Satanology of the Apostolic Fathers: Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians

Complications in the internal structure of this letter have given rise to much dispute about its date, with a proposal being made that it actually consists of two letters written at different dates, which have been combined into one. Regardless of this structural discussion however, it is typically dated around the time of Ignatius’s death, near 120 CE.1 In this brief letter which is primarily an exhortation to ethical behavior and correct church order (quoting repeatedly in particular from Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and 1 Peter), the terms satanas and diabolos appear once each, both in the form of epithets (7.1).2

Although Polycarp clearly expects the reader to understand that ‘of the devil’ and ‘firstborn of satan’ are condemnatory terms, the letter provides little evidence for what Polycarp understood ‘the devil’ and ‘satan’ to mean. His hamartiology is consistently non-mythological, speaking of ‘sinful desires in the world’ (5.3),3 warning against ‘those who tempt others to sin’ (6.3),4 and advising prayer to God to avoid temptation, citing the weakness of the flesh (7.2).5

The devil is never referred to as a source of temptation and sin, and there is no reference to demons or exorcism; the battle with sin is won through self-regulation rather than battle with cosmological foes (5.3).6 Salvation is through ethical behavior (2.2-3),7 and repentance and forgiveness of others (6.2),8 without any reference to satan and demons. Care for the sick is discussed without any reference to satanic oppression, demonic possession, or exorcism (6.1),9 a non-mythological astheniology. Martyrology is only spoken of in the context of persecution by other people, not by (or as a result of), supernatural evil (2.3).10 Idolatry is spoken of as the coveting of material wealth, unrelated to pagan gods or demons (11.2).11

A very brief eschatological reference cites only the return of Jesus to judge the world (2.1),12 making no mention of satan and demons or eschatological war with cosmological forces of evil. In summary, Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians is predominantly non-mythological in character, with only two satanological terms in the form of epithets and no reference at all to demons or exorcism. At the most it could be described as weakly mythological.

Series Navigation<< Satanology of the Apostolic Fathers: Shepherd of HermasSatanology of the Apostolic Fathers: Martyrdom of Polycarp >>
  1. ‘Most recent discussions, whether rejecting or accepting the possibility of division into two letters, rightly insist on a date very close to the time of Ignatius’s death.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 20; ‘In addition to these points about authorship, the location of the Johannine Letters in Ephesus is supported by the fact that he oldest clear allusion to 1 Jn is by Polycarp of Smyrna in his Epistle to the Philippians,132 probably to be dated around 115-120 CE.’, Paul Trebilco, The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius (Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 268; ‘The earliest references to Ephesians that may be positively identified are in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians (ca. 120 CE); Ignatius to Polycarp (ca. 110 CE) probably alludes to Ephesians 5:25, 29.’, M. Eugene Boring, An Introduction to the New Testament: History, Literature, Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 351. []
  2. ‘For everyone “who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist”;38 and whoever does not acknowledge the testimony of the cross “is of the devil”;39 and whoever twists the sayings of the Lord to suit his own sinful desires and claims that there is neither resurrection nor judgment—well, that person is the first-born of Satan.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 214. []
  3. ‘Similarly, the younger men must be blameless in all things; they should be concerned about purity above all, reining themselves away from all evil. For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every “sinful desire wages war against the spirit,”31 and “neither fornicators nor male prostitutes nor homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God,”32 nor those who do perverse things. Therefore one must keep away from all these things and be obedient to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The young women must maintain a pure and blameless conscience.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 213. []
  4. ‘So, then, let us serve him with fear and all reverence, just as he himself has commanded, as did the apostles, who preached the gospel to us, and the prophets, who announced in advance the coming of our Lord.35 Let us be eager with regard to what is good,36 and avoid those who tempt others to sin37 and false brothers and those who bear the name of the Lord hypocritically, who lead foolish men astray.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 215. []
  5. ‘Therefore let us leave behind the worthless speculation of the crowd and their false teachings, and let us return to the word delivered to us from the beginning; let us be self-controlled with respect to prayer40 and persevere in fasting, earnestly asking the all-seeing God “to lead us not into temptation,”41 because, as the Lord said, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 215. []
  6. ‘Similarly, the younger men must be blameless in all things; they should be concerned about purity above all, reining themselves away from all evil. For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every “sinful desire wages war against the spirit,”31 and “neither fornicators nor male prostitutes nor homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God,”32 nor those who do perverse things. Therefore one must keep away from all these things and be obedient to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The young women must maintain a pure and blameless conscience.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 213. []
  7. ‘But “he who raised him from the dead will raise us also,”11 if we do his will and follow his commandments and love the things he loved, while avoiding every kind of unrighteousness, greed, love of money, slander and false testimony; “not repaying evil for evil or insult for insult”12 or blow for blow or curse for curse, (3) but instead remembering what the Lord said as he taught: “Do not judge, that you may not be judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; show mercy, that you may be shown mercy; with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”;13 and “blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 209. []
  8. ‘Therefore if we ask the Lord to forgive us, then we ourselves ought to forgive, for we are in full view of the eyes of the Lord and God, and we must “all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” and “each one must give an account of himself.”’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 213. []
  9. ‘The presbyters, for their part, must be compassionate, merciful to all, turning back those who have gone astray, visiting all the sick, not neglecting a widow, orphan, or poor person, but “always aiming at what is honorable in the sight of God and of men,”33 avoiding all anger, partiality, unjust judgment, staying far away from all love of money, not quick to believe things spoken against anyone, nor harsh in judgment, knowing that we are all in debt with respect to sin.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 213. []
  10. ‘but instead remembering what the Lord said as he taught: “Do not judge, that you may not be judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; show mercy, that you may be shown mercy; with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”;13 and “blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 209. []
  11. ‘But how can a man who is unable to control himself in these matters preach self-control to someone else?59 If a man does not avoid love of money, he will be polluted by idolatry, and will be judged as one of the Gentiles, who are ignorant of the Lord’s judgment.60 “Or do we not know that the saints will judge the world,”61 as Paul teaches?’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 217. []
  12. ‘“Therefore prepare for action and serve God in fear”6 and truth, leaving behind the empty and meaningless talk and the error of the crowd, and “believing in him who raised” our Lord Jesus Christ “from the dead and gave him glory”7 and a throne at his right hand; to whom all things in heaven and on earth were subjected,8 whom every breathing creature serves, who is coming as “Judge of the living and the dead,”9 for whose blood God will hold responsible those who disobey him.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 208. []

Post a Comment

*
* (will not be published)