“Essentials”: The Letters of Ignatius of Antioch by Duane Arnold, PhD

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89 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    “Please the Captain in whose army ye serve, from
    whom also ye will receive your pay. Let none of you be
    found a deserter. Let your baptism abide with you as
    you shield; your faith as your helmet; your love as
    your spear; your patience as your body armour. Let
    your works be your deposits, that ye may receive your
    assets due to you. Be ye therefore long-suffering one
    with another in gentleness, as God is with you. May I
    have joy of you always.”

    I would note here that the practice of referring back to ones baptism as an entry into the faith was already present before the Lutherans… 🙂

  2. Michael says:

    “But mark ye those who hold strange doctrine
    touching the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us,
    how that they are contrary to the mind of God. They
    have no care for love, none for the widow, none for
    the orphan, none for the afflicted, none for the
    prisoner, none for the hungry or thirsty. They abstain
    from eucharist (thanksgiving) and prayer, because they
    allow not that the eucharist is the flesh of our
    Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our
    sins, and which the Father of His goodness raised up.”

    False teachers are marked by the lack of good works…and the denial of the Real Presence in the Eucharist…

  3. Josh the Baptist says:

    I wouldn’t translate Ignatius to be talking about Real Presence.

  4. Josh the Baptist says:

    That’s anachronistic, is it not?

  5. Michael says:

    They abstain from eucharist (thanksgiving) and prayer, because they
    allow not that the eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of His goodness raised up.”

    How would you translate that?

  6. Michael says:

    “Be ye careful therefore to observe one eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in His blood; there is one altar,as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow-servants), that whatsoever ye do, ye may do it after God.”

  7. Josh the Baptist says:

    Literal flesh and blood.

  8. Josh the Baptist says:

    Real Presence wasn’t invented for another 1200 years, right?

  9. Duane Arnold says:

    #3 Josh

    Sorry, but I think Ignatius is using very literal language. He does, however, also use symbolic language.

    BTW, you should take a look at the Syriac ms. With your Hebrew, you might be surprised at how much you can glean…

  10. Michael says:


    I’m using the term as a general view that Christ is present in the Eucharist .

  11. Duane Arnold says:

    #8 Josh

    Aquinas only placed it into a philosophical/theological framework. He didn’t invent it…

  12. Josh the Baptist says:

    I think Ignatius is using Transubstantiation type language here. I think you have to read it through a 1500 lens to see anything else.

  13. Josh the Baptist says:

    Invent was the wrong word. Developed may have been better. Aquinas talked about Real Presence?

  14. Duane Arnold says:


    Using the Thomistic category of “transubstantiation” in reading Ignatius is anachronistic. Real Presence might be a better, more useful term.

  15. Michael says:


    What I think I see in these writings (and others) is that the very early church held a sacramental view of baptism and the Eucharist.

    Would you agree or disagree?

  16. Josh the Baptist says:

    Isn’t Real Presence a Lutheran term though? And if by Real Presence we mean what Luther meant, I don’t think that is what Ignatius meant.

  17. Josh the Baptist says:

    @15 – Totally agree.

  18. Duane Arnold says:

    #13 Josh

    Yes, Aquinas really put the category together, but he used Aristotelian concepts of forms and accidents, which, in my opinion, creates problems…

  19. Josh the Baptist says:

    Duane, I’m looking at a Syriac MS on Harvard’s library site right now…ummm…does this read right to left? 🙂

  20. Michael says:


    In my opinion the attempt by various groups to define how Christ is present in the Eucharist are mainly all folly.

    He is, and it’s a mystery I can’t explain, just accept.

  21. Duane Arnold says:

    #16 Josh

    Luther used the phrase to escape the Aristotelian categories…

  22. Michael says:


    If you agree that the early church was sacramental, on what basis do we now reject that teaching?

  23. Duane Arnold says:

    #19 Josh

    Have fun… there are some real similarities…

  24. Xenia says:

    What do your churches do with the leftover communion elements?

  25. Josh the Baptist says:

    #22 – We recognize several things that the Church has gotten wrong throughout the years and depart from those teachings. We try to be completely scriptural in our worship, and of course church history would rank below scripture in our levels of authority.

    That being said, it is something to wrestle with. The early assemblies did not look much like any of our churches today. That should cause us to think twice, for sure. And unless we do some real rationalizing, it doesn’t appear that Ignatius is speaking about The Lord’s Supper in the same way anyone here understands it.

  26. John 20:29 says:

    to what purpose are the real body and real blood at the eucharist? do we re-crucify our Lord? i won’t concede that the early Christians had the Faith all figured out – what i will concede is that the Holy Spirit was at work among them in a greater and necessary support of their simple faith than we allow Him today with our embroidered faith….

    I’ve never doubted that Christ was present at communion or that the admonition to not participate unworthily has real meaning, but to what purpose do the elements become Jesus’ real flesh (long since transformed in His resurrection)? To pause and enter into a remembrance of the price and the gift and our obligation to live in Christ makes sense and does include a mystery, but to ingest into my corrupted flesh my Lord’s glorified body …. just makes no sense, beyond mystery indeed
    that said, is it really a debate worth having? you are welcome at “my” communion table, but i respect yours… from a distance…

    God keep

  27. Xenia says:

    And unless we do some real rationalizing, it doesn’t appear that Ignatius is speaking about The Lord’s Supper in the same way anyone here understands it.<<<

    Don't be so sure!

  28. Duane Arnold says:

    #24 Xenia

    In mine, the hosts are reserved to commune the sick and homebound…

  29. John 20:29 says:

    Xenia’s #24 reminds me of a popular book written by an Irishman a few years back whose name escapes me…
    as a R.C. child, after taking communion he was sick to his stomach and threw up – his Irish grandmother was in a tizzy because he had vomited the body and blood of her Lord…

  30. Josh the Baptist says:

    Xenia, we have had this discussion in the past, but I don’t remember the Orthodox holding to literal body and blood at the supper. That is what Ignatius is calling for.

    Forgive me if I am remembering incorrectly.

    We don’t have much leftover in communion. We will save it for the next time if possible.

  31. Xenia says:

    Em, this happened at our parish a few months ago. A toddler, who tends to be hyper-active anyway, threw up right after receiving the Eucharist. There is a procedure, done very calmly and not in a tizzy, that takes care of situations like this.

  32. Michael G Bell says:

    I am a bandmate of Duane’s. You may find this prayer of Ignatius an enjoyable listening supplement to this article. The song “Ignatius” is from our album “Martyrs’ Prayers” by The Project. https://soundcloud.com/themartyrsproject/04-ignatius
    It can also be listened to on The Project’s website: http://www.themartyrsproject.com

  33. Xenia says:

    Josh, yes, we believe in the literal Body and Blood. We do not attempt to explain it.

    St. Ignatius is one of our proof texts, you might say.

  34. Duane Arnold says:

    #25 Josh

    I first read Ignatius when I was about 21. I read it as “church history”. In those days, 30 or 40 years removed from the Apostles seemed to be two lifetimes. Now, at 64, I reminisce with my friend DavidM about things that took place 45 years ago! We can remember conversation, incidents… even jokes! So when I read Ignatius today, I realize that I’m reading the theology of a man who likely knew the Apostles, remembered the conversations, the incidents, etc. It may be as close as we get to what the Apostles thought of the shape of the Church.

  35. Xenia says:

    Tradition says that St. Ignatius was the little child that Christ took upon His lap when he said “Let the children come unto Me.”

  36. Xenia says:

    In Orthodox churches, any leftovers are consumed after the Liturgy by the priest or the deacon. Some is reserved for hospital visits.

  37. Duane Arnold says:

    #36 Xenia

    Yes, much the same…

  38. Josh the Baptist says:

    @33 – Thanks Xenia. Must have forgotten.

  39. Xenia says:

    You’re welcome, Josh.

  40. Josh the Baptist says:

    Duane @ 34 – I first read early church writings for a church history class, maybe 15 years ago. I was stunned at how far the early church seemed from scripture, and how far I seemed from the early church. It really shook my faith. I had no clue.

  41. Duane Arnold says:

    #40 Josh

    My experience was much the same. Then it got worse… I suddenly thought, “What if the early Church had it right?” Then I found people like Bob Webber at Wheaton who told me I wasn’t crazy. And so began the journey…

  42. The New Victor says:

    it is interesting that we are still having the same arguments that Jesus and his disciples did as outlined in John 6:25…. and many deserted him after this.

    My view is “treat the Host as if it were” because God said it was, and not get bogged down into whether His resurrected Body loses substance (that the above passage proceeds the feeding of the 5000 makes this question irrelevant anyway) or if the elements can be scientifically tested.

    Thanks for the link to the letters, DA. I recently read Polycarp’s Epistle and was surprised (though not at the same time) how much he quoted the Gospels.

  43. Josh the Baptist says:

    @ 41 – Similar process, though not all the same conclusions. Still on the journey though.

  44. Jean says:


    “I would note here that the practice of referring back to ones baptism as an entry into the faith was already present before the Lutherans…”

    Thank you. The the purpose of the Reformation was not to innovate, but recover the apostolic faith. And I’m sure you’re aware that Paul, also, reminds his congregations constantly to remember what Baptism has accomplished for them.

  45. Duane Arnold says:

    #43 Josh

    As I look back on my journey, I’ve noted one issue that kept arising – “When I encounter new evidence, what do I do with it?” I couldn’t ignore it and be intellectually honest. I think that struggle with what we find to be true (and it is a struggle at times) is really what theology is all about… Like you, I’m still on the journey.

  46. Xenia says:

    Was it only a year ago that I was trying to get everyone to read St. Ignatius?

  47. Michael says:

    The other thing that the evangelical church would find problematic in these writings is the importance and authority of the bishop.

    The bishopric was of primary importance to the church…

  48. Josh the Baptist says:

    @ 47 – Very true. The rapid development of the hierarchy was tough for me the first time I read it.

  49. Michael says:


    The place of the bishop was to zealously guard doctrine and practice.
    What has replaced this position…if indeed it has been replaced?

  50. Duane Arnold says:

    #47 Michael

    Yes… and the involvement of the Church in marriage as this involves the province of the bishop. Some commentators believe it was about the prevention of “mixed marriages” (believers and unbelievers) while others think this indicates a sacramental view of marriage. I’m undecided on this one…

  51. Michael says:


    Could it be both?

  52. Duane Arnold says:

    #49 Michael

    … AND to be a sign of unity!

  53. Duane Arnold says:

    #51 Michael

    Perhaps… placing it in the context of baptism and the Eucharist makes me think it was more than “vetting” the couple!

  54. Josh the Baptist says:

    Well, I don’t want to be seen to be arguing the counterpoint to Duane’s focus on the church fathers. I think it the study is very valuable, and Duane an able teacher.

    But to answer #49 – I think evangelicals would not see a hierarchy in the New Testament, and seeing it developing later ( though not much later), and finally finding its abusive end in the pope.

    Baptists see the highest position for guarding doctrine in the local church. We don’t acknowledge any authority above it.

  55. Duane Arnold says:

    #54 Josh

    There are indications in the NT. My question is, in the first generation, within living memory of the Apostles, would they have been able to so quickly have this threefold hierarchical structure without some apostolic sanction? I know it is an argument from silence, but I think someone would have said, “Hold on, this isn’t what we were taught!”

  56. Josh the Baptist says:

    Maybe. Or maybe sinful men saw an opportunity to grab power.

    Like you said, it is an argument from silence.

    We see the Apostles being given the authority to set doctrine and practice, and we have their writings. We try to stick to those as much as possible.

  57. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Josh – at #54 – your pastor is the final word?

  58. Duane Arnold says:

    #56 Josh

    I hear you, but then I have to consider men like Polycarp (also from the apostolic age) occupying the same sort of office as Ignatius. And then the other bishops coming from other cities… I think a “power grab” unlikely (unless it was a “grand conspiracy” – then we’ll need to call Dan Brown!)…

  59. Michael says:

    Duane @ 55… I find that a compelling argument as well.

  60. Josh the Baptist says:

    @ 57 – No. The local church. We can fire the pastor.

  61. Josh the Baptist says:

    Do we all agree that by the time this hierarchy reached the Pope, it was abhorrent?

  62. Duane Arnold says:

    #59 Michael

    When we also consider the inability to travel quickly (note the journey of Ignatius) the fact that this structure was already in place, in numerous cities (including Rome) at the time of Ignatius writing the letters, pushes it back right into the apostolic age…

  63. Michael says:


    Certainly there were corrupt popes through Roman Catholic history.

    However, Rome is not the only church with a bishopric.

    The concept itself, I find to be both biblical, historical, and necessary.

  64. Michael says:

    Back to the article…the question of unity has to be the most vexing issue of the church.

    One need only read one thread here to know that we’re nowhere close to such…

  65. Josh the Baptist says:

    Biblical, no. Historical, absolutely.

    All good though. We disagree. No need to get bogged down with my objections. Good talking to you guys!

  66. Michael says:


    You’re performing a valuable service here…as most of our other evangelical brethren have either left or are silent.

    You represent them well…

  67. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Lutherans like the Church Fathers and quote from them freely in the Confessions. Modern day, the Fathers are quoted in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (CPH) and in the study notes of The Lutheran Study Bible (CPH)

  68. Duane Arnold says:

    #67 MLD

    One of the best people on the Church Fathers is a Lutheran – Bill Wienrich at Concordia, Ft. Wayne. His early work on martyrdom is incredible. More than that, a genuine believer and a dear friend.

  69. Xenia says:

    Do we all agree that by the time this hierarchy reached the Pope, it was abhorrent?<<<

    No, we don't agree. Why are you confining your discussion to the admittedly corrupt Roman Catholic hierarchy?

  70. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Bill Wienrich is in the middle of writting a 3 vol commentary on John. Volume 1 is out.
    Here is an interview with him discussing John but he begins speaking about Ignatius.


  71. Josh the Baptist says:

    @ 69. You sort of sound like you agree with me? The Roman Catholic hierarchy is what Protestants were protesting against.

  72. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Josh, “The Roman Catholic hierarchy is what Protestants were protesting against.”
    Not the Lutherans – the issue was not the Pope but the teachings and practices of the church.

    If the RCC leadership had responded properly to Luther he would have been fine with the state of the papacy and every thing would have been OK. Think of it, then Luther would not have been forced into referring to the pope as a fart.!

  73. Duane Arnold says:

    #70 MLD

    Yes, the first volume is superb….

  74. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane, I have 10 of the Concordia Commentaries – but I can’t afford them any longer (well I could but my wife would beat me for spending $55 for a book.)
    I am holding out for Jeffrey Gibbs’ 3rd volume of Mathew and I am done. 😉

  75. Jim says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that Josh is performing a valuable service here. I still read here almost every day, but feel it’s best to bless the PP with silence.

  76. Duane Arnold says:

    With regard to bishops, presbyters and deacons… I think most of us in the West are fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of “hierarchic authority”. This would not have been the case in the first century. Yet, we cannot disregard the evidence of Scripture (overseers, presbyters and deacons are indicated) nor the witness of writings from the post-apostolic age (the Didache, Ignatius, etc.). Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is, “Using the historic model of a three-fold ministry of Bishops (overseers), presbyters (elders) and deacons, what would that model look like in the 21st century West?”

    I think most of us would say that it would not be “monarchial”. The positions may be invested with authority within the Church, but perhaps the authority would be based upon service, rather than “right of place”. I don’t think this issue is limited to Anglicans, RCC or EO. There are many evangelical churches with “monarchial” pastors invested with much greater authority than you might find in historic hierarchical communities.

    Again, just some thoughts…

  77. Josh the Baptist says:

    “Using the historic model of a three-fold ministry of Bishops (overseers), presbyters (elders) and deacons, what would that model look like in the 21st century West?”

    We see that as pastor / elders / deacons.

  78. Duane Arnold says:

    #77 Josh

    Does it rise “higher” in any way (district, conference, etc.) or is it completely local for your church?

  79. Josh the Baptist says:

    Local, as far as “authority” goes. That is the Southern Baptist belief. The association and convention are where we cooperate with other SBC churches for missions.

  80. Josh the Baptist says:

    Should explain, the association is local. Convention is national.

    The associational minister, or even convention president, have no say as far as what goes on in my church. Now, if we are teaching false doctrine or promoting sin or something, they can vote to not cooperate with us any longer.

  81. Duane Arnold says:

    #80 Josh

    So essentially the polity is congregational. Firstly, is that a good thing, bad thing or neutral? Secondly, it seems to be a different polity from what we see in Ignatius – again, good, bad or indifferent?

    I’ve had really great bishops in my church and I’ve had (and seen) some really bad bishops. I’ve had friends in the RCC and EO who have said the same. On the other hand, all of us have seen local pastors, accountable only to a hand picked board of elders who have been less than stellar. It’s still that issue of authority/accountability…

  82. Josh the Baptist says:

    Yes we are congregational, as are most SBC’s. Some are elder led, some probably do other things, but all are autonomous.

    I do think Congregational polity is the best way, though we don’t see it in the fathers, and it is only hinted at in the New Testament.

  83. Jean says:


    Of course I am biased, but I think the LCMS has as good a structure as any. It is congregational, except that built into the by-laws and required for associating with the Synod and the rostering of any pastor, is (1) agreement to follow the confessional writings in the Book of Concord; and (2) a formal seminary education at an approved Lutheran Seminary.

    The congregation is responsible for (1) calling only ordained Lutheran pastors and (2) making sure that the pastor does not deviate from the Book of Concord. If he does, he is in breach of his call letter and the congregation’s by-laws. This subjects him to removal.

    If the congregation follows the pastor in violating the confessions, then the Synod can break affiliation with the pastor and the congregation.

    Of all the structures I’m aware of, this one makes the most sense to me. The problem with a bishop or pope overseeing many congregations is that if you get one false teacher, he can lead many congregations astray, as we see with Rome, Church of England, UMC, etc. On the other hand, with no foundation in confessional writings, a strict congregational system is very hit or miss based almost entirely on local factors.

    I don’t know a lot about the EO structure, but as between the structures seen in UMC, Church of England and RCC, I would just as soon go with a congregational system.

  84. Kevin H says:

    Jumping in late with my thoughts. With my evangelical background, I do lean more towards Josh’s thinking when it comes to church/ecclesiastical polity. I do appreciate the discussion here along with the original article as it helps me to learn as I do not nearly have the knowledge on the subject that many here do have.

    Although I do favor more local autonomy as opposed to a bishop-type set-up presiding over a bunch of churches, I do get disturbed by the level of division in the Church. Some is necessary, but I think some is unnecessary, especially in attitude. A bishop-led church could help with some division, but certainly isn’t a cure-all. We all could use greater doses of humility at times and I think that would go a long way in helping to mend (or avoid in the first place) some of our unnecessary division.

  85. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    One thing about LCMS polity is that we vote in even the bosses. There are 35 district presidents (really bishops, but the LCMS didn’t like bishops) and the Synod President and 5 vice presidents. They all have some ruling authority but they need to stand for reelection.

  86. Duane Arnold says:

    #83 Jean

    Yes, you’ve hit the problem in the “modern age” – accountability. The Book of Concord provides for accountability, or a standard of belief and conduct. In the Anglican world, Bishops at consecration take vows (as do priests) to be “faithful to the doctrine and discipline” of the Church. The problem comes, however, when they are not faithful. This has happened often with disastrous results. Of course there are LCMS churches which, at least to my eye, are, shall I say, very different from what I might expect to find in an LCMS church. Usually it has to do with the pastor.

    I think we worship “success” to such a degree, that if a pastor is successful, it is an end in and of itself.

    Perhaps if being consecrated a bishop or chosen as a pastor meant that you were first in line for martyrdom (as in the early Church) it might be different!

  87. Duane Arnold says:

    #84 Kevin

    “We all could use greater doses of humility at times and I think that would go a long way in helping to mend (or avoid in the first place) some of our unnecessary division.”

    Could not agree more…

  88. Josh the Baptist says:

    “I think we worship “success” to such a degree, that if a pastor is successful, it is an end in and of itself.”

    100% true.

  89. CM says:

    Some food for thought….

    One of the qualifications of an elder according to Scripture is “Able or Apt to Teach”. But it does necessarily mean that all elders teach or all elders are required to teach (and Scripture does not say if they do not teach at all or only at some point).

    Scripture lists Pastor and Teacher in the office list, but it could it not also be argued from the Greek that it is actually Pastor-Teacher. So instead of pastor, elder, and deacon, it may be elder and deacon. In the category of elder, there are elders who teach and those who do not.

    Thus, could it be the pastor-teacher is an elder whose duties gives him more prominence than the other elder, not that he is higher up in a hierarchical structure or some org chart. One crude analogy would the relationship of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court (yes I know the Chief Justice presides over Impeachment Trials of the President in the Senate).

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