Judeans: Ignatius on Judaizing and Christianizing (early second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judeans: Ignatius on Judaizing and Christianizing (early second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified January 14, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9222.

Ancient author: Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians (in full) and Letter to the Magnesians 8-11 (link).

Comments (by Maia Kotrosits): These letters are attributed to an overseer (or: bishop) of groups of Christians, writing as he travelled from Antioch, Syria to Rome, where he is apparently due to be executed. In these letters he is giving advice, both general and practical, to Christ followers, and he is also ascribing meaning to his death at the hands of the Romans, which he associates with Christ’s death.

Ignatius’ use of the terms “Judaizing” (ioudaismos; transliterated as “Judaism”) and “Christianizing” (christianismos; transliterated as “Christianism”) are linked here, and do not denote two religions or oppositional terms. Rather, Ignatius plays on a tradition which grows out of 2 Maccabees’ (for instance) portrayal of specific Judeans who actively reassert Judean practices (“Judaizing”) and resist acculturation to foreign ways to the point of death. With time, Ioudaismos also becomes associated with a way of life, and a way of belonging to the traditions of Israel, when Judea as homeland was too complicated or unavailable, as it was in early second century after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE). (Jerusalem and its temple were never rebuilt.)

Ignatius, obviously invested in and reliant on the history and traditions of Israel, is possibly coining “Christianism,” a counterpart term here, one that imagines the way of life associated with Christ as the door to Israel’s god in the wake of Judea’s subjection. In fact, it seems the only content of being “in Christ” for Ignatius in his letters is imitating Christ in death. These complex factors surrounding Ignatius’ language later get erased as his language is taken to suggest “Christianity” is superior or replaces “Judaism” (supersessionism).

It should be noted that the early second century dating for Ignatius comes from the fourth century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, and like most datings for ancient history, is not certain.

For further background on ancient terms for acculturation to the customs of other peoples, see the posts on “Judaizing” and “foreignizing” in 2 Maccabees (link) and the post on “Medizing” as explained by Thucydides (link).

Sources: Maia Kotrosits, Rethinking Early Christian Identity: Affect, Violence, and Belonging (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), chapter 2.

Source of the translation:  J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd edition (London: Macmillan, 1891), adapted and largely re-translated by Harland.


Ignatius’ Letter to the Philadelphians

[Letter opening]

Ignatius, who is also called Theophoros, to the assembly [traditionally translated: church] of God the Father and of Jesus Christ, which is in Philadelphia of Asia, which has found mercy and is firmly established in the unity of God and rejoice in the suffering of our lord and in his resurrection without wavering, being fully assured in all mercy. I greet the assembly in the blood of Jesus Christ that is eternal and abiding joy. More especially if they are at one with the overseer (or: bishop) and the elders who are with him, and with the servants (or: deacons) that have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom after his own will is confirmed and established by his holy spirit.

[Praise for the overseer]

1 I know that your overseer acquired his position in service to the community, not for himself or through men, nor for the sake of pointless glory, but in the love of God the Father and the lord Jesus Christ. I am amazed at his fairness. His silence is more powerful than the words of others. For he is attuned in harmony with the commandments just like a lyre with its strings. Therefore, my soul blesses his godly mind (for I have found that his mind is virtuous and perfect), his reliable character, and his calm temper as he conducts himself in all godly fairness.

[Warning about divisions or schism and need for unity]

2 Therefore, as children of the light of truth, run away from division and wrong teaching. Where the shepherd is, there follow like sheep. For many specious wolves use evil pleasure to capture the runners in God’s race. Yet where you are at one, they will find no place. 3 Stay away from harmful plants, which are not farmed by Jesus Christ, because they are not the produce of the Father. Not that I have found division among you, but filtering. For as many that belong to God and Jesus Christ are with the overseer, and as many that repent and enter into the unity of the assembly, these will also belong to God in order that they may be living after Jesus Christ. Be not deceived, my brothers. If anyone follows someone who creates a schism, that person does not inherit the kingdom of God. If anyone walks around teaching another viewpoint, that person has no agreement with the suffering. 4 So be careful to take part in one eucharist – for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup into union with his blood; there is one altar, as there is one overseer, together with the council of elders and the servants my fellow-slaves – so that, whatever you do, you may do it in keeping with God.

5 My brothers, I am overflowing with love for you. Honouring you beyond measure, I watch over your safety: Yet not I, but Jesus Christ. Wearing these chains for him, I am the more afraid because I am not yet perfect. But your prayer will make me perfect so that I may come into an inheritance of mercy, taking refuge in the announcement as the flesh of Jesus and in the apostles as the council of elders of the assembly. Yes, and we love the prophets as well because they also pointed to the announcement in their preaching and set their hope on him [Jesus] and awaited him. Having faith in him, they were saved in the unity of Jesus Christ, being worthy of all love and admiration as holy men, approved by Jesus Christ and numbered together in the announcement of our common hope.

[Judaizing, “Christianizing”, and the earlier confrontation over the “archives”]

6 But if any one explains Judaizing (ioudaismos) to you, do not listen to him, because it is better to hear “Christianizing” (christianismos) from a man who is circumcised than Judaizing from someone who is uncircumcised. But if either person [the Judean or the non-Judean] does not speak about Jesus Christ, I look on them as grave inscriptions and coffins for the dead with only the names of the deceased inscribed on them. Therefore, run away from the wicked skills and ambushes of the ruler (archōn) of this age in case you are crushed by his resolve and you are made weak in love. But assemble yourselves all together with an undivided heart. I give thanks to my God that I have a good conscience in my relations with you, and that no one can boast either in secret or openly that I was a burden to anyone in insignificant or important things. Now I pray that, for all those two whom I spoke, they may not turn what I said into a testimony against them.

7 For even though certain persons wanted to deceive me in keeping with the flesh, yet the spirit is not deceived because it is from God. The spirit knows where it comes from and where it is going, and it searches out hidden things. When I was with you, I called out and spoke with a loud voice, with God’s own voice: “Pay attention to the overseer, the council of elders, and the servants (or: deacons).” Now there were those who suspected me of saying this because I knew about the division among certain people ahead of time. But the one for whom I wear chains [i.e. Jesus] is my witness that I did not learn it not from fleshly man. It was the spirit itself who proclaimed this: “Do nothing without the overseer! Keep your flesh like a temple of God! Love unity! Run away from divisions! Be imitators of Jesus Christ, as he himself was an imitator of his Father!”

8 Therefore, I did my own part as a man who restores unity. But God does not stay where there is division and anger. Now the Lord forgives everyone when they repent, if they return to the unity of God and to the council of the overseer when they repent. I have trust in the favour of Jesus Christ, who will free you from every chain. I urge you to do nothing in a spirit of engaging in factions. Instead, follow the teaching of Christ. Since I heard certain persons saying, “If I don’t find it in the archives (archeia), I don’t believe it is part of the announcement (euangelion).” And when I said to them, “It is written [in the archives],” they replied to me, “That is the question.” But to me Jesus Christ is the archives, his cross, death, resurrection, and faith through him are the untouched archives. By these things I want to be considered just through your prayers.

9 The priests were also good, but the high priest [i.e. identified with Jesus] who is entrusted with the holy of holies is better. The hidden things of God are entrusted only to him. The high priest himself is the door to the Father through which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob enter, as well as the prophets, the apostles and the entire assembly. Everything comes together in the unity of God. But the announcement has a special place for the arrival of the saviour, our lord Jesus Christ, for his suffering and for his resurrection. The beloved prophets announced before him, but the announcement is the completion of immortality. All things together are good if you trust through love.

[End of the problems in Antioch and final greetings]

10 Since it has been reported to me that the assembly which is in Syrian Antioch has peace as an answer to your prayer and to the tender sympathy which you have in Christ Jesus, it is appropriate for you, as an assembly of God, to appoint a servant (or: deacon) to go there as God’s ambassador so that he may congratulate them when they are assembled together and may glorify the Name. Blessed in Jesus Christ is the person who will be counted worthy of such a service, and you yourselves will be considered honorable. Now if you want to do this, it is not impossible for you to do this for the name of God. Even the assemblies which are close by have sent overseers and others have sent elders and servants.

11 Now concerning Philo the servant (or: deacon) from Cilicia, a person with a good reputation who at the moment serves me in the word of God, together with Rhaios Agathopos, an elect one who (after setting aside his regular life) follows me from Syria. They speak positively about you, and I myself thank God on your behalf because you received them, as I believe the lord will receive you. But may those who dishonoured them be set right through the favour of Jesus Christ.

The love of the brothers in Troas sends greetings. I am writing from Troas by the hand of Burrhus, who was sent with me by the Ephesians and Smyrnaians as a mark of honour. The lord will honour them, even Jesus Christ, on whom their hope is set in flesh, soul, and spirit and by faith, love, and unity. Farewell in Christ Jesus our common hope.


Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians

[Warnings about different viewpoints and practices: Judaizing and “Christianizing”]

[Opening chapters omitted]. . . 8 Do not be misled by different viewpoints or by ancient stories which are worthless. For even if until today we live in the style of Judaizing (ioudaismos), we confess that we have not received favour. For the divine prophets lived in the style of Jesus Christ. For this reason they were persecuted, being inspired by his favour so that those who are disobedient might be fully persuaded that there is one God. This is the one God who manifested himself through Jesus Christ his son, the word that proceeded from silence and in every way was well-pleasing to God that sent him.

9 If, then, those returning to ancient practices came to a new hope, no longer observing sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day [i.e. Sunday], on which our life also arose through him and through his death (which some men deny). This is a mystery whereby we came to believe and by which we endure patiently, so that we may be found to be disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher. If this is so, how will we be able to live apart from him. Even the prophets, being his disciples, were expecting him as their teacher through the spirit. When he came, the one they rightly waited for raised them from the dead for this purpose.

10 Therefore let us not be insensible to his goodness. For if he was to imitate us according to our actions, we are lost. For this cause, seeing that we have become his disciples, let us learn to live in the style of “Christianizing” (christianismos). For whoever is called by another name besides this does not belong to God. Therefore, throw away the bad leaven which has become stale and sour and take the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be salted by him so that none of you go bad, seeing that you will be tested by your taste. It is absurd to talk about Jesus Christ and to Judaize (ioudaizein [verb]). For “Christianizing” did not rely on “Judaizing,” but “Judaizing” relied on “Christianizing,” in which “every tongue” believed and “was brought together” to God. 11 Now I say these things, my dear friends, not because I have learned that any of you think like that. Rather, as a person who is less than you, I want to warn you to be on guard against worthless viewpoints . . . [remainder of the letter omitted].

2 thoughts on “Judeans: Ignatius on Judaizing and Christianizing (early second century CE)

  1. Joshua Johnson

    Dear Dr. Phil Harland,

    I found your website while perusing past dissertations from the University of Toronto, as I am interested in studying Jewish-Christian identity in late antiquity and perhaps Toronto would be a good place to study.

    This website is truly helpful. I too share an interest in cross-cultural contact and migration. I found the citation of the Gospel of Philip to be beautiful and profound.

    As someone who interested in Jewish-Christian identity and sects of antiquity, I found the entry regarding Ignatius highly interesting. Ignatius clearly distinguishes between ioudaismos and christianismos (which I think happen to be the same terms in Spanish). Contrary to what one might expect, Ignatius in Mag. 10 implies that christianismos preceded ioudaismos (ioudaismos is something that Gentiles do in reaction to christianismos). If that is the case, then his statement in Phil. 6 makes more sense: it is better to hear Christianismos from one circumcised (a born Jew; in this case, a Jewish-Christian), than it is to hear Judaizing from a Gentile. This implies that ioudaismos is something that born-non-Jews do, not something that Jews do! That is, Ioudaismos is not Judaism as we know it, but it is Judaizing (as you translate it), acting like a Jew when one is not, which John condemns in the Revelation, as well as Paul.
    Jews can continue their practices, but non-Jews should not follow those practices, but should instead act like Christians. Of course in the same line of verbs are the -izein verbs, including Korinthizein, which Paul urges his hearers to not do. But semantics aside, it still brings up the question of what the practices entail, and why Ignatius (or Paul) does not want Gentiles to act like Jews. (Perhaps it has to do with some classical view of “kinds” or forms, which need to stay separate? Perhaps ancients didn’t like mixed categories?)
    There’s also the use of Ioudaiizein in the LXX of Esther after Haman was executed. It says for fear of the Jews many in the surrounding towns “judaized.” That is, did they convert to Judaism or did they just pretend to be Jews for the night or act like Jews to avoid punishment?

    These are all important issues, and maybe you have so more insight into this than I do! Either way, thanks to your channel here, this letter (and these concepts) will now inform the research I do going forward!


    ~ Joshua

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