Polycarp and the New Testament

Sometimes critics like to suggest that the New Testament is late, and that although individual writings may be earlier, the gathering of them as Scripture is a much later development.  We are led to believe that there were just a bunch of writings, orthodox, gnostic and other, that were floating around and then Constantine had the Council of Nicaea choose certain books that suited his political motives.  It is true that we do not have many early official lists of the authorized or canonical books.  But we can learn a lot by the way the early Christian Fathers quoted from the New Testament.

One of the earliest of the Church Fathers that we have is Polycarp (69-155 AD).  Polycarp was a disciple of John, thus having direct contact with the Apostles.  The only surviving work of Polycarp’s that we have is his Epistle to the Philippians (110-140 AD).  I will not go into detail about the teachings in this epistle but I would like to note the number of New Testament books that Polycarp quotes from: Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, and 1 John.  That such an early Christian writing quotes so much New Testament is remarkable.  The question is: does Polycarp quote such passages as interesting Christian writings or as Scripture?  A clue is given in chapter 12, where Polycarp writes:

It is declared then in these Scriptures, ‘Be ye angry, and sin not,’ and, ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.’

The first passage quoted as Scripture is from Psalm 4:5, which is no surprise.  But the second passage quoted as Scripture is from Ephesians 4:26.  Polycarp, a Christian so early that he was a disciple of the Apostles, considers both the Old Testament and the New Testament to be Scripture.  I would encourage you to check out Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians for yourself and to learn from this Church Father the importance of the whole Bible to the early church.  You can find online text and information here.   

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5 thoughts on “Polycarp and the New Testament”

  1. Hi Steve,
    I hope that Zotero works well for you. I am actually in Hamilton, Ontario for the next 7 weeks with my family. I am working with an anglican church and catcthing up with some friends. What book are u working on?

  2. Wow, Hamilton is only a couple of hours away from me and is where my last church was.

    I am doing another apologetics type book answering five questions:
    1) Was there a historical Jesus?
    2) Were the Gospels based on pagan myths? (these two questions were dealt with in my first book but I am going to broaden the scope a bit)
    3) Was Paul the founder of Christianity?
    4) Who chose the canon of the New Testament and how?
    5) Did Jesus become a God by a vote at Nicaea.

    These are questions that I often encounter and I thought it might be useful to offer some answers to others. I will be posting bits of it on my blog for feedback.

  3. We are based near Locke street which is a great part of town.

    These are big important questions from an apologetics point of view. On the Jesus/Paul founder of Christianity thing thing my supervisor David Wenham has some good stuff to say. A number of fellow post-grad students are doing work on this area.
    I will try and interact with your some of your bloggings on this,

  4. I did pick up Wenham’s Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity. I am also going to use Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. I hope to find more resources from those books. I would love to get your feedback when I do have some of that together. At the moment I am focusing on the historical Jesus stuff. It is a challenge to be scholarlly precise and to be accessible to a more general (educated and interested laypeople) audience. If you are interested, I can send you chapters as I finish them.

    Will you still be blogging during your time in Hamilton? I sometimes pss through there and it would be neat to get together and chat.

  5. I would be happy to look at them. My e-mail is jonswales@[nospam]hotmail.co.uk

    Yeah would be great to chat if your passing through.

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