As I sat down to write this blog, I browsed someone’s website who I cite frequently, J. Warner Wallace. As a former atheist and cold case detective, Wallace combines his knowledge and skill set to study the Christian faith. When doing so, one thing he looked at was whether the story of Jesus changed over time - particularly, if Jesus was worshipped as a deity during his life and immediately after his death and resurrection, or if that started later as the “legend” developed. In his blog on this topic (see the full entry here), Wallace provides quotes from eight different students who were taught by the original apostles, spanning from about 70 AD - 225 AD. We can look at John, Paul, and Peter to assess their teachings, and then, see if their students and their student’s students taught the exact same principles, or if they changed.
Let’s start by assessing John’s student’s - Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papius. Of this we have seven letters written by Ignatius to local churches and one from Polycarp. We do not have anything written by Papius. Furthermore, we can look at Ireneaus, who was a student of Ignatius and Polycarp, to see if what he taught matched what his teachers taught.
In chapter seven of his Letters to the Ephesians, Ignatius of Antioch wrote:
“But our Physician is the Only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For "the Word was made flesh.”
Clement of Rome wrote directly of the Deity of Christ and the resurrection of the dead:
“Do we then think it to be a great and marvelous thing, if the Creator of the universe shall bring about the resurrection of them that have served Him with holiness in the assurance of a good faith, seeing that He showeth to us even by a bird the magnificence of His promise?” (1 Clement 26:1)
In Paul’s letters, he mentions Lionas and Clement. Additionally, we know that Peter teaches Mark and Mark chooses the first five bishops in Rome who form a school in Alexander. Now we have Jesus being taught in three different regions of the known world. And, Jesus is the same man in all of the stories.
Here are a few more that Wallace quotes in his article(1):
Hippolytus, Leading Presbyter at the Church in Rome (c. 205AD):
“Although He endured the cross, yet as God He returned to life, having trampled upon death.”
We know God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, is ever constant and never changing. Likewise, Jesus starts early and never changes. He is the same redeemer of our souls today as He was 2,000 years ago when he hung on a tree, was buried in a tomb, and rose alive and well three days later.
A great starting point to learning more about this is to read the writings of some of the Apostolic Fathers in a book such as The Apostolic Fathers by Michael W. Holmes.
J. Warner Wallace, “The Deity of Jesus is not a Legend.” http://coldcasechristianity.com/2016/the-deity-of-jesus-is-not-a-late-legend/, accessed February 7, 2017.
Victoria Harris holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. She is a former Miss Florida Teen USA and Mrs. Florida U.S. Victoria is a lover of Jesus, a wife, biological mom of a toddler and soon-to-be adoptive mom of a tween. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vdharris, on twitter @VictoriaDHarris, or on instagram @VictoriaRatliffHarris.
Victoria is a wife, mom, ambassador of Jesus, and a lover of all things that involve learning.