Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In April 2020, we wrote a couple of articles testifying to the weighty witness of Polycarp. Click HERE to read the first one where we discuss how he fought against heresy. Click HERE to read the second article about his attempt to confront the Bishop of Rome about keeping Passover. One of these proofs is his Letter to the Philippians. Between 110 and 140 AD, Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna wrote a letter to the Philippians. In it, he affirmed keeping the commandments of God.
Irenaeus, a contemporary to Polycarp, said this about it: “There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.3.4).
This letter was considered so valuable to the early Church that even as late as 400 AD it was routinely read in churches throughout Asia. Jerome, writing about that time says this about Polycarp and the Letter to the Philippians:
“Polycarp – disciple of the apostle John and by him ordained bishop of Smyrna was chief of all Asia, where he saw and had as teachers some of the apostles and of those who had seen the Lord….He wrote a very valuable Epistle to the Philippians which is read to the present day in the meetings in Asia” (On Illustrious Men, 17).
In it, he mentioned the Apostle Paul by name four times and quoted his letters as many as 26 times. He also quoted the Apostle Peter nearly word for word at least 10 times. Altogether, it seems that Polycarp quoted from three gospels, Acts, ten of Paul’s Letters, I and II Peter, I John, and Jude. Some have said that he quoted every book in the present New Testament canon.
Here is an overview of the doctrines affirmed in the Letter to the Philippians:
– Introduction that is very similar to Paul
– Chapter 1 – An encouragement to produce fruit in Christ and salvation by grace.
– Chapter 2 – Affirmed keeping the commandments of God, the resurrection to come, and judgment.
– Chapter 3 – He credited Paul for founding the Church at Philippi and writing a letter to them.
– Chapter 4 – He gave very practical Christian instruction (very Pauline).
– Chapters 5 & 6 – He listed standards for ordained people, affirmed rulership in the Kingdom with Christ, and the judgment of Christians before Christ.
– Chapter 7 – He affirmed the Bodily manifestation of Christ, His death and His resurrection.
– Chapter 12 – He quoted the letter to the Ephesians and calls it the Scriptures and encourages them to know the Scriptures.
Here are some excerpts from this letter. In parenthesis are Bible verses he quoted either word for word or was referenced.
“But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, (1 Peter 3:9) or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: Judge not, that you be not judged; (Matthew 7:1) forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; (Luke 6:36) with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you again; (Matthew 7:2; Luke 6:38)…” (Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2).
“‘But the love of money is the root of all evils.’ Knowing, therefore, that ‘as we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out,’ let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness; and let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord” (ibid, Chapter 4).
“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, (1 Peter 2:24) who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, (1 Peter 2:22) but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. (1 John 4:9) Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 4:16) for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example (1 Peter 2:21) in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case. (ibid, Chapter 8)
Though Polycarp is attributed to be a disciple of the Apostle John, the Letter to the Philippians has a significant number of quotes from letters that we presently call the New Testament. He does give one direct quote from the Apostle John “For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist” (I John 4:3; Letter to the Philippians, chapter 7).
Some scholars have said that this letter lacks compelling content because it is mostly quotes from what we call the New Testament. On the contrary, I believe this is the reason why the letter is so compelling. The Letter to the Philippians testifies to the veracity of the letters that compose the New Testament.
As we reviewed in our first article on Polycarp (CLICK HERE), he lived in a time period where the existing manuscripts of the New Testament were being edited or changed to fit heretical ideas. His strict adherence to the writings of the first Apostles was desperately needed, and God used Him to protect those sacred writings from being defiled.
To read the entire letter to the Philippians, CLICK HERE.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org