Without studying the history of their faith, most Christians assume that, after the book of Acts and the death of the original apostles, the faith was carried forward without issue and remained doctrinally the same. In their minds, it’s just a “given” that the church fathers (and subsequent icons of the Christian faith) took the gospel in its currently accepted form and taught it to the nations.
There were actually two great divisions that would affect the face of the faith that we have inherited.
They shall put you out of the synagogues. (John 16:2a)
The first split that occurred was between the believers (Nazarenes) and the Jews after the death of Paul (around 66-67 AD) and the razing of the second Temple in 70 AD. In addition to their regular “house-to-house” fellowship, believers would meet in synagogues every Shabbat (Sabbath) and regularly congregate at the Temple for the appointed Feasts of Yahweh (not “Jewish” feasts, as is so often taught – Leviticus 23:1-2).
After the razing of the Temple by Vespasian and the Roman army, tensions grew between the Jews and the Nazarenes (both Jew and Gentile), largely over two differences:
- Their acceptance of Yeshua as the Messiah – The religious authorities did not like it that there was a growing number of people who were devoting themselves to Yeshua the Messiah – the “upstart” that they delivered to be crucified. The disciples’ fealty to the Risen One and their acceptance of His pure teaching threatened to completely derail the convoluted, Babylon-inspired, man-made doctrines that the Jewish leadership had elevated above the Word of God. (Mark 7:13)
- Their acceptance of Gentiles into the fold – The religious authorities had a strict, man-made process for a proselyte’s conversion to their particular brand of Judaism. And, although there were proselytes, they were usually treated with a degree of suspicion and contempt, even before the destruction of the Temple.
I also found this author’s comments on the separation noteworthy:
When the Romans destroyed the second Temple in 70 ce, about 40 to 45 years after Jesus’s death, some Christians saw the destruction as a sign from God. In their view, it confirmed their belief that as Christians, they were now the “true Israel.” They believed that God had allowed the Temple to be destroyed in order to punish Jews for rejecting Jesus.
Other Jews also saw the destruction of the Temple as a sign from God, but they interpreted that sign differently. They took it to mean that Jews needed to atone for their sins by rededicating themselves to a stricter observance of Jewish law. They believed the destruction was proof that the bitter arguments and divisions among Jews had only served to harm the Jewish people as a whole and strengthen the power of Rome. They called for a return to traditional Jewish rituals and practices, emphasizing moral values and the rule of law.
These factors (and a few others), along with years of suffering under the gentile Roman army and the utter destruction of the center of their religious universe (the Temple) helped to influence their conclusion that all non-Jews were a threat. The end result would lead to the Nazarenes being kicked out of the synagogues.
This expulsion would, in return, generate hard feelings among the believers, many of whom would incorporate Greek ideals back into their originally “Jewish” faith. We can see this evidenced in the division that followed.
This left a ripe atmosphere for the wolves to come in and do their damage.
This first division left the Jewish Nazarenes in a place where they would have to choose between denying the Messiah in order to stay in the synagogue, or forsaking the only religious environment they had ever known to stay with the Nazarenes.
The non-Jewish Nazarenes (gentiles by blood, Israel by faith), already somewhat ostracized by the Jews in the synagogue, may have had it easier in that they were “outsiders” from the beginning. Yet, because they were not raised with the weekly exposure to the Torah and the Prophets (or any accompanying instruction) they were not “thoroughly equipped.” (2 Timothy 3:17)
In fact, being booted out of the synagogues left a huge vacuum in the lives of BOTH the “Jewish” and “non-Jewish” Nazarenes. They didn’t have a Bible like you and I have, and most of them were illiterate anyway. The only way they had been able to hear the Torah and the Prophets (the only books considered “the Word of God” at the time) was when they were being read by a Jewish rabbi – in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
As a result of not hearing the Word of God, the disciples started to lose their firm footing, which made it very easy for the enemy to do his work.
Yes, the atmosphere was ripe for the “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29) to come in and have a feeding frenzy.
The famed chronicler, Hegesippus (110-180 AD), would write:
Up to that period the Assembly had remained like a virgin pure and uncorrupted: for, if there were any persons who were disposed to tamper with the wholesome rule of the preaching of salvation, they still lurked in some dark place of concealment or other. But, when the sacred band of Emissaries had in various ways closed their lives, and that generation of men to whom it had been vouchsafed to listen to the Godlike Wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then did the confederacy of godless error take its rise through the treachery of false teachers, who, seeing that none of the apostles any longer survived, at length attempted with bare and uplifted head to oppose the preaching of the truth by preaching “knowledge falsely so called.”
This “knowledge falsely so called” would provide the foundation for apostasy to be handed down from generation to generation, resulting in the mess that we are witnessing today. The offense of being ejected from the synagogues left a deep scar on the Nazarenes and, just like Paul and Peter prophesied, some would rise up as wolves speaking “perverse things,” (Acts 20:28-30) twisting the words of Paul “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-17). These wolves would take the form of self-appointed bishops and presbyters who would perpetuate the apostasy, creating the doctrines that would lead many astray.
The First Church Fathers
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the earliest usage, or near usage, of the term “church fathers” can be traced to Jean-Baptiste Cotelier (a Catholic theologian). Cotelier recognized the following Bishops as “church fathers” (specifically “apostolic fathers”), because it was assumed that they had direct contact with the apostles:
- Clement of Rome (Bishop of Rome, approximately 1-96 AD estimated)
- Ignatius of Antioch (Bishop of Antioch, 35-110 AD)
- Polycarp of Smyrna (Bishop of Smyrna, 69-155 AD)
Although Justin Martyr was considered a saint and a church father by the Catholic Church, they did not number him among the “apostolic fathers,” so he will be omitted from this analysis. He is only listed above because I didn’t have time to “clip” his mention out of the graphic. I’m going to have to include info on this Mr. Martyr in another post.
I will write briefly on Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna, as they were participants in the apostasy, but I am going to focus mainly on Ignatius of Antioch, as his doctrinal deviations from the original faith were what really kicked things into gear at this point in history. 
Clement of Rome (Bishop of Rome, approximately 1-96 AD)
Clement of Rome was listed by both Irenaeus and Tertullian as being the Bishop of Rome between the years 88-99 AD. There have been claims that he was a disciple of Peter and/or Paul (depending on what account you read), and it is also rumored that he is the Clement referred to in Philemon 4:3, but no solid evidence has been found to support any of these claims. The truth is, few verifiable details are known about Clement’s life, but he did leave behind one letter we have with us today that was directed at the church of Corinth – 1 Clement.
In this letter, certain bishops in the Corinthian church had been removed from office and Clement felt the need to come to their rescue. Clement called for the church to repent and reinstate the bishops, citing and affirming the authority of the clergy.
1 Clement is heavily relied on by the Catholic Church to reinforce their position of supreme authority over the christian church as a whole – and with that, I include Protestants.
Tradition says that Clement was imprisoned by Emperor Trajan, and executed by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.
Because of Clement’s dedication to reinforcing the authority of the bishops, the Catholic Church was quick to claim him as one of their own – they even gave him his own feast day (November 23). He was sainted (ironically, he is known as “the patron saint of mariners”) and was declared to be the first pope (after Peter, of course) and martyr by the Roman Catholic Church – remember that.
Ignatius of Antioch (Bishop of Antioch, 35 – 108 AD)
Tradition says that both Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were students of John. It is my opinion that this is a lie fabricated by the Catholic Church with the purpose of boosting reverence for these “apostolic fathers” and their doctrines. However, I admit that is just my opinion.
IF Ignatius (who, in his arrogance, also went by Theophorus “the God bearing”) was indeed a disciple of John, then he turned his back on the the very faith that John preached and suffered for. The Bishop of Antioch accomplished this by implementing the following “reforms.”
1. Ignatius changed the Sabbath to Sunday (“the day of the venerable sun”).
If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day…” – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians (9:1a)
But the unchangeable God (Malachi 3:6) had stated from the beginning:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God…
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
He had also spoken through the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied:
Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
2. Ignatius abolished the Torah.
“It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity…” – Magnesians 10:3
“Be not deceived with strange doctrines; nor with old fables which are unprofitable. For if we still continue to live according to the Jewish Law, we do confess ourselves not to have received grace…” – Magnesians 8:1
“But if anyone shall preach the Jewish law unto you, hearken not unto him…” – Philadelphians 6:1
But the unchangeable God (Malachi 3:6), the Creator of the universe, had spoken through His prophet Jeremiah:
But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.
And say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God:
…and through David, the “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14):
Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law (Torah) is the truth.
For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
I realize that the term “Judaize” probably caused some of you to perk up a little. Sit tight… I’ll address “Judaizing” before the end of this post. Meanwhile, understand that Ignatius is trying to separate believers in the Messiah from the Torah given at Sinai, which we have already proven from Scripture was for both “Jew and Gentile” who wanted to be a part of the Kingdom of Israel. Ignatius hoped to accomplish this by attaching a “Jewish” label to the concept of Torah (as most do today), twisting the words of Paul and leading people astray, just like Peter and Paul prophesied would happen.
Let’s move on.
3. Ignatius of Antioch exalted leadership above the people.
Like Clement, Ignatius of Antioch had a rabid obsession with keeping his followers submitted to men. Paul wrote of this before it happened.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Ignatius would not only be a partial fulfillment of this prophecy, he would greatly augment and propagate the doctrine that would elevate the bishops and presbyters (religious leaders) to a near godhood status. In the future, this unscriptural ideal would subjugate both Catholics and Protestants alike to a self-appointed clergy.
When the Messiah said:
…we have one Father, even God.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
… and John, His “apostle of love” said:
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
“Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters” – Magnesians 7:1a
“[But] shun divisions, as the beginning of evils. Do ye all follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God’s commandment. Let no man do aught of things pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop.” – Smyrnaeans 8:1a
“I advise you, be ye zealous to do all things in godly concord, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles… be ye united with the bishop and with them that preside over you.” – Magnesians 6:1b, 2b
Is it any coincidence that leaders in the church are known as “fathers”? Is it any wonder that the origin of the word “pope” is “papa?”
As I read through some of Ignatius’ writings, I noticed that he had a real “thing” for establishing control among the leadership. He wanted to make sure that the masses knew that the clergy was in charge, and that they should do nothing without their consent. I also observed, as I was comparing his letters to the Scripture, that Ignatius was willing to defy God’s Word and the original apostles’ values to ensure this hierarchy remained in place.
No wonder the Catholic Church both sainted him and designated him a “church/apostolic father” – he was the creator of their entire religious system! Is that a bold claim? Yes it is, but you can see this same structure today in both the Catholic (the Mother) and the Protestant (the offspring) churches.
Here are a few more crucial tidbits of information on Ignatius of Antioch that prove he literally “wrote the book” when it comes to modern day christianity.
- Ignatius actually coined the term “christianity”. – “Therefore let us not be insensible to His goodness. For if He should imitate us according to our deeds, we are lost. For this cause, seeing that we are become His disciples, let us learn to live as beseemeth Christianity. For whoso is called by another name besides this, is not of God…It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity, wherein every tongue believed and was gathered together unto God.” – Letter to the Magnesians 10:1, 3
As we have already confirmed, the term “christian” was mentioned in the Bible three times, and all three times, it was a common adjective used to describe believers in the Messiah.
- Ignatius, coincidentally, was also the first to use the term “catholic church.” – “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8
Ignatius and his so-called “reforms” would be a major catalyst that would further carve a division between those who wanted to adhere to the values of the Nazarenes and those who would incorporate Greek/pagan ideals into the faith.
The result would be a boulder of rebellion rolling down the hill of time, crushing all who would want to mimic the original disciples. First there would be a separation from, followed by a persecution of, those who believed the original faith.
This departure from God’s Word would set a standard for future religious leaders, some of whom would arise and be sainted by the Catholic Church and/or become designated as “church fathers.” It was the religious ideology that they would identify with and be martyred for.
Yes, it is also true that Christians who believed Ignatius’ version of the gospel would also be persecuted and martyred for their faith, but that doesn’t mean they believed the truth. I know that is a harsh statement, and I will be addressing it further in a later post.
Later, when Constantine would appear on the scene and make this corrupted version of the faith into a “state religion,” hatred and rebellion towards the ancient paths would really get kicked into high gear.
Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna, 69-155 AD)
The third in the lineup of apostolic fathers is Polycarp of Smyrna. He was also recorded by Irenaeus and Tertullian as being a disciple of John… however, which John is unknown. The only letter we have from Polycarp is his letter to the Philippians.
As I read this letter, I noticed a high regard for Paul’s epistles, as they were constantly referred to. In fact, this would be the first time, as far as I have read, that Paul’s epistles are referred to as “Scriptures.” Notice how Polycarp quotes Ephesians 4:26 and refers to it as “Scriptures.”
For I am persuaded that ye are well trained in the sacred writings, and nothing is hidden from you. But to myself this is not granted. Only, as it is said in these scriptures, Be ye angry and sin not, and Let not the sun set on your wrath. Blessed is he that remembereth this; and I trust that this is in you.” – Polycarp 12:1
Since the Catholic Church considered Polycarp a saint, “apostolic father” and martyr, Polycarp’s endorsement of Paul’s letters as “Scripture” would have greatly influenced their inclusion in the canonization of the New Testament.
But I also noticed that Polycarp’s doctrine was a bit fuzzy, in that he seemed to be straddling the fence between certain doctrines of the Nazarene belief system and doctrines that were being formulated during his day.
He was obviously a believer in celebrating Passover according to Scripture, because he attempted to convince Pope Anacletus not to celebrate it on Sunday, according to the man-made tradition, but instead to celebrate it on Nisan 14. He failed to do so because the pope wanted to stick with the man-made tradition which would eventually devolve (notice I didn’t say “evolve”) into Easter Sunday.
And yet, at the same time, he was very near and dear to Ignatius of Antioch, who rejected most of the practices associated with the “Jewish” aspect of the faith, and believed his (Ignatius’) version of Christianity to be “the word of righteousness.”
I exhort you all therefore to be obedient unto the word of righteousness and to practice all endurance, which also ye saw with your own eyes in the blessed Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus, yea and in others also who came from among yourselves, as well as in Paul himself and the rest of the Apostles;” – Polycarp 9:1
The city of Smyrna, devoted to the worship of pagan Roman gods, demanded Polycarp’s execution as a christian. Legend states the following:
Then the fire was lit, and the flame blazed furiously. We who were privileged to witness it saw a great miracle, and this is why we have been preserved, to tell the story. The fire shaped itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr. Inside it, he looked not like flesh that is burnt, but like bread that is baked, or gold and silver glowing in a furnace. And we smelt a sweet scent, like frankincense or some such precious spices.
Eventually, when those wicked men saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to pierce him with a dagger. When he did this [a dove flew out and] [*this may well be a later interpolation or transcription error] such a great quantity of blood flowed that the fire was extinguished. The crowd were amazed at the difference between the unbelievers and the elect – of whom the great Polycarp was surely one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word he spoke either has been or shall be accomplished.” – The Martyrdom of Polycarp
So, as you can see from an analysis of the 3 main “apostolic fathers” who are revered by both Protestants and Catholics, there was much of the original faith that they chose to ignore. Paul wrote about these wolves to Timothy.
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Notice that the “evil men and seducers” would both “deceive” and be “deceived.” That means that the wolves would put forth deceptive doctrines from minds that were so deceived they would believe they were doing the right thing! They were so deceived that many of them died for this deception.
I’ll go into that more a little later, but meanwhile just recognize that these apostolic fathers that both the Catholic and Protestant churches venerate provided the framework from which future “church fathers” and believers would build.
Let’s Talk About Judaizing
Earlier, I referred to a quote from Ignatius that contained the term “Judaizing,” a buzzword that has been in the church for a very long time. If you have ever attended a church discipleship class or catechism, you have probably heard that we shouldn’t EVER “Judaize” because that equates to pushing a works-based salvation and then you will have “fallen from grace.” But here is the issue – like the word “church,” we don’t really have a knowledge as to how this term came about or what “Judaizing” originally meant. We only know what has been drilled into our heads by our beloved hierarchy. Let me try to clarify a few things.
Your average church-goer has been taught to apply the term “Judaizing” to a situation where one person is trying to convince another to obey any Old Testament command that they associate with the nation of Israel. This association is relative. Some people append their definition with “as a requirement for salvation,” while others adopt a blanket policy stating that we’re free from the requirements of following any laws at all, and many fall somewhere in between these two.
What is never considered is this: the Nazarenes, whom Paul was the “ringleader” of, were known for doing that very thing – what would today be called “Judaizing.”
Epiphanius, a 4th century bishop (also sainted and given the title “church father” by the Catholic Church) writes:
We shall now especially consider heretics who… call themselves Nazarenes; they are mainly Jews and nothing else. They make use not only of the New Testament, but they also use in a way the Old Testament of the Jews; for they do not forbid the books of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings… so that they are approved of by the Jews, from whom the Nazarenes do not differ in anything, and they profess all the dogmas pertaining to the prescriptions of the Law and to the customs of the Jews, except they believe in Messiah. They preach that there is but one God, and His Son Yeshua the Messiah. But they are very learned in the Hebrew language; for they, like the Jews, read the whole Law, then the Prophets… They differ from the Jews because they believe in Messiah, and from the Christians in that they are to this day bound to the Jewish rites, such as circumcision, the Sabbath, and other ceremonies. They have the Good news according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written.” – Epiphanius, Parnarion 29:7:1-5
Remember that Paul was a “ringleader” of those known as Nazarenes! (Acts 24:5)
This was the overall attitude of the church fathers towards those who would dare to embrace the Torah and Yeshua as Messiah at the same time. While the Nazarenes were clearly both Jew and non-Jew, the “church fathers” thought “they are mainly Jews and nothing else.”
This mindset is replicated today. When one wants to adhere to the commandments set forth from the beginning, the first thing out of a christian’s mouth is:
- What? Are you turning “Jewish” on me?
- Now don’t start “Judaizing” on me!
- That stuff is only for Jews, we’re “Christians” …the real church!
Even in the 13th century, this mindset was prevalent. Catholic teacher Bonacurses writes:
Let those who are not yet acquainted with them, please note how perverse their belief and doctrine are. First, they teach that we should obey the Law of Moses according to the letter – the Sabbath, and circumcision, and the legal precepts still being in force. Furthermore, to increase their error, they condemn and reject all the Church Fathers, and the whole Roman Church.” – Bonacursus, “Against the Heretics”
The evidence shows that, in the minds of the church fathers and other christian icons, it was simply unfathomable to have faith in Christ AND obey the commandments, so the label “Judaizer” was created to segregate those who would want to adhere to simple obedience to those commands and teach others the to do same. The commandments were taught to be “stuff that applies to those Jews,” while the perverted interpretations of Paul’s epistles were taught as what really applied to the Christian faith.
And as the generations passed, this was the mindset that stuck… and we swallowed it because we knew no better.
We were never taught about the Nazarenes and their values. We were never taught that the church fathers and molders of the Christian doctrine hated the Nazarenes and everything they stood for. We were never taught the difference between “being Jewish” and “being Israel.” No, we were taught to apply anything before Matthew 1:1 to the “Jews” and anything after to the “Gentiles/Christians.”
This biased mindset continues to be promulgated in today’s seminaries, which “coincidentally” are modeled after the church fathers’ doctrine – a doctrine that was heavily influenced by a perversion of Paul’s epistles that spawned an insidious hatred for the Nazarenes, the very disciples who followed Paul.
Therein lies the irony.
 I put “Jewish” in quotation marks because it’s not really “Jewish,” per se, but rather an adherence to the commands set forth by the Father from the beginning which, as we have already established in this series, were for both the descendant of Abraham as well as the non-descendant seeking to become a part of Israel.