Amongst the very earliest Christian writings we have in our possession after the New Testament itself, are seven letters written by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria, who was martyred by being fed to wild beasts in Rome around A.D. 107. Whilst on his way to Rome, under Roman guard, he wrote six letters to various churches he was passing by on his way, as well as Rome itself, and also a letter to his friend Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in what is today Turkey — who was himself later martyred.
Below is a translation of one of these letters, the Epistle (or Letter) to the Church in Smyrna.
The seven letters in our possession are:—
Epistle to the Ephesians
Epistle to the Magnesians
Epistle to the Trallians
Epistle to the Romans
Epistle to the Philadelphians
Epistle to the Smyrnaeans
Epistle to Polycarp
We have these letters preserved in Greek (in which Ignatius originally wrote them) as well as in an ancient Latin translation. We also have copies of parts of three of these letters in an ancient Syriac translation.
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: [that is, to] the church which is at Smyrna in Asia, [he] wishes abundance of happiness through the immaculate Spirit and word of God.
Chapter 1. Thanks to God for your faith
I glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom.
“[You are] 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, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 1
For I have observed that you are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if you 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.
Of this fruit, by his divinely-blessed Passion, are we, in order that he might set up a banner 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.
Chapter 2. Christ’s true passion
Now he suffered all these things for our sake, that we might be saved. And he suffered truly, even as also he truly raised himself up — not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that he only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so it shall happen to them, when they shall be divested of their bodies and be mere evil spirits.
Chapter 3. Christ possessed a body after his resurrection
For I know that after his resurrection also he still possessed flesh, and I believe that he [does] so now.
When, for instance, he came to those who were with Peter, he said to them, “Lay hold, handle me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” And immediately they touched him, and believed, being convinced both by his flesh and spirit. For this cause they also despised death, and were found [to be] its conquerors. And after his resurrection he ate and drank with them, as one possessing flesh, although spiritually he was united to the Father.
Graham is an evangelical Christian believer living in Sussex, UK. He is passionate about helping people to understand what the Bible really says, and about explaining what the Christians of the early centuries believed and taught.