Early Church Evidence Corroborates the Gospels Accounts of Jesus

ignatius

The claim is often made that Jesus—if he even existed at all—was a persuasive teacher during his life, but after his death the early Christians began to exaggerate stories about him, leading eventually to his deification. This position, however, does not sit well with the evidence. If his deification, miracles, and resurrection from the dead were later additions to his story, then we should not see evidence for this until several generations had passed. Instead, the evidence indicates that the apostles themselves taught these things about Jesus to their students.

Three Church Fathers of note here are Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Pope St. Clement I. The traditional accounts tell us that these men were closely linked to the apostles, and all three of them corroborate details about Jesus as they are recorded in the Gospels. Here are several examples:

Jesus Existed:

Await Him that is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, who became visible for our sake, the Impalpable, the Impassible, who suffered for our sake, who endured in all ways for our sake. –Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp, Chapter 3

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father. –Polycarp, Letter to the Philipians, Chapter 7

For Christ is of those who are humble-minded, and not of those who exalt themselves over His flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sceptre of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him. –Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 16

 

Jesus was crucified:

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 fulfilledby Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church. –Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrneans, Chapter 1

For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;  and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan…Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree.Polycarp, Letter to the Phillipians, Chapter 7, 8

 

Jesus resurrected from the dead:

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father. –Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrneans, Chapter 3

I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because you have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endures even until now, and brings forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] whom God raised from the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave. –Polycarp, Letter to the Philipians, Chapter 12

Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. –Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 24

 

His followers claimed he was the Son of God:

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Mast High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son… [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.–Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, Introduction

Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who raised Him from the dead. –Polycarp, Letter to the Philipians, Chapter 12

 

The Church Fathers Quote the New Testament Extensively

In addition to these quotes, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Pope St. Clement I quote or allude to the following New Testament sources:

Ignatius:

Ephesians

1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

Matthew

1 Peter

John

Colossians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy

1 John

James

1 Thessalonians

Ephesians

Acts

Romans

Galatians

Philippians

Luke

 

Polycarp:

Philippians

Ephesians

1 Peter

2 Peter

Acts

Luke

Matthew

Galatians

1 Timothy

1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Corinthians

 

Clement:

Acts

1 Peter

2 Peter

Hebrews

Luke

Matthew

James

Romans

1 Corinthians

Ephesians

Titus

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