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Lightfoot's Apostolic Fathers In English - J. B. Lightfoot, D. D., D.C. L., LL. D.

THESE seven epistles were written in the early years of the second century, when the writer was on his way from Antioch to Rome, having been condemned to death and expecting to be thrown to the child beasts in the amphitheatre on his arrival. They fall into two groups, written at two different halting-places on his way. The letters of the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and Romans, were sent from Smyrna, while Ignatius was staying there and was in personal communication with Polycarp the bishop. The three remaining letters, to the Philadelphians, to the Smyrnæans, and to Polycarp, were written at subsequent stage in his journey, at Alexandria Troas, where again he salted for a time, before crossing the sea for Europe. The place of writing in every case is determined from notices in the epistles themselves.

The order in which they are printed here is the order given by Eusebius (H.E. iii. 36). Whether he found them in this order in his manuscript, or whether he determined the places of writing (as we might determine them) from internal evidence and arranged the epistles accordingly, may be questioned. So arranged, they fall into two groups, according to the place of writing. The letters themselves however contain no indication of their chronological order in their respective groups; and, unless Eusebius simply followed his manuscript, he must have exercised his judgment in the sequence adopted in each group, e.g. Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and Romans.

The two groups, besides having been written at different places, are separated from each other by another distinctive feature. All the epistles written from Smyrna are addressed to churches which he had not visited in person but knew only through their delegates. On the other hand all the epistles written from Troas are addressed to those, whether churches (as in the case of the Philadelphians and Smyrnæans) or individuals (as in the case of Polycarp), with whom he had already held personal communication at some previous stage in his journey.

At some point in his journey (probably Laodicea on the Lycus), where there was a choice of roads, his guards selected the northern road through Philadelphia and Sardis to Smyrna1. If they had taken the southern route instead, they would have passed in succession through Tralles, Magnesia, and Ephesus, before they reached their goal. It is probable that, at the point where the roads diverged, the Christian brethren sent messengers to the churches lying on the southern road, apprising them of the martyr’s destination; so that these churches would despatch their respective delegates without delay, and thus they would arrive at Smyrna as soon as, or even before, Ignatius himself.

The first group then consists of letters to these three churches, whose delegates had thus met him at Smyrna, together with a fourth to the Roman Christians apprising them of his speedy arrival among them—this last probably having been called forth by some opportunity (such as was likely to occur at Smyrna) of communicating with the metropolis. The three are arranged in a topographical order (Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles) according to the distance of these cities from Smyrna, which is taken as the starting-point.

The second group consists of a letter to the Philadelphians whom he had visited on his way to Smyrna, and another to the Smyrnæans with whom he had stayed before going to Troas, together with a third to his friend Polycarp closing the series.

The order however in the Greek MS and in the versions (so far as it can be traced) is quite different, and disregards the places of writing. In these documents they stand in the following order:

1.              Smyrnæans

3.              Ephesians

2.              Polycarp

4.              Magnesians

5.              Philadelphians

6.              Trallians

7.              Romans.

This sequence is consistent with the supposition that we have here the collection of the martyr’s letters made at the time by Polycarp, who writing to the Philippians says ‘The Epistles of Ignatius which were sent to us by him, and others as many as we had with us, we send to you, even as ye directed: they are subjoined to this letter’ (§ 13). But though this order, which is given in the documents, has high claims or consideration as representing the earliest form of the collected Epistles, I have substituted the chronological arrangement of Eusebius is more instructive for purposes of continuous reading.








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