Things you didn't know about the early Church – Part 3: Christian witnesses

This is a continuation of some interesting things about the early Church that you may not know.  This post focuses on Christian witnesses to Jesus.


1.  In the 90’s AD, Clement, bishop of Rome, wrote a letter to the church in Corinth

Clement mentions the letters that the apostle Paul had previous written to the church in Corinth, urging the Corinthians to consider again Paul’s words to them in those letters.  Clement also quoted from the Gospels and talked about the Trinity.  Clement also writes: “The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God.   Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ.   Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God.   Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand.   And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labors], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.”


2.  Ignatius, bishop of Antioch during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98 to 117AD), wrote a series of seven letters to the churches he was passing by while on his way to Rome to be executed

His letters were addressed to the people of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna; there was also a letter to his friend Polycarp.

In his letter to the Magnesians, he tells them, “… I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that ye attain to full assurance in regard to the birth, and passion, and resurrection which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is our hope [cf. 1 Tim. 1: 1], from which may no one of you ever be turned aside.”

Similarly, Ignatius’ letter to the Trallians speaks of the reality of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection and why it is important.  He says, “Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink.   He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.   He was also truly raised from the dead, His father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.  But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds?   Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts?   Do I therefore die in vain?   Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?”


3.  Polycarp, a friend and student of St. John the Apostle, wrote a letter to the Philippians in the early second century

In his letter, Polycarp quotes from the New Testament books of Matthew, Acts, I Timothy, Galatians, I Corinthians, I John, I Peter, II Corinthians, and Ephesians.   A section of his letter provides a brief account of the Christian faith while citing many passages from the New Testament.   Polycarp writes: “… the strong root of your faith … bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] ‘whom God raised from the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave’ [Acts 2: 24].   ‘In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’ [1 Pet. 1: 8]; into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that ‘by grace ye are saved, not of works’ [Eph 2: 8-9], but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.”

Polycarp also writes: “… may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who ‘raised Him from the dead’ [Gal. 1: 1].”

Later, in his old age, Polycarp was martyred by the Roman government in the amphitheater in Smyrna about 155 AD.


4.  Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in the late second century, wrote about the virgin birth of Jesus and the Trinity.

Irenaeus specifically rejected the idea that Mary was just a “young woman” rather than a virgin.  He writes, “So God became man, and the Lord Himself saved us, giving the sign of the Virgin, but not as suggested by some who in our day venture to translate the text thus: ‘Lo, the young woman shall be with child and bear a son.’”

He also writes of the Trinity in three articles, similar to the Apostles’ Creed:

“And this is the drawing up of our faith, the foundation of the building, and the consolidation of a way of life.   God, the Father, uncreated, beyond grasp, invisible, one God the maker of all; this is the first and foremost article of our faith.   But the second article is the Word of God, the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was shown forth by the prophets according to the design of their prophecy and according to the manner in which the Father disposed; and through Him were made all things whatsoever.   He also, in the end of times, for the recapitulation of all things, is become a man among men, visible and tangible, in order to abolish death and bring to light life, and bring about the communion of God and man.   And the third article is the Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied and the patriarchs were taught about God and the just were led in the path of justice, and who in the end of times has been poured forth in a new manner upon humanity over all the earth   renewing man to God.”


5.  Irenaeus also describes how the four Gospels in the New Testament were written.

He writes: “Matthew published a written gospel for the Hebrews in their own tongue, while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there.   After their passing, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter.   Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by him.   Lastly John, the disciple of the Lord, who had leant back on His breast, once more set forth the gospel, while residing at Ephesus in Asia.”


6.  The Christian apologist Justin Martyr wrote letters to the Roman emperors Antoninus Pius (better known as Marcus Aurelius) and his sons Lucius and Verissimus

Around 150AD, Justin Martyr wrote his First and Second Apologies to the Roman emperors to describe and defend the Christian faith to them.  He describes the articles of the faith, Jesus and who he is, worship and the Lord’s Supper, and the bodily resurrection of the dead, among other topics.


7.  The Christian lawyer Tertullian wrote about how the churches used the New Testament Scriptures

He writes about how Christ sent the Apostles to found churches and that these churches all share the same faith in Christ.  In his own day, the beginning of the third century, these churches read from the the “authentic writings” of the Apostles (i.e. the books of the New Testament).


8.  Athenagoras, in the second century, wrote to the Roman emperor that Christians worship the Creator of all things

Writing to the emperor, Athenagoras compares the worship of God to how people pay homage to the emperor himself.  He says, ”

He writes, “The world is fair indeed, and excels in size and array all that exists in the ecliptic and all that is about the pole, and it excels too in the beauty of its spherical form; yet not this but its maker is to be adored.   When provincials come to you, they do not turn aside from doing obeisance as is fitting to their lords and masters – for it is from you that they would gain the boons they seek – nor do they run to admire the majesty of your dwelling; but, while they casually admire your royal home for its beautiful construction, when they arrive there, it is to you, their all-in-all, they give their homage… If, as Plato says, this world is God’s craft, then, marveling at its beauty, I go to worship the craftsman.”


9.  The Christians bishop Eusebius wrote a history of Christianity in the early fourth century

Eusebius covers topics such as the birth of Jesus, his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, the writing of the Gospels and other books of the New Testament, and the rise of Christianity.  He also quotes from many New Testament books as well as early Christian writers.  Eusebius’ book is fascinating.


10.  Christian scribes introduced innovations in writing that help show which writings Christians considered authoritative

Christians scribes were the first to adopt the codex form (i.e. a bound book form with pages), rather than the scroll, for the writings that became the New Testament.  They also introduced punctuation into Greek writing and utilized abbreviations for Christ’s name in a way similar to how they abbreviated the name of God (Yahweh).  These were meant to aid the reading of the texts in worship.  They also circulated the texts of the New Testament as consolidated units within the codex.  Initially, the four Gospels were circulated together as one unit (i.e. within one book), while the writings of Paul were circulated together as another unit.  Then, the two sets were brought together into a single codex, along with the other writings of the New Testament.  This happened fairly early, by the second century.  None of the so-called “lost Gospel” or Gnostic texts were included in these collections or circulated with them or ever considered authoritative by the Church.


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