Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians

Written around the middle of the 2nd century, Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians is a beautiful little letter that gives us interesting and helpful insights into the life of the early Christian community.  He was the bishop of Smyrna and the teacher of Irenaeus.  He would soon wear a martyr’s crown, much like his beloved Ignatius.

Polycarp is in possession of certain letters from Ignatius.  The Philippian believers actually request copies of all the letters he has (by this time, Ignatius has been martyred, though Polycarp does not know the details of how), obviously wanting a complete collection of the writings of this tremendous leader, and he is glad to send them.  They also ask Polycarp to pass on the most recent letter from the Philippians (the one giving rise to this epistle from Polycarp) to the believers in Syria, should anybody be heading that way.  Polycarp promises to do so when he is able.

There are some interesting aspects to this letter.  Once more we see the affirmation of the two-fold office of deacon (ch. 5) and presbyters (ch. 6).  We see Polycarp’s appeal to the Philippians to study Scripture:  “For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you…”

We also see his mysterious commentary on the lapsed presbyter Valens, who, with his wife, was involved in some sort of misconduct.  It is not clear exactly what this minister and his wife did, but Polycarp is “greatly grieved,” “deeply grieved,” and prays that he and his wife will repent of their behavior.  The sin involved a “covetousness” that leads to “idolatry.”  Perhaps this is an allusion to financial sins or greed?  Regardless, this is a welcome balance to Clement’s condemnation of the dismissing of faithful presbyters.  The people of God are not to dismiss faithful men of God (Clement).  Ministers, however, are not to use their congregations for personal gain (Polycarp).

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