Even when Roman authorities tolerated Christians
for long periods, the threat of persecution was always
present. At the beginning of the second century, that
threat again became reality at Antioch of Syria, the
third largest city of the Roman Empire, situated on the
Orontes River north of the Lebanon range. Acts 11:26
says the followers of Christ were first called
Christians at this Antioch in Syria. (Another Antioch
was in Pisidia, now Turkey.)
In later centuries when the Church became
"established" and no longer suffered bloody
persecution, the idea of martyrdom did not disappear,
but it took other forms: writers of the Eastern Church
often regarded the monastic life as an equivalent to
martyrdom. The same approach is found also in the
West: take, for instance, a Celtic text -- an Irish
homily of the seventh century -- which likens the
ascetic life to the way of the martyr:
"Now there are three kinds of martyrdom which are
accounted as a Cross to a man: white martyrdom, green
martyrdom, and red martyrdom. White martyrdom consists
in a man's abandoning everything he loves for God's
sake.... Green martyrdom consists in this, that by
means of fasting and labor he frees himself from his
evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and
repentance. Red martyrdom consists in the endurance of
a Cross of death for Christ's sake."
St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in Syria (A.D. 67-
107), was destined for the red martyrdom. We meet him
in these epistles already doomed to death, a convict in
chains guarded by ten Roman soldiers, making his way by
slow stages from Antioch to Rome. So bright was the
testimony of his faith it was said he went from the
East to the West like a fiery meteor streaking across
the night sky.
During two pauses on the journey, he wrote these
seven letters, full of vigorous warnings, solemn
exaltations, and the passionate desire to be
simultaneously alive, proclaiming Christ, and to die
for Christ. He was cast to the lions and martyred in
the Flavian amphitheater in Rome, about A.D. 107.
The collection of these Epistles of Ignatius, made
by Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, is mentioned by
Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Athanasius,
Theodoret, and other ancients.
Archbishop Usher printed old Latin translations of
them at Oxford in 1644. At Amsterdam, two years
afterwards, Vossius printed six of them in their
ancient and pure Greek. The seventh, greatly amended
from the ancient Latin version, was printed at Paris by
Ruinart in 1689, in the Acts and Martyrdom of Ignatius,
from a Greek uninterpolated copy.
Considerable differences existed in these
editions; the best for a long time extant containing
fabrications, and the genuine being altered and
corrupted. Archbishop Wake translated The Epistles of
Ignatius into English from the text of Vossius after
taking great pains to render his translation
1. Commends them for sending Onesimus and other members of the
church to him. 8. Exhorts them to unity, 13. by a due
subjection to their bishop.
1. Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church
which is at Ephesus in Asia, and most deservedly happy, being
blessed through the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and
predestined before the world began to an enduring and
unchangeable glory, united and chosen through his true passion,
according to the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God. I
wish you all happiness by means of Jesus Christ and his undefiled
See similar sentiments by Paul in Ephesians 3:13-
19. "Theophorus" was an honorific title, meaning
"light of God." Ephesus is in present-day Turkey. It
was once the home of the Virgin Mary and St. John.
2. I have heard of your name as one much beloved in God,
which you have very justly attained by a habit of righteousness,
according to the faith and love which is in Jesus Christ our
3. How that being followers [imitators] of God and stirring
up yourselves by the blood of Christ, you have perfectly
accomplished the work that was con-natural to you.
Here "followers" does not simply mean one who
follows, but imitators.
4. For when you heard that I was coming bound from Syria
for the common name and hope, trusting through your prayers to
fight with beasts at Rome so that by suffering I may become
indeed the disciple of him who gave himself to God an offering
and sacrifice for us, you hastened to see me. I received,
therefore, in the name of God, your whole multitude in Onesimus.
Compare the phrase "an offering and sacrifice"
with Paul's epistle: "And walk in love, as Christ also
hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an
suffering and a sacrifice to God..." (Ephesians 5:2)
Onesimus was a slave of Philemon converted by Paul
in Rome (Philemon 10-17) and later, with Tychicus,
carried Paul's letters to Colosse and to Philemon
(Colossians 4:7-9), where Paul calls him "a faithful
and beloved brother." It is believed this is the same
Onesimus mentioned here and in the next verse, forty
years later, as the bishop of Ephesus.
5. Who by inexpressible love is ours, but according to the
flesh in your bishop, whom I implore you by Jesus Christ to love,
and that you would all strive to be like to him. And you, who
are so worthy of him, are blessed by God who granted to you to
possess such an excellent bishop.
6. For what concerns my fellow servant Burrhus, your most
blessed deacon in things pertaining to God, I entreat you that he
may stay for a time longer, both for yours and your bishop's
7. And Crocus, also worthy both of our God and you, whom I
have received as the exemplar of your love, has in all things
refreshed me; and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ shall also
refresh him, together with Onesimus, and Burrhus, and Euclus, and
Fronto, in whom I have, as to your charity, seen all of you. And
may I always have the joy of you, if I shall be worthy of it.
8. It is therefore fitting that you should by all means
glorify Jesus Christ who has glorified you; that by a uniform
obedience you may be joined together perfectly in the same mind
and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same things
Compare with: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the
same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you;
but [that] ye be perfectly joined together in the same
mind and in the same judgment." (1 Corinthians 1:10)
9. That by being subject to your bishop and the presbytery,
you may be wholly and thoroughly sanctified.
10. These things I prescribe to you, not as if I were
somebody extraordinary; for though I am bound because of his
name, I am not yet perfect in Christ Jesus. But now I begin to
learn, and I speak to you as fellow disciples together with me.
11. For I ought to have been stirred up by you in faith, in
admonition, in patience, in long-suffering; but because charity
does not permit me to be silent towards you, I have first taken
upon me to exhort you, that you would all run together according
to the will of God.
For the Christian life as a race, compare with:
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but
one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain."
(1 Corinthians 9:24); "I have fought a good fight, I
have finished [my] course, I have kept the faith." (2
Timothy 4:7); "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed
about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay
aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily
beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that
is set before us." (Hebrews 12:)
12. For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is sent by
the will of the Father; just as the bishops, appointed to the
utmost bounds of the earth, are by the will of Jesus Christ.
13. Therefore it will suit you to run together according to
the will of your bishop, as you already do.
Here, as in verse 9, and indeed throughout all his
writings, Ignatius urges disciplined obedience to the
hierarchy of the Church. And here, as in verse 11, he
urges that all Christians run the spiritual race
14. For your famous presbytery, worthy of God, is adjusted
as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.
15. Therefore in your concord and charitable agreement,
Jesus Christ is sung, and every single person among you makes up
16. That so being all consonant in love, and taking up the
song of God, you may in a perfect unity with one voice sing to
the Father by Jesus Christ, with the result that he may both hear
you and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of
17. The reason it is profitable for you to live in an
unblamable unity is so you may always share fellowship with God.
1. The benefit of subjection. 4. The bishop is not to be
respected the less because he is not bold in exacting it. 8. He
warns them against heretics, bidding them to stay close to Jesus,
whose divine and human nature is declared; he commends them for
their care to keep themselves from false teachers and shows them
the way to God.
1. For if I in this little time have had such a familiarity
with your bishop, I mean not a carnal, but spiritual acquaintance
with him; how much more must I think you happy who are so joined
to him, as the church is to Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ to the
Father so that all things may agree in the same unity?
2. Let no man deceive himself: if a man be not within the
altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayers of
one or two be of such force as we are told, how much more
powerful shall that of the bishop and the whole church be?
Following his constant theme that spirituality is
found in full participation with the Church, by the
"bread of God" Ignatius refers to participation in the
Eucharist (Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
About his emphasis on communal prayer, compare
with: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall
agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall
ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in
heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in
my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew
It is interesting to note that Ignatius was one of
the earliest witnesses to the existence of the Gospel
According to Matthew, believed written A.D. 50-75 (it
could have been as early as A.D. 50 but more likely
after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) during a period
of years while Matthew resided in Antioch, where the
church was a strong, mixed community of Jewish and
3. He therefore that does not come together in the same
place with it, is proud and has already condemned [judged, or
separated] himself. For it is written, God resists the proud.
Let us take heed therefore, that we do not set ourselves against
the bishop, but that we may be subject to God.
The phrase "already condemned himself" means
already judged, or separated himself from the
sacramental life of the Church. On pride, he is either
quoting James 4:6 or the Septuagint version of Proverbs
3:34, which in fact James is quoting. Compare with:
"But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God
resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble."
(James 4:6); the reference is to Proverbs 3:34, which
the King James Version translates: "Surely he scorneth
the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly,"
while the Septuagint reads: "The Lord resists the
proud; but he gives grace to the humble."
4. The more anyone sees his bishop silent, the more let him
revere him. For whomever the master of the house sends to be
over his own household, we ought to receive him in the same way
as we would do to him that sent him. It is therefore evident
that we ought to look upon the bishop even as we would do upon
the Lord himself.
5. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good
order in God: that you all live according to the truth, and that
no heresy dwells among you. For neither do you pay heed to
anyone more than to Jesus Christ speaking to you in truth.
6. For there are some who carry about the name of Christ in
deceitfulness, but do things unworthy of God; these you must
flee, as you would do so many wild beasts. For they are ravening
dogs who bite secretly: against whom you must guard yourselves,
as men hardly to be cured.
7. There is one physician, both of the body and the spirit,
made and not made: true life in death, God incarnate, both of
Mary and of God; first passible, then impassible; I mean Jesus
Christ our Lord.
Ignatius fervently holds to orthodoxy on the
Church, the Trinity, and the Two Natures in Christ.
8. For this reason let no man deceive you, as indeed you
are not deceived, being wholly the servants of God. For because
there is no contention nor strife among you to trouble you, you
live according to God's will. My soul be for yours, and I myself
the expiatory offering for your church of Ephesus, so famous
throughout the world.
Compare with: "Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their
sin --; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy
book which thou hast written." (Exodus 32:32); "For I
could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my
brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Romans
What Moses and Paul were willing to do for the
Jews, Ignatius is willing to do for the Church. So
great is his love for Christians, the phrase "my soul
be for yours" is repeated throughout his letters.
9. They that are of the flesh cannot do the works of the
Spirit; neither they that are of the Spirit the works of the
flesh. Just as he that has faith cannot be an infidel, nor he
that is an infidel have faith. But even those things which you
do according to the flesh are spiritual, because you do all
things in Jesus Christ.
For references on the conflict of flesh (in its
ethical sense) and spirit, compare with: "For what the
law could not do, in that it was weak through the
flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of
sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in
us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of
the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the
things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded [is]
death; but to be spiritually minded [is] life and
peace. Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against
God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither
indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh
cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in
the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in
you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he
is none of his. And if Christ [be] in you, the body
[is] dead because of sin; but the Spirit [is] life
because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him
that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he
that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken
your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh,
to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the
flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do
mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as
many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons
of God." (Romans 8:3-14)
"For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the
flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,
is not of the Father, but is of the world." (1 John
2:16); see also 2 Peter 2:10.
10. Nevertheless I have heard of some who have come your
way who had perverse doctrine, whom you did not permit to sow
among you, but stopped up your ears so that you might not receive
those things that were sown by them, thus being worthy stones of
the temple of the Father, prepared for his building and drawn up
on high by the Cross of Christ, as by an engine.
For "being worthy stones of the temple of the
Father" compare with: "And are built upon the
foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ
himself being the chief corner [stone]; In whom all the
building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy
temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded
together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
(Ephesians 2:20-22); "Ye also, as lively stones, are
built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to
offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by
Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5)
For "as by an engine," see Romans 1:16, where
"power" is the Greek word "dunamis," meaning energy of
physical force in motion, energetic, forceful, etc. It
is from this Greek word we get the words dynamic,
dynamite, and dynamo, hence an engine.
11. Using the Holy Spirit as the rope, your faith being
your support, and your charity the way that leads to God.
12. You are therefore, with all your companions in the same
journey, full of God; you are his spiritual temples, full of
Christ, full of holiness, and adorned in all things with the
commands of Christ.
13. In whom also I rejoice that I have been thought worthy
by this present epistle to converse and rejoice together with you
that, with respect to the other life, you love nothing but God
1. He exhorts them to prayer, and to be unblamable. 5. To be
careful of salvation, 11. frequent in public devotion, 13. and
to live in charity.
1. Pray also without ceasing for other men, for there is
hope of repentance in them, that they may attain to God. Let
them therefore at least be instructed by your works, if they will
be no other way.
2. Be mild at their anger, humble at their boasting; to
their blasphemies return your prayers; to their error, your
firmness in the faith. When they are cruel, you be gentle, not
endeavoring to imitate their ways.
3. (Let us be their brethren in all kindness and
moderation, but let us be followers of the Lord. For who was
ever more unjustly used? More destitute? More despised?)
4. So that no herb of the devil may be found in you, but in
Christ Jesus you may remain in all holiness and sobriety, both of
body and spirit.
For "herb of the devil," compare with: "...lest
there should be among you a root that beareth gall and
wormwood." (Deuteronomy 29:18); "...lest any root of
bitterness springing up trouble [you], and thereby many
be defiled." (Hebrews 12:15)
5. The last times are come upon us [remains, or it
remains]: let us therefore be very reverent and fear the long-
suffering of God, so that it will not be to our condemnation.
References to the "last days (of time)" are in
Isaiah 2:2; Daniel 2:28, 12:9; Micah 4:1; Acts 2:17, 2 Timothy 3:1,2; Peter 3:3. The phrase here "come upon
us" can be translated "remains" or "it remains."
6. For let us either fear the wrath that is to come, or let
us love the grace we at present enjoy so that, by one or the
other, we may be found in Christ Jesus to true life.
It is unclear whether Ignatius refers to the wrath
of coming persecutions by men, or the coming wrath of
God against sinners.
7. Other than him, let nothing be worthy of you; for whom
also I bear about these bonds, those spiritual jewels, in which I
hope to God that I might arise through your prayers.
8. Of which I entreat you to make me always partaker, that
through the power of Jesus Christ I may be found in the group of
the Christians of Ephesus, who have always agreed with the
9. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] I know
both who I am, and to whom I write: I, a person condemned; you,
such as have obtained mercy; I, exposed to danger; you, made firm
10. You are the passage-way of those that are killed for
God; the companions of Paul in the mysteries of the Gospel; the
holy, the martyr, the deservedly most happy Paul, at whose feet
may I be found when I shall have attained to God; who throughout
all his epistle, makes mention of you in Christ Jesus.
11. Take care therefore to come more fully together to
praise and glorify God. For when you meet fully together in the
same place, the powers of the devil are destroyed, and his
mischief is dissolved by the unity of their faith.
12. And nothing indeed is better than peace, by which all
war both spiritual and earthly is abolished.
For "war both spiritual and earthly," some copies
read "of things in heaven and of things on earth."
13. Nothing of this is hidden from you if you have perfect
faith and charity in Christ Jesus, which are the beginning and
end of life.
14. For the beginning is faith, the end is charity. These
two joined together are of God, and all other things which
concern a holy life are the consequences of these.
15. No man professing a true faith sins, neither does he
who has charity hate anyone.
16. The tree is revealed by its fruit; so they who profess
themselves to be Christians are known by what they do.
Compare with: "Bring forth therefore fruits meet
for repentance." (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8); "A good tree
cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt
tree bring forth good fruit.... Wherefore by their
fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:18, 20); "Herein
is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so
shall ye be my disciples." (John 15:8)
17. For Christianity is not the work of an outward
profession, but shows itself in the power of faith, if a man be
found faithful to the end.
18. It is better for a man to hold his peace, and be; than
to say he is a Christian and not to be.
19. It is good for him to teach, providing he does as he
20. There is therefore one master who spoke, and it was
done; and even those things which he did without speaking are
worthy of the Father.
21. He who possesses the word of Jesus is truly able to
hear his very silence, that he may be perfect, and both do
according to what he speaks, and be known by those things of
which he is silent.
22. There is nothing hid from God, for even our secrets are
close to him.
23. Let us therefore do all things appropriate to those who
have God dwelling in them, so that we may be his temples and he
may be our God, which he is. By those things for which we justly
love him, he will reveal himself before our faces.
1. On being custodians of the Gospel. 9. The virginity of
Mary, the Incarnation, and the death of Christ were hid from the
Devil. 11. How the birth of Christ was revealed. 16.
Exhortations to unity.
1. Be not deceived, my brethren: those that corrupt
families by adultery will not inherit the kingdom of God.
See 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10. Here Ignatius, like
Paul, refers to actual, not figurative adultery, as in
the following verse.
2. If therefore they who do this according to the flesh
have suffered death, how much more shall he die, who by his
wicked doctrine corrupts the faith of God for which Christ was
Compare with: "Neither let us commit fornication,
as some of them committed, and fell in one day three
and twenty thousand." (1 Corinthians 10:8); the
reference is to Numbers 25:1-9, but the number there is
twenty and four thousand. A Christian's disloyalty to
Christ is a spiritual equivalent to physical adultery
3. He who is thus defiled will depart into unquenchable
fire, and so also will he that hearkens to him.
4. For this reason the Lord allowed the ointment to be
poured on his head, so that he might breathe the breath of
immortality to his church.
5. Do not therefore be anointed with the evil scent of the
doctrine of the prince of this world; do not let him take you
captive from the life that is set before you.
6. And why are we not all wise, seeing we have received the
knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we permit
ourselves to perish foolishly, not knowing the gift the Lord has
truly sent to us?
7. Let my life be sacrificed for the doctrine of the cross,
which is indeed a scandal to the unbelievers, but to us is
salvation and life eternal.
Compare with: "For the preaching of the cross is
to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are
saved it is the power of God.... But we preach Christ
crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the
Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called,
both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the
wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23, 24)
8. Where is the wise man? Where is the disputer? Where is
the boasting of those who are called wise?
Compare with: "Where [is] the wise? where [is] the
scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not
God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1
9. For our God Jesus Christ was, according to the
dispensation of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of
Mary, who was of the lineage of David; he was born and baptized,
that through his passion he might purify water for the washing
away of sin.
10. Now the Virginity of Mary, and he who was born of her,
was kept in secret from the prince of this world, as was also the
death of our Lord: three of the mysteries the most spoken of
throughout the world, yet done in secret by God.
The designation "prince of this world" refers to
Satan (see John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). "Done in secret"
can be translated "in silence, or quietness;" compare
with: "Now to him that is of power to stablish you
according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus
Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery,
which was kept secret since the world began. But now
is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the
prophets, according to the commandment of the
everlasting God, made known to all nations for the
obedience of faith." (Romans 16:25)
11. How then was our Savior revealed to the world? A star
shone in heaven, beyond all the other stars, and its light was
inexpressible, and its novelty struck terror into men's minds.
All the rest of the stars, together with the sun and moon, were
the chorus to this star, but that one sent out its light
exceedingly above them all.
12. And men began to be troubled to think how this novel
star came so unlike to all the others.
For the story of the wise men and the star, see
Matthew 2:2-10. See also the Protevangelion of James
13. From this all the power of magic became dissolved, and
every bond of wickedness was destroyed; men's ignorance was taken
away, and the old kingdom abolished; God himself was appearing in
the form of a man for the renewal of eternal life.
14. From that time began what God had prepared; from then
on things were disturbed because he designed to abolish death.
15. But if Jesus Christ will give me grace through your
prayers, and it be his will, I purpose soon to write a second
epistle to you to disclose more fully the dispensation of which I
have now begun to speak concerning Jesus Christ, who is the new
man, both in his faith and charity, in his suffering, and in his
16. Especially if the Lord will make known to me that you
all by name come together in common in one faith and in one Jesus
Christ, who was of the race of David according to the flesh, the
Son of man and Son of God, by obeying your bishop and the
presbytery with an entire mind, breaking one and the same bread,
which is the medicine of immortality and our antidote so that we
should not die, but live forever in Christ Jesus.
17. My soul be for yours and for theirs whom you have sent
to the glory of God, even to Smyrna, from where also I write to
you, giving thanks to the Lord and loving Polycarp even as I do
you. Remember me as Jesus Christ remembers you.
Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, a city north of
Ephesus. Polycarp had received his bishopric at the
hands of St. John, and was a young man, perhaps no more
than thirty-five when Ignatius passed through Smyrna.
18. Pray for the church in Syria, from where I am carried
bound to Rome, being the least of all the faithful which are
there, as I have been thought worthy to be found to the glory of
19. Farewell in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, our
common hope. Amen.