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Letter from Ignatius to the Ephesians

Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch. He was martyred during the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98 - 117), probably sometime after A.D. 110. The letter was written shortly before his martyrdom. The letter is important because it contains one of the few times Onesimus and the Letter to Philemon is mentioned by the church fathers. He frequently refers to their bishop Onesimus and at the same time alludes or quotes from the Book of Philemon, that it is likely that their bishop Onesimus is the same person as the runaway slave that Paul writes to Philemon about.

The letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church at Ephesus in Asia, blessed with greatness through the fullness of God the Father, predestined before the ages for lasting and unchangeable glory forever, united and elect through genuine suffering by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God, a church most worthy of blessing: heartiest greetings in Jesus Christ and in blameless joy.

1. I welcome in God your well-beloved name which you possess by reason of your righteous nature, which is characterised by faith in and love of Christ Jesus our Saviour. Being as you are imitators of God you completed perfectly the task so natural to you. For when you heard that I was on my say from Syria in chains for the sake of our common name and hope, and was hoping through your prayers to succeed in fighting with wild beasts in Rome - in order that by so succeeding I might be able to be a disciple - you hurried to visit me. Since, therefore, I have received in God's name your whole congregation in the person of Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love who is also your earthly bishop, I pray that you will love him in accordance with the standard set by Jesus Christ and that all of you will be like him. For blessed is he who has graciously allowed you, worthy as you are, to have such a bishop.

2. Now concerning my fellow servant Burrhus, who is by God's will your deacon, blessed in every respect, I pray that he might remain with me both for your honour and the bishop's. And Crocus also, who is worthy of God and of you, whom I received as a living example of your love, has refreshed me in every way; may the Father of Jesus Christ likewise refresh him, together with Onesimus, Burrhus, Euplus, and Fronto, in whom I saw all of you respect to love. May I always have joy in you, if, that is, I am worthy. It is proper, therefore, in every way to glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, so that you, joined together in a united obedience and subject to the bishop and presbytery, may be sanctified in every respect.

3. I am not commanding you, as though I were somebody important. For even though I am in chains for the sake of the Name, I have not yet been perfected in Jesus Christ. For now I am only beginning to be a disciple, and I speak to you as my fellow students. For I need to be trained by your faith, instruction, endurance, and patience. But since love does not allow me to be silent concerning you, I have therefore taken the initiative to encourage you, so that you may run together in harmony with the mind of God. For Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops appointed throughout the world are in the mind of Christ.

4. Thus it is proper for you to act together in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are in fact doing. For your presbytery, which is worthy of its name and worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a lyre. Therefore in your unanimity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung. You must join this chorus, every one of you, so that by being harmonious in unanimity and taking your pitch from God you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, in order that he may both hear you and, on the basis of what you do well, acknowledge that you are members of his Son. It is, therefore, advantageous for you to be in perfect unity, in order that you may always have a share in God.

5. For if I in a short time experienced such fellowship with your bishop, which was not merely human but spiritual, how much more do I congratulate you who are united with him, as the church is with Jesus Christ and as Jesus Christ is with the Father, that all things might be harmonious in unity. Let no one be misled: if anyone is not within the sanctuary, he lacks the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two has such power, how much more that of the bishop together with the whole church! Therefore whoever does not meet with the congregation thereby demonstrates his arrogance and has separated himself, for it is written: "God opposes the arrogant." Let us, therefore, be careful not to oppose the bishop, in order that we may be obedient to God.

6. Furthermore, the more anyone observes that the bishop is silent, the more one should fear him. For everyone whom the Master of the house sends to manage his house we welcome as we would the one who sent him. It is obvious, therefore, that we must regard the bishop as the Lord himself. Now Onesimus himself highly praises your orderly conduct in God, reporting that you all live in accordance with the truth and that no heresy has found a home among you. Indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone unless he speaks truthfully about Jesus Christ.

7. For there are some who maliciously and deceitfully are accustomed to carrying about the Name while doing other things unworthy of God. You must avoid them as wild beasts. For they are mad dogs that bite by stealth; you must be on your guard against them, for their bite is hard to heal. There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.

8. Therefore let no one deceive you, just as you are not now deceived, seeing that you belong entirely to God. For when no dissension capable of tormenting you is established among you, then you indeed live God's way. I am a humble sacrifice for you and I dedicate myself to you Ephesians, a church which is famous forever. Those who are carnal cannot do spiritual things, nor can those who are spiritual do carnal things, just as faith cannot do the things of unfaithfulness, nor unfaithfulness the things of faith. Moreover, even those things which you do carnally are, in fact, spiritual, for you do everything in Jesus Christ.

9. But I have learned that certain people from there have passed your way with evil doctrine, but you did not allow them to sow it among you. You covered up your ears in order to avoid receiving the things being sown by them, because you are stones of a temple, prepared beforehand for the building of God the Father, hoisted up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a rope the Holy Spirit; your faith is what lifts you up, and love is the way that leads up to God. So you are all fellow pilgrims, carrying your God and your shrine, your Christ and your holy things, adorned in every respect with the commandments of Jesus Christ. I too celebrate with you, since I have been judged worthy to speak with you through this letter, and to rejoice with you because you love nothing in human life, only God. 10. Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be "steadfast in the faith"; in response to their cruelty, be gentle; do not be eager to retaliate against them. Let us show ourselves their brothers by our forbearance, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord, to see who can be the more wronged, who the more cheated, who the more rejected, in order that no weed of the devil might be found among you, but that with complete purity and self-control you may abide in Christ Jesus physically and spiritually.

11. These are the last times. Therefore let us be reverent, let us fear the patience of God, lest it become a judgement against us. For let us either fear the wrath to come or love the grace which is present, one of the two; only let us be found in Christ Jesus, which leads to true life. Let nothing appeal to you apart from him, in whom I carry around these chains (my spiritual pearls!), by which I hope, through your prayers, to rise again. May I always share in them, in order that I might be found in the company of the Christians of Ephesus who have always been in agreement with the apostles, by the power of Jesus Christ.

12. I know who I am and to whom I am writing. I am a convict, you have received mercy; I am in danger, you are secure. You are the highway of those who are being killed for God's sake; you are fellow initiates of Paul, who was sanctified, who was approved, who is deservedly blessed - may I be found in his footsteps when I reach God! - who in every letter remembers you in Christ Jesus.

13. Therefore make every effort to come together more frequently to give thanks and glory to God. For when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are overthrown and his destructiveness is nullified by the unanimity of our faith. There is nothing better than peace, by which all warfare among those in heaven and those on earth is abolished.

14. None of these things escapes your notice, if you have perfect faith and love toward Jesus Christ. For these are the beginning and end of life: faith is the beginning, and love is the end, and the two, when they exist in unity, are God. Everything else that contributes to excellence follows from them. No one professing faith sins, nor does anyone possessing love hate. "The tree is known by its fruit"; thus those who profess to be Christ's will be recognised by their actions. For the Work is not a matter of what one promises now, but of persevering to the end in the power of faith.

15. It is better to be silent and be real, than to talk and not be real. It is good to teach, if one does what one says. Now there is one such teacher, who "spoke and it happened"; indeed, even the things which he has done in silence are worthy of the Father. The one who truly possessed the word of Jesus is also able to hear his silence, that he may be perfect, that he may act through what he says and be known through his silence. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; even our secrets are close to him. Therefore let us do everything with the knowledge that he dwells in us, in order that we may be his temples, and he may be in us as our God - as, in fact, he really is, as will be made clear in our sight by the love which we justly have for him.

16. Do not be misled, my brothers: those who adulterously corrupt households "will not inherit the kingdom of God." Now if those who do such things physically are put to death, how much more if by evil teaching someone corrupts faith in God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a person, having polluted himself, will go the unquenchable fire, as will also the one who listens to him.

17. The Lord accepted the ointment upon his head for this reason: that he might breathe incorruptibility upon the church. Do not be anointed with the stench of the teaching of the ruler of this age, lest he take you captive and rob you of the life set before you. Why do we not all become wise by receiving God's knowledge, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, ignoring the gracious gift which the Lord has truly sent?

18. My spirit is a humble sacrifice for the cross, which is the stumbling block to unbelievers, but salvation and eternal life to us. "Where is the wise? Where is the debater?" Where is the boasting of those who are thought to be intelligent? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God's plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit. He was born and was baptised in order that by his sufferings he might cleanse the water.

19. Now the virginity of Mary and her giving birth were hidden from the ruler of this age, as was also the death of the Lord - three mysteries to be loudly proclaimed, yet which were accomplished in the silence of God. How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star shone forth in heaven brighter that all the stars; its light was indescribable and its strangeness caused amazement. All the rest of the constellations, together with the sun and the moon, formed a chorus around the star, yet the star itself far outshone them all, and there was perplexity about the origin of this strange phenomenon which was so unlike the others. Consequently all magic and every kind of spell were dissolved, the ignorance so characteristic of wickedness vanished, and the ancient kingdom was abolished, when God appeared in human form to bring the newness of eternal life; and what had been prepared by God began to take effect. As a result, all things were thrown into ferment, because the abolition of death was being carried out.

20. If Jesus Christ, in response to your prayer, should reckon me worthy, and if it is his will, in a second letter which I intend to write to you I will further explain to you the subject about which I have begun to speak, namely, the divine plan with respect to the new man Jesus Christ, involving faith in him and love for him, his suffering and resurrection, especially if the Lord reveals anything to me. Continue to gather together, each and every one of you, collectively and individually by name, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who physically was a descendant of David, who is Son of man and Son of God, in order that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ.

21. I am devoted to you and to those whom for the honour of God you sent to Smyrna, from where I am writing to you, with thanksgiving to the Lord and love for Polycarp as well as for you. Remember me, as Jesus Christ does you. Pray for the church in Syria, from where I am being led to Rome in chains, as I - the very least of the faithful there - have been judged worthy of serving the glory of God. Farewell in God the Father and in Jesus Christ, our common hope.