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Summing Up the External Evidence

By:  Erick Nelson
Last Updated:  Monday May 24, 2004

The Apostolic Fathers - What did they know?

If we had tried to find the very best representatives of the Christian world-view in the 70-110 era, we would be hard-pressed to find three better candidates than Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp. Their writings constitute excellent primary source evidence regarding the theory we're considering.

Clement of Rome was an adult Christian during most of, or the entire, period under question.  He was one of the most influential Christian leaders during the Crucial Period (100-110).  In fact, he wrote his letter in the late 90's.  Clement's connection with the Gospel of Mark is remarkably strong; if it was written in Rome, it was written at Clement's own church.

Ignatius of Antioch was also an adult Christian during the 70-110 period.  Like, Clement, he was one of the most influential Christian leaders during the Crucial Period (100-110), writing his letters c. 107-115 AD.  Ignatius enjoys a strong connection with Matthew's gospel; if that gospel was written in Antioch, it was written at Ignatius' own church. 

Polycarp of Smyrna, a younger contemporary and friend of Ignatius, also lived during the 70-110 period (born approx 70 A.D. or earlier), and learned his Christianity in that era.  He became bishop of Smyrna during this Crucial Period, and wrote his letter either at the end of it (110 AD) or shortly thereafter (120 AD).  If John's gospel was written in Ephesus, Smyrna's neighboring church, Polycarp would have probably known the gospel writer(s) personally.  There is also excellent evidence, in my view, via Iraenaeus, that Polycarp was truly a pupil of John the Apostle.

The Apostolic Fathers - What did they say?

Since the height of the "metaphorical" era was presumably the composition of John's gospel near the end of the first century, these are the very people who would have understood the gospel metaphorically, if the MG Theory were accurate.  But they don't.  They expressly deny the MG Theory. 

Deity of Jesus
Clement and Polycarp make statements that certainly seem to affirm the 'true' deity of Jesus; Ignatius describes this in more detail and there can be no mistake about his view.

Resurrection of Jesus
All three Apostolic Fathers expressly affirm the corporeal resurrection of Jesus, and of believers.  Ignatius is especially adamant about the reality and physicality of the resurrection.

Clement appeals to fulfilled prophecy (Isaiah, long passage ending with 'by his stripes were were healed')

Jesus vs. Christ
Polycarp, much like 1 John, criticizes those who separate Jesus the 'Christ.'

Things Which Really Happened
Ignatius says he's deadly serious about maintaining the factuality of the key elements of the gospel:  "But if these things were done by our Lord only in appearance, then am I also only in appearance bound."

In such short works, it's simply amazing that so much can be found.  Their testimony directly and decisively refutes the Metaphorical Gospel theory.