The Trinity Delusion An examination of the doctrine of the Trinity

Ignatius of Antioch

(ca. 110 A.D.)


Ignatius also refers to himself in his letters as "Theophorus." A church legend says he was the little child taken up in Jesus' arms (Mk 9:35). He was bishop of Antioch, friend of Polycarp who was a disciple of John, and may have known the Apostle John. Ignatius was martyred under Trajan. However, we know very little else about him and the early church fathers do not say much about his life or his writings. Irenaeus alludes to him when he quotes from Ignatius' letter to the Romans but he does not mention him by name even though Ignatius' name does appear in the letter.

"As a certain man of ours said, when he was condemned to the wild beasts because of his testimony with respect to God: 'I am the wheat of Christ, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.'" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V, 28, 4).

Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History (III, 36), written about 315 AD, mentions Ignatius as being in charge of the episcopate of Smyrna at the time of Papias. He records Ignatius as having been sent to Rome to be fed to the wild beasts and on his way edified the churches by giving them oral homilies and by writing several letters. Eusebius mentions seven of his letters: Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrneans and a letter to Polycarp.



The Ignatian Letters

The writings of Ignatius have always been controversial and have been widely disputed. There are fifteen epistles which bear the name of Ignatius. The first three exist only in Latin and the rest are extant also in Greek:

  • To the Virgin Mary
  • To the Apostle John (1)
  • To the Apostle John (2)
  • Mary of Cassobelae to Ignatius
  • To the Tarsians
  • To the Antiochians
  • To Hero, Deacon of Antioch
  • To the Philippians
  • To the Ephesians
  • Magnesians
  • Trallians
  • Romans
  • Philadelphians
  • Smyrnaens
  • Polycarp


The Ignatian Problem

The Ignatian problem arises from the fact that we possess different versions of his letters: the Short Recension, the Long Recension, and the Syriac abridgement. The Short Recension was unknown until 1646, and the Syriac until 1845. During the Reformation, Catholics appealed to the Long Recension Ignatian epistles in defense of the Catholic authority. Protestants discredited these writings of Ignatius as inauthentic. After the 1646 discovery of the Short Recension in Florence by Vossius, many Protestants still insisted that both recensions were forgeries. The matter is still disputed by some scholars who believe all the so-called recensions are corrupted.

Textual critic scholars tell us that eight of the fifteen letters of Ignatius are definitely not authentic. One of their main reasons is that Eusebius was unaware of these eight. However, we must be cautious here and remind ourselves that we cannot decisively conclude they did not exist simply because Eusebius was unaware of them. The current opinion is that the "Short Recension" of seven letters is authentically Ignatian. However, this is not without several serious problems. Even if we could be absolutely sure that Ignatius did only write seven letters, this does not mean those seven letters are uncorrupted as well as the other writings which are believed to be inauthentic. The fact that many of Ignatius' writings were forgeries and corruptions should cause us to cast a suspicious eye upon all his writings. For example, compare the following passage from the Epistle to the Romans also quoted by Irenaeus in reference to Ignatius:


Ignatius' Epistle to the Romans
IrenaeusShort RecensionLong RecensionSyriac Version
I am the wheat of Christ, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God I am the wheat of God, and by the teeth of the beasts I shall be ground, that I may be found the pure bread of God


We must be careful not to misunderstand the facts and confuse the authenticity concerning which letters Ignatius wrote and the authenticity of their content. If we suupose that Ignatius only wrote seven letters, it does not necessarily follow that the seven letters which we have are uncorrupted. Also, the conclusion that Ignatius only wrote seven is a speculation based on opinions concerning their content and Eusebius' lack of knowledge concerning them. However, Ignatius may have written other letters, Eusebius may have been legitimately unaware of them, and the eight we do have, and are known to be corrupted, may indeed be corruptions of authentic originals. And too conclude Ignatius only wrote seven letters, and not fifteen, does not mean these seven letters in the so-called Short Recension are not also corrupted simply because they differ from the so-called Long Recension. It is one thing to be quite sure Ignatius authentically wrote seven letters but quite another thing to be quite sure those seven letters contain his authentic words without any corruption. Furthermore, the church fathers tell us that Gnostics were especially known for altering or deleting texts from Christian writings. That would point to Gnostic corruption in the Short Recension, not the Long Recension. In the end, we simply cannot have any certainty as to the purity of their content.

There are also several other problems with the Ignatian letters as a whole. His letters seem to contain very unlikely geographical and historical circumstances. For example, Ignatius was being taken to Rome to be eaten by the lions. So then why would the Romans take a prisoner who on a very long over land journey rather than sailing by ship when he was being transported from one sea-port (Antioch) to another (Rome)? It doesn't make any sense and the story has the flavor of romanticized fiction which in turn might be a main reason why early church fathers do not bother mentioning his letters. Additionally, his letters seem anachronistic containing theological notions and a picture of a developed church structure which seems to be more suited to a much later time period.



The Letters of Ignatius

The following compares the Short and Long Recensions of Ignatius' letters. Excerpts for the Short vs. Long Recensions taken from the Roberts-Donaldson English Translations of the Short and Long Recensions, emphasis mine. The indented version is the Long Recension. Especially compare the bolded words between the Short and Long Recensions. The differences are quite revealing.

To the Ephesians

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus... being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus... being united and elected through the true passion by the will of God the Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

I have become acquainted with your name, much-beloved in God, which ye have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God (I).

I have become acquainted with your greatly-desired name in God, which ye have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Christ Jesus our Saviour. Being the followers of the love of God towards man, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of Christ. (I)

There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit, both made and not made, God existing in flesh, true life in death, both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord. (VII).

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." Being incorporeal, He was in the body, being impassible, He was in a passible body, being immortal, He was in a mortal body, being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts. (VII).

For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water. (XVIII).

For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For [it]says, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel." He was born and was baptized by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet. (XVIII).

Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared, ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death. (XIX).

God being manifested as a man, and man displaying power as God. But neither was the former a mere imagination, nor did the second imply a bare humanity, but the one was absolutely true, and the other an economical arrangement. Now that received a beginning which was perfected by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death. (XIX).

Jesus Christ, in His faith and in His love, in His suffering and in His resurrection. Especially if the Lord make known to me that ye come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God. (XX).

The faith of Jesus Christ, and in His love, in His passion, and in His resurrection. Do ye all come together in common, and individually, through grace, in one faith of God the Father, and of Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son, and "the first-born of every creature," but of the seed of David according to the flesh. (XX).

To the Magnesians

The ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. (VI).

The ministry of Jesus Christ. He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time, was God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and remains the same for ever; for "of His kingdom there shall be no end. (VI).

Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.(VII).

Do ye all, as one man, run together into the temple of God, as unto one altar, to one Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the unbegotten God. (VII).

There is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word. (VIII).

There is one God, the Almighty, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word. (VIII).

Fare ye well in the harmony of God, ye who have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ. (XV).

Fare ye well in harmony, ye who have obtained the inseparable Spirit, in Christ Jesus, by the will of God. (XV).

To the Trallians

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. (VII).

Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons, that ye admit not of a snare for your own souls. And act so that your life shall be without offence to all men, lest ye become as "a snare upon a watch-tower, and as a net which is spread out." For" he that does not heal himself in his own works, is the brother of him that destroys himself." If, therefore, ye also put away conceit, arrogance, disdain, and haughtiness, it will be your privilege to be inseparably united to God, for "He is nigh unto those that fear Him." And says He, "Upon whom will I look, but upon him that is humble and quiet, and that trembles at my words? " And do ye also reverence your bishop as Christ Himself, according as the blessed apostles have enjoined you. (VII).

To the Romans

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God....I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father...abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who formed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour....I also salute in the name of Almighty God, and of Jesus Christ His Son... abundance of happiness unblameably, in God, even the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

"For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory]. (III).

"For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." The Christian is not the result of persuasion, but of power. When he is hated by the world, he is beloved of God.

I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. (IV).

I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God. (IV).

For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? " Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. (V).

For what is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? "I long after the Lord, the Son of the true God and Father, also Jesus Christ. Him I seek, who died for us and rose again. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me in attaining to life; for Jesus is the life of believers. Do not wish to keep me in a state of death, for life without Christ is death. While I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of Christ, my God. (V).

Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its Shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it. (IX).

Remember in your prayers the Church which is in Syria, which, instead of me, has now for its Shepherd the Lord, who says, "I am the good Shepherd." And He alone will oversee it. (IX).

To the Philadelphians

[Missing]. (IV).

Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth.... [be obedient to] the bishop to Christ, even as Christ to the Father. (IV).

[Missing] (V).

For there is one God of the Old and New Testament, "one Mediator between God and men. (V).

[Missing] (VI).

If any one confesses Christ Jesus the Lord, but denies the God of the Law and of the prophets, saying that the Father of Christ is not the Maker of heaven and earth, he has not continued in the truth any more than his father the devil. (VI).

The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest is better; to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been trusted with the secrets of God. He is the door of the Father, by which enter in Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the Church. All these have for their object the attaining to the unity of God. (IX).

The priests indeed, and the ministers of the word, are good; but the High Priest is better, to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been entrusted with the secrets of God. The ministering powers of God are good. The Comforter is holy, and the Word is holy, the Son of the Father, by whom He made all things, and exercises a providence over them all. This is the Way which leads to the Father, the Rock, the Defence, the Key, the Shepherd, the Sacrifice, the Door of knowledge, through which have entered Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and all the company of the prophets, and these pillars of the world, the apostles, and the spouse of Christ, on whose account He poured out His own blood, as her marriage portion, that He might redeem her. All these things tend towards the unity of the one and only true God. (IX).

To the Smyrneans

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and of the beloved Jesus Christ.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the most high Father and His beloved Son Jesus Christ.

Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom....He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. (I).

Glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by Him has given you such wisdom...that He was the Son of God, "the first-born of every creature," God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and was of the seed of David according to the flesh, by the Virgin Mary; was baptized by John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; that He lived a life of holiness without sin, and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. (I).

Ye have done well in receiving Philo and Rheus Agathopus as servants of Christ our God. (X).

Ye have done well in receiving Philo, and Gaius, and Agathopus, who, being the servants of Christ. (X).

The following are excerpts taken from Ignatius' other letters that are extant only in one copy and belong with the collection known as the "Long Recension." He uses language to describe God very similar to Irenaeus.

I have learned that certain of the ministers of Satan have wished to disturb you, some of them asserting that Jesus was born [only] in appearance, was crucified in appearance, and died in appearance, others that He is not the Son the Creator, and others that He is Himself God over all. (To the Tarsians, II).

And that He who was born of a woman was the Son of God, and He that was crucified was "the first-born of every creature," and God the Word, who also created all things. For says the apostle, "There is one God, the Father, of whom are all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things. And again, "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (To the Tarsians, IV).

And that He Himself is not God over all, and the Father, but His Son, He says, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God. And again, "When all things shall be subjected unto Him, then shall He also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." Wherefore it is One [God] who put all things under, and who is all in all, and another [His Son] to whom they were subdued, who also Himself, along with all other things, becomes subject [to the former]. (To the Tarsians, V; cf. 1 Cor 15:24-28).

How could such a one be a mere man, receiving the beginning of His existence from Mary, and not rather God the Word, and the only-begotten Son? For "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And in another place, "The Lord created Me, the beginning of His ways, for His ways, for His works. Before the world did He found Me, and before all the hills did He beget Me. (To the Tarsians, VI).

For Moses, the faithful servant of God, when he said, "The Lord thy God is one Lord," and thus proclaimed that there was only one God, did also forthwith confess also our Lord [Jesus] when he said, "The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord." And again, "And God said, Let us make man after our image: and so God made man, after the image of God made He him." And further "In the image of God made He man." And that [the Son] was to be made man, he says, "A prophet shall the Lord [YAHWEH] raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me." (To the Antiochians, II).

The prophets also, when they speak as in the person of God, [saying, ] "I am God, the first [of beings], and I am also the last,10 and besides Me there is no God,"11 concerning the Father of the universe, do also speak of our Lord Jesus Christ. "A Son," they say, has been given to us, on whose shoulder the government is from above; and His name is called the Angel of great counsel, Wonderful, Counsellor, the strong and mighty God."12 And concerning His incarnation, "Behold, a virgin shall be with Child, and shall bring forth a Son; and they shall call his name Immanuel. (To the Antiochians, III).

The Evangelists, too, when they declared that the one Father was the only true God, did not omit what concerned our Lord, but wrote: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made." And concerning the incarnation: "The Word," says, "became flesh, and dwelt among us." And again: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." And those very apostles, who said "that there is one God," said also that "there is one Mediator between God and men." Nor were they ashamed of the incarnation and the passion. For what says "The man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself" for the life and salvation of the world. Whosoever, therefore, declares that there is but one God, only so as to take away the divinity of Christ, is a devil, and an enemy of all righteousness. He also that confesseth Christ, yet not as the Son of the Maker of the world, but of some other unknown being, different from Him whom the law and the prophets have proclaimed, this man is an instrument of the devil. And he that rejects the incarnation, and is ashamed of the cross for which I am in bonds, this man is antichrist. Moreover, he who affirms Christ to be a mere man is accursed, according to the prophet, since he puts not his trust in God, but in man. (To the Antiochians, IV-V).

May He who is alone unbegotten, keep you stedfast both in the spirit and in the flesh, through him who was begotten before time began. (To the Antiochians, XIV).

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Hero, the deacon of Christ, and the servant of God, a man honoured by God, and most dearly loved as well as esteemed, who carries Christ and the Spirit within him, and who is mine own son in faith and love: Grace, mercy, and peace from Almighty God, and from Christ Jesus our Lord, His only-begotten Son. (To Hero).

May I have joy of thee, my dear son, whose guardian may He be who is the only unbegotten God, and the Lord Jesus Christ! (To Hero, IV).

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to her who has obtained mercy through the grace of the Most High God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Lord, who died for us. (To Maria at Neapolis, Near Zarbus).

As Paul admonished you. For if there is one God of the universe, the Father of Christ, "of whom are all things; " and one Lord Jesus Christ, our [Lord], "by whom are all things; " and also one Holy Spirit.... For "there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is through all, and in all. (To the Philippians).

If we examine his writings carefully, we can easily see that what Ignatius teaches is not Trinitarianism, that is, "the Trinity" as is defined by that dogma today. As with all Christians, Ignatius believes in a trinity, but he does not believe in a three in one God. Ignatius, along with all the early Christians, did not believe the Son was the second person of a "Triune Godhead" along with God the Father, but was God's Word and in that sense was "God the Word" because he was out of, came from, and proceeded forth from, the One and Only True God himself. In other words, he is not the true God himself but the Word of God and in that sense, of God, like a sunbeam of the Sun, but not the Sun itself, to use an analogy so oft employed by early Christians to aid others in understanding what they believed.

The following is from the Long Recension. Notice how his language sounds typically apostolic:

There is then One God and Father, and not two or three, One who is, and there is no other besides Him, the only true One. For "the Lord [YAHWEH] thy God," saith, "is one Lord." And again, "Hath not one God created us? Have we not all one Father? And there is also one Son, God the Word. For "the only-begotten Son," saith, "who is in the bosom of the Father." And again, "One Lord Jesus Christ." And in another place, "What is His name, or what His Son's name, that we may know? " And there is also one Paraclete. For "there is also," saith, "one Spirit," since "we have been called in one hope of our calling." And again, "We have drunk of one Spirit," with what follows. And it is manifest that all these gifts "worketh one and the self-same Spirit." There are not then either three Fathers, or three Sons, or three Paracletes, but one Father, and one Son, and one Paraclete. Wherefore also the Lord, when He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to "baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," not unto one having three names, nor into three who became incarnate, but into three [persons] possessed of equal honour [one name]. (To the Philippians, II).

Note carefully, that to Ignatius, as to all the early Christians, there is One God and that One God is the Father alone. The Son is divine only in the sense that he derives his divinity from that One and Only True God, the Father. For Ignatius "God the Word" does not mean the second person of "the Trinity" because for Ignatius there is Only One God, the Father. For Ignatius, "God the Word" means that God is manifested in His Word Jesus Christ, but that Word is not He Himself, the One and Only True God. This was the common voice of all Christians prior to the late third and early fourth centuries.

Some textual critics have compared one set of writings to the other set and have decided that there are two different writers involved (obviously). What is amusing is that some Trinitarians claim the Long Recension is Gnostic. However, it is the Short Recension which smacks of hack and slash Gnostic tampering, something which the early church writers often stated that these Gnostics loved to do (Example: Marcion). It reeks with that form of Gnosticism that claimed Christ was indeed the begotten "God" but denied that God as a person suffered and died but only had the appearance of suffering. This is exactly the false teaching John wrote about (1 John 4:2-3; 2 Jn 1:7). Many of the elements of Ignatius' teaching that are present in the Long Recension, are completely missing in the Short Recension, and these items insist and emphasize far more strongly, that the Word himself was that flesh who was crucified and dead in the tomb just as Irenaeus and Tertullian later insist over and against the Gnostics. In the Long Recension, Ignatius repeatedly emphasizes that the Word was himself that flesh that was crucified dead and buried, against Gnostics who teach otherwise, and who taught that the Word did not die and was always impassible and could not die or be dead. Ignatius believed the impassible Word became passible in his incarnation for our sake, so that the Word could and would die for us. Ignatius is the disciple of the Apostle John himself and was wary of the very Gnostic antichrist teachings John warned about. The following from the Long Recension is Christian, not Gnostic. Can you imagine a Gnostic forging a text that speaks of his own beliefs in this manner? Absurd!

I have learned that certain of the ministers of Satan have wished to disturb you, some of them asserting that Jesus was born [only] in appearance, was crucified in appearance, and died in appearance, others that He is not the Son the Creator, and others that He is Himself God over all. (To the Tarsians, II).

Last Update: January 17, 2011
HOME