Ignatius and the Hebrew Bible

Ignatius vs. the LionsIgnatius of Antioch is a fascinating figure from the early 2nd century. Famous for encouraging Christian unity through obedience to bishops and for getting eaten by lions, he also had a helpful and balanced, if not much elaborated, view on what it means for Christians to read the Hebrew Bible on this side of the Christ event. In his Letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius confronts 'Judiazing' Christians, probably not too dissimilar from those Paul confronted, though Ignatius does so with noticeably more gentleness than Paul does in his letter to the Galatians.

After offering his trademark prescribed cure for disunity - stand by your bishop - Ignatius proceeds to attack what appears to be the greatest risk to brotherly love within the church in Philadelphia.

He explains that although he is in chains and on his way to his death, he nonetheless has hope because of the gospel message proclaimed by the Apostles. But this message was also proclaimed proleptically by the Hebrew prophets, who themselves "have obtained salvation within the unity of Jesus Christ" and "are included as participants in the universal Gospel hope" (IPhil 5).

But this doesn't mean, for Ignatius, that Christians should practice Judaism. Without Christ we're dead (cue tombstone metaphor), so avoid these kinds of teachings so they don't "weaken your love" (IPhil 6). Instead, cling to the unity of the church.

Ignatius works for unity in the church, because, he tells us, that's the kind of church that God lives in and where forgiveness reigns. So the Philadelphians need to avoid the teaching of factions and instead cling to the teachings of Christ. Ignatius seems to have come across some people when he was in town who told him they couldn't believe any teaching unless it was explicitly written in the "ancient records", the Hebrew Scriptures. They were using the prophets as the measure of the apostolic teaching, and where they didn't find clear precedent for a doctrine in the scriptures they refused to believe it. Ignatius counters:

But for my part, my records are Jesus Christ; for me the sacrosanct records are his cross and death and resurrection, and the faith that comes through him. (IPhil 8)

For Ignatius, that is his justification, that is his proof text, that is his Scripture: the narrative of Jesus, especially his death and resurrection, and the faith - the life of the ecclesia, the church - that springs forth from that Christ event.

Early Christians slowly and organically developed what was called the regula fidei, or rule of faith, which they used as the guideline for interpretation and the development of doctrine. Think of it as an early edition of the Apostles' Creed. But for Ignatius, Christ is the rule of faith. The narrative of Christ is the essential condition of Christian faith and teaching. While Judiazing Christians insist that all belief and practice pass through the litmus test of the Law and the Prophets and the Writings, for Ignatius Christ takes priority as the only litmus test needed. This represents not just a high understanding of the person of Christ, but a profound Christocentrism. The good bishop understood the story of Jesus to be the story through which all other stories are illuminated.

A quick gloss of St. Paul's big three

I believe that the church in our generation needs to rediscover the apostolic Gospel; and for this it needs the Epistle to the Romans. It needs also to rediscover the relation between this Gospel and its order, discipline, worship, and ethics; and for this it needs the First Epistle to the Corinthians. If it makes these discoveries, it may well find itself broken; and this may turn out to be the meaning of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. (C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1968)

Obedience and the Cross

Revisiting Richard Hays' The Moral Vision of the New Testament in preparation for putting together a long study of Mark's gospel, I came across this gem:

Nowhere...does the Markan Jesus promulgate love as a distinctive mark of discipleship. The disciples are summoned to follow, and the single fundamental norm is laid down in the narrative of Jesus' own death on the cross. Unlike Paul and John, Mark nowhere explicitly interprets Jesus' death as an act of  "love." The way of the cross is simply the way of obedience to the will of God, and discipleship requires following that way regardless of cost or consequences. (84-85)

Nothing against love, of course, especially in the Christian life. Just interesting that it can't be used as an organizing principle for understanding who Christ is or what the nature of discipleship is according to the Gospel of Mark. Instead, obedience to death, a Pauline theme as well in places like Philippians 2.