Asia Minor Prior to Ignatius

In the preceding chapter (p. 69), we found it to be probable that at the time of Ignatius, the majority of the faithful in the churches of Asia Minor at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Philadelphia held to a form of Christianity that allowed Ignatius to consider them to be his special allies. But at the same time, we advised against hastily extending this judgment to cover the whole of Asia Minor, or even of only its western part. The surviving clues concerning Antioch, Philippi, and Polycarp's Smyrna should at least urge us to be cautious, if not frighten us away from such a generalization. It seems to me that this warning is reinforced and provided with even greater justification by the following considerations.

Approximately two decades prior to Ignatius another Christian had written to communities in Asia Minor -- John, the apocalyptic seer (Rev. 1-3). It would not be easy to uncover significant common features that would permit us to group these two authors together as representatives of the same sort of Christian religious position. What distinguishes them from one another is, above all, the difference that separates a Syrian gentile Christian from a Palestinian, or at any rate an unmistakably Jewish Christian (cf. 84-87). Moreover, in this early period "orthodoxy" is just as much a sort of collective concept as is "heresy," and can clothe itself in quite different forms according to the circumstances. There is also roorn for doubt as to whether the apocalypticist, with his extremely confused religious outlook that peculiarly mixes Jewish, Christian, and mythological elements and ends [[78]] in chiliasm, can be regarded in any sense as an intellectual and spiritual leader of an important band of Christians in western Asia Minor. To what extent was he really an influential figure in the region to which he addresses himself? [82] To what extent might this have been only wishful thinking? Did anything else meet with general approval, other than his stormy outburst, seething with hate, against the pagan empire, which perhaps found acceptance in those circles directly affected by the persecution? Unqualified confidence that his recipients would follow his lead is not exactly the impression left by the apocalyptic letters, at least when taken as a whole!

But a real connection between John and Ignatius does appear in the fact that John's letters find him in opposition to a false teaching of an umistakably gnostic brand1 -- a heresy which pursues its path within the churches themselves, and not alongside them.2 There is no need here to enter into the lively controversy, connected especially with Ramsay's notions,3 as to the reasons that prompted John to select precisely these seven cities. That the number is significant for Revelation, with its propensity for sevenfold divisions, requires no proof. The Muratorian Canon already recognized this and thought that a kind of "catholic" appearance had been achieved thereby (lines 48-59). But why did John select precisely these communities from the Christianity round about him? What, for example, gave Laodicea precedence over Colossae and Hierapolis? In view of our earlier explanations, I think that I am entitled to suppose that John selected the most prominent communities from those in his area which met the prerequisite of seeming to afford him the possibility of exerting a real influence. Subsequently, Ignatius apparently followed a similar procedure and in turn made a selection from among those seven communities. The necessity of retaining the number seven resulted less in pressuring the apocalypticist to exclude communities in great number, as in compelling him to include one church or another which only to a very limited degree belonged to the sphere of his influence.

Of the seven communities of Asia Minor mentioned in Revelation, Ignatius addresses only three -- Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia; [[79]] [83] he does not address those of Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea. Can it be a coincidence that the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia, to which Ignatius turns, are precisely those which fare best in the Apocalypse, appear also to be especially free of heresy,4 and later produce the martyrs of the catholic church during the persecution connected with Polycarp (Martyrdom of Polycarp 19.1-2)? Is it by chance that the communities of Pergamum, Thyatira,5 Sardis, and Laodicea6 are missing from Ignatius' audience -- communities that the seer vehemently rebukes, in which Balaamites and Nicolaitans (2.14 f.), the prophetess Jezebel and those who know "the deep things of Satan" (2.20, 24) live undisturbed and are allowed to mislead the servants of the Son of God (2.20), or which from the viewpoint of the author are utterly indifferent and lukewarm (3.15 ff.)? On his final journey, Ignatius passed through Laodicea and Sardis as well as Philadelphia and Smyrna, and yet neither of the former names is even mentioned by him, much less are the communities of the respective cities addressed in a letter. In Sardis, however, there were also a few who had not soiled their garments, according to Revelation 3.4. Similarly in Thyatira, which for the travelling Ignatius was no more difficult to reach nor more remote than Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles (which likewise had not seen him within their walls), already in the view of John (Rev. 2.24) the heretics are opposed by "the rest" (hoi loipoi) in such a way that the latter also is branded as a minority.

Is it too much to claim if, on the basis of what Ignatius both says and does not say, and considering the evidence of the Apocalypse, one concludes that in his attempt to stretch the circle of his influcnce as widely as possible for the sake of his constituency there was nothing Ignatius could hope for from the Christian groups represented at Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea, because no points of contact existed for him there -- no "bishop" was present whom he [[80]] could press into service, because the heretics had maintained, or had come to exercise, leadership there? Even Smyrna no longer left Ignatius [84] with the same favorable impression as it had the apocalypticist (see above, 69). It is unfortunate that no gnostic revelation is extant in answer to the seer, that no heretical community leader describes the conditions in Asia Minor from his point of view! In light of the early and abundant literary activity of the heretics in diverse regions, I do not doubt for a moment that those concerned would neither meekly swallow the attacks of a John or of Ignatius and Polycarp, nor limit themselves to oral defense. Surely they sent out letters and written works of various sorts. But unfortunately the tradition has been prejudiced against them, and their literary protests have perished just like the heretical gospels of Egypt and Antioch, to which reference already has been made (see 50-53, 66 f.).

One further point should not be overlooked in this connection. While the community of Laodicea to which Paul once had written (Col. 4.16) makes a very unfavorable impression on the apocalypticist but still can serve to round out the number seven, two other churches from the immediate vicinity, well known to the Apostle to the Gentiles, are completely neglected. The community of Hierapolis (Col. 4.13) and that of Colossae are bypassed in icy silence by both John and Ignatius.7 The latter went right through Hierapolis, and as for Colossae, if he did not also go through it, he at least passed very close by. Furthermore, a figure like that of Papias prevents us from even toying with the idea that there might not have been Christians at least in Hierapolis at the time of Revelation and of Ignatius. Indeed, Paul already had testified of his friend Epaphras, that he had labored much with the people of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Col. 4.13).

In Asia Minor, Ignatius appears in approximately the same small region as does the apocalypticist. This fact, and the way in which they both conduct themselves, furthers our insight into the extent of orthodoxy's authority at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century. We might learn even more from Ignatius if we [85] were informed in greater detail about the route of his journey. Unfortunately, however, we do not know for sure whether he covered [[81]] the whole distance from Antioch to Smyrna by the land route, or whether, as has been conjectured and is surely possible, he made use of a ship as far as, say, Attalia.8 If he had not done the latter,9 then the yawning gap between Antioch in the east and Philadelphia in the west in which Ignatius left behind no traces10 would surprise us even more than his bypassing of Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae. For in that case a district is completely omitted in which numerous Christian communities already must have existed prior to Ignatius. Paul traveled through Lycaonia and Pisidia during his first missionary journey, and later he revisited the communities founded at that time. Why is it that these regions also, like the Phrygian area reached by Paul, are so completely thrust aside, while Ignatius' concern and his attempt to exercise influence are first aroused as he draws near to the west coast?


Does it not provide further food for thought, that we miss here a reference to the very same sector in southern and eastern Asia Minor to which the opening words of 1 Peter fail to refer -- a fact that, in the latter instance, has repeatedly caused astonishment and occasioned all sorts of attempts at explanation? Thus, for example, writes H. Windisch: "He [i.e. 1 Peter] apparently wanted to include all the provinces of Asia Minor. That he did not mention Lycia, Pamphylia, and Cilicia is indeed surprising; nevertheless, Lycia may still have been without any important congregations, Pamphylia may have been included in Galatia, and Cilicia may have been excluded as belonging to Syria."11 I find this just as unpersuasive as the notion that the unnamed Phrygia is hidden away in the designation "Asia." No doubt that was true for the Roman administration. But the Romans also united Pontus with Bithynia,12 which are as clearly separated as possible in 1 Peter, where the one district is mentioned at the [[82]] start of the series, while the other, separated by three names, concludes it. The Christians who, in the year 177/78, composed the account of martyrdoms [86] that occurred in the churches of Vienna and Lyons still are able to distinguish accurately between Asia and Phrygia (EH 5.1.3, 5.3.4; cf. 5.14); and from the very beginning the Montanists13 are called Phrygians or Kataphrygians, which shows that even for a long time after 1 Peter, Phrygia has by no means been absorbed into Asia from the Christian perspective.14 I should therefore prefer to explain the blank spot on the map of Asia Minor in 1 Peter by believing that there simply was nothing to be gained for "ecclesiastically" oriented Christianity in that area at that time. In southeastern Asia Minor, from the borders of Syria westward to Phrygia, "ecclesiastical" intervention was not tolerated at the end of the first century, and even Rome realized the futility of such an attempt -- the same Rome which at about the same time acted in a quite different manner with respect to Corinth (see below, chap. 5).

The estimation of the situation in southern and eastern Asia Minor as proposed above appears to me to receive further support through an examination of the earliest history of that church which occupies the first place both for the apocalypticist and for Ignatius, and receives excellent treatment from both. Even Ephesus cannot be considered as a center of orthodoxy, but is rather a particularly instructive example of how the life of an ancient Christian community, even one of apostolic origin, could erode when caught in the turbulent crosscurrents of orthodoxy and heresy. Paul had laid the foundation in Ephesus and built up a church through several years of labor. If Romans 16 represents a letter to the Ephesians, then, on the basis of verses 17-20, we must conclude that already during the lifetime of the apostle, certain people had appeared there whose teaching caused offense and threatened divisions in the community. To this would correspond the complaint in 1 Corinthians 16.9, concerning "many adversaries" in Ephesus, if it refers to those who had been baptized. In any event, the book of Acts has Paul warning the Ephesian elders (presbyteroi) in his farewell to them at Miletus that from their own midst there will arise men speaking perverse things [[83]] to draw away the Christians for themselves (20.30). This prediction actually describes the situation in Ephesus at the time of the composition of Acts.

Ignatius also knows of difficulties in Ephesus. But the picture that [87] he sketches for us obviously is already rather blurred. In clear contrast to the earlier book of Acts, Ignatius praises the Ephesians for having stopped their ears against the strange teachers who had stealthily slipped into their midst from elsewhere (Eph. 9.1). And although the book of Acts presupposes that a presbyterate consisting of several members was leading the church of Ephesus, Ignatius, faithful to his interests, treats the monarchial episcopate as a deeply-rooted institution also in this city (see 1.3, 2.1, 6.2 -- Bishop Onesimus).

To what extent Ignatius was still conscious of the fact that Paul was the actual father of the community cannot be determined. To be sure, he calls the Ephesians "fellow initiates with Paul" (Paulou symmystai, Eph. 12.2). But not only can the one Apostle become "the apostles" with whom the Ephesians "always agree in the power of Jesus Christ" (11.2), but the expression in 12.2 is in no way based upon Paul's apostolic activity but rather on the fact that the road to martyrdom, which Paul also traveled, leads past this city, and thus on the claim that the Apostle mentions the Ephesians in every letter (12.2). Nevertheless, Ignatius knows 1 Corinthians (see below, chap. 9) and he could have learned from it that Paul actually had labored in Ephesus.

While this last point must remain open, we find as we turn to the Apocalypse that in this book the recollection of the Pauline establishment of the church of Ephesus appears to have been completely lost, or perhaps even deliberately suppressed. At most one finds a faint recollection that at an earlier time this community had been better off, in the statement about having "abandoned the love you had formerly" (Rev. 2.4). But now it is in danger of slipping into gnosticism; now it must strive against the false apostles and the Nicolaitans (2.2, 6). The threatening words of the Son of Man (2.5) surely do not sound as if the struggle were easy and the victory certain! And as far as Paul is concerned, in the Apocalypse only the names of the twelve apostles are found on the foundations of the new Jerusalem (21.14); there is no room for Paul. And at the very least, it will be but a short time before the Apostle to the Gentiles will [[84]] have been totally displaced in the consciousness of the church of Ephesus in favor of one of the twelve apostles, John. [88] In Ephesus, Paul had turned out to be too weak to drive the enemies of the church from the battlefield.

The Apocalypse does not leave us with a particularly impressive idea of what sought to replace the Pauline gospel in the "ecclesiastically oriented" circles at Ephesus. Aside from Revelation's being a book of comfort and faith for threatened and persecuted Christians, features which are the result of the difficult contemporary situation and which thus to some degree transcend party lines, there remains for the most part a Jewish Christianity, presumably of Palestinian origin.15 This was undoubtedly better suited for the anti-gnostic struggle than was the Pauline proclamation, but in other respects it is hardly comparable.

The pastoral Epistles (see below, chap. 9) are chronologically most recent, compared with Acts, Ignatius, and the Apocalypse. For the earliest history of Christianity in Ephesus they yield hardly anything that originated in actual recollection of the apostolic age. To the same extent that we are unwilling to concede that the epistle to Titus conveys actual knowledge about the relationship of Paul to Christianity in Crete (see above, 76), neither do we grant that 1-2 Timothy give us insight into the relations between the Apostle to the Gentiles and Ephesus. What they report to us concerning the apostolic period, namely that Paul himself already left one of his helpers there in order to check the danger of heresy which was already in full bloom (1 Tim. 1.3 ff.) is not correct, and is refuted by the future tense in Acts 20.30. This merely reveals to us the desire of orthodoxy to know that the Apostle to the Gentiles, whose activity in Ephesus is related by 1 Corinthians as well as Acts (which may also have provided the basis for the relationship between Paul and Crete), also stood on their side in the struggle against heresy. The Paul of the pastoral Epistles fights in union with "the church" against the heretics. Nevertheless, history categorically prohibits ascribing victory to him on the Ephesian front, from which he and his influence fade rapidly in the second century. Even the Pastorals, in agreement with Revelation, have to admit that in the second century, the Apostle [89] had [[85]] lost the contest in Ephesus. While 2 Timothy 1.18 heaps praise on Onesiphorus for special services performed at Ephesus, it is at the same time admitted that his labors had not borne fruit. All the brethren in Asia, laments the same passage (1.15), have turned their backs on Paul. And Onesiphorus himself has vacated this futile battlefield in order to visit the Apostle in Rome (1.17). If we inquire into the history of heresy in Ephesus as to whence this difficulty may have arisen, we encounter, without supposing thereby to have found a complete explanation, the person of Cerinthus,16 whom we can introduce at this point with all the more justification since not only his gnostic teaching in general, but also his specific enmity toward Paul and his letters are clearly attested.17

I can understand this state of affairs, which I have sketched in bold strokes, only by supposing that in Ephesus a community of apostolic origin has, through its struggles with external enemies18 and above all through internal discord and controversies (see above, 82-84), suffered such setbacks and transformations that for many, even the name of its founder became lost. Orthodox Christianity underwent reorganization and now found an apostolic patron in that member of the twelve who shared his name with the apocalypticist and who established close connection with Jesus more securely than had Paul, which was considered to be the highest trump in the struggle with heresy. Only the canonization of the book of Acts and of the Pauline letters, including the Pastorals, once again provided clear insight into the real situation with respect to Paul.19

I cannot agree with K. Holl and E. Schwartz in describing what took place in Ephesus in postapostolic times and resulted in the transfer of leadership from Paul to John [90] as a taking over of the province of Asia by the primitive (Palestinian) community.20 [[86]] Probably a better explanation for what seems to have happened may be found in the fact that in the wake of the devastating blow that at first threatened, and then actually struck Jerusalem and Palestine in the war with the Romans, but under the pressure of other influences, something occurred that was similar to what had already taken place after the persecution of Stephen. Just as at that time the primitive (Palestinian) community did not "take over" Antioch (Acts 11.19 ff.), neither did it now bring under its dominion the province of Asia. Rather, now Jewish Christians, who no longer felt safe and secure in the Holy Land and east of the Jordan, sought a new home in more distant territory. Philip the evangelist, who had already left Jerusalem at the occasion of the persecution of Stephen (Acts 8.1 ff.) and had come to live in the coastal city of Caesarea where we still find him around the year 60 (Acts 21.8 f.), emigrated to Hierapolis together with his prophesying daughters.21 John the "elder," the disciple of the Lord (above, 84 n.15), probably also exchanged Jerusalem for Ephesus.

On the other hand, I cannot pass over in silence the fact that, as far as we can tell, no such migration took place either to Egypt or to Syria and the adjacent southeastern portion of Asia Minor.22Perhaps Christianity did not yet exist in Egypt at that time. And we may presume that in the other regions just mentioned things had become a bit too hot for a Jewish Christian version of the new religion. Here gnosticism predominated, with its explicitly anti-Jewish attitude. Even in not overtly gnostic circles of Christianity located closer to Palestine, there was little sympathy for Jews and their associates, as seems to me to be clear from the Gospel of John and the letters of Ignatius (see below, 88), not to mention writings which are later in time and cannot be localized with certainty.

In the western part of Asia Minor, the conditions apparently were more favorable. Here the Jewish Christian element, which from the very beginning was no more absent than it was in Corinth (see below, 99 f.), gained [91] impetus through the immigration of outstanding members of Palestinian Christianity, of whom John and Philip are [[87]] examples; an impetus that must have been all the more effective since, at the very latest, the catastrophe in Palestine forever erased the demand that the gentile Christians of the diaspora should be circumcised and should to some extent observe the ceremonial law. Thus the fence of the law had been pulled down and fellowship between Jewish and gentile Christians in the outside world became really possible. The line of demarcation henceforth no longer runs between Jewish and gentile Christianity, but rather, between orthodoxy and heresy. And in Ephesus we find the former embodied in the alliance between a type of Jewish Christianity which has no commitment to the ceremonial law and gentile Christians of similar orientation. Here orthodoxy and heresy struggle over the Pauline heritage, and in the process something is lost; certainly it is not the entire Pauline inheritance, but something that once existed -- the consciousness of him to whom they were indebted.

The Jewish Christianity that had outgrown its legalistic narrowness and the "church" found themselves, where they existed, to be united against gnosticism with respect to their high esteem for the Old Testament and their mutual preference for a concrete (historical) interpretation of religious situations and events, especially as they relate to the life of Jesus and the age to come. The heresy fighter, Justin, a gentile by birth, who received the decisive stimuli for his conversion in the city of John and later lived there for some years as a Christian,23 based his Christian faith upon the Old Testament, the synoptic gospels, and the book of Revelation (utilizing also certain suggestions from the hellenistic world of ideas).24 And Papias, who lived in the city where Philip settled and who also struggled against heretics, wants to ground himself primarily on the apostolic tradition concerning the life of Jesus; along with it, he taught an eschatology that is also dependent on the Apocalypse, the coarseness of which certainly would not have been judged more leniently by the gnostics than it was by Eusebius!25 In exchange for having sacrificed the law for their orthodox gentile Christian brethren, Asian Jewish Christianity [92] received in turn the knowledge that henceforth [[88]] the "church" would be open without hesitation to the Jewish influence mediated by Christians, coming not only from the apocalyptic traditions, but also from the synagogue with its practices concerning worship, which led to the appropriation of the Jewish passover observance.26

Even the observance of the sabbath by Christians appears to have found some favor in Asia.27 And the aversion of Ignatius, in Magnesia (8-11) and Philadelphia (5-9), toward a Jewish Christianity that apparently had abandoned its most offensive demands28 is less characteristic of ecclesiastically oriented circles in Asia than of that Syrian gentile Christian for whom the Old Testament itself meant very little, at least in practice. For him, all such things belong to the realm of the heretics. Thus the existence of gnosticism side by side with Jewish Christianity in Ignatius' picture of the heretics he opposed in those two cities is, in my opinion, due less to the complicated nature of the heresy there than to the complex personality of Ignatius, who as an ecclesiastical leader rejects gnosticism, and as a gentile Syrian Christian opposes the Jewish falsification of the gospel wherever he thinks he finds it.

The fact that 1 Timothy also opposes a gnosticism containing Jewish features could be regarded as an indication that in Ephesus and Asia there actually existed a gnosticizing Jewish Christianity large and powerful enough to evoke opposition, so that one could not simply classify the Jewish Christianity of this region as being on the side of ecclesiastical orthodoxy without further examination. Thus Jewish Christianity would be divided, just as gentile Christianity was divided, into orthodox and heretical types. But since with reference to Crete also, the author of the Pastorals opposes the same admixture of Jewish Christianity and gnosticism, which is hardly natural and [[89]] certainly not frequent, it appears to me to be more convincing to understand the peculiar heresy combatted in the Pastorals from the perspective of the mentality of the pseudonymous letter writer -- as "Paul" [93] he must deal with the "teachers of the law" (1 Tim. 1.7) and the "circumcision party" (Titus 1.10), but as a second century churchman, he opposes gnosticism.

At Paul's time those communities that he had established or which developed under his influence and which were situated either in Asia or in adjacent Phrygia were almost totally of a gentile Christian type. Evidence of this is the letter to the Colossians, in the case of Phrygia.29 Unfortunately, we do not possess a reliable witness from Paul himself that would reveal the conditions in Ephesus. But everything we know of other communities founded by Paul permits us to conclude that the congregations of Asia (1 Cor. 16.19) also were composed mainly of gentile Christians. Why do we find that in postapostolic times, in the period of the formation of the ecclesiastical structure, the Jewish Christians in these regions come into prominence as described above? It would seem to me that the easiest explanation for this is found in the assumption already suggested by the Apocalypse and by Ignatius, that a large segment of the gentile Christians became less and less suited for "ecclesiastical" fellowship, so that in the developing church the emphasis would automatically shift sharply in favor of the Jewish Christian element. We will now briefly survey those New Testament writings of the postapostolic age which, in addition to the Apocalypse, are engaged in the struggle with heretics, even though we cannot claim their origin in Asia Minor with certainty. The epistle of Jude, the polemic of which is taken up in 2 Peter, shows us that the heretical gnostic teachers and their followers have not yet withdrawn from the orthodox group, but still participate in the common love feasts (Jude 12). Their influence is important and therefore the tone of their orthodox opponent is quite vehement. He makes the concession to the Christian group that he addresses that the deception has been brought into the community from the outside (Jude 4). Yet when we recall that, contrary to Acts 20.30 (above, 82 f.), Ignatius made the same concession to the Ephesian church, it is difficult to suppress the suspicion that in Jude also the reference merely represents a device of the [[90]] letter writer, or better, an attempt to prove the absolute correctness of his own group. The faith for which his fellow believers must fight [94] has been delivered once and for all to the saints (Jude 3); therefore that which troubles the faith must come "from without." For the church members addressed in Jude, such a view may bring some consolation, but it does not satisfy the historian. Rather, he sees a problem in the convenient expression "they secretly sneaked in," and asks the question "whence did they come?" Then, if he wants to attribute credibility to the letter of Jude for the congregations to which it first came, the historian must assume that the heresy had its home somewhere else in Christendom, and that it successfully sallied forth from there in conquest.

The pastoral Epistles have already been of assistance in our invesgitation and description of the earliest history of the church of Crete (above, 75 f.) and of Ephesus (above, 84 f.). Thus I can bypass them here without examining them anew from different perspectives. With regard to the Pastorals and the other primitive Christian writings under discussion here, I am not interested in renewing the oft-repeated attempt of describing the false teachings that are presupposed, interpreting exactly their meaning, testing their uniformity, and connecting them with names from the history of heresy -- or else denying such a relationship. All this may be presupposed as already known (see above, xxv). For us, it suffices to observe that the Pastorals also deal with a situation in which there existed the antithesis between ecclesiastically oriented faith of some sort and a many headed heresy (Titus 1.10, polloi) in one form or another. But when we speak of orthodoxy and heresy in this way, we must once more guard ourselves against simply equating these words with the notions of majority and minority, of original form and deviation (see above, xxii f.). The confession of Jesus as Lord and heavenly redeemer is a common foundation for both tendencies, and for a long time sufficed to hold the differently oriented spirits together in one fellowship.

When it is reported -- and that by a non-Christian gentile30 -- that a Christian group like the one in Bithynia sang hymns to Christ as God, pledged itself to live a holy life, and observed cultic meals, it [[91]] is by no means clear from such a description whether it refers to heretics or whether it was a mixed community of heretics and ecclesiastically oriented Christians, or finally, whether orthodox belief predominated there. All too [95] quickly, in my opinion, the final option is accepted as self-evident.31 But Marcion of Sinope in Pontus32 proves that at least very soon after Pliny's term of office, heresy was present in that region and the ground must have been somewhat suitable for the spread of heresy. Already in his homeland, Marcion had achieved a special status, and when he left he received letters of recommendation from his followers and friends in Pontus.33 A couple of decades later, Dionysius of Corinth wrote to Nicomedia against Marcion (EH 4.23.4) and in another letter to the church of Amastris in Pontus, he advised them not to make the readmission of penitent heretics too difficult (EH 4.23.6). There were, moreover, more martyrs from among the Marcionites,34 the Montanists,35 and other heretical groups than orthodoxy would like to admit, and the church took great pains to divest this fact of its significance and seductive splendor.36 Even from this point of view, we have no reason to conclude that Pliny was opposing a Christianity of an indubitably ecclesiastical orientation.

Just as Titus 1.10 f. laments about the many deceivers who are successful in winning whole families and household churches and therefore counsels to have as little as possible to do with them (3.10 f.), so also in the Johannine Epistles we find that there are many seducers (1 John 2.18, 2 John 7) and the danger is increasing at such an alarming rate that the antichrist himself appears to have taken shape in them (1 John 2.18). Boasting of their possession of the spirit, they deny the identity of the man Jesus with Christ, the Son of God (1 John 2.22; 4.2 f.; 5.1, 5, 6 ff., 20). "This is the one form of docetism [[92]] that is attested and is conceivable only within gnostic [96] circles; apparently those in question have boasted that with their new and perfect knowledge (2.3 f.) of the true God (e.g. 5.20 f.), which excludes the idea of an incarnation of the divine, they themselves are the true bearers of the spirit (4.1-6, "pneumatics") and promise eternal life only to their followers (2.25-28)."37

How this particular form of gnosticism is related to that of Ignatius' opponents is open to question. But the author of 1 John resembles his ally against heresy (see above, 88) in that he also makes practically no use of the Old Testament, except for borrowing from it the figure of Cain as the monstrous prototype of the heretics (3.12). This attitude toward "scripture" is not really characteristic of the ecclesiastical approach of Asia, but would, in my judgment, fit better in the east, perhaps in Syria, where as I still hold to be extremely probable, the longer Johannine Epistle and the Gospel of John originated, around the time of Ignatius.

But be that as it may, it is certain that the separation of the two parties has already taken place in the Christian situation to which the author of 1 John carefully addresses himself. We hear that it took place in such a way that the heretics left the community and made themselves independent so that they now viewed their orthodox fellow Christians with hellish, fratricidal hatred: "If they really had belonged to our group, they would have remained with us" (2.19). The author of 1 John celebrates this as a victory (4.4). But when in the very next verse we hear his strained admission that "the world" listens to the others, our confidence that here the "church" represents the majority and is actually setting the pace evaporates. And it is hardly a sign of strength when we read the anxious instruction in 2 John, which originated in similar conditions, that heretics should not be received into one's house, nor even be greeted (10 f.). Only by strictest separation from the heretics can salvation be expected; orthodoxy here appears to have been pushed completely onto the defensive, and to be severely restricted in its development. And perhaps we do more justice to the actual historical situation if we suppose that it was not the heretics who withdrew, but rather the orthodox who had retreated [97] in order to preserve what could be protected from entanglement with "the world." [[93]]

Insofar as we can hardly ascribe 3 John to a different author from, at least, 2 John, we ought to interpret the former in terms of the same background, as an attempt of the "elder" to carry forward the offensive -- an offensive, however, that runs aground on the resistance of the heretical leader Diotrephes. The latter pays back the elder in kind38 and sees to it that the elder's emissaries find no reception in his group (10). To be sure, 3 John does not contain an explicit warning against false teachers. Nevertheless, its close connection with 2 John is a sufficient indication of its thrust. And the assurance repeated no less than five times in this brief writing that the brethren who support the elder possess the "truth" -- that entity which in 2 John and also in 1 John distinguishes the orthodox believer from the heretic -- renders it very unlikely, to my way of thinking, that we are here dealing merely with personal frictions between the elder and Diotrephes. This situation would seem to be similar to that in Philippi, where the letter of Polycarp suggests the presence of a heretical community leader (above, 73 f.). Diotrephes holds the place of leadership (3 John 9) -- according to the elder's opinion he presumptuously assumed it, but his opinion cannot be decisive for us -- rejects the approaches of the elder, who feels himself unjustly suspected (10), and summarily excludes from the community those of his members who are sympathetic to the elder. Since 2 John shows the elder to be a determined opponent of a docetic interpretation of Christ, we need not spend time in searching for the real reasons that time and again prompt him to renew his efforts to maintain contact with the beloved Gaius through letters like 3 John, and with the church of Diotrephes through emissaries.

Third John thus becomes especially valuable and instructive for us in that it represents the attempt of an ecclesiastical leader to gain influence in other communities in order to give assistance to likeminded persons within those communities, and if possible, to gain the upper hand. Polycarp of Smyrna had attempted the very same thing in Philippi, and Ignatius also tried it in Asia by encouraging those churches that were accessible to him to join in an effort in behalf of the orthodox [98] in his home city in Syria (above, chap. 3). Later, Dionysius of Corinth wrote his letters for the same purpose,39 and [[94]] the letters of recommendation for Marcion by the brethren in Pontus probably should not be regarded as being much different (see above, 91). Also the writer of the Apocalypse endeavored to influence a larger circle of communities in his vicinity to exhibit a clearly anti-heretical position. Contemporary with the Apocalypticist is 1 Clement, and I am of the opinion that this famous letter of the Roman community to Corinth can only be understood correctly if it is considered in this sort of context, even though many particulars concerning 1 Clement may remain obscure.

With 1 Clement we have reached Rome, and have thereby come to an arena which is to be of unique significance for reaching a decision in the struggle between orthodoxy and heresy. This is indicated already in that, while the above-mentioned attempts to reach beyond one's own community either were completely unsuccessful or had no noticeable success, Rome was able to achieve a great and lasting result. //end ch 4//


[1] Theophilus, a later successor to Ignatius as a leader of Antiochian orthodoxy, used the Apocalypse in his struggle against the gnostic, Hermogenes (EH 4.24).

[2] Knopf, Zeitalter, pp. 291 f.

[3] W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (London, 1904), pp. 171 ff.

[4] Cf. Knopf, Zeitalter, p. 290.

[5] A few decades after Ignatius, Thyatira was completely lost to Montanism (Epiphanius Her. 51.33). Cf. Zahn, Forschungen, 5 (1893): 35 f.

[6] Cf. the Christian Sibylline Oracle 7.22 f.:

Woe Laodicea, you who not once did see God,

You will deceive yourself, insolent one!

The surge of the Lycus will wash you away. [For other ETs, see R. McL. Wilson in Hennecke-Schneemelcher, 2: 721; also M. S. Terry, The Sibylline Oracles\2(New York: Eaton and Mains, 1899), p. 150.]

[7] Geographical considerations providc no satisfactory explanation. Whoever treats Laodicea as part of Asia (Rev. 1.4) cannot consider Hierapolis and Colossae as Phrygian, and thus exclude them.

[8] On this problem, cf. Eusebius EH 3.36.3-6, who in any event attests that Ignatius used a land route through Asia.

[9] The land route is supported particularly by T. Zahn, among the older commentators -- see his Ignatius von Antioch (Gotha, 1873), pp. 250-295 and especially 264 f. Cf. also J. B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers\2, 2 (S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp).l (London: Macmillan, 1889); 33 ff. [and W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire (London, 1893), p. 318],

[10] Philo, the "deacon from Cilicia" (Philad. 11.1; cf. Smyr. 10.1), can scarcely be viewed as evidence for the land route, any more than can the "nearby (eggista) churches" (Philad. 10.2).

[11] Die katholischen Briefe\2, HbNT 15 (1930): 51.

[12] J. Weiss, RPTK\3 10 (1901): 536.29 f.

[13] N. Bonwetsch, RPTK\3 13 (1903): 420.25 ff. Achelis, Christentum 2, 45, 420.49.

[14] Cf. the references to "Phrygians" and "Asia" in the anti- Montanist writing quoted in EH 5.16.9-10.

[15] If the apocalypticist is to be identified with the "presbyter John, a disciple (maqhths) of the Lord" mentioned by Papias (in Eusebius EH 3.39.4).

[16] See Polycarp's story about John and Cerinthus at the bathhouse in Ephesus (Irenaeus AH 3.3.4 = EH 4.14.6). Cf. Knopf, Zeitalter, pp. 328-330.

[17] See Filaster Her. 36 and Epiphanius Her. 28.5.3, which probably reflect the lost Syntagma of Hippolytus [Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte, pp. 411 ff.; see also below, 280-282].

[18] Even prior to the writing of the Apocalypse, Paul could speak of such problems -- 1 Cor. 15.31, 2 Cor. 1.8 ff.; perhaps also Rom. 16.3 f.

[19] See Irenaeus AH 3.3.4 (end), and the Acts of Paul,

[20] K. Holl, Gesammelte Aufstze zur Kirchengeschichte, 2: Der Osten (Tbingen: Mohr, 1928; repr. Darmstadt, 1964), p. 66; E. Schwartz, ZNW 31 (1932): 191. Cf. also Lietzmann, History, 1: 189 f.

[21] See Polycrates of Ephesus in EH 3.31.3 = 5.24:2; also Papias in EH 3.39.9.

[22] I am quite aware of how scanty the material on this matter is, and I do not want to make any fuss about it if this idea does not fit naturally into what to me is becoming an increasingly clearer picture.

[23] See Zahn, Forschungen, 6 (1900): 8, 192.

[24] Cf. EH 4.18 and the writings of Justin.

[25] EH 3.39.13, "a man of exceedingly small intelligence." For general information on Papias, see EH 3.39, based in part on Irenaeus AH 5.33.3f.

[26] Of course, this did not take place without difficulty. Melito of Sardis wrote a treatise concerning the Passover after the martyrdom of Sagaris, bishop of Laodicea (ca, 164/166; Neumann, Rmische Staat, p. 66), because a great discussion on this matter had arisen in the bereaved community (EH 4.26.3). [This is not the "Pascal Homily" of Melito that has come to light in several manuscipts and versions since 1940; see below, p. 315 n. 37.] Shortly thereafter, Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, wrote a work on the same situation (cited in the "Easter Chronicle" or Chronicon paschale, pp. 13 f., ed. L. Dindorf [Bonn, 1832]).

[27] Ignatius Magn. 9.1; cf. Bauer, Ignatius, ad loc.

[28] According to Philad. 6.1, it can even include the uncircumcised.

[29] Jlicher(-Fascher), Einleitung\7, p. 129.

[30] Pliny the Younger Epistles 10.96.7 [ed. and ET by W. Melmoth, LCL 2 (1915). ET also in Stevenson, New Eusebius,pp. 13-15, and in similar source books].

[31] E.g, by Harnack, Marcion\2, p. 23.

[32] Epiphanius Her. 42.1; cf. Justin Apol. 26.5 and 58.1, Irenaeus AH 1.27.2 (= 25,1), Tertullian Against Marcion 1.1.

[33] This information is found in an ancient Latin prologue to the Gospel of John: cf. Harnack, Evangelien-Prologe pp. 6, 15 f. [= 325 and 334 f.]. Also his Marcion\2 pp. 24, 11* ff.

[34] See the material in Harnack, Marcion\2, pp. 150 (esp. n. 4), 154, n. 1, 315* f., 340*, 348*.

[35] See the treatment in K. J. Neumann, Rmische Staat, pp. 66-69.

[36] See especially the anonymous anti-Montanist from Asia Minor quoted in EH 5.16.20-22: even though there are a great number (pleistoi) of martyrs from the vaious sects, and particularly from Marcionites, we still do not admit that they possess the truth and confess Christ truly (21).

[37] Jlicher(-Fascher), Einleitung\7, p. 227.

[38] That is, corresponding to 2 John 10 f. [See further below, pp. 289, 308.]

[39] Cf. Harnack, Briefsammlung pp. 36-40. .