The Pastoral Epistles in Ignatius, Part II

[This post is part of a series on The Pastoral Epistles in the Apostolic Fathers. RWB]


Ign. Poly 4.3 || 1Ti 6.2



(3) δούλους καὶ δούλας μὴ ὑπερηφάνει· ἀλλὰ μηδὲ αὐτοὶ φυσιούσθωσαν, ἀλλʼ εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πλέον δουλευέτωσαν, ἵνα κρείττονος ἐλευθερίας ἀπὸ θεοῦ τύχωσιν. μὴ ἐράτωσαν ἀπὸ τοῦ κοινοῦ ἐλευθεροῦσθαι, ἵνα μὴ δοῦλοι εὑρεθῶσιν ἐπιθυμίας. (Ign. Poly. 4.3)
(3) Do not treat slaves, whether male or female, contemptuously, but neither let them become conceited; instead, let them serve all the more faithfully to the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better freedom. They should not have a strong desire to be set free at the church’s expense, lest they be found to be slaves of lust. (Ign. Poly. 4.3)
Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (196, 197). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.


2 οἱ δὲ πιστοὺς ἔχοντες δεσπότας μὴ καταφρονείτωσαν, ὅτι ἀδελφοί εἰσιν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον δουλευέτωσαν, ὅτι πιστοί εἰσιν καὶ ἀγαπητοὶ οἱ τῆς εὐεργεσίας ἀντιλαμβανόμενοι. Ταῦτα δίδασκε καὶ παρακάλει. (1Ti 6.2, NA27)
2 But those having believers as masters must not be disrespectful because they are brothers, rather they must serve more, because the ones who benefit from their good work are believers and beloved. Command and teach these things. (1Ti 6.2, my own translation)


In both passages, the attitude of believing slaves toward their masters is dealt with. Slaves must serve their masters respectfully (that is, not conceitedly) to bring glory to God.


Contact in this passage is primarily topical, though some lexical similarity is present:



  • Ign. Poly. ἀλλὰ μηδὲ αὐτοὶ φυσιούσθωσαν // neither let them become conceited ==> 1Ti μὴ καταφρονείτωσαν // must not be disrespectful

Here the contact is topical. The warning to the slave is essentially the same; Ignatius urges Polycarp that slaves should not become conceited. That is, slaves are to not consider their equality in Christ to adversely affect their relationship with their masters. They are still in a relationship of submission to their master, to subvert that would be to subvert the station they are in. Paul urges Timothy in much the same way; slaves who are believers (and therefore equal in Christ’s eyes with their believing masters) are not to suddenly disrespect their masters because they are brothers in Christ. In both cases the underlying sentiment is similar though the words used to describe the sentiment are different.



  • Ign. Poly. ἀλλʼ … πλέον δουλευέτωσαν // let them serve all the more faithfully ==> 1Ti ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον δουλευέτωσαν // rather they must serve more.

Here the contact is both syntactic and lexical. Both clauses use the conjunction ἀλλὰ to provide a logical contrast with what precedes. Instead of being disrespectful, Ignatius writes, slaves are to serve even more faithfully. Equality in Christ is no reason to serve less and to disrespect one’s master; it is instead a powerful argument to serve one’s master even better than before. In both Ign. Poly. and 1Ti, the verb is δουλεύω occurring in the present active imperative 3d plural δουλευέτωσαν. Both texts make the same contrast with roughly the same language.


However, one aspect that may argue against Ignatius’ alluding to First Timothy is the context of the passage. In Ign. Poly., the text is directed to the masters of the slaves. But First Timothy is directed to the slaves themselves.


One further interesting item in this context, however, is Ignatius’ displayed knowledge of the book of Ephesians in his next sentences. In Ign. Poly. 5.1, we find:



Flee from wicked practices; better yet, preach sermons about them. Tell my sisters to love the Lord and to be content with their husbands physically and spiritually. In the same way command my brothers in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives, as the Lord loves the church.
Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (197). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.


This language mirrors that of Eph 5.25, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church”. In some way, Ignatius had knowledge of Ephesians.* This knowledge is displayed in close proximity to our passage which has affinity with First Timothy.


Based on the lexical and syntactic similarity of the contrasting phrase and the somewhat radical idea that slaves should serve their masters more as a result of being brothers in order to properly honor and glorify God, I think it possible that Ignatius displays knowledge of this passage in First Timothy.


Next up: Ign. Rom. 9.2 || 1Ti 1.13





* Understandably knowledge of Ephesians does not prove knowledge of any of the Pastoral Epistles. But there are several possible points of contact between Ignatius’ writings and Paul’s epistles (9+ pages of links in the Oxford Committee’s work). Logic dictates that they can’t all be chance, coincidence, or based on some Q-like earlier common source material.