Ignatius and the Old Testament

Poor old Ignatius of Antioch

This week I’ve been thinking (and trying to write) about the interpretation of Scripture in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius’ seeming ignorance of Scripture is well-known. His opponents once came to him and said, “you keep saying ‘as it is written’, but you never tell us where ‘it is written’! If we can’t find it in the archives, we won’t believe it!” (Philad. 8.2, paraphrased slightly) For an early Second Century writer with a somewhat anti-Jewish interest, this seeming neglect of Scripture has often been taken as confirmation of the old theory of the ‘parting of the ways’, the gradual separation of Christianity and Judaism along identifiable trajectories. But it strikes me that the number of times Ignatius refers to particular passages of Scripture and the way in which he does so is not that different from some Pauline letters – particularly Ephesians, Colossians and the Pastorals (which Ignatius appears to have known well). This is especially so in Ignatius’ letter to the Magnesians which has three very clear references to scriptural texts. If the use of Scripture is significant for Christian Origins, it is so because it adds to the increasingly complex picture now recognised by most scholars: Ignatius mirrors the earliest known Christian use of Scripture whilst also recognising a real distinction between Judaism and Christianity (both terms he actually uses).


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