Discussion of Ignatius' Letter to the Ephesians, Pt 1

Ignatius was one of the bishops of the early church and he lived around the time the changeover from the first century to the second. It is generally assumed he was martyred in the first quarter of the second century. He supposedly wrote a number of letters that made it into the collection of writings now known as the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. These fellows made up the first generation of church leadership after the apostles had died. One of his letters, the one to the Ephesians, is very interesting, so we’re going to spend some time walking through it. All translations of the Greek text used are my own. Here is the text of the introduction.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church who is blessed in greatness in the fullness of God the Father, who was predestined before the ages for an enduring and unchangeable glory through all things, united and elect in true suffering by the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God, to the church, who is worthy of blessing, in Ephesus of Asia, many blessings in Jesus Christ and in blameless joy.

Ignatius writes to a church that is spiritually flowering, as will be seen throughout the entire epistle. His greeting is reminiscent of the first paragraph in Eph 1. In Eph 1:4 he said "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and ἀμώμους (blameless) before him." In this introduction he uses ἄμωμος to describe their joy. Another allusion can be seen in the predestination and election of the people. The order is reversed in Ephesians, but the causal relationship is the same. The NET translates the participle προορίσας which follows the verb ἐξελέξατο ("he chose") as "He did this by predestinating us..." The juxtaposition of the ideas is clearly an intentional reference to the earlier epistle. The word "glory" also makes its appearance several times in the first paragraph of Ephesians (1:6, 12, and 14). There may be even more paralles, though none come to mind immediately.

I think the most interesting statement made in the introduction is the one he makes about Christ. He refers to the Father and the Son as follows: "...the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God..." I’ve heard a few times that the idea of the trinity was created at Nicea. Now, this statement in Ignatius’ letter is not a full-blow trinitarian statement, but it is clearly a belief in the deity of Christ. After all, it says "Jesus Christ our God." You can’t get any clearer than that. Of course everyone in scholarship knows that the idea of the divinity of Christ was not made up at Nicea. It goes way back (there is debate on exactly when, but you just can’t get out of the era of the NT without clearly seeing this). It is the pop thinker that says this stuff, and only because he is a liar or he hasn’t read enough to be informed, both of which mean he should just shut his trap. Here we have it, in the early years of the second century, a very clear statement of the deity of Christ.

But was Paul’s letter to the Ephesians really to the Ephesians? And why would someone doubt that? It’s actually a pretty interesting question, which we’ll be talking about very soon. Until then, hit Amazon and get you a copy of the "Apostolic Fathers" and read them. It is edifying.