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What Did Polycarp of Smyrna Teach?

Polycarp is one of the earliest Church leaders.  Born around or just right after Paul The Apostles martyrdom and himself martyred around 150 AD.  According to Irenaeus and Jerome, he was literally a disciple of John The Apostle and ordained by John himself to lead the church in Smyrna.  Polycarp was also close to Papias, who was also a disciple of John.  His only surviving writing is a Letter to the Philippians.  Irenaeus also records how he heard Polycarp teach in person and speak about things John The Apostle told him about Jesus first hand.

Why is he important?

Polycarp was discipled directly by an Apostle.  Polycarp not only got to hear the eye witness testimony first hand but he also had access to its original writings.  He was able to ask an Apostle himself to clarify certain things and able to get direct explanations of scripture.  He had access to other eye witnesses of those who were raised from the dead and healed by Jesus or those who saw all the miracles first hand.  Needless to say, his understanding and insight is directly link to the source; original scripture and apostles.

What Does He Teach?

The Gospel

7:1 "For everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an anti-Christ"; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the Cross is of the devil: and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord for his own lusts, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, -- this man is the first-born of Satan. "

8:1 "that is in Christ Jesus, "who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth," but for our sakes, that we might live in him, he endured all things. 2 Let us then be imitators of his endurance, and if we suffer for his name's sake let us glorify him."

12:2 "may God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the "eternal Priest" himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, build you up in faith and truth" (The Trinity)
Polycarp makes the Gospel very clear.  That Jesus, only 1 generation before him, died on the cross for our sins. 


1:1 " those who were bound in chains, which become the saints, and are the diadems of those who have been truly chosen by God and our Lord."
1:3 "ye are saved, not by works" but by the will of God through Jesus Christ"
Notice who he states did the choosing and who's will does the saving. 

Saved by Grace alone

1:3 "knowing that "by grace ye are saved, not by works" but by the will of God through Jesus Christ"
Saved by Grace alone which is from God and his will.

Understanding of Sin

2:3 "refraining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness, "rendering not evil for evil, or railing for railing," or blow for blow, or curse for curse,"
He shows that sin manifests in selfish harmful acts.  That what is greater is something that does not seek these

Penalty of Sin

2:1 "whose blood God will require from them who disobey him"
 The equal punishment for disobeying God and offending God is our life, eternally.

Bodily Death

1:2 "Lord Jesus Christ, who endured for our sins, even to the suffering of death"
Jesus did not pass out, wake up and hid.  He literally died. Which means he literally came back from the dead to life and Polycarp got to speak to all the eye witnesses that saw Jesus die, see Jesus dead, and then see him walking and talking later.

Substitutionary Atonement 

1:2 "Lord Jesus Christ, who endured for our sins,"
 Jesus took on "our sins".  He was our substitute on the cross.

Bodily Resurrection for believers

 2:2 "Now "he who raised him" from the dead "will also raise us up" if we do his will, and walk in his commandments and love the things which he loved"
Not only did Polycarp teach that Jesus physically rose back from the dead but he also taught that Jesus and The Apostles taught that all believers will also be physically raised from the dead as well.

Scripture Alone

3:2 "to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who when he was among you in the presence of the men of that time taught accurately and stedfastly the word of truth, and also when he was absent wrote letters to you, from the study of which you will be able to build yourselves up into the faith given you;"

7:2 "Wherefore, leaving the foolishness of the crowd, and their false teaching, let us turn back to the word which was delivered to us in the beginning,"

9:1 " obey the word of righteousness, and to endure with all the endurance which you also saw before your eyes, not only in the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and in the other Apostles;"

12:1 "I am confident that you are well versed in the Scriptures, and from you nothing is hid;"
 He quotes from the Greek new testament and old testament throughout his letter.  Notice he does not state that anyone is having new prophetic utterances or speaking new teachings of God.  And this is around 100 AD, only 60 years after Jesus walked the earth.  He continues to point back to what has already been recorded and to who recorded it and NOT someone new acting and claiming to be a prophet.


3:1 "These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not at my own instance, but because you first invited me."

6:3 "then "let us serve him with fear and all reverence," as he himself commanded us, and as did the Apostles, who brought us the Gospel, and the Prophets who foretold the coming of our Lord. Let us be zealous for good, refraining from offence, and from the false brethren, and from those who bear the name of the Lord in hypocrisy, who deceive empty-minded men. 

10:1 " follow the example of the Lord, "firm and unchangeable in faith, loving the brotherhood, affectionate to one another," joined together in the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man."

11:4 "Therefore, brethren, I am deeply sorry for him [i.e. Valens] and for his wife, and "may the Lord grant them true repentance." Therefore be yourselves also moderate in this matter, and "do not regard such men as enemies," but call them back as fallible and straying members, that you may make whole the body of you all. For in doing this you edify yourselves."
 Even Polycarp instructs the church NOT to be individualistic but to be invovled with each other in life.  Even those who are fake and hypocrites, we are to call them back and beg for their repentance to the Lord.

Unique Role of the Wife - Marriage

4:2 "teach our wives to remain in the faith given to them, and in love and purity, tenderly loving their husbands in all truth, and loving all others equally in all chastity, and to educate their children in the fear of God."
First, when he speaks of wives, they are instructed to love their husbands.  This is a problem for same-sex marriage as it is not compatible with what Polycarp instructs.  Wives are with husbands and husbands are with wives.  His words are specific and not general.

Wives are instructed to teach the children and love their husbands.  Husbands are instructed to teach their wives and teach the family to fear God.

Materialism and Prosperity Teaching

4:1 ""But the beginning of all evils is the love of money." Knowing therefore that "we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it," let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness, and let us first of all teach ourselves to walk in the commandment of the Lord;"
He reminds his readers numerous times that "the love of money" is sin.  He reminds that money and what we gain we can't take.  Righteousness and obedience to God is greater than wealth and money.  He teaches to put our heart and mind on spiritual things worth more than material gain.  He would completely disagree with the modern property gospel


5:2 "the deacons be blameless before his righteousness, as the servants of God and Christ and not of man, not slanderers, not double-tongued, not lovers of money, temperate in all things, compassionate, careful, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the "servant of all."
He goes through and explains what the specific office of Deacon is and the character of those who are chosen.  The emphasis is servant-hood.


6:1 "let the presbyters also be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back those that have wandered, caring for all the weak, neglecting neither widow nor orphan nor poor, but "ever providing for that which is good before God and man," refraining from all wrath, respect of persons, unjust judgment, being far from all love of money, not quickly believing evil of any, not hasty in judgment, knowing that "we all owe the debt of sin."
He goes through and explains the responsibility and character of Elders.  If you notice they are the decisions makers and responsible for making church decisions and judgements. 

Homosexuality and Purity

 5:3 " Likewise also let the younger men be blameless in all things; caring above all for purity, and curbing themselves from all evil; for it is good to be cut off from the lust of the things in the world, because "every lust warreth against the Spirit, and neither fornicators nor the effeminate nor sodomites shall inherit the Kingdom of God," nor they who do iniquitous things. Wherefore it is necessary to refrain from all these things, and to be subject to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The virgins must walk with a blameless and pure conscience."

7:1 "whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord for his own lusts, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, -- this man is the first-born of Satan. "
He clearly understood from the Apostles that human sexuality can be extremely beautiful or extremely damning.  He quotes from Pauls letter to the church of Corinth that plainly states that unholy sexuality leads to eternal death.

He gives clear instruction to take action to "curb" the sin that is within us and "cut off" the sinful lusts and not embrace, support, and encourage it.  Then those who "pervert" God's word to embrace, support, and encourage their "own lusts" and claim that they wont be judged because its not sin; are not of God.

Summery of His Teachings:
  • The Gospel: Life, death, resurrection of Jesus
  • Saved by Grace alone
  • Penal Subsitutionary Atonement
  • Bodily Death of Jesus
  • Bodily Resurrection of Jesus and all believers
  • Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture alone
  • Only 2 church offices: Deacon and Elder (no pope).
  • Traditional Marriage
  • The Trinity
  • Church discipline and community accountability
  • Purity of Sexuality (homosexuality is a sinful lust).

 Read the Greek/Latin text here

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