Local References in the Letter of Smyrna (Rv 2;8-11), Part 2: Historical Background -- By: David E. Graves

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 19:1 (Winter 2006)
Article: Local References in the Letter of Smyrna (Rv 2;8-11), Part 2: Historical Background
Author: David E. Graves


Local References in the Letter of Smyrna
(Rv 2;8-11), Part 2:
Historical Background1

David E. Graves

The city of Smyrna has had a long and illustrious history of Christian presence. Christian figures such as Clement of Rome (active AD 90–100) and Ignatius of Antioch (died AD 110)wrote letters to Smyrna; Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, was born in Smyrna; Polycarp and Pionius, bishops of Smyrna, were martyred here, just to mention a few.2 As a result, perhaps no other city has contributed so much to our understanding of the early church other than Rome and possibly Jerusalem. According to Charles, “the Church in Smyrna was not founded till 61–64 AD at earliest” (1963: 1.xlviii; Polycarp To the Philippians 2). The majority of the information on the early church of Smyrna is derived from letters written by Ignatius to the church at Smyrna and Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. He wrote them in Troas a few days after leaving Smyrna, on his way from Antioch to Rome. While the exact length of time Ignatius spent in Smyrna is not known, it was not a brief stay (Shepherd 1940: 141–42). Devout Jews from the province of Asia were at the Pentecost feast in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit was poured out (Acts 2:9). Some of these may have come from Smyrna and taken the gospel back to their hometown. When Paul came to Ephesus in the early 50s, he or his associates may have instituted the church in Smyrna. Polycarp’s letter to the church at Philippi may indicate that the knowledge of Christ had not yet come to Smyrna when Paul in 62 wrote his letter to Philippians: “for we did not yet know him [Christ]”. Shephard observed “of Smyrna we possess more information than of any other Christian church of the period, with the possible exception of the Roman church” (1940: 141). The size of the congregation in Smyrna is also not known, but as Shepherd concludes,

the Christian population in Smyrna at the time of Ignatius’ visit was too numerous to be congregated in its entirety at any given assembly. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it does not appear from our sources that the Christians had only one invariable place of meeting at regular, stated times (1940: 148).

Perhaps they met in house churches of local believers, like Tavia and the widow Epitropos that Ignatius mentioned by name in his writings (Ignatius To the Smyrnaeans 12.2; Ignatius To Polycarp 8.2; Shepherd 1940: 148).

Origin of the Name

The origin and meaning of the name Smyrna3 is concealed by...

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