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January 04, 2014



"Ignatius, Papias and Polycarp Taught Irenaeus"

is not possible since Ignatius(35-117) was dead before Irenaeus(120-202) was born. Or am I missing something?

But, nit picking aside, I appreciate your work on this.

Goat Head 5


It seems to me that Irenaeus could have been taught by the letters of Ignatius to the early churches. From the OP: "He wrote several important letters to the early Church and seven of them survive to this day..."

Also, presumably, Polycarp knew Ignatius well and could have passed along what he had learned of Ignatius to Irenaeus.

Or perhaps a mistake was made in the OP which in no way damages the chain of custody as presented.

Take your pick!

Beyond John, the evidence in Luke is compelling as well. Just reading his prologue, we see that when he constructed his gospel, he consulted with eye-witnesses in formulating it. The author himself assures us he was careful with his work (prologue written in classical, not koine Greek).

Or, Mr. Wallace could have been referring to Ignatius, Papias, and Polycarp as a category or generation of people, in effect saying that the generation of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias taught the generation of Irenaeus and Hippolytus. (Seems most probable given 2 Tim. 2:2)

Or, Polycarp being the longest-lived of the three, and as Ignatius interacted with him personally as a pupil of Polycarp alongside his fellow pupil, Pothinus, before both pupils ended up in Lyon, and Polycarp surely would have related what Ignatius and Papias had to say.

Regardless, as John P says, many ways in which can be demonstrated so as to not break the "chain of custody."

I made the following comment one week ago when J. Warner Wallace posted the exact same entry. Apparently there is no interest in historical accuracy.

"Ah. How humorous. It is difficult to take these types of claims seriously when they demonstrate historical inaccuracies. It makes it all but impossible when I point out the inaccuracies, and rather than correct them, J. Warner Wallace simply repeats them.

When this article appeared on PleaseConvinceMe.com, I pointed out the error in the statement, “…Herod the Tetrarch was king.” Herod Antipas was Tetrarch of Galilee from 4 BCE to 39 CE. While eagerly desiring the title “king”—he never obtained it. In fact, it was Herod Antipas’ jealousy over his nephew, Herod Agrippa’s title of king eventually leading to Antipas’ fall from power. “Tetrarch” and “king” are two VERY different (and extremely important, if one knows history) positions. There is no such thing as when “Herod the Tetrarch was king.” Like our saying, “When Obama the Senator was President.”

I pointed this out; the error is simply repeated rather than corrected.

Secondly, I love the qualified statements. Take, for example, “A star announced his birth.” While technically correct, it avoids the significant difficulties between accounts. We are all familiar with the Matthean account of a star, leading the Magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and then pointing out a house. How does Ignatius (allegedly familiar with the Gospel according to Matthew, and being taught by John, son of Zebedee) describe this star? Like Matthew? Well…No:

“A star shone in heaven brighter than all the stars. Its light was indescribable and its novelty caused amazement. The rest of the stars, along with the sun and the moon, formed a ring around it; yet it outshone them all, and there was bewilderment whence this unique novelty had arisen.  As a result all magic lost its power and all witchcraft ceased.” (Ignatius, Letter to Ephesians)

Rather than deal with the differences, I fear J. Warner Wallace knows most readers won’t bother looking up Ignatius’ Letter, and because both accounts mention a star at the birth, this creates the general statement, “A Star announced his birth.”



I am a little puzzled over your two objections. You insist that the offices of tetrarch and king are not synonymous. Tetrarch means a governor of a fourth-part, and indicates the division of Herod the Great’s kingdom into four portions (Lk. 3: 1). In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (ca. 26 A.D.), this Herodian realm was divided between the Roman governorship (on the removal of Archelaus in 6 A.D.), Herod Antipas, Lysanias, and Herod Philip. As tetrarchs tended to be tributary princes, their royal aspect was viewed by the people and allowed by Roman authority as long as loyalty was maintained. Even Herod the Great, who had been tetrarch of Galilee (47 B.C.) under Roman control was granted kingship (40 B.C.) when his competency was recognized by the same overlords.
Disappointing was your mention of the quote of Ignatius in regard to the visit of the Magi. The visit of the Gentiles of the East was maintained by Tatian in his Diatessaron, and alluded to by Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho (Chap. 78, 106). Irenaeus regarded this event as having great significance in Against Heresies (Bk. 3, Ch. 9): whose star also Balaam thus prophesied: “There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a leader shall rise in Israel.” But Matthew says that the Magi, coming from the east, exclaimed “For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him;” and that, having been led by the star into the house of Jacob to Emmanuel, they showed, by these gifts which they offered, who it was that was worshiped; myrrh, because it was He who should die and be buried for the mortal human race; gold, because He was a King, “of whose kingdom is no end;” and frankincense, because He was God, who also “was made known in Judea,” and was “declared to those who sought Him not.” You had to choose the very flowery poetry of Ignatius almost in mockery (well, what would you expect of a man marching to his execution with a smile on his face and a song in his heart?). And we often are accused of literalism!

All the Scriptural references that Wallace stated stand as attested by the Apostolic Fathers, which was his premise from the first.


Fair enough. To expound…The title “king” or rex in Latin was mockingly despised by the Romans. They extolled themselves about not having a king (even though a Caesar was a king for all intents and purposes) and would look down on other countries who had “kings.”

Only Caesar could grant a person the title “King” in a subservient country—absent extremely rare circumstances, even the King could not designate his heirs as King. Thus the reason Herod the Great could not designate a certain heir as king. Archelaus was promised the title “King” if he cooperated…obviously he failed miserably and was not only deprived the title, his authority was removed as well.

Herod Antipas greatly desired the title “King.” To the point he engaged in political intrigue to get the title once his nephew—Herod Agrippa—received the title from Caesar. Not only did Herod Antipas fail, he was removed from office, and his kingdom was given to Herod Agrippa. Any early first century Galilean (and Roman aware of titles) who was familiar with Herod Antipas and Herod Agrippa would also be quite knowledgeable with who was king and who was tetrarch. And why it was so important to both.

The words “Tetrarch” and “King” are titles—not names. Although we can understand who was being referred to (much like we know who “Obama the Senator” is), at the time of the writing, the person’s singular title would be used. If Herod Antipas became king, he would have been known as King Antipas. The same way Obama is now known as “President”—not “Obama the Senator as President.” One might> say something like “When King Herod the Great was tetrarch of Galilee…” to differentiate time periods (like saying, “When President Obama was Senator…” but since Herod Antipas was never King, this wouldn’t apply to him. He was initially a tetrarch, he was always a tetrarch. He was never king.

In the story of John the Baptist, the Gospel according to Mark famously makes the error of referring to Herod Antipas as “King.” If this was any other account—not revered as inspired by a God—we would simply shrug off the mistake. However, as this cannot be allowed by many Christian apologists we end up with historically inaccurate statements like “When Herod the Tetrarch was King.” Herod Antipas was never king. To continue to repeat the error demonstrates an unwillingness to study, which is disconcerting to me. (Obviously if this was the only error I encountered, I would simply ignore and move on. Here, however, it is one of many and when I pointed it out….twice….sadly, it simply gets repeated.)

Let’s talk about the star for a moment. J. Warner Wallace compares this to a “chain of custody.” I do not know how familiar you are with criminal procedure in the United States, so if this is repetitious or boring, I apologize.

“Chain of custody” is technically required for every piece of demonstrable evidence in litigation—most often criminal. We want to make sure the knife presented as exhibit A in the prosecutor’s case was the same as the knife pulled out of the victim. The clothes presented at trial are the same as the defendant was wearing. The letter written on January 7th about ordering nerf guns is the same as the original, etc. As many exhibits are unique (only one such letter) or extremely uncommon (a particular gun), the chain of custody is fairly rote. We either ignore it altogether, or move through the formality establishing chain of custody so quickly one hardly notices.

However, when the item is common, chain of custody becomes extremely important. It is here, 99%* of the time, where the legal battle is; it is here where we focus on “chain of custody.” Understanding police make hundreds of drug busts, we want to confirm the package of white powder our client is accused of selling was the actual package taken from him at the scene. We do not want the police using the same package of cocaine in each trial, regardless of who the defendant is.

*completely made up statistic.

We want to know who handled the substance, who they transferred it to, who performed the tests on it, and how we (and the jury) can be assured that exact same pile of white substance there in the courtroom is the same as taken from the crime scene. And the same tested. If at any point it can be demonstrated the item was mishandled, or improperly accounted for, the entire case can be thrown out. Indeed a google search will demonstrate drug cases thrown out because of mishandled drugs within the “chain of custody.” (We had a fairly significant incident of this in Detroit, Michigan recently.)

“Chain of custody” is looking for exactitude—not something close. Not “the police recovered a white substance and here is a white substance—they must be the same.” We are confirming the evidence presented is the exact same. Frankly, I think J. Warner Wallace does a disservice to the First and Second Century accounts by even analogizing them to “chain of custody.” The accounts were not intended to be “chain of custody”; “chain of custody” was not designed to establish testimonial accuracy. Bit of a square peg and round hole. *shrug,* but that is his choice, I guess.

J. Warner Wallace states, “But how do we know whether or not the early accounts were corrupted over the years? One way to test the content of the Gospels as they were passed down from generation to generation is to simply compare what was written about the Gospels by those who had direct contact with the eyewitnesses….When it comes to the Gospel eyewitness accounts we must examine what the students of the Gospel authors said about the text, then what their students said, then what the next generation said, and continue this examination down through history, comparing the statements and quotes to determine if the message of Scripture has changed.”

Ignatius was allegedly a student of John, son of Zebedee. The Gospel according to John, of course, does not refer to a Star. The only Gospel account (and by capitalizing, I assume J. Warner Wallace was referring to canonical gospels) mentioning a star is the Gospel according to Matthew.

So I did exactly what J. Warner Wallace asked me to do—compare what was written in the Gospels by those who had direct contact with the eyewitnesses. I performed the exercise requested—examined what the students of the Gospel authors said about the text, comparing the statements and quotes to determine if the message of Scripture has changed. I compared the Matthean star to the Ignatius star. And…(understanding “chain of custody”) I see a change. A pretty big change.

I quite agree this may be flowery pottery on Ignatius’ part. It may be Ignatius knew a completely different story about a star from John, son of Zebedee. It may be Matthew knew a different story about a star than Ignatius.

Isn’t this exactly the point J. Warner Wallace is attempting to avoid? Especially when analogizing to “chain of custody”? If Ignatius is willing to modify the star story for poetic effect, couldn’t Matthew have likewise created a fictional account regarding a star for poetic effect? Worse, by making the broad-brush statement, “Both accounts have a star announcing Jesus’ birth” is akin to saying, “The Police officers recovered a white substance and this is a white substance. Under ‘chain of custody’ nothing has changed.” Tantamount to malpractice to accept THAT as “chain of custody”!

Frankly, I am not sure I see the gain in this analogy. If the Apostolic Fathers had a written account (an argument commonly made), what value is it by their repetition? If they make changes, this (according to this method) only minimizes credibility. No win, that I see.

Better to not analogize 21st century legal requirements to First and Second Century writings. Alas…these types of analogies tend to have appeasing apologetic effect on the Christian masses.


A very well-thought response to my inquiry.

Still, I would like to address one point made

>> In the story of John the Baptist, the Gospel according to Mark famously makes the error of referring to Herod Antipas as “King.”

This problem has several resolutions:

1) the title is given to Antipas in deference to his royal lineage.
2) Mark is not given to political systems that create tiles to emphasize Roman control. Antipas is Herod the Great's son, given to the same royal functions of his father. It is no more than popular acclamation of the person though his party of Herodians.
3) Culture doesn't recognize the Hellenistic terminology of tetrarch in a society that better understands the idea of MeLeKH (king). The neighboring state of Damascus held King Arestas, and eastern minds were so grounded to ignore Roman invention.

Your reference to the banishment of Antipas had a fuller basis of Antipas' fall beyond desire to be recognized officially as "king" by Rome. In Josephus' Antiquities (Book 18: Chap 6,7), Antipas is destroyed by two things, his wife' Herodias' zeal for her husbands coronation, and Agrippa's newly-secured favor of Emperor Caligula. Agrippa gained Antipas' tetrarchy through accusations of Antipas' supposed disloyalty and intrigues with Rome's eastern enemies.

In the end, we quibble over fine distinctions. The degree of difference between tetrarch and king is not as wide as between president and senator. It is more in the degree of governor and military official placed in charge in times of marshal law. Both large and in charge, but beholding to others for their position.

A pleasant exchange, for which I thank you.


As always, thank you as well for the pleasant conversation. (I am primarily writing this reply to correct the italicizing I foolishly created.) A few points:

1) I agree there is a possible resolution for Mark’ error on Herod Antipas’ title. I have always agreed there are possible resolutions for every claimed error within the Bible. What I look for is not the “possible resolution” method, but rather the “more likely than not” method. Again, if the Markan account was not in Scripture, I think we would see the error, shrug and move on.

2) When Matthew copies the Mark account, the author corrects Herod Antipas’ title to “Tetrarch” (albeit leaving on instance of “king” through fatigue.) Apparently a Markan contemporary considered the difference significant.

3) Mark has other errors in the account (the timing of John the Baptist’s death, and Herod’s wife) lessening the likelihood of historical accuracy.

Interesting study.

Are the documents of these men online? Could someone please provide me some links? Or recommend the best book?

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