Study the Church Resources for studying the Bible and Church History

Polycarp: a link to the Apostles

Jesus passed his teachings onto the Twelve Apostles, and Paul passed his teachings onto Timothy (I & II Timothy), but is anyone mentioned outside the Bible who heard an Apostle speak? Perhaps a guy by the name of Polycarp.

Polycarp (69-155) lived in present day western Turkey, and was the Bishop of Smyrna.

Smyrna is mentioned in one book of the Bible: it is one of the seven cities to which Revelation is addressed.

John the Apostle was the author of the book of Revelation, and so knew of all seven cities listed in Rev 2-3. No one knows for certain if John ever visited all of these cities, although early tradition states that John lived in Ephesus before being sent to Patmos, and once leaving Patmos resettled in Ephesus until his death. (Ephesus being another church mentioned in Rev 2-3.) Out of these cities mentioned in Rev 2-3, Smyrna is the closest to Ephesus, about 30 miles distance.

If John did live in Ephesus until his death in 100, and if he did travel to Smyrna—or Polycarp traveled to Ephesus—then he and Polycarp might have met. It is not too far a stretch of the imagination to see Polycarp meeting with John. After all, when Polycarp was 21 John was living in Ephesus; when Polycarp was 26 John had just been released from Patmos and was again in Ephesus; and John died when Polycarp was 31. In fact, Polycarp would have been the kind of young Christian leader that the elder Apostle would have wanted to meet. And Polycarp, being a young church leader, would have certainly wanted to meet the last living original Apostle, who lived only 30 miles away.

While much of this is conjecture, there are two pieces of literary evidence to back it up. First, Polycarp, as bishop, wrote one letter to the church in Philippi which has been found. The letter quotes I John 4:3; this is important because it possibly shows a connection between John and Polycarp. John wrote this letter in his old age (A.D. 95-100) in Ephesus. It would not have had time to circulate to all the churches in the Roman Empire before Polycarp wrote his letter in 108, but it would have had time to get to Smyrna where Polycarp lived so that he would have included it in his letter.

Second, Ireneaus (130-200), another Bishop, wrote that he knew Polycarp when Ireneaus was a young boy. He wrote of Polycarp that "he had conversations with John and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord." Ireneaus either received his information from Polycarp or from those who knew Polycarp. In any case, this is a personal account of John and Polycarp meeting.

Therefore Polycarp is most likely another bridge to the Apostles through John, just as Timothy was to Paul.

Polycarp was eventually arrested in Smyrna and told to retract his belief in Jesus or die. Polycarp responded: "Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?" The mob then dragged him out, burned him at the stake (although he would not let them bind him to the pole, saying "He that granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pyre unmoved."), and finally the executioner stabbed him to death.

So ended the life of a direct connection between one of the Apostles of Jesus and the new Christian movement.

©2005 Mark Nickens All Rights Reserved