Reply to Gavin Ortlund: St. Ignatius & Bishops

Reply to Gavin Ortlund: St. Ignatius & Bishops February 1, 2024

+ St. Polycarp and St. Clement of Rome On Early Church Ecclesiology

Gavin Ortlund is a Reformed Baptist author, speaker, pastor, and apologist for the Christian faith. He has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in historical theology, and an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. Gavin is the author of seven books as well as numerous academic and popular articles. For a list of publications, see his CV. He runs the YouTube channel Truth Unites, which seeks to provide an “irenic” voice on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life. See also his website, Truth Unites and his blog. His words will be in blue.


For background reading, see my articles:

Ignatius Of Antioch On Monarchical Bishops [1-25-24]

St. Ignatius, Bishops, & the Rule of Faith (vs. T.F. Kauffman) [7-14-23]

Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 117) vs. Sola Scriptura [12-21-21]

Monarchical Bishops (Early Fathers & Eusebius) [1-29-24]

Jerusalem Council & James, Bishop Of Jerusalem: The Ambivalence and Inconsistencies of Protestant Thought on the Earliest “Monarchical” Bishops [1-30-24]

St. Jerome, Papacy, & Succession (Vs. Gavin Ortlund) [1-20-24]


I’m responding to Gavin’s video, “A Protestant Take on Ignatius” (2-19-21).

0:20 I’ve known many people who, because of the letters of Ignatius: that’s like the thing, or one of the key things that either unsettles someone, in being a Protestant, or even propels them towards becoming Catholic or Orthodox.

One can see why. He is extremely “Catholic” already, for one who lived so early in Church history (50 – c. 110), and who was discipled by St. John. That’s not supposed to be, in Protestant thinking, since they typically view Catholicism as a corrupted accretion or addition to the true primal Christian faith, handed on by the apostles. Ignatius doesn’t “fit in” with that schema.

Gavin mentions that people see in Ignatius a very “high” view of the episcopate (single bishops as heads of local churches) and of the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, and how it was “really surprising” and not what they were “expecting.

1:55 Whatever you conclude about whether Ignatius is right or wrong, it’s not a reason to become Catholic or Orthodox. 

We’ll have to see how he unpacks this claims. It seems to me that if Protestants are taught by their pastors and Bible study teachers their usual stunted, highly selective, semi-mythical caricature of Church history (insofar as they learn about it at all), and then they see what Ignatius — one of the earliest Church fathers — actually teaches, that it would be sufficiently jolting to perhaps make them curious about other Church fathers and possibly in time, even Protestantism itself. The novelty of a disciple of the apostle John being so thoroughly Catholic would indeed be jarring.

Something similar was the key factor in my own conversion, back in 1990. It was reading St. John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, which discussed many Church fathers and explained how what we see today in Catholic dogma, makes perfect sense as having developed from the initial kernel of the apostolic deposit.

Gavin says he is “dismayed” in seeing many Protestants move “rapidly” into a “higher” view of Church government, due to Ignatius, without considering “other Protestant traditions.” Anglicans and Lutherans are two groups that he cites, that might be superior alternatives.

He claims that the nature of the Eucharist was a live issue in the early Church and “were debated for many many centuries.” This was not the case. See my papers:

St. Ignatius & Eucharistic Real Presence (vs. Lucas Banzoli) [9-12-22]

Justin Martyr, Real Presence, & Eucharistic Sacrifice (vs. Lucas Banzoli) [9-13-22]

St. Augustine’s Belief in the Substantial Real Presence [1996]

Patristic Eucharistic Doctrine: Nine Protestant Scholars [12-1-96]

John Calvin and St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Comparative Eucharistic Theology [6-14-04]

Eucharistic Sacrifice: The Witness of the Church Fathers [9-12-05]

Sacrifice of the Mass / Cyprian’s Ecclesiology (vs. Calvin #11) [5-19-09]

Transubstantiation: Bible & the Fathers (vs. Calvin #42) [24-25 November 2009]

Bizarre “Eucharistic Christology” vs. Tertullian (vs. Calvin #45) [12-1-09]

Church Fathers and the Sacrifice of the Mass (Thoroughly Catholic!) [12-11-09]

St. Augustine’s Eucharistic Doctrine and Protestant “Co-Opting” [9-25-10]

St. Augustine’s Eucharistic Doctrine: Simultaneous Assertion of Realism and Symbolism [2-17-11]

“Re-Presentation” vs. “Re-Sacrifice” in the Mass: Doctrinal History [4-4-18]

Lucas Banzoli Misrepresents Chrysostom’s Eucharistic Theology (+ An Overview of St. John Chrysostom’s Catholic View of the Eucharistic Sacrifice) [9-14-22]

Tertullian’s Eucharistic Theology: Lucas Banzoli vs. J.N.D. Kelly [9-15-22]

Then he returns to the issue of Church government and bishops.

4:46 We should read Ignatius along with all the other apostolic Church fathers. . . . When you read all of the apostolic fathers, what you get is a very complicated picture. . . . Pretty universally among other apostolic fathers, . . . you get a two-office view. Some examples of that would be Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians, where in chapters 5 and 6 . . . it’s very similar to 1st Timothy 3 . . . there’s no mention of a third office [bishop].

As I wrote in my first book in 1996, the offices in the Church were a bit fluid at first, and in the Bible itself. And so there is some interchangeability. That said, it could be that Polycarp had a notion of a bishop (which is an office in the NT, after all: mentioned five times, including twice in 1 Timothy 3, and in Acts 20:28 (“overseers”), as a sort of “super-elder,” or “super-presbyter,” just as we see in Protestant churches today, the senior pastor and associate pastors. In that set-up, they are all of the same office, yet one is senior, above the others. In some sectors of the early Church, this is what we see, since the notion was still very early in its development (just as, also, were doctrines like the Holy Trinity or the canon of the Bible).

Protestants, for example, widely hold that James was the first bishop of Jerusalem, and was so during the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Yet the Bible never expressly states that he was. In its description of the council, the term, “apostles and elders” is used (15:2, 4, 6, 22-23). James in this instance was both an apostle and an elder, and in fact he was the bishop of Jerusalem, and presided over the council (though I contend that it was Peter who laid down the fundamental principle and conclusion, that was followed by James and the council). So he was functioning as a bishop, and is even acknowledged as such by many many Protestants (as I just wrote about yesterday), but was not called one in Acts 15.

Likewise, I submit, in Polycarp’s epistle. He simply didn’t use the word “bishop.” But he knew there was such an office because it was already detailed in the NT. Peter does the same thing in his first epistle. He functions very much like a bishop in how he approaches things and in terms of those who received his letter: “To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappado’cia, Asia, and Bithyn’ia,” (1 Pet 1:1). I wrote in August 2022 about this:

Pontus was in the north of Turkey and largely surrounding the Black Sea north of it. Galatia was in the center of Asia Minor (Turkey),  Cappadocia in its southeast, and Bithynia in its northwest. “Asia” in the NT refers to Asia Minor.

So Peter was writing to Christians in a vast area. The size of Turkey is about a thousand miles from west to east, and 300-400 miles from north to south. This is the area, and also east and north of the Black Sea, that was the recipient of Peter’s first epistle. The letter is filled with decidedly “papal” commands: and Peter assumes sublime authority throughout his epistle:

“gird up your minds” (1:13 [RSV]); “be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1:15); “love one another earnestly from the heart” (1:22); “So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander” (2:1); “long for the pure spiritual milk” (2:2); “abstain from the passions of the flesh” (2:11); “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles” (2:12); “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (2:13); “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (2:17); ” wives, be submissive to your husbands” (3:1); “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman” (3:7); “have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.” (3:8); “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (3:9); “in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense” (3:15: apologetics!); ” keep your conscience clear” (3:16); “keep sane and sober for your prayers” (4:7); “hold unfailing your love for one another” (4:8); “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (4:9); “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another” (4:10); “Tend the flock of God that is your charge” (5:2: addressed specifically to other bishops); “you that are younger be subject to the elders” (5:5); “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God” (5:6); “Be sober, be watchful” (5:8); and “Resist him, firm in your faith” (5:9).

This is altogether the scope and nature of a bishop’s teaching, with authority, and to Christians over an area a thousand miles wide and 400 miles from bottom to top. That’s not “local church” stuff! Yet what does Peter call himself?: “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder” (1 Pet 5:1). Once again, then, he acts exactly as a bishop does, while calling himself an “elder” and not using the word “bishop” (episkopos), just as in the scores of biblical proofs for the Holy Trinity, the word “trinity” never appears, while at the same time, the doctrine and the idea does. In other words, the mere lack of one particular term doesn’t necessarily mean that the ideas involved are also absent. The pope remains the bishop of Rome, while also being the supreme leader of the universal Catholic Church.

Polycarp was himself a bishop. After all, witnesses to his martyrdom (somewhere between 156 and 167) described him as that:

Polycarp . . . having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 16)

So how could he not believe in bishops and episcopal hierarchy when he himself was one? Gavin’s reference to him doesn’t take into account the Martyrdom of Polycarp, which is as authentic as his letter to the Philippians. Polycarp starts his own letter with the words, “Polycarp, and the presbyters with him . . .” But that no more proves that he is not a bishop than the President of the United States writing a letter, saying, “President X, with the Senators and Congressmen . . .” “proves” he isn’t the President. He writes like a bishop in his letter, just as Peter did in his epistle, that made it into the NT. He uses the phrases, “I exhort you” twice (9, 11) and “stand fast” (10) and states, “Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ” (8). It’s authoritative.

St. Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies (Bk III, 3,  3, 4), written around 180, stated that “Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna” and referred to “men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time.” Tertullian, writing about bishops around 200 AD, wrote about “the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; . . .” (Prescription against Heretics, 32).

Now, if no one had classified Polycarp as a bishop, and everyone called him merely one presbyter among many in his own congregation, Gavin might have a good argument. But as it is, appealing to Polycarp against episcopacy won’t work at all. Let’s see what else Gavin can come up with.

5:38 Another example would be the first epistle of Clement . . . [where he referred to, in ch. 42] bishops and deacons.

Clement also refers to “presbyters” no less than five times in the same letter (1, 44, 47, 54, 57), which means that he holds to a threefold ministry after all. “Bishops” appears three times (42),”deacons” three times (also in 42), but “episcopate” — same root as “bishop” (episkopos) — twice in chapter 44. So there is nothing unCatholic here at all. It confirms our view, as does the nature of the letter, which is very “papal” (since Clement was an early pope / bishop of Rome). See:

Pope St. Clement of Rome & Papal Authority [7-28-21]

Explicit Papal Infallibility in 96 AD (Pope St. Clement) [originally from 7-30-21; posted at Catholic365 on 11-20-23]

Is First Clement Non-Papal? (vs. Jason Engwer) [4-19-22]

And of course there is significant historical indication that Clement was a bishop of Rome.  St. Irenaeus wrote:

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus [start of reign: 64-68], Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy [2 Tim 4:21]. To him succeeded Anacletus [r. c. 79 – c. 92]; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement [r. 88-99] was allotted the bishopric. . . . To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus [r. c. 99- c. 107]. Alexander [r. c. 107- c. 115] followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus [r. c. 115- c. 124] was appointed; after him, . . . (Against Heresies, Bk III, 3, 3; cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical HistoryBk V, 6, 1-5)

Tertullian, around 200, referred to “the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” (Prescription against Heretics, 32). The first Church historian, Eusebius, wrote around 300: “Clement also, who was appointed third bishop of the church at Rome, was, as Paul testifies, his co-laborer [Phil 4:3] . . .  (EHBk III, 4, 10) and: “In the twelfth year of the same reign [92/93] Clement succeeded Anencletus after the latter had been bishop of the church of Rome for twelve years.” (EHBk III, 15, 1; cf. Bk III, 21, 1-3 and 34, 1).

Gavin makes an argument that near the end of the letter, Clement refers only to presbyters, as the rulers of the church in Corinth, and not to a specific bishop. But Clement also made the following general statement: “For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world] . . .” (44). He could and probably would argue that bishops and presbyters are equated here, but that poses no necessary problem, per the several arguments I provided above, from the analogous examples of Peter, James, and Polycarp.

Even if Corinth was ruled by a group of presbyters in c. 100, so what? Ecclesiology develops like all other doctrines. We would fully expect to see these divergences. As to the subsequent governance of the Corinthian church, Eusebius cites the chronicler Hegesippus, who says he was in Corinth in the time of Pope Anicetus, and that Primus was bishop of Corinth around 150–155 or so:

Hegesippus in the five books of Memoirs which have come down to us has left a most complete record of his own views. In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops, and that he received the same doctrine from all. It is fitting to hear what he says after making some remarks about the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. His words are as follows: “And the church of Corinth continued in the true faith until Primus was bishop in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. And when I had come to Rome I remained there until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. (EH, IV, 22, 1-4)

Eusebius makes mention of “Dionysius, who was appointed bishop of the church in Corinth” (EHBk IV, 23, 1). We know that this was the case in the year 171 because Eusebius wrote in Bk IV, 23, 9 that “There is extant also another epistle written by Dionysius to the Romans, and addressed to Soter, who was bishop at that time.” So episcopacy eventually arrived in Corinth. It didn’t take long. It would, after all, take almost 250 more years for the canon of the Bible to be fully established and another fifty years after that for a full understanding of the Holy Trinity to develop (crystallized at the Council of Chalcedon in 451).

So, 90-100 years were needed for the Corinthians to figure out that episcopacy was the proper form of government? No problem at all! What was already present from the 40s in Jerusalem would soon spread all around. None of this poses the slightest problem for either the Catholic conception of Church history or for our ecclesiology. But it’s sure very unlike most forms of Protestantism.

6:42 This [presbyterian polity] is what you see everywhere other than with Ignatius.

The falsehood of this statement — with all due respect to Gavin — has been amply documented above. Ignatius was not the exception. He was the rule. Neither Polycarp nor Clement (themselves both bishops) don’t disprove it. Corinth was simply an exception and it took longer for episcopacy to develop there.  It was already present by 100 in Jerusalem, Rome, Smyrna, Antioch, and many other places. Eusebius writes, for example, about Alexandria:

When Nero was in the eighth year of his reign [62 AD], Annianus succeeded Mark the evangelist in the administration of the parish of Alexandria. (Bk II, 24, 1; according to Bk III, ch. 14, he held his office for twenty-two years [84])

There are always slow learners. Corinth was one of those. Gavin claims that the Shepherd of Hermas taught presbyterian ecclesiology. But it states:

Hear now with regard to the stones which are in the building. Those square white stones which fitted exactly into each other, are apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons, who have lived in godly purity, and have acted as bishops and teachers and deacons chastely and reverently to the elect of God. (Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 3, 5)

The Muratorian Canon [c. 180-200], the oldest list of New Testament writings, stated, “The Pastor, moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother bishop Pius sat in the chair of the Church of Rome.”  Pius reigned as pope and bishop of Rome from c. 140 to c. 154. He mentions the Didache (c. 100) and how it references “bishops and deacons” in ch. 15. I would make the same sort of reply that I made about the epistle of Clement above.

And again, it should be noted that the offices were sometimes fluid in the early Church, because they were in the Bible itself. The Didache was written at a time when the apostolic age was coming to a close. The apostles passed on their authority to bishops. But in 100 AD, a document like this one was still focused on prophets and apostles, rather than pastors or priests, as it was in chapters 11 and 13. It’s still significant too, that the reference is to bishops and deacons, rather than presbyters and deacons. The bishop was a higher office.

Gavin notes that St. Ignatius in his letter to the Romans doesn’t address or even mention a sole bishop in Rome. This is a good and fair point. Catholic writer Allan Ruhl offered a possible reason for this in his article, “Why Didn’t St. Ignatius Mention the Bishop of Rome?” (8-19-20):

If I had to guess, it would be because of the grand history of Christian persecution in Rome.  There was massive persecution under Nero and Domitian and that was in very recent memory.  Maybe it was to protect the identity of the bishop and other members of the Church of Rome.  If this fell into the hands of Roman governors who wanted to persecute Christians, they’d have a list of the names they needed to hunt down.  This would make torturing easier as they knew who they needed.  Keep in mind that the epistle to Rome doesn’t mention any Presbyters or Deacons as well.  In several of the other letters, St. Ignatius mentions presbyters and deacons by name.  For example, in his epistle to the Magnesians he writes:

Since, then, I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and throughout my fellow-servant the deacon Sotio, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ. – St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 2

He’s fully willing to mention the names and positions of several people in the Magnesian Church.  Maybe it was safer to be a Christian in Magnesia than it was to be in Rome at the time?  This would make sense as in Rome you’d be under the thumb of a pagan emperor as opposed to being in a far Eastern province of the Roman Empire.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, this is simply a guess.  I would say it’s an educated guess but at the end of the day it’s just a guess.  However, my guess actually fits in with the evidence from the early Church.

Catholic apologist Trent Horn argues similarly:

Ignatius doesn’t mention any Christian by name in the church of Rome. . . . It makes sense that he’s not going to mention the names of these people. In the letter to the Romans, Ignatius only mentions Croccus, someone who is traveling with him, who was there in Asia Minor. If this letter is intercepted, he’s not going to give the Romans the names of the prominent Christians in the city of Rome. So yeah, I think these arguments from silence, we’re on the wrong burden of proof here. (“Was There a First Century Bishop of Rome?,” Catholic Answers, 2-16-22)

Catholic apologist Joe Heschmeyer adds:

[U]nlike his other letters (which are encouraging the churches to obey their leaders), the letter of Rome is to thank them for their support on his way to martyrdom.  It reads almost nothing like the other letters, because the theme and tone are totally different. (“Ignatius of Antioch on the Structure of the Early Church,” Shameless Popery, 10-20-10)

It sounds plausible enough to me. But I don’t claim any more for these arguments than that. If it’s considered to be a difficulty for the Catholic position, then I retort that there are many many difficulties in the non-episcopal position. At least I have posited some sort of reply for this alleged difficulty and argument from silence. Every position has to grapple with certain anomalies that don’t or don’t seem to fit into its theory

9:25 If you go back to the New Testament, you don’t have any basis for a distinction between the office of bishop and elder. . . . It’s very clear that the words are used interchangeably.

I’ve addressed this in my past article, St. Jerome, Papacy, & Succession (Vs. Gavin Ortlund). Readers can follow the link if they want to read the lengthy excerpt there from my bestselling apologetics book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. I wrote, for example:

As is often the case in theology and practice among the earliest Christians, there is some fluidity and overlapping of these three vocations (for example, compare Acts 20:17 with 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with Titus 1:5-9). But this does not prove that three offices of ministry did not exist. For instance, St. Paul often referred to himself as a deacon or minister (1 Cor. 3:5; 4:1, 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23-25), yet no one would assert that he was merely a deacon, and nothing else.

I’ll cite just one more portion of it which shows how the NT does single out some duties of the bishop over against the elders:

Bishops (episkopos) possess all the powers, duties, and jurisdiction of priests, with the following important additional responsibilities:

  • Jurisdiction over priests and local churches, and the power to ordain priests: Acts 14:22; 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6; Titus 1:5.
  • Special responsibility to defend the Faith: Acts 20:28-31; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:9-10; 2 Peter 3:15-16.
  • Power to rebuke false doctrine and to excommunicate: Acts 8:14-24; 1 Corinthians 16:22; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:10-11.
  • Power to bestow Confirmation (the receiving of the indwelling Holy Spirit): Acts 8:14-17; 19:5-6.
  • Management of Church finances: 1 Timothy 3:3-4; 1 Peter 5:2.

In the Septuagint, episkopos is used for “overseer” in various senses, for example: officers (Judg. 9:28; Isa. 60:17), supervisors of funds (2 Chron. 34:12, 17), overseers of priests and Levites (Neh. 11:9; 2 Kings 11:18), and of temple and tabernacle functions (Num. 4:16).

Plenty of distinctions there, and how they actually act in real life (e.g., Peter and James and later, Polycarp and Clement of Rome and Ignatius, as elaborated upon above) illustrates the differences in action.

Moreover, some have argued that Jesus Himself in the book of Revelation, taught monepiscopacy. In Revelation 1:16, St. John states that he saw “seven stars” in Jesus’ right hand. Then Jesus explains in 1:20 that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” Then Jesus tells John seven times in Revelation 2 and 3: “to the angel of the church in [so-and-so] write . . .“

This is highly unusual, but the most fascinating thing is what many classic Protestant commentators think this is describing. For example, Ellicott’s Commentary states that the “generally adopted view is that the angel is the chief pastor or bishop of the Church.” Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Bible Commentary concurs that it is “the bishop, or superintendent pastor.” Pulpit Commentary, while noting that the interpretation is “very much disputed” comments that “the common explanation that they are the bishops of the Churches is attractive on account of its simplicity.”

Henry Alford, in his Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary wrote about Revelation 2:8: “in accordance with the idea of the angel representing the bishop, many of the ancient Commentators have inferred that Polycarp must have been here addressed.” Adam Clarke’s Commentary states that the “stars” are “the seven angels, messengers, or bishops of the seven Churches.” W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words states that the Greek word angelos “is also used of a [human] guardian or representative in Rev. 1:20.” Likewise, Ralph Earle’s Word Meanings of the New Testament opines that angelos “is used for human messengers in Luke 7:24; 9:52; and James 2:25 . . . we feel that here it may possibly mean the pastors of the 7 churches.”

Vincent’s Word Studies opines that one of two possible takes is that “The angels are Bishops.” Philip Schaff, the renowned church historian draws the remarkable conclusion that “This phraseology of the Apocalypse already looks towards the idea of episcopacy in its primitive form, that is, to a monarchical concentration of governmental form in one person, bearing a patriarchal relation to the congregation.” John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes, stated that “In each church there was one pastor or ruling minister, to whom all the rest were subordinate. This pastor, bishop, or overseer, had the peculiar care over that flock . . .” St. Augustine in his Letter 43 commented on this:

[I]f He wished this to be understood as addressed to a celestial angel, and not to those invested with authority in the Church, He would not go on to say: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent, . . .” [Augustine cites Revelation 2:4-5] This could not be said to the heavenly angels, who retain their love unchanged, as the only beings of their order that have departed and fallen from their love are the devil and his angels.

St. Epiphanius believed the same, commenting on Revelation 2:6 in his Panarion (2:25): “John writes in the Lord’s name to one of the churches — that is, to the bishop appointed there . . .” So this shows that at least two of the Church fathers took this view. If this interpretation is followed (and I just cited ten major Protestant commentators who hold it or note that it is a common or respectable exegetical opinion), then it would follow that the question of monepiscopacy was already settled in the inspired revelation of the New Testament, describing the ecclesial scene around 100 AD, and by the words of our Lord Jesus.

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Photo credit: This tile in Constantinople (10th century) depicts St. Ignatius. bishop of Antioch [public domain / Wikipedia]

Summary: Reformed Baptist Gavin Ortlund argues that St. Ignatius of Antioch’s view of monarchical bishops is an isolated one; contradicted by other apostolic Church fathers.


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