith was that if Jesus did not suffer, die, and rise again in the flesh, then we too have no hope for our own resurrection and the reunion of our flesh and spirit after our death.
"Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits." (Ignatius to the Smyrneans, Chapter 2)
If Jesus only seemed to suffer or did not suffer in the flesh, then what hope do we have for our own flesh? If the flesh of Christ did not suffer and die then our flesh will neither participate with Him in His resurrection from the dead. Jesus died in the flesh to save both our spirits and our flesh, to save our whole person. He did not come just to save our spirits but also our flesh which will one be reunited with us after our death to live together eternally with Christ where He is. This theme Ignatius will continue throughout his letter.

David Robison


  1. In this post and your next one, Ignatius makes a good case for the real suffering of Jesus in a real body. I beleive, with Ignatius, that Jesus had a real body, that he died and was resurrected, and that he continues to have a resurrected body.

    However, it concerns me that Ignatius states that those who are mistaken about this issue are 'unbelivers'; they are not even followers of Jesus,

    "He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits."

    People can be wrong and still be believers. They should not be castigated as having 'evil spirits.'

    The further problem is that many Christians follow the same tactic today by declaring that those with whom they disagree are not Christians at all. Who are we to judge?

  2. Good point and, as always, I appreciate that you read and think about what I write, not just react. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    I think one thing to remember is that Ignatius was speaking (in my opinion) not about people who were mistaken in their beliefs as much as those who were preaching another Gospel; they were preaching and offering a competing Gospel; one that was shaking the faith of many.

    We should allow people much latitude in their growth in understanding, accepting, and believing the Gospel and not be quick to condemn them as "unbelievers" simply because they don't agree with us. After all, it might be us who are wrong!

    However, there might arise times when we must challenge those who purposely distort and pervert the Gospel, for the sake of present and future believers; to preserve the truth of the Gospel for all. I think this was the case with Ignatius.

    Thanks again, David