Crucifixion or Crucifiction: What Did 1st Century Christians Believe?

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Kaleef K. Karim

It has puzzled scholars for many years why the Quran in very strong words says that Jesus (p) was not crucified:

“And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger – they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain.
But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise.” – Quran 157-158 (Pickthall Translation)

Most Christians have regarded this verse to be contrary and in conflict with what their version of the New Testament states. Their belief in the crucifixion is the cornerstone of their faith. No crucifixion, there is no Christianity. Many Christian debaters, missionaries, and their scholars have challenged the Quran’s version of history.

Some Muslims have attempted to show that there were Christians who believed that Jesus was not crucified by showing some groups in early Christianity. Christians have responded by saying that their beliefs are contrary to Islamic belief. They say that some of these group(s) believed that Jesus’s body was not real when on earth, it was only an illusion, as it is claimed. Some of these groups are known as Docetists. Docetism is defined by Norbert Brox as:

“the doctrine according to which the phenomenon of Christ, his historical and bodily existence, and thus above all the human form of Jesus, was altogether mere semblance without any true reality. …” (New Testament Apocrypha (Gospels And Related Writings) [James Clarke & Co, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville – London, 2003], volume 1, page 220)

Although such beliefs have been attached to some early groups, readers should be aware that sometimes the latter Church fathers whom we have the only written records about these groups, used to exaggerate and make up things in their writings against groups and opponents whom they had massive disagreements with.

Another way for some in the past to reconcile the verse of the Quran is the belief that another person was substituted in the place of Jesus, and that person was Judas. Some early writings do mention this.

The Modern attempt to reconcile with the New Testament has been the swoon theory, where the belief that Jesus was on the cross, crucified, but the crucifixion itself did not kill him, rather God Almighty raised him up and made to appear to the people that he had died as a result of him being crucified, but in reality he was raised up before his enemies killed him.

The crucifixion has intrigued me over the years to do more research on this matter. Are there any early Christian writings that mention any group(s) who believed Jesus was not crucified? For the past year or so I have been reading the letters of Ignatius of Antioch. The vast of majority of scholars have agreed that Ignatius’s letters are genuine.

Ignatius (35 – 107) was the bishop of Antioch. In the year 107 (or 108) he was arrested by the Romans and subsequently taken away to Rome. In between his incarceration and his death in around 107 (or 108), Ignatius wrote a series of letters in which he attacked other Christian groups as a result of them holding on to beliefs which were contrary to his own. In Ignatius’s letters, there is often verbal battles against other Judaic-Christian and Christian groups which held contrary beliefs to his own, as mentioned. One letter which caught my eye was the following:

“7 Some there may be who wanted in a human way to mislead me, but the Spirit is not misled, seeing it comes from God. For “it knows whence it comes and whither it goes,”250 110 and exposes what is secret.251 When I was with you I cried out, raising my voice—it was God’s voice252—”pay heed to the Bishop, the Presbytery, and the deacons.” 2 Some, it is true, suspected that I spoke thus because I had been told in advance that some of you were schismatics. But I swear by Him for whose cause I am a prisoner, that from no human channels did I learn this. It was the Spirit that kept on preaching in these words: “Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your bodies as if they were God’s temple; value unity; flee schism; imitate Jesus Christ as he imitated his Father.”
8 I, then, was doing all I could, as a man utterly devoted to unity. Where there is schism and bad feeling, God has no place. The Lord forgives all who repent—if, that is, their repentance brings them into God’s unity and to the bishop’s council. I put my confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ. He will release you from all your chains.253
2I urge you, do not do things in cliques, but act as Christ’s disciples. When I heard some people saying, “IF I DON’T FIND IT IN THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS, I DON’T BELIEVE IT IN THE GOSPEL,” I answered them, “But it is written there.” They retorted, “That’s just the question.”254 To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents. The inviolable archives are his CROSS AND DEATH AND HIS RESURRECTION AND THE FAITH THAT CAME BY HIM. It is by these things and through your prayers that I want to be justified. (Early Christian Fathers [Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library] by Richardson, Cyril C. (1909-1976), page 96)

This group is arguing that if what Ignatius believes in is not found in the “original documents”, they will not believe the gospel which Ignatius basis his faith on. Ignatius responds by saying that it is there in the document(s), and they respond by stating that,

“it is not written there”.

So what exactly was this group in disagreement with in this instance? Few lines down Ignatius tells us the reason and this is Jesus’s,

“Cross and death, and his resurrection…”

This was the debate. The point of contention here is the reality of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection not being mentioned in their original, and authentic document(s). Here the text suggests to us that what Ignatius had in his possession or believed in was the corrupted gospel, whereas what they had were the originals. The above discussion reveals that this group and Ignatius stood right at the opposite of the Christian theological spectrum. The group Ignatius is countering in this instance are of Judaic-Christian or fully Christian. The language used by Ignatius against this group suggests very likely that they were Christian, but they only rejected the crucifixion as a result of it not being in their own present manuscript (“documents”). The sayings,

“pay heed to the Bishop, the Presbytery, and the Deacons”,

And:

“Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your bodies as if they were God’s temple; value unity; flee schism; imitate Jesus Christ as he imitated his Father”

And:

“act as Christ’s disciples”

These are not words used for heretics or fully Judaic group(s). This is a language employed only to his own Christian brothers, a group who were Christian but disagreed with him massively on the evidence of Jesus’s crucifixion.

We can hold two opinions in regards to this group, they were either fully Judaic-Christian who also held on to the Old Testament laws, which means that the Crucifixion and resurrection had to be in accord with what the Old Testament said i.e. if there are any prophecies foretold. Or they were a fully Christian group who upheld the teachings from the original Gospel which was in their possession. The latter has more weight in regards to the text when everything is read in context. There is no doubt here the group which he is battling with are Christians and not docetists as some have claimed. [1] [2]

Scholars over the years have continued to debate if Ignatius used the gospel of Matthew in his extant writings. Most seem to believe that he did, perhaps not exactly the same textual version as the current one today. Some have argued that this was about the oral proclamation. I would say, as have many others, that it’s referring to a written document because of “it is written”. There must have been a written document in the possession of this group and Ignatius, whatever that document was, we cannot determine with certainty.

A dozen or more translations have been made in regards to the statement, “if I don’t find it in the archives (original documents, records) I will not believe in the gospel”. [3] A number of arguments have been proposed by scholars for the past few hundred years in regards to what is meant here. Did this group believe that Ignatius’s gospel was corrupted? This seems so with the words used. Here are some of the translations:

Kleist (1946), Eng. Tran. “Unless I find it in the official records – in the Gospel I do not believe. (The Epistles Of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch [Westminster, Newman, 1948] James Aloysius Kleist)

Goodspeed (1950), Eng. Tran. “What I cannot find in the records, I will not believe in the gospel.” (The Apostolic Fathers. An American Translation, [New York, Harper, 1950] by Edgar Johnson Goodspeed)

Holmes (2006) Eng. Tran. “If I do not find it in the archives, I do not believe it in the gospel.” (The Apostolic Fathers [Published by Baker Academic, 2006] Michael W. Holmes)

Weinfurter (1930), Eng Tran.
“If I do not find it written in the originals documents, I will not believe that it is written in the gospel.”(Karel Weinfurter. Bible Ve Svetle Mystiky. Apokryfy XI. [Praha: Zmatlik a Palicka, 1930])

Novak (1985), CZ. Eng. Tran. “If I do not find it in the old documents, that is, in the gospel, I will not believe.” (Spisy Apostolskych Octu. Praha: [Ceska Katolicka Charita., 1985], by Josef J. Novak)

What it is meant here in regards to “I will not believe in the gospel” refers to the documents Ignatius believes in, rather than the original gospel. Some scholars have claimed that “old documents”, “original documents” or “Archives” here, it is in reference to the Old Testament. They say that this group wanted evidence from the Old Testament to substantiate Ignatius’s beliefs in regards to the crucifixion and resurrection. However, this assertion is not in accord with what the text says. I will elaborate further on this point later.

The reading from the text suggests that the copies Ignatius relied on for the death of Jesus were corrupted, whereas what this Christian group had in their possession were the originals and it did not have Jesus as being crucified. Jesus’s crucifixion was the central issue at hand, as many scholars have stated.

Professor J. B. Lightfoot:

“What the points at issue were, the following words … will suggest. The old question … (Acts xxvi. 23; comp. Justin. Dial. 36, 76, pp. 254, 302) had still to be discussed. The CROSS was still a stumbling-block to these Docetic Judaizers, as it had been in the Apostolic age to the Jews, though from a different point of view. They denied the reality of Christ’s birth and death and resurrection…”  (The Apostolic Fathers – S. Ignatius. S. Polycarp., Revised Texts With Introductions, Notes, Dissertations, And Translations [London: Macmillan And Co., 1885], by J. B. Lightfoot, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D., (Bishop of Durham) volume 2 (Sect. 1.), page 272)

Rev. J. H. Strawley:

“1. Ignatius claims that the points in question are found in the Old Testament. The allusion is doubtless to the CROSS, DEATH, and RESURRECTION of JESUS CHRIST, which were a stumbling-block alike to Judaizers and to those who held Docetic views. A similar appeal to the Old Testament had been made in the first age of the Church. Cf. Luke xxiv. 26, 46, Acts xvii. 3.” (The Epistle of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch [Second edition, Revised. Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross, W. C., 1910] by the Rev. J. H. Strawley, D. D., (Teacher and Theological Lecturer At Selwyn college) volume 2, page 28)

Reverend H. S. Holland also agrees that the contention here is the crucifixion:

“To the Philadelphians he has one most striking passage on his old subject, Church unity. ‘Study to use one Eucharist; for one is the flesh of Jesus Christ our Lord, and one is the cup for the unity of His blood, one is the altar and one the bishop, with his presbytery and his diaconate.’ He claims that his own part has been to emphasize and enforce this unity as the key to the holiness of Christian living. He refers in his letter to difficulties with some Judaizers, who seem to have tested the New Gospel by its agreement with the Old Testament; he answers that Christ is higher and older than the old writings, that He therefore and HIS CROSS are the standard and rule by which they must be tried; He is the High Priest greater than the old priests, He is the door through which alone entered Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Prophets. Here we may notice how the metaphor in St. John is used to enforce the cardinal arguments of St. Paul.” (The Fathers, For English Readers [The Apostolic Fathers] |Published Under The Directions Of The Tract Committee| [London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross … New York: E & J. B. Young & Co.] by Rev. H. S. Holland, M.A., (Student Of Christ Church, Oxford), page 172 – 173)

Professor Jan A. Dus:

“The part of the opening quotation that we have printed in italics puzzles the editors and translators. What is at stake between Ignatius and his opponents? The context indicates that the basis of the dispute was Ignatius’ ARGUMENT ABOUT THE REALITY OF CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST, since these convictions are characteristic of Ignatius thinking.” (The Process of Authority: The Dynamics in Transmission and Reception of Canonical Texts [Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston, 2016], by Jan A. Dus, page 155)

And:

“ 1. i.e., the system of Christian doctrine.” (Ante-Nicene Christian Library – Translations Of The Writings Of The Fathers Down To A.D. 325. – The Apostolic Fathers [Edinburgh: T. And T. Clark, 38, George Street. [MDCCCLXVII.] Edited by The Rev. Alexander Roberts, D. D., And James Donaldson, LL.D., volume 1, page 235 (footnote 1))

Although the above scholars all agree that the argument with this group and Ignatius’s was centered around the cross i.e., crucifixion and resurrection, [4] the claim made by some that this group were “docetic” has no support from the text anywhere.

A number of scholars have said that Ignatius relied on corrupted documents for his beliefs, whereas this Christian group had the originals, and it did not have the things which Ignatius solely based his beliefs on. Below are some of the translations produced for Philadelphians 8:1-2.

Rev. J. H. Strawley Translation:

“VIII. I therefore have done my own part as a man perfectly established in union. But where there is division and wrath, God dwells not. Therefore the Lord forgives all that repent, if on their repentance they turn to the unity of God and the council of the bishop. I believe in the grace of Jesus Christ, Who shall loose from off you every bond. Moreover I entreat you, act not in any matter in the spirit of faction but as Disciples of Christ. For I have heard some saying, ‘EXCEPT I FIND IT IN THE ARCHIVES I BELIEVE IT NOT IN THE GOSPEL.’ And when I said to them, ‘IT IS WRITTEN, they answered me, ‘That is the question in dispute.’ But my archives are Jesus Christ; the inviolable ARCHIVES ARE HIS CROSS AND DEATH and Resurrection, and the faith which is through him. In these I desire to be justified through prayer.” (The Epistle of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch [Second edition, Revised. Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross, W. C., 1910] by the Rev. J. H. Strawley, D. D., (Teacher and Theological Lecturer At Selwyn college) volume 2, page 27 – 29)

New Testament scholar, Kirsopp Lake Translation:

“1. I then did my best as a man who was set on unity. But where there is division and anger God does not dwell. The Lord then forgives all who repent, if their repentance lead to the unity of God and the council of the bishop. I have faith in the grace of Jesus Christ, and he shall loose every bond from you.
2. But I beseech you to do nothing in factiousness, but after the teaching of Christ. For I heard some men saying, ‘IF I FIND IT NOT IN THE CHARTERS IN THE GOSPEL I DO NOT BELIEVE,’ and when I said to them that IT IS IN THE SCRIPTURE, they answered me, ‘that is exactly the question.’ But to me the charters are Jesus Christ, the inviolable CHARTER IS HIS CROSS, AND DEATH, and resurrection, and the faith which is through him; in these I desire to be justified by your prayers.” (The Apostolic Fathers, With An English Translation (I Clement II Clement Ignatius, Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas) [London: William Heinemann, New York: G. P. Putman’s Sons, MCMXIX] by Kirsopp Lake, volume 1, page 247)

William Whiston Translation:

“VIII. I therefore did what properly belonged to me, as a Man compos’d to Unity. Adding this also, That where there is diversity of Opinion and Wrath, and Hatred, there God does not dwell. God therefore forgives those that repent, if they, with one consent, return to the Unity of Christ, and the Council of the Bishop. I believe in the Grace of Jesus Christ that he will loose you from the bond of wickedness. I therefore exhort you that you do nothing out of Strife, but according to the Doctrine of Christ. For I have heard some say, UNLESS I CAN FIND THE SAME THINGS, IN THE ARCHIVES, I WILL NOT BELIEVE THE GOSPEL.
To such as these I say, my Archives are Jesus Christ; whom not to hearken to is manifest Destruction. My untouch’d ARCHIVES ARE HIS CROSS, AND DEATH, and his Resurrection, and the Faith concerning these Things; wherein I desire to be justified by your Prayers. He that disbelieves the Gospel disbelieves all at once. The Archives of the Spirit are not exposed to all. Tis hard to kick against the Pricks: Tis hard to disbelieve Christ: Tis hard to reject the Preaching of the Apostles.” (Primitive Christianity Reviv’d – Epistles of Ignatius, Both Larger and Smaller, in Greek and English [London and Westminster, 1711], by William Whiston M. A., volume 1, page 291 – 293)

William Benjamin Smith Translation:

“But I entreat you do naught in factiousness but in love of Christ. For I heard some saying, that ‘unless in the archives I find [it] in the Gospel I do not believe [it], and when I said to them that it is written, they answered me, That is the question [prokeitai, it lies before, it is open to discussion]. But for me archives are Jesus Christ, the untouched archives his cross and his death and his resurrection and the faith that is though him, in which I wish through your prayers to be justified.” (St. Ignatius vs. the Historicists (1913) by William Benjamin Smith, page 356 – 367)

Michael W. Holmes Translation:

“8 I was doing my part, therefore, as a man set on unity. But God does not dwell where there is division and anger. The Lord, however, forgives all who repent, if in repenting they return to the unity of God and the council of the bishop. I believe in the grace of Jesus Christ, who will free you from every restraint.
Moreover, I urge you to do nothing in a spirit of contentiousness, but in accordance with the teaching of Christ. For I heard some say, ‘If I do not find it in the archives, I do not believe it in the gospel.’ And when I said to them, ‘It is written,’ they answered me, ‘That is precisely the question.’ But for me, the ‘archives’ are Jesus Christ, the unalterable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith that comes through him; by these things I want, through your prayers, to be justified.” (The Apostolic Fathers in English [Published by Baker Academic, 2006] by Michael W. Holmes, page 119)

Although some scholars have proposed that the “original documents” here refers to Old Testament, this assertion cannot be backed up from the text as we mentioned earlier. Further down from this point, this Christian group are accusing Ignatius’s document(s) of being a forgery. Instead of refuting their claims, he is silent and unable to defeat the fluent Christian group. The reason why this view is more correct is because this Christian group would not accuse their own scripture of being tampered with if it referred to the OT (or their own gospel or document), as some have claimed. The only alternative here is, as other scholars have agreed on is that this group is accusing Ignatius of having a corrupted gospel, whereas what they have in their possession are the originals. For this, Ignatius, as the text shows he could not rebut.

Instead of Ignatius pointing to clear cut verses, he swivels out of the conversation to say that Jesus is the archives. In a way, he avoided to go head on with this group. For Ignatius not to deal with this group head on and present verses to show that the conversation they had did not centre around the Old Testament versus the Gospel, shows rather the group wanted genuine evidence from the original gospel document(s), not the corrupted text he believed in. For this, Ignatius failed in his task to convince this learned group. As far as we are aware and know, the conversation came to an end.

Some academics have argued that Ignatius backed off as a result of him not being fluent nor skilled in Hebrew as they were. When Ignatius could not win the argument against his opponents, he changes the rules by saying, that Jesus is the “archives” (or original documents).

Ignatius’s gospel in which he believed in was a forgery. Ignatius’s belief that Jesus was crucified did not go in accord with the original document(s) this group had in their possession. A number of scholars have said that the group believed that Ignatius’s documents (gospel(s)) were corrupted and tampered with.

Reverend William Osburn says that the gospel was called into question by this group:

“86 De Pares. Haer., cc. 32-38. The corruption of the Scriptures by heretics was attempted even in the time of Ignatius. ‘I hear some say, unless I find it to be in the originals, (…) I will not believe it to be in the gospel; and when I answer, it is written there, they deny it.’ Ad. Phil., c. 8. The originals of Ignatius, are evidently the same as the authenticate litterae of Tertullian, in the passage referred to in the text. U. s., c. 36. (…) The fact that the fidelity of transcripts of the canonical books was called in question as so early a period, while the church was still in possession of that most unanswerable of all means of authentication, the autograph copies of them, is a most important one.” (Doctrinal Errors Of The Apostolical And Early Fathers [London: Hamilton, Adams, And Co., Hatchard and Son, And Seeley And Son; And J. Y. Knight, Leeds., 1835], by William Osburn, Jun., page 199 (footnote 86))

 

Reverend George Peck, D. D., states the contention here was in regards to the “authentic copies” of the gospel(s):

“From this it appears that the written Gospels were the ultimate in which all professing Christians agreed, and the only question raised by heretics was, as to which were the authentic copies. Neither the orthodox nor heterodox make as yet any claim to oral traditions as authoritative expositions of the written record.” (Appeal From Tradition To Scripture And Common Sense; Or an Answer To The Question, What Constitutes The Divine Rule Of Faith And Practice [New – York: published by G. Lane & P. P. Sandford, For The Methodist Episcopal Church, At The Conference Office, 200 Mulberry-Street – J. Collord, Printer., 1844]., by George Peck, D. D., page 327)

Rev. J. H. Strawley, D. D., says that some scholars in the past have come to the view that this group accused Ignatius’s gospel been tampered with:

“5. The Greek text and the Latin version read in place of ‘archives’ a word which may be translated either ‘ancient writings’ or ‘ancient writers.’ But as the word ‘archives’ occurs twice below it should probably be read in this place also. The word originally means ‘a place where records are kept,’ and then came to be used of the documents themselves. The reference here is to a collection of ancient authoritative records, i.e., the Old Testament, which these writers set up as an authority against the Gospel, and with which they required the Gospel to agree. OTHERS, however, UNDERSTAND ‘ARCHIVES’ TO MEAN THE ORIGINAL COPIES OF THE GOSPEL, with which is contrasted the traditional Gospel as preached and taught. THESE TEACHERS WOULD THEN BE REPRESENTED AS CLAIMING THAT THE GOSPEL HAD BEEN FALSIFIED, and we should translate, ‘Except I find it in the archives, that is, in (written) Gospel, I do not believe it.’ …” (The Epistle of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch [Second edition, Revised. Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross, W. C., 1910] by the Rev. J. H. Strawley, D. D., (Teacher and Theological Lecturer At Selwyn college) volume 2, page 27 – 28 (footnote 5))

J. B. Lightfoot gives some of the names of these scholars who came to conclude that the gospel at the time of Ignatius had been tampered with:

“… A wholly different interpretation however has not uncommonly been given to the passage, e.g. by Voss (apparently), Smith, and several later writers; … being explained as referring to the ORIGINAL AUTOGRAPHS OR AUTHENTIC MSS OF THE EVANGELICAL WRITINGS, with which is contrasted …, the Gospel as written and preached in Ignatius’ time. In other words his antagonists are represented as complaining that the GOSPELS HAD BEEN TAMPERED WITH; comp. Polyc. Phil. 7 … (quoted by Zahn I. v. A. p. 379), …
Zahn takes the view that these objectors appeal to the original documents of the New Testament, as evidence for the true Gospel.” (The Apostolic Fathers – S. Ignatius. S. Polycarp., Revised Texts With Introductions, Notes, Dissertations, And Translations [London: Macmillan And Co., 1885], by J. B. Lightfoot, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D., (Bishop of Durham) volume 2 (Sect. 1.), page 270 – 271)

J. H. Strawley and J. B. Lightfoot disagree with scholars like Zahn, Smith and others that the gospel Ignatius had in his possession and relied on were tampered with. It is quite understandable why Strawley and Lightfoot took such position to reject other giant scholars like Zahn, Smith and others. For devout Christians like Lightfoot and Strawley to admit that some of their scripture(s) had been corrupted and falsified would put a big dent in their faith. [5] But here we should understand that other scholars have adopted the view that this Christian group believed that Ignatius’s document(s) (Gospel) were corrupted. This view is supported by the text of Philadelphians 8:2 and some giant scholars of the past who adopted this position.

One of the most accurate translations for Philadelphians 8:2 clearly tells us that this group’s contention was centred around Ignatius documents being corrupted and rejection of the crucifixion narrative peddled by Ignatius since it went against their own original document(s) they had in their possession [6] [7]:

“18 For I Trust in the grace of Jesus Christ that he will free you from every bond.
19 Nevertheless I exhort you that you do nothing out of strife, but according to the instruction of Christ.
20 BECAUSE I HAVE HEARD OF SOME WHO SAY, UNLESS I FIND IT WRITTEN IN THE ORIGINALS, I WILL NOT BELIEVE IT TO BE WRITTEN IN THE GOSPEL. And when I said, It is written, they answered what lay before them in their CORRUPTED COPIES.
21 But TO ME JESUS CHRIST is instead of all the uncorrupted monuments in the world; together with those undefiled monuments, HIS CROSS, AND DEATH, and resurrection, and the faith which is by him, by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.” (The genuine epistles of the Apostolic fathers, St. Clement, St. Polycarp, St. Ignatius, St. Barnabas; the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Martyrdoms of St. Ignatius And St Polycarp, [Hartdford: Published by Parsons And Hills, 1834] Translated by William Wake, Lord Archbishop Of Canterbury. page 149)

Few facts in regards to the information presented:

1. Ignatius here is arguing against some of his own Christian brothers.
2. This Christian group accuses Ignatius of believing and following a corrupted text to base his beliefs on.
3. Ignatius unable to refute or show evidence that his gospel is the authentic version, he swivels away and states that Jesus is the “original documents”.
4. This group was arguing that Jesus’s crucifixion is not mentioned in their original document(s) which they had in their possession.
5. As shown the scholars like Zahn, Smith and others in agreement that the group accused Ignatius of following and believing in a tampered, and falsified gospel.

Now some may ask, what happened to this group? If this is true, that there were early Christian group(s) which believed that Jesus was not crucified, what happened to them? The simple answer to this is, most probably as it usually occurred, they were killed off. Any group which went against the dominant group were put away. When a certain group went against another which attacked their beliefs, they were killed off in ancient times. This happened a lot in the early history of Christianity.

Conclusion

With the above considered, we must recall that Ignatius, as the evidence shows he was attacking his Christian brothers [8], not non-Christians. The particular Christian group attacked shared a specific belief at complete odds with that of Ignatius. This group wanted evidence based on the authentic gospel(s) that was in their possession. They held the view that Ignatius’s belief on the crucifixion and resurrection was based on a corrupted text. Furthermore, the claim proposed by some that Ignatius did indeed have the Old Testament in mind on proving that Jesus Christ had to be crucified, he could have easily quoted one verse from the Old Testament to substantiate his claims, if that was the case as some have asserted. But given the fact that Ignatius does not bring any verse up shows that the conversation here was centered around some Gospel document(s).

As we showed at the start of this article, the Qur’an states in very clear words that Jesus Christ was not crucified. This early testimony from Ignatius testifies that there was an early Christian group(s) that held the belief that Jesus was not crucified. They based their evidence on the scriptural document(s) they had in their possession. Thus, one of the earliest Christian sources from the 1st century of Christianity agrees with what the Quran says. [9]

Related articles:

(1) – “Examining Pagan Sources On Jesus Crucifixion, Genuine or Hearsay?

(2) – “Examining Jewish Sources On Jesus Crucifixion, Genuine Or Forgery?

(3) – “Examining the Engineering behind Jesus’ (p) title as ‘Lamb of God’

(4) – “Did earliest Christians believe (alleged) crucifixion to be indispensable?

(5) – “Was Jesus Hanged or Crucified?

(6) – “Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar” (Telegraph.co.uk)

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References:

[1] Professor J. H. Strawley states that this group were Judaistic. This group did not have traces of docetism:
“The heresy which he attacks is plainly Judaistic (cc. 5, 8,, 9,), of a strongly developed character. The false teachers had organized themselves apparently into schism (cc. 4, 7). … They are NOT SUFFICIENT TO JUSTIFY THE VIEW THAT THE HERESY WAS CURRENT AT PHILADELPHIA (See Add. Note I, vol. ii.). Nor is it necessary with Harnack (Expositor, March 1886, and Chronologie, pp. 389 n., 393 n.) to see in cc. 8, 9 traces of a third tendency. The passages most NATURALLY REFER TO THE JUDAISTIC TEACHERS. …” (The Epistle of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch [Second edition, Revised. Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross, W. C., 1910] by the Rev. J. H. Strawley, D. D., (Teacher and Theological Lecturer At Selwyn college) volume 2, page 19 – 20)
[2] Reverend H. S. Holland also states that this group were clearly Judaistic:
“To the Philadelphians he has one most striking passage on his old subject, Church unity. ‘Study to use one Eucharist; for one is the flesh of Jesus Christ our Lord, and one is the cup for the unity of His blood, one is the altar and one the bishop, with his presbytery and his diaconate.’ He claims that his own part has been to emphasize and enforce this unity as the key to the holiness of Christian living. He refers in his letter to difficulties with some Judaizers, who seem to have tested the New Gospel by its agreement with the Old Testament; he answers that Christ is higher and older than the old writings, that He therefore and his Cross are the standard and rule by which they must be tried; He is the High Priest greater than the old priests, He is the door through which alone entered Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Prophets. Here we may notice how the metaphor in St. John is used to enforce the cardinal arguments of St. Paul.” (The Fathers, For English Readers [The Apostolic Fathers] |Published Under The Directions Of The Tract Committee| [London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, Charing Cross … New York: E & J. B. Young & Co.] by Rev. H. S. Holland, M.A., (Student Of Christ Church, Oxford), page 172 – 173)
[3] Cyril C. Richardson states that the arguments between Ignatius and this group centered around whether what he believed in was in agreement with the Old Testament:
“254 The point of the argument is that the Old Testament is the final court of appeal. It constitutes the “original documents” which validate the gospel. The New Testament, as a book of canonical authority, is still in process of formation. The Bible of the primitive Church is the Septuagint. Hence a point of doctrine turns on the interpretation of Old Testament texts which are viewed as prophetically pointing to Christianity (cf: ch. 5:2). When, however, an impasse is reached in the argument, Ignatius makes the tradition of the gospel the final authority. He thus opens himself to the criticism of disparaging the Old Testament (cf. ch. 5.2). Early Christian Fathers [Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library] by Cyril C. Richardson (1909-1976), page 96
[4] Contention was the cross:
“It is here that he brings in the real case of Jewish believers who support the right brand of Christianity. If Jewish believers agreed with Ignatius in confessing the reality of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, and agreed with him in finding this to be the only hermeneutical key to a right reading of the Scriptures, then these Jewish believers would be “men having circumcision, but proclaiming Christianity.” (The Early Centuries – Jewish Believers In Jesus [Editors, Oskar Skarsaune and Reider Hvalvik, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2007], by Oskar Skarsaune, page 508)
[5] Reverend Temple says that the reference here made is in connection with the authentic gospels:
“Lardner, Credibility, Part II. C. 17, p. 323, agrees with Le Clerc (or Clere), in supposing that a reference is here made to those who appealed, on all controverted points, to original autographs of the Gospels. …” (A Translation Of The Epistles Of Clement Of Rome, Polycarp, And Ignatius; And Of The Apologies Of Justin Martyr And Tertullian: With An Introduction And Brief Notes, Illustrative Of The Ecclesiastical History of the First Two Centuries, [Cambridge: Printed by John Smith, For J. & J. J. Deighton. Trinity Street; M. DCCC.XXXIII] by the Rev. Temple Chevallier, B. D., page 116 – 117)
[6] William J. Smith:
“The accepted text archeiois (archives) is rendered ‘charters’ by Kirsopp Lake as well as by Lightfoot, but ta archeia means properly the public records, and hence more generally originals documents. UNDERSTOOD IN THE STRICT SENSE IT WOULD REFER, AS REINACH SHOWS, TO THE OFFICIAL PAPERS AT CAESAREA, though others think it means the Old Testament Scriptures.” St. Ignatius vs. the Historicists (1913) by William Benjamin Smith, page 356 – 367)
[7] A similar and exact translation is offered in the Book, “The Lost Books Of The Bible” for Philadelphians 8:
“7 But if either the one, or other, do not speak concerning Christ Jesus, they seem to me to be but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men.
8 Flee therefore the wicked arts and snares of the prince of this world; lest at any time being oppressed by his cunning ye grow 1 cold in your charity. But come all together into the same place with an undivided heart.
9 And I bless my God that I have a good conscience towards you, and that no one among you has whereof to boast either openly or privately, that I have been burthensome to him in much or little.
10 And I wish to all among whom I have conversed, that it may not turn to a witness against them.
11 For although some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the spirit, being from God, is not deceived; for it knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, and reproves the secrets of the heart.
12 I cried whilst I was among you; I spake with a loud voice: attend to the bishop, and to the presbytery, and to the deacons.
13 Now some supposed that I spake this as foreseeing the division that should come among you.
14 But he is my witness for whose sake I am in bonds that I knew nothing from any man. But the spirit spake, saying on this wise: Do nothing without the bishop:
15 Keep your 3 bodies as the temples of God: Love unity; Flee divisions; Be the followers of Christ, as he was of his Father.
16 I therefore did as became me, as a man composed to unity. For where there is division, and wrath, God dwelleth not.
17 But the Lord forgives all that repent, if they return to the unity of God, and to the council of the bishop.
18 For I trust in the grace of Jesus Christ that he will free you from every bond.
19 Nevertheless I exhort you that you do nothing out of strife, but according to the instruction of Christ.
20 Because I have heard of some who say; unless I find it written in the originals, I will not believe it to be written in the Gospel. And when I said, It is written; they answered what lay before them in their corrupted copies.
21 But to me Jesus Christ is instead of all the uncorrupted monuments in the world; together with those undefiled monuments, his cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by him; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified. (The Lost Books Of The Bible, Being All The Gospels, Epistles, And Other pieces Now Extant Attributed In The First Four Centuries To Jesus Christ, His Apostles And Their Companions Not Included, By Its Compilers, In The Authorized New Testament; And The Recently Discovered Syriac MSS. Of Pilate’s Letters To Tiberius, etc. Translated from The Original Tongues Illustrated From Ancient Paintings And Missals [New York: Alpha House, edited by Rutherford H. Platt, Jr., 1926], page 184)
[8] German theologian Walter Bauer says that this group were Christian:
“Already in the second century we hear of direct discussions between the representatives of ecclesiastical Christianity and their opponents, and can easily find the bridge to an even earlier period. 2 The letter of Ignatius to the PHILADELPHIANS (CHAPTERS 5-8) allows us to take a look at the CLASH OF OPINIONS WITHIN THE COMPANY OF CHRISTIANS at the beginning of the second century, when there is no clearly defined community boundary between opposing circles, but when all the baptized still remain, at least externally, bound together as a unity. There is debate pro and con over the right and wrong of this opinion and that. The opponents of Ignatius are preaching “Judaism,” with reference to their use of scripture (6.1). Ignatius, who sees in this an apostasy from the gospel, even if his opponents wish to REMAIN IN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY (7), declares to be impossible every understanding of scripture that finds in the “charters” [[132]] something other than that which, according to his view, stands in the “gospel” (8.2) — a teaching that rests on such a basis is a delusion. Apparently, NO AGREEMENT WAS REACHED ON THIS ISSUE; EACH PARTY RETAINED ITS OWN POINT OF VIEW.” (Orthodoxy And Heresy In Earliest Christianity by Walter Bauer [Translated and supplemented under the direction of Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Kroedel (Philadelphia: Fortress 1971) from the 2nd German edition edited and supplemented by Georg Strecker (Tübingen: J.C.B.Mohr 1964,original ed 1934]; electronic edition periodically updated by Robert A. Kraft (since 1993), Chapter Seven, Online source: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rak//publics/new/BAUER07.htm )
[9] Cyril C. Richardson on the divisions in the Church:
“After leaving Smyrna, Ignatius and his guard pressed on to Troas, where they made a halt before crossing by sea to Neapolis. It was from Troas that Ignatius wrote his last three letters. While their themes are the familiar ones of Church unity and heresy, their SPECIAL IMPORTANCE LIES IN THE FACT THAT THEY ARE DIRECTED TO CHURCHES THAT IGNATIUS HAD ACTUALLY VISITED.(Philadelphia lay on the route he took from Laodicea to Smyrna.) They, therefore, reflect the issues of false teaching in more detail. The letter to the Philadelphians indicates the nature of the Judaistic errors which had been touched upon in the letter to the Magnesians; while that to the Smyrnaeans enlarges on Docetism. Two friends of Ignatius, the deacons Philo and Rheus Agathopus, seem to have joined him in Troas after a stay in Philadelphia. THEY BROUGHT NEWS OF THE CHURCH THERE AND OF THE FACT THAT THE DISSIDENT ELEMENT HAD SLIGHTED THEM and also attacked the martyr (chs. 6:3; 11). To answer these charges and to unmask the errors of his opponents, Ignatius wrote his letter. An interesting feature of it is his account of an actual debate he had with the Judaizers (ch. 8:2).” (Early Christian Fathers [Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library] by Cyril C. Richardson (1909-1976), page 94)

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4 Responses »

  1. Reblogged this on Blogging Theology and commented:
    Interesting..

  2. Barak Allahu feekum, Great article Brother

    Here are 2 related articles:
    Early Christian Books on Was it Jesus who was Crucified:
    http://www.answering-christian-claims.com/Early_Christian_Books_on_was_Jesus_.html

    Early Christian Believers Doubted the Crucifixion:
    https://callingchristians.com/2013/12/09/early-christian-believers-doubted-the-crucifixion/

  3. Some Christians critics should note the following:

    1. If the contention here was in regards with OT vs NT, then it would have been very easy for Ignatius to bring up a verse to settle the case. But given he is silent, shows that the contention was in regards to corruption:

    2. Christians scholars in the past have adopted the view from the text that Ignatius’s gospel was corrupted. Therefore the debate was over original documents to substantiate Ignatius’s beliefs.

    3. The reading from Philadelphians 8:2, context, and scholars put together argue what I have said, and that is the Christian group were arguing with Ignatius as a result of him following a corrupted text, and holding beliefs which did not exist in their own original document (Gospel).

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