Early Christians Rejected Jesus’s Suffering On The Cross

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Kaleef K. Karim

In the previous piece, we presented a quotation from the 1st Century of Christianity wherein a group of Christians rejected the crucifixion of Jesus taking place. In this article, we continue to explore further early sources wherein certain groups in early Christianity rejected that Jesus was crucified.

The apostolic fathers have frequently recorded in their writings heretical groups (Christians), which taught and espoused beliefs that were contrary to their own at the time. For example, Ignatius (35 – 108) has an interesting remark against a Christian group which lived in his life-time. Ignatius attacks certain people for holding beliefs which are contrary to his own on Jesus’s crucifixion. The following is stated:

“But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?” (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 201)

Ignatius is telling us that this group rejected the crucifixion. This group believed that the suffering was an illusion. He only “seemed to suffer”. This belief in rejection of the crucifixion must have been very wide spread. For Ignatius to take his time out to attack this group’s doctrine shows that the belief in illusionary nature was an accepted belief among a big group of Christians in his life time. It is reported by Josephus that Trallians had a considerable and a flourishing Jewish population:

20. “The magistrates of the Laodiceans to Caius Rubilius, the son of Caius, the consul, sendeth greeting. Sopater, the ambassador of Hyrcanus the high priest, hath delivered us an epistle from thee, whereby he lets us know that certain ambassadors were come from Hyrcanus, the high priest of the Jews, and brought an epistle written concerning their nation, wherein they desire that the Jews may be allowed to observe their Sabbaths, and other sacred rites, according to the laws of their forefathers, and that they may be under no command, because they are our friends and confederates, and that nobody may injure them in our provinces. Now although the TRALLIANS there present contradicted them, and were not pleased with these decrees, yet didst thou give order that they should be observed, and informedst us that thou hadst been desired to write this to us about them. We therefore, in obedience to the injunctions we have received from thee, have received the epistle which thou sentest us, and have laid it up by itself among our public records. And as to the other things about which thou didst send to us, we will take care that no complaint be made against us.”
21. “Publius Servilius, the son of Publius, of the Galban tribe, the proconsul, to the magistrates, senate, and people of the Mileslans, sendeth greeting. Prytanes, the son of Hermes, a citizen of yours, came to me when I was at Tralles, and held a court there, and informed me that you used the Jews in a way different from my opinion, and forbade them to celebrate their Sabbaths, and to perform the Sacred rites received from their forefathers, and to manage the fruits of the land, according to their ancient custom; and that he had himself been the promulger of your decree, according as your laws require: I would therefore have you know, that upon hearing the pleadings on both sides, I gave sentence that the Jews should not be prohibited to make use of their own customs.” (Antiquities of the Jews – Book XIV, Book 14, 20, Online source: http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-14.htm )


This quote tells that there was an opposition of Trallians against the Roman governor. The Jews were asking for permission to be granted to keep their Sabbath and to celebrate any other religious rites without any prohibition from the authorities or other religious faith(s) in the community.

Coming back to Ignatius’s text. It is quite clear that this belief in illusionary nature of the crucifixion of Jesus was seen to be a big threat. This belief being wide spread should be therefore dated well into the first century, and even may be back to the time of Paul’s time or before.

Some scholars have opined that this group were docetist. Doscetism is defined:

“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)

However, labeling this group with having docetisc beliefs does not hold. The text now where says anything about this group holding such beliefs. Reading from chapter one all the way to the end, we do not find this group holding docestic beliefs. It should be noted that Ignatius was attacking his fellow Christian brothers, not non-Christians, even though this Christian group’s beliefs were at odds with his own. The fact that they were Christians is carefully laid out when one reads from the first chapter to the end of Trallians:

I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a DIFFERENT KIND; I mean heresy. For those [that are given to this] MIX UP JESUS CHRIST WITH THEIR OWN POISON, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians Chapter 6)

Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, HE WHO DOES ANYTHING APART FROM THE BISHOP, AND PRESBYTERY, AND DEACONS, SUCH A MAN IS NOT PURE IN HIS CONSCIENCE. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians Chapter 7)

Flee, therefore, those evil offshoots [of Satan], which produce death-bearing fruit, whereof if any one tastes, he instantly dies. FOR THESE MEN ARE NOT THE PLANTING OF THE FATHER. FOR IF THEY WERE, THEY WOULD APPEAR AS BRANCHES OF THE CROSS, and their fruit would be incorruptible. By it He calls you through His passion, as being His members. The head, therefore, cannot be born by itself, without its members; God, who is [the Saviour] Himself, having promised their union. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians Chapter 11)


These words highlighted could only be directed and against his own Christian brothers who had some beliefs which were contrary to Ignatius’s.

Scholar Dr. Matti Myllykoski says that this group did not have docetists beliefs. He says this group were Christians which were influenced by an earlier Jewish-Christian influence:

“The Heresy Opposed In Ephesians, Trallians, and Smyrneans, in turn, denied the incarnation, virgin birth, true bodily suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ (particularly in Trallians 9-10 and Smyrneans 1-4). Even though most scholars take these adversaries to be Docetists, there are some SERIOUS PROBLEMS with this theory. Unlike other known Docetists, the preachers whom Ignatius attacked did not proclaim a separate God that is superior to the creator god. Furthermore, their activity must be dated clearly earlier than that of Saturninus, whose theology has been presented as the most likely parallel to them.
THE POLEMICS OF IGNATIUS DO NOT REVEAL THAT HIS OPPONENTS WOULD HAVE DENIED THE EARTHLY BODY OF JESUS, but rather focuses on their denial of the particular events that are related to the incarnation of the heavenly Christ: virgin birth, baptism, suffering and resurrection. Some scholars have suggested – most recently Michael Goulder – that the opponents proclaimed a possessionist view: the power or spirit descended into Jesus when he was baptized. I believe that Cerinthus, who taught the descent of the heavenly Christ into Jesus (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer 1.26. 1), comes closest to the heretics attacked by Ignatius. The weakness of this theory is that Ignatius does not indicate that his opponents made a separation between the earthly Jesus and the heavenly Christ. However, the absence of the earthly Jesus of the Christian tradition in the Ignatian passages is a problem for all possible interpretations. The riddle of the ‘wild beasts’ and ‘rabid dogs’ in the letters of Ignatius remains unsolved. Most scholars are inclined to regard them all – or one group among them – as the first Docetists we are aware of. AN ALTERNATIVE OPTION – SUPPORTED BY THIS ARTICLE – is to consider some of them Jewish Christians (Philadelphians, Magnesians) and the others proponents of a CHRISTOLOGY THAT RELIES ON EARLIER JEWISH-CHRISTIAN INFLUENCES (EPHESIANS, TRALLIANS, Smyrneans).” (The Formation of the Early Church [2005] by Dr. Matti Myllykoski, [Chapter: ‘Wild Beasts And Rabid Dogs – The Riddle Of The Heretics In The Letters Of Ignatius’], page 373 – 374)

Here are some of the different translations for Trallians chapter 10:

Michael W. Holmes Translation:

“10 But if some atheists (that is, unbelievers) say, he suffered in appearance only (while they exist in appearance only!), why am I in chains? And why do I want to fight with wild beasts? If that is the case, I die for no reason; what is more, I am telling lies about the Lord.” (The Apostolic Fathers in English [Published by Baker Academic, 2006] by Michael W. Holmes page 110 – 111)

Roberts-Donaldson Translation:

“But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to s the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord? (Trallians – Roberts-Donaldson English Translation, Ignatius to the Trallians, online source http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-trallians-roberts.html)

Rev. Alexander Roberts Translation:

“But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?”
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 201)

J. B. Lightfoot Translation:

“CHAPTER 10 10:1 But if it were as certain persons who are godless, that is unbelievers, say, that He suffered only in semblance, being themselves mere semblance, why am I in bonds? And why also do I desire to fight with wild beasts? So I die in vain. Truly then I lie against the Lord. ((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 176)


Charles H. Hoole Translation:

“10:1 But if, as certain men who are without God, that is unbelievers, assert, his passion was an appearance, being themselves an appearance, why am I bound, and why do I pray to fight with wild beasts? therefore I die in vain. Of a truth, do I not lie against the Lord?” (The Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Trallians, translated by Charles H. Hoole, 1885, online source)

Kirsopp Lake Translation:

1. But if, as some affirm who are without God, – that is, are unbelievers – his suffering was only a semblance (but it is they who are merely a semblance), why am I a prisoner, and why do I even long to fight with the beasts? In that case I am dying in vain. Then indeed am I lying concerning the Lord. (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, MCMXII] by Kirsopp Lake, volume 1, page 221)

William Whiston Translation:

“X. But if as some who are atheists, that is to say infidels, pretend, that he only seem’d to suffer: (They themselves only seeming to exist) why then am I bound? Why do I desire to fight with Beasts? Therefore do I die in vain: Therefore I will not speak falsly against the Lord.”
(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 221 – 223)

William Wake Translation:

“X. But if as some who are atheists – that is to say, infidels – pretend that he only seemed to suffer, (they themselves only seeming to exist) why then am I bound? Why do I desire to fight with beasts? Therefore do I die in vain; therefore I will not speak falsely against the Lord.” (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, [The Seventh edition – London: Samuel Bagster, No. 15, Paternoster Row, At the warehouse for Bibles, New Testaments, Prayer Books … MDCCCXL] Translated by William Wake, Lord Archbishop Of Canterbury., page 180)

Rev. Temple Chevallier Translation:

“10. But if, as some who are atheists, that is to say, unbelievers, pretend, he suffered only in appearance – they themselves living only in appearance – why then am I bound? Why do I desire to fight with beasts? Then do I die in vain. Verily I lie not against the Lord.” (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 100)

“X. But if, (as some godless men, which are unbelievers, assert,) it was only His shade that suffered, (whereas they are but a shade,) how came I to be in bonds? And why do I rejoice in the prospect of ‘fighting with beasts?’ In such case I perish to no purpose, and belie my Lord.” (Tracts For The Times., by Members of The University of Oxford [New edition – London: Printed for J. G. & F. Rivington, St. Paul’s Church Tard, And Waterloo Place, Pall Mall; & J. H. Parker, Oxford, 1840 (Records Of The Church. No. V.)], volume 1, page 3)

Rev. J. H. Strawley Translation:

“X. But if it be, as some godless men, that is, unbelievers, assert, that He suffered in semblance – it is they who are semblance – why am I in bonds? Why moreover do I pray that I may fight with the wild beasts? Then I die for naught. Then I lie against the Lord.” (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 76)

Cyril C. Richardson Translation:

“10 And if, as some atheists (I mean unbelievers) say, his suffering was a sham (it’s really they who are a sham!), why, then, am I a prisoner? Why do I want to fight with wild beasts? In that case I shall die to no purpose. Yes, and I am maligning the Lord too!” (Early Christian Fathers [Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library] by Richardson, Cyril C. (1909-1976), page 89)

In conclusion, for an average Bible believer you may be shocked to know that there were some early Christian group(s) which rejected the crucifixion narrative. The evidence we saw in this article confirms what the Quran has been saying for 1400 years, that the true believers who followed and believed in Jesus never accepted that Jesus the Messiah was crucified. The evidence we seen reveals that there were early Christians which still adopted true teachings of Jesus, and rejected the crucifixion narrative which had been peddled by later heretics. [1] [2] [3]


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Related article:

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


[1] Milton Perry Brown:
“Most important, as far as our purpose is concerned, these letters can be sorted, according a wide consensus of mdern scholarship, into two groups: (1) the GENUINE LETTERS of Ignatius to Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp; … assessment of the situation in our generation, P. N. Harrison says that the genuineness of the seven letters mentioned by Eusebius is ‘accepted, by almost universal consent, as one of the most thoroughly assured results of mdern scientific research, for which the chief credit is due – as all agree – to Lightfoot…’” (Polycarp’s Two Epistles To The Philippians (Cambridge, 1936), p. 122) (The Authentic Writings Of Ignatius: A Study of Linguistic Criteria [Duke University Press, Durham, N. C., 1963] by Milton Perry Brown page XI – XIII)
[2] William Cave:
Of the Epistles of St. Ignatius before referred to, there are seven which have been proved by learned men to be UNDOUBTEDLY GENUINE. They are as follows: to the Ephesians; to the Magnesians; to the Trallians; to the Romans; to the Romans; to the Philadelphians; to the Smyrneans; to St Polycarp. These letters are so deeply interesting, and, as containing the testimony of one of the earliest saints and martyrs to the faith and practice of the Church, so valuable to us of the present day, that some specimens shall be here subjoined.” (The Life Of St. Ignatius, Bishop Of Antioch [London: James Burns] by William Cave, page 25)
[3] “Let it be considered finally, that there is not a word inconsistent with all this in the whole of these Epistles; nor in that of Polycarp: but that on the contrary, the language of Polycarp in his Ep. To the Philippians. [section 13] is such as to vouch for the truth of the statements in Ignatius’s Epistles, that throughout the Christian world, a Bishop was at the head of every church, that there were under him Presbyters bound to reverence him, and Deacons who were ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ. J. E. C.” (The Epistles Of Ignatius And Polycarp With An Account of Their Martyrdom – The martyrdom of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, in the year 109; and of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, in the middle of the second Century., [Lexington, KY: J. Clarke & Co., Printers – Upper-Street., 1835] page 60)




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