The 15 forged letters of Ignatius:

They claim to be written by Ignatius in 110 AD, but were forged by another in about 250 AD that deceptively claimed to be Ignatius.

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  1. All scholars reject 8 of Ignatius' alleged writings as forgeries and say the 7 remaining letters are genuine and were written in 110AD.
  2. Some scholars reject them all as forgeries that were written about 250AD
  3. We take the firm view that all 15 Ignatian letters are forgeries. All of the letters that claim to be written by Ignatius are fakes.
  4. Almost nothing is known about the real Ignatius. See Schaff's comments below.

A. Fraudulent forgeries of Ignatius:

  1. The real Ignatius, lived about 110 AD. A total of 15 letters were allegedly written by Ignatius. We take the view that all 15 of Ignatius's letters are forgeries. The fact that neither Eusebius (300 AD) nor Jerome (495 AD) make reference to the first 8 Ignatian letters (Tarsians, Antiochians, Hero, Philippians, Maria to Ignatius, Mary, 1st. St. John, 2nd St. John, Virgin Mary) makes it likely that they were composed as late as 300-500 AD. It is this reason that all scholars reject these first 8 letters as forgeries. Some scholars, however accept that the "7 Ignatian letters" are genuine. These 7 Ignatian letters are: Polycarp, Ephesians, Magnesians, Philadelphians, Romans, Smyrnaeans, Trallians. We feel these scholars are in error and that even the 7 Ignatian letters are forgeries. (We have colour coded the quotes below.)
  2. We take the view that all of Ignatius' writings are forgeries and unreliable. There are fifteen books attributed to Ignatius. Eight are surely forgeries and spurious. Seven are considered by some as genuine, although many scholars also believe they are all forgeries. Again, we view all Ignatius' writings as forgeries. They purport to be written by Ignatius, who lived about 110 AD. We believe it is clear, however, that they are all no earlier than 220 AD, more likely 250 AD. Although they are forgeries, they do represent the views of the author in time of 250 AD. We see a clear change from the Bible pattern, from a plurality of Elders (also called bishops) , deacons and saints, to a single Bishop who ruled the congregations and under him were a plurality of elders, then deacons and saints. At this point in history, congregations were still autonomous and independent, but we also see the seeds of development for the Papal system, where one man rules over all churches world wide which first occurred in 606 AD.
  3. Within one of the "7 genuine Ignatius letters", is a powerful clue it is clearly a forgery from a later time. The very first historical reference to the "Catholic Church" is nestled warmly between very strong commands to obey the bishop as you would Jesus Christ and the only valid baptism or communion service is one by the bishop's authority. We feel that is it no co-incidence that the first historical reference to the church as the "Catholic Church" is contained within one of the "7 genuine Ignatius letters". Schaff comments: "been found in this letter to the Romans, especially as in this letter we first find the use of the phrase "Catholic Church" in patristic writings." (Philip Schaff: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians.) We feel it is proof enough to reject all as forgeries. "See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father ... Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter VIII.-Let Nothing Be Done Without the Bishop.)
  4. Having said this, the Ignatian letters do represent real history for the dates they were actually written. Forgeries yes, but even the forgeries prove that there was no one bishop over the church universal.
  5. The first 8 letters of Ignatius do provide insights into what a the 4th-5th century author wished Ignatius had said in support of the authors current setting. The 7 letters of Ignatius being written probably around 250 AD, likewise give an insight into what was going on in 250 AD.
  6. We therefore date the 8 letters of Ignatius at 300-500 AD and the 7 letters of Ignatius at about 250 AD.
  7. "It is now the universal opinion of critics, that the first eight of these professedly Ignatian letters are spurious. They bear in themselves indubitable proofs of being the production of a later age than that in which Ignatius lived. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes the least reference to them; and they are now by common consent set aside as forgeries, which were at various dates, and to serve special purposes, put forth under the name of the celebrated Bishop of Antioch." (Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians)
  8. "The whole story of Ignatius is more legendary than real, and his writings are subject to grave suspicion of fraudulent interpolation. We have three different versions of the Ignatian Epistles, but only one of them can be genuine; either the smaller Greek version, or the lately discovered Syriac. In the latter, which contains only three epistles, most of the passages on the episcopate are wanting, indeed; yet the leading features of the institution appear even here" (History of the Christian Church, Philip Shaff, Vol 2, ch 4)
  9. "Already, in the infancy of the episcopate, began the second stage of development, that of express emphasis upon its importance. Ignatius of Antioch was the first to represent this stage. Again and again, in his epistles, he urges obedience to the bishop, warns against doing any thing without the bishop, represents the bishop as standing to the congregation as the vicegerent of Christ. At the same time, he regarded each bishop as limited to his own congregation, and recognized no essential distinctions within the episcopal body. Ignatius, however, appears to have been an exception to his age, in the degree of emphasis which he put upon the episcopal dignity. He stands so nearly alone in this respect, that some have been disposed to question the genuineness of the epistles attributed to him. Baur declares it impossible that any writer of so early an age could have uttered such high episcopal notions as appear in the so-called Ignatian Epistles." (Henry C. Sheldon, History of the Christian Church, Vol 1, p 147)

B. Roman Catholics and Orthodox love to quote Ignatius because he is the first writer who documents the unbiblical concept of one bishop over a body of elders (presbyters). Yet even Ignatius has no hint of diocesan bishops, where one bishop is over many local churches.

Click to View30-606 AD: The gradual historical Development of the Papal and Patriarchal Systems of Centralized Church Government away from the organization found in the Bible.
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True Bible organization is very different from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church organizations.

  1. Now of course, Roman Catholics and Orthodox simply cannot accept that all of Ignatius writings are forgeries. He is their "organizational and hierarchical savior"! They desperately need Ignatius. The Bible doesn't help them. No other post-apostolic writer before 200 AD helps them.
  2. Remember, even Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars agree with us: "In the New Testament, the terms bishop and presbyter are used interchangeably. This is evident from the following passage from Titus 1:5-7." (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 156)
  3. "There is one writer from the second century, however, who did not employ bishop and presbyter as interchangeable terms: St. Ignatios of Antioch. In his Letters, St. Ignatios makes it clear that in a given local Church, there is one bishop, a council of presbyters, and the deacons: "All of you follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; respect the deacons as the ordinance of God" (Smyrnaeans 8). It is commonly asserted by Protestant scholars that St. Ignatios' view of Church government was unusual in the early Church-even revolutionary. Indeed, the authenticity of the Ignatian Letters was hotly contested by many Protestants, based upon their a priori conviction that the episcopal form of Church government was impossible in the first decade of the second century? Today, however, there is little doubt among scholars as to the genuineness of the seven Letters in the current collection. It cannot be denied that St. Ignatios' clearly defined use of bishop and presbyter is highly unusual for this point in Church history. Nor can it be denied that he places a much greater emphasis on the role of bishop than do the other authors we are considering." (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 158)
  4. Even if the "7 accepted letters" Ignatius are genuine, even the Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars agree that he is all by himself on a separate branch.
  5. In fact, if it could be proven that any of Ignatius' letters are genuine, we could still dismiss Ignatius as "unorthodox" when compared to the record of scripture and the historical data. Perhaps the church in Antioch truly was the original festering pot of the false doctrine of apostate church government we see today in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

C. The value of the 15 forged Ignatius letters:

  1. The Ignatius forgeries clearly mark that period of history, when a single bishop ruled over a local church and was to view his authority as that of Jesus Christ. Members were to told to be "subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ ... also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ". And "bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles". In this way a single bishop is notably above the elders, just as Christ is above his apostles. This is actually quite blasphemous and nothing like this is found within the New Testament. Only a man of depraved mind with an evil thirst for power would ever equate the authority of a bishop with Jesus Christ.
  2. We also have bishops who were very young: "not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth". This clearly violates the qualifications set forth in 1 Tim 3 and Tit 1, where bishops are called Elders, meaning an elder man.
  3. The power of the bishop is also absolute. These kind of statements actually paved the way for papal infallibility. It also took the commands to baptize and server the communion out of the hands of the common Christian and gave it as the sole authority to the bishop. This again is foreign to the New Testament where there was no "clergy/laity distinction": "It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast" and "he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil"
  4. It is clear from the forged Ignatius writings, however, that Patriarchs or even diocese (a mother church ruling over a number of other local churches in a geographic area), did not exist at that time. At this point of history, Ignatius provides valuable insight to the stage between local bishops ruling over a single congregation and the age of the Patriarchs that existed in 325 AD.

D. Philip Schaff rejects all of Ignatius' letters as spurious:

Philip Schaff acknowledges that there has been a broad and long standing view that all the Ignatian letters are forgeries, and leaves the matter for the reader to decide for himself. Schaff does clearly reject all the letters as forgeries, as can be seen in his comments:

  1. "The whole story of Ignatius is more legendary than real, and his writings are subject to grave suspicion of fraudulent interpolation." (History of the Christian Church, Philip Shaff, Vol 2, ch 4)
  2. "But I am content to leave the whole matter, without comment, to the minds of Christians of whatever school and to their independent conclusions." Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians.
  3. "The reader may judge, by comparison for himself, which of these is to be accepted as genuine" Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians.

From: Philip Schaff: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians.

"been found in this letter to the Romans, especially as in this letter we first find the use of the phrase "Catholic Church" in patristic writings. He defines it as to be found "where Jesus Christ is," words which certainly do not limit it to communion with a professed successor of St. Peter."

The epistles ascribed to Ignatius have given rise to more controversy than any other documents connected with the primitive Church. As is evident to every reader on the very first glance at these writings, they contain numerous statements which bear on points of ecclesiastical order that have long divided the Christian world; and a strong temptation has thus been felt to allow some amount of prepossession to enter into the discussion of their authenticity or spuriousness. At the same time, this question has furnished a noble field for the display of learning and acuteness, and has, in the various forms under which it has been debated, given rise to not a few works of the very highest ability and scholarship. We shall present such an outline of the controversy as may enable the reader to understand its position at the present day.

There are, in all, fifteen Epistles which bear the name of Ignatius. These are the following: One to the Virgin Mary, two to the Apostle John, one to Mary of Cassobelae, one to the Tarsians, one to the Antiochians, one to Hero, a deacon of Antioch, one to the Philippians; one to the Ephesians, one to the Magnesians, one to the Trallians, one to the Romans, one to the Philadelphians, one to the Smyrnaeans, and one to Polycarp. The first three exist only in Latin: all the rest are extant also in Greek.

It is now the universal opinion of critics, that the first eight of these professedly Ignatian letters are spurious. They bear in themselves indubitable proofs of being the production of a later age than that in which Ignatius lived. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes the least reference to them; and they are now by common consent set aside as forgeries, which were at various dates, and to serve special purposes, put forth under the name of the celebrated Bishop of Antioch.

But after the question has been thus simplified, it still remains sufficiently complex. Of the seven Epistles which are acknowledged by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., iii. 36), we possess two Greek recensions, a shorter and a longer. It is plain that one or other of these exhibits a corrupt text, and scholars have for the most part agreed to accept the shorter form as representing the genuine letters of Ignatius. This was the opinion generally acquiesced in, from the time when critical editions of these Epistles began to be issued, down to our own day. Criticism, indeed, fluctuated a good deal as to which Epistles should be accepted and which rejected. Archp. Usher (1644), Isaac Vossius (1646), J. B. Cotelerius (1672), Dr. T. Smith (I709), and others, edited the writings ascribed to Ignatius in forms differing very considerably as to the order in which they were arranged, and the degree of authority assigned them, until at length, from about the beginning of the eighteenth century, the seven Greek Epistles, of which a translation is here given, came to be generally accepted in their shorter form as the genuine writings of Ignatius.

Before this date, however, there had not been wanting some who refused to acknowledge the authenticity of these Epistles in either of the recensions in which they were then known to exist. By far the most learned and elaborate work maintaining this position was that of Daillé (or Dallaeus), published in 1666. This drew forth in reply the celebrated Vindiciae of Bishop Pearson, which appeared in 1672. It was generally supposed that this latter work had established on an immoveable foundation the genuineness of the shorter form of the Ignatian Epistles; and, as we have stated above, this was the conclusion almost universally accepted down to our own day. The only considerable exception to this concurrence was presented by Whiston, who laboured to maintain in his Primitive Christianity Revived (1711) the superior claims of the longer recension of the Epistles, apparently influenced in doing so by the support which he thought they furnished to the kind of Arianism which he had adopted.

But although the shorter form of the Ignatian letters had been generally accepted in preference to the longer, there was still a pretty prevalent opinion among scholars, that even it could not be regarded as absolutely free from interpolations, or as of undoubted authenticity. Thus said Lardner, in his Credibility of the Gospel History (1743): "have carefully compared the two editions, and am very well satisfied, upon that comparison, that the larger are an interpolation of the smaller, and not the smaller an epitome or abridgment of the larger.... But whether the smaller themselves are the genuine writings of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, is a question that has been much disputed, and has employed the pens of the ablest critics. And whatever positiveness some may have shown on either side, I must own I have found it a very difficult question."

This expression of uncertainty was repeated in substance by Jortin (1751), Mosheim (1755), Griesbach (1768), Rosenmüller (1795), Neander (1826), and many others; some going so far as to deny that we have any authentic remains of Ignatius at all, while others, though admitting the seven shorter letters as being probably his, yet strongly suspected that they were not free from interpolation. Upon the whole, however, the shorter recension was, until recently, accepted without much opposition, and chiefly in dependence on the work of Bishop Pearson above mentioned, as exhibiting the genuine form of the Epistles of Ignatius.

But a totally different aspect was given to the question by the discovery of a Syriac version of three of these Epistles among the mss. procured from the monastery of St. Mary Deipara, in the desert of Nitria, in Egypt. In the years 1838, 1839, and again in 1842, Archdeacon Tattam visited that monastery, and succeeded in obtaining for the English Government a vast number of ancient Syriac manuscripts. On these being deposited in the British Museum, the late Dr. Cureton, who then had charge of the Syriac department, discovered among them, first, the Epistle to Polycarp, and then again, the same Epistle, with those to the Ephesians and to the Romans, in two other volumes of manuscripts.

As the result of this discovery, Cureton published in 1845 a work, entitled, The Ancient Syriac Version of the Epistles of St. Ignatius to Polycarp, the Ephesian, and the Romans, etc., in which he argued that these Epistles represented more accurately than any formerly published what Ignatius had actually written. This, of course, opened up the controversy afresh. While some accepted the views of Cureton. others very strenuously opposed them. Among the former was the late Chev. Bunsen; among the latter, an anonymous writer in the English Review, and Dr. Hefele, in his third edition of the Apostolic Fathers. In reply to those who had controverted his arguments, Cureton published his Vindiciae Ignatianae in 1846, and his Corpus Ignatianum in 1849. He begins his introduction to the last-named work with the following sentences: "Exactly three centuries and a half intervened between the time when three Epistles in Latin, attributed to St. Ignatius, first issued from the press, and the publication in 1845 of three letters in Syriac bearing the name of the same apostolic writer. Very few years passed before the former were almost universally regarded as false and spurious; and it seems not improbable that scarcely a longer period will elapse before the latter be almost as generally acknowledged and received as the only true and genuine letters of the venerable Bishop of Antioch that have either come down to our times, or were ever known in the earliest ages of the Christian Church."

Had the somewhat sanguine hope thus expressed been realized, it would have been unnecessary for us to present to the English reader more than a translation of these three Syriac Epistles. But the Ignatian controversy is not yet settled. There are still those who hold that the balance of argument is in favour of the shorter Greek, as against these Syriac Epistles. They regard the latter as an epitome of the former, and think the harshness which, according to them, exists in the sequence of thoughts and sentences, clearly shows that this is the case. We have therefore given all the forms of the Ignatian letters which have the least claim on our attention. The reader may judge, by comparison for himself, which of these is to be accepted as genuine, supposing him disposed to admit the claims of any one of them. We content ourselves with laying the materials for judgment before him, and with referring to the above-named works in which we find the whole subject discussed. As to the personal history of Ignatius, almost nothing is known. The principal source of information regarding him is found in the account of his martyrdom, to which the reader is referred. Polycarp alludes to him in his Epistle to the Philippians (chap. ix.), and also to his letters (chap. xiii.). Irenaeus quotes a passage from his Epistle to the Romans (Adv. Haer., v.28; Epist. ad Rom., chap. iv.), without, however, naming him. Origen twice refers to him, first in the preface to his Comm. on the Song of Solomon, where he quotes a passage from the Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, and again in his sixth homily on St. Luke, where he quotes from the Epistle to the Ephesians, both times naming the author. It is unnecessary to give later references.

Supposing the letters of Ignatius and the account of his martyrdom to be authentic, we learn from them that he voluntarily presented himself before Trajan at Antioch, the seat of his bishopric, when that prince was on his first expedition against the Parthians and Armenians (a.d. 107); and on professing himself a Christian, was condemned to the wild beasts. After a long and dangerous voyage he came to Smyrna, of which Polycarp was bishop, and thence wrote his four Epistles to the Ephesians, the Magnesians, the Trallians, and the Romans. From Smyrna he came to Troas, and tarrying there a few days, he wrote to the Philadelphians, the Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp. He then came on to Neapolis, and passed through the whole of Macedonia. Finding a ship at Dyrrachium in Epirus about to sail into Italy, he embarked, and crossing the Adriatic, was brought to Rome, where he perished on the 20th of December 107, or, as some think, who deny a twofold expedition of Trajan against the Parthians, on the same day of the year a.d. 116.

Philip Schaff: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note to the Syriac Version of the Ignatian Epistles:

Some account of the discovery of the Syriac version of the Ignatian Epistles has been already given. We have simply to add here a brief description of the mss. from which the Syriac text has been printed. That which is named a by Cureton, contains only the Epistle to Polycarp, and exhibits the text of that Epistle which, after him, we have followed. He fixes its age somewhere in the first half of the sixth century, or before the year 550. The second ms., which Cureton refers to as b, is assigned by him to the seventh or eighth century. It contains the three Epistles of Ignatius, and furnishes the text here followed in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Romans. The third ms., which Cureton quotes as g, has no date, but, as he tells us, "belonged to the collection acquired by Moses of Nisibis in a.d. 931, and was written apparently about three or four centuries earlier." It contains the three Epistles to Polycarp, the Ephesians, and the Romans. The text of all these mss. is in several passages manifestly corrupt, and the translators appear at times to have mistaken the meaning of the Greek original.


Steve Rudd

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