Suffering Like Christ
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examines the theme of suffering in imitation of Jesus in the New Testament and literature of the Jesus movement. It begins with a discussion of the importance of mimesis and imitation in the ancient world and argues that rather than viewing imitation in New Testament literature as “discipleship” and imitation in noncanonical literature as “imitation,” we should treat both in a similar manner. It argues, as a result of this position, that the idea of following Jesus by suffering like him was an important component of discipleship and feature of exhortation in the writings of the Jesus movement (including the Pauline epistles, gospels of Mark and Luke, 1 Peter, Hebrews, Revelation, First Clement, and writings of Ignatius).
To the modern reader, martyrdom literature has an alien quality. Even in communities where martyrdom is viewed as admirable, it frequently assumes the role of something foreign and historically distant. Martyrdom is extreme and removed, necessitated by dire historical circumstances that arise in far-flung places and times. We assume that it is an exceptional form of Christian behavior, a practice that can only exist in these extraordinary historical moments, outside of normal Christian practices and realms of being. It is a grounding premise of the early church, however, that suffering and death could serve a redemptive and transformative function for early Christians.
The ideology of martyrdom did not emerge—creation-style—out of an intellectual vacuum. Long before the persecutions of Decius and Diocletian, Christians had begun to identify their own sufferings, be they “real” or “perceived,” with those of their suffering Messiah. The close association and indeed identification of communal and personal afflictions with those of Christ played an instrumental role in shaping and defining emerging Christian identities.
The identification of personal suffering with the sufferings of Christ, however, is part of a larger complex of practices in which members of the Jesus movement and early Christians sought to imitate Christ in aspects of their daily life. The association of personal with Christological suffering, therefore, was not solely the by-product of theodicy; it was part of a web of mimetic practices that writers and church leaders sought to inculcate in their audiences (p.20) and congregations. Patient endurance and righteous suffering became part of a set of Christly moral virtues that early Christians were exhorted to emulate. Suffering as Christological imitation was not just a passive interpretative move; it was an active practice to which Christians were constantly encouraged.
Both the association of individual suffering with the sufferings of Jesus and the promotion of mimetic practices predate the emergence of martyrdom literature. These ideas were present in the literature of the Jesus movement and early church. The prevalence of these ideas was so great that by the time of the composition of the acta martyrum, the interpretation of individual suffering as a means of emulating Christ was assumed. This chapter discusses the New Testament and early church texts that contributed to the emergence of this view.1 The inclusion of a particular text does not indicate either that this kind of reading was the original intent of the author or that this is the only or dominant interpretation of that text. Although in many cases it may have been true that the author him- or herself viewed suffering in this manner, it is less the original intent of the author than the possible readings that their work may have elicited that are of interest.
Imitatio Christi in New Testament Scholarship
The exhortation to imitate Christ is one of the earliest themes in the literature of the Jesus movement. From the Pauline to Ignatian epistles, imitating the actions of Christ is a pervasive theme for early Christian writers. For early Christians, the activities and teaching of Jesus became the template for the Christian life. Jesus was the model for calling disciples (Mark 3:13–19; Matt 28:18–20), prayer (Mark 1:35–39; Matt 6:9–13), performing healings (Matt 8:1–17), answering the charges of opponents (Mark 2:1–3:27), and relating to one’s family (Mark 3:31–35). In the absence of a codified ethical system, the person and teachings of Jesus became the guiding principle for Christian behavior.
The importance of imitation in moral discourse was not the product of Christian invention; on the contrary, it was well established in ancient discourse and particularly in the writings of Greco-Roman moralists.2 In his classic study of mimesis in antiquity, Hermann Koller argues that the word group arrived in Greece as an accompaniment to the Dionysiac cult.3 Mimetic language functioned in a number of ways as means of describing artistic production,4 the relationship between the sensible and intelligible worlds,5 the correct attitude toward God,6 as well as its use in an ethical sense as a means of exhorting individuals to behave in a certain manner.
(p.21) In exhorting their students to live virtuous lives, Greco-Roman moralists utilized the language of mimesis and ethical exempla as a powerful rhetorical tool. While living models were to be preferred, the study of the bioi of distinguished individuals had great pedagogical benefit.7 Through the imitation of the words and deeds of great figures, it was possible to become like them. The same idea was present in Jewish writers in the Hellenistic period, who used the language of mimesis to inspire their readers to live more virtuous lives. These writers found inspiration in biblical figures such as Moses or Joseph, whose outstanding achievements as deliverers of the Israelite people made them eminently qualified for the role of ethical model.8
In the writings of the Jesus movement, exhortations to imitate the behavior and actions of Jesus abound. The canonical New Testament overflows with the idea that its readers should seek to imitate the actions of the savior. Yet New Testament scholars have exhibited an astonishing and often unjustified reluctance to speak of the imitation of Christ as a theme in the earliest Christian literature. Imitatio anxiety among scholars is grounded in one of three underlying motivations: the almost proprietorial hold that Roman Catholicism has over the term, the Christological convictions threatened by the concept, and the inescapable but repugnant conclusion that dying for Christ may be a central, rather than peripheral, part of the Christian experience.
An underlying current in the rejection of imitation is the importance of imitatio Christi in later Roman Catholicism and a latent anti-Catholicism in scholarly treatments of the issue.9 In addressing the question of imitatio Christi in the literature of the earliest Christians, it is important not to import the later, more refined, technical use of the term in medieval Roman Catholicism. More often than not, the term imitatio Christi calls to mind the manual of spiritual devotion composed by the fourteenth-century German monk Thomas à Kempis.10 Unfortunately, the close association of the term imitatio Christi with the writings of Kempis and practices of medieval Catholics has led many scholars to reject its applicability to early Christian literature and to force an unnatural dichotomy between imitatio Christi in its later manifestation and New Testament notions of imitation and discipleship.11
The polarization of discipleship or following after Christ over against the imitation of Christ is inappropriate in a number of respects. First, despite their linguistic distinctiveness, the terms are used in similar and occasionally interchangeable ways. Discipleship is frequently assumed to entail imitation of things that Jesus did, imitation often implies ethical imitation, and both terms are used to describe suffering in imitation of Christ.12 It is not the case, therefore, that discipleship is an ethical exhortation and imitation a performative practice. Conceptually, the terms function in interlocking and mutually (p.22) enlightening ways.13 Second, the division between the two is often performed on canonical terms. Discipleship is constructed as a New Testament concept used by Jesus himself while imitation is relegated to the province of the early church.14 From the perspective of the historian, separating these ideas on the basis of canonicity involves importing the later theological category of “canon.” The anachronistic introduction of canon by scholars into the first century reveals that what is really at stake here is a latent vulgar Catholic and Protestant divide. Canonicity in the first century is not the concern of the historian; it is the anxiety of the believer.
To the theologian, imitatio Christi is inherently troubling; the Christian audaciously eyes the divine throne and attempts to claw him- or herself onto it. In doing so the Christian threatens the stability of modern Christian ideas of soteriology and Christology. It would be more convenient, then, if soteriologically orientated imitation could be assigned to the early church period and thereby dismissed as just another mistaken tradition in the sticky theological mess of patristic theological controversy. Post-Chalcedonian Christological assumptions, therefore, are the second motivation behind the rejection of imitatio Christi. The extent to which individual scholars see a particular Christly action as imitable is directly connected to their own Christological views. As caveats to their own discussions of imitatio Christi, many scholars will express their belief in the inability of the Christian to imitate Jesus in terms of his uniqueness, that is to say, in his “preexistent life” or his postmortem exaltation.15
These arguments are essentially religious and stem from a commitment to Jesus’ identity as the second person of an unattainable trinity. Such theological commitments stem from a period much later than the New Testament texts, and it is anachronistic to impose them here. This theological unpalatability is handled in one of two ways. Either imitatio Christi is sanitized so as to refer to a somewhat wishy-washy ethical concept. This trend is exemplified by the work of Gerald Hawthorne, who envisions imitatio Christi as an exhortation to allow the thinking and actions of Jesus to permeate and influence the lives of everyday Christians.16 Or, if at all possible, a critique of the theology of imitatio Christi is offered. This approach is particularly evident in discussions of Ignatius of Antioch, who is frequently condemned for his “abortive Christology” and “misunderstanding” of the theme of imitation in Paul.17 In these instances, imitatio Christi is rejected either because it simply will not fit within the theological framework of the scholar or because if it did, it would bankrupt the theological economy of modern Christianity.
The final objection to imitatio is the unnerving idea that martyrdom is not an optional extra in the Christian experience. If Christians are exhorted to imitate the actions of Christ, if discipleship entails suffering like Christ, and if (p.23) Christ the true martyr blazes the way for his followers, then dying for Christ was not just a possibility; it was an obligation. For moderns, martyrdom lies on the periphery, outside the scope of normal Christian experience. Bringing martyrdom inside the vibrant and living New Testament makes for uncomfortable reading.18
In dealing with the literature of the Jesus movement and early Christian churches it is, to my mind, both anachronistic and inappropriate to use the term imitatio Christi in its expanded medieval sense. At the same time, it is inappropriate to discard the notion of imitating Christ completely, merely because it conjures up bad memories in the Protestant collective unconscious. In its basic meaning, imitatio Christi refers to actions or words that imitate those of Christ, not complicated ethical and spiritual systems of thought. For the purposes of this work, I will employ the term to describe the idea that Jesus’ followers should seek to imitate him. This idea can be expressed both linguistically using the mimesis word group and conceptually in passages that propose mimicry of Jesus’ behavior but do not explicitly use this terminology.
Having explored the dearth of scholarship on imitatio in the literature of the Jesus movement, we can now turn to those texts that reveal an interest in imitation and mimesis. The function of exhortations to imitate the behavior of another is as much rhetorical as it is ideological. With respects to these early texts, we are interested in the manner in which they began to construct followers of Jesus as suffering imitators.
From the beginning of the Jesus movement, the imitation of Christ was a focal point in the literature of the churches. Throughout his epistles, Paul frequently exhorts his audiences to imitation of himself and Christ. In her work on this theme, Elizabeth Castelli has drawn attention to the rhetorical function of mimetic language.19 She shows that it functions as part of a larger rhetorical strategy that enables Paul to establish a particular set of societal relations. Paul constructs a hierarchy of imitation in which he invites his audience to participate. He places Christ at the top of the hierarchy and himself as the mediator between Christ and the congregation. The effect of mimetic language is to regulate behavior and draw together Paul’s rebellious and disorderly communities in obedient mimesis not just of Jesus, but of Paul himself.
Regardless of the rhetorical aim of Paul’s use of mimetic language, he inaugurates a tradition within Christian communities in which the suffering of Christians is understood in terms of mimesis. Even if, as Castelli has proposed, (p.24) Paul’s commands are a means of eliciting unity and conformity in his communities, his exhortations to imitate were reread in Christian communities as ethical injunctions and practical admonitions. For our purposes we will focus on those passages that are particularly concerned with suffering, persecution, and death.
Paul’s interest in mimesis is apparent as early as 1 Thessalonians, which is considered by most scholars to be the earliest of his extant epistles.20 Unlike some of his other letters, there is little sense that Paul is responding to any reports of unrest or discord in the Thessalonian congregation. He writes instead that his anxiety and desire to strengthen their faith (2:17–3:5) have occasioned the letter.21
Paul’s use of Christological mimesis begins in the first thanksgiving section (1 Thess 1:6–7, 2:14), where he describes the Thessalonians as “imitators” (μιμηταί) of himself and Christ in their receipt of the word despite much affliction. The notion of imitation through suffering resurfaces in the second thanksgiving section in 1 Thess. 2:14, where the community at Thessaloniki are exhorted to “become imitators” (μιμηταὶ ἐγενήθητε) of the churches in Judea. The basis for the exhortation is that the Thessalonians suffered the same thing from their countrymen as the church in Judea did from the Judeans. The Thessalonians are inserted into what Castelli calls the “mimetic economy” in which they imitate Paul, the Lord, and the Judean churches:22 “For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews.”23 Paul grounds his exhortation in the shared experience of persecution felt by the churches. The common experience of suffering ties the churches together. The same rationale reappears in later Pauline epistles where the readers are exhorted to imitate the endurance of Paul and Christ in the face of suffering. If we, somewhat unhistorically, imagine Paul as anticipating his language of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians, we might say that the body of Christ dispersed throughout the world is a body held together by the common experience of persecution.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul uses mimetic language as a call to unity within the community. He exhorts the brethren (ἀδελφοι) to come together in like-mindedness in their imitation of him:
In this passage in particular, Paul’s language encourages unity among those he calls brethren. His use of the unusual form συμμιμητής underscores this call to unity and coming together. It is not mimesis alone but mimesis that establishes union and agreement.25 At the same time as he invites unification, he sets up a clear distinction between those brethren who are invited to join in mimesis, and the enemies of the cross of Christ (τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ Χριστου). The implication is that those who fail to imitate Paul are enemies of the cross of Christ. The dichotomy is unforgiving; come together in imitation of the figure of Paul or find yourself an enemy of the cross of Christ.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. (p.25) But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.24
For our purposes, the most interesting instance in which Paul exhorts his readers to imitate Christ is found in the so-called Christological hymn of Philippians 2:5–11. Since the groundbreaking work of Lohmeyer, the majority of scholars have maintained that this pericope was a pre-Pauline liturgical hymn that was inserted into the epistle by Paul for exhortatory ends.26 The passage begins with Paul expressing the desire that the Philippians have the same mind as did Christ. He then proceeds to qualify what having “this mind” would mean by inserting a hymn that illustrates the humility and obedience of Christ:
While many elements of this hymn fascinate its readers, one clause is particularly striking for our interest in the relationship between suffering and imitation of Christ: “ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ.” (2:8). For Lohmeyer, Christ’s obedience unto death was the focal point of the hymn and the rationale behind Paul’s inclusion of it. Christ’s obedience became the supreme example for the believer and was even (p.26) the model for martyrdom.28 Following Lohmeyer, we can see Paul as exhorting his readers to imitate Christ (v. 5) in obedience and humility (v. 8). The supreme illustration of this self-effacing obedience is found in Christ’s readiness to accept a shameful death. Even if Paul’s intention is to exhort the Philippians to follow his advice, he ends up encouraging his readers to mimic the death of Christ. If Christ could obediently accept such a death, says Paul, so too should you.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.27
Not all are convinced that Paul’s inclusion of the Philippians hymn is an attempt to establish Christ as an example.29 Ralph P. Martin argues that emulation of the life and person of Christ is an impossible task: “The Apostolic summons is not: Follow Jesus by doing as He did—an impossible feat in any case, for who can be a ‘second Christ’ who quits his heavenly glory and dies in shame and is taken up into the throne of the universe?”30 Martin’s argument here rests, as we have already noted, on a number of basic post-Chalcedonian Christological assumptions. He assumes that no one can be a “second Christ” because he is certain both that Philippians 2:5–11 describes a unique preexistent heavenly being and that exaltation to the throne of God was a glory accorded only to Christ. In the Christological controversies Martin’s theological assumptions become standardized, yet in the first four centuries of the Christian church these assumptions were by no means set. It is wholly possible, therefore, that for members of the earliest churches the imitation of Christ could include exaltation on the heavenly throne. Evidence of this is found in the Apocalypse of John where those who “overcome” current persecution are promised a seat on the throne of God (Rev 3:21).
In 1 Corinthians Paul twice exhorts his readers to a life of imitation (1 Cor 4:16–17 and 11:1).31 The by now familiar call to imitate Paul’s conduct as he imitates Christ’s is grounded in his appeal to the parental role he assumes in the Corinthian community: “For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”32 The inclusion of the phrase “to remind you of my ways” suggests that Paul proposes something more particular than just “live a good life.”33 The specific referent of this imitatio has been variously identified as Paul’s attempt to inculcate a particular value in the lives of Corinthians, be it personal qualities of humility and self-sacrifice,34 communal or relational values of unity,35 or a life of suffering.36
All these suggestions base themselves on internal evidence within the Corinthian correspondence. In 1 Corinthians 4:11, Paul references his own self-sacrifice and humility as an apostle who forgoes food, clothing, and shelter.37 (p.27) Paul’s understanding of imitation is further qualified later in the letter in 11:1 where he again exhorts the Corinthians to “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε καθὼς κἀγὼ Χριστοῦ). Castelli is correct to direct us to the implicit power structure here. Paul is elevated above the Corinthians, and the disjointed community is directed to look to him as their model.38 At the same time, however, it is clear that there is something about Christ’s behavior or actions that is being identified as worthy of imitation. Paul intends imitatio Christi to include a variety of ethical stances and practical actions, not least of which is Christ’s self-sacrificial obedience unto death.39
In 2 Corinthians, Paul reorients his ethical instructions to focus on the example offered in Jesus. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in his correspondence, Paul focuses on traditional material about Jesus and uses this as a means to exhort the Corinthians to mimic the exemplary behavior of Jesus.40 Of special importance to our study is Paul’s focus on the sufferings of Christ and the relationship between Christly suffering, apostolic suffering, and communal and individual suffering. The theme of suffering lingers under the surface of the entire work and forms the basis for Paul’s apostleship. It legitimizes him as an apostle, serves as the cornerstone of his missionary activity, and is a marker of his special relationship to Christ. Indeed, it is these sufferings that validate and confirm his vocation, and “it is in these circumstances that Paul’s union with Christ is expressed.”41 Paul’s accounts of his sufferings for Christ permeate this epistle (2 Cor 6: 4–10; 11:23–33) and are expressed as evidence of his apostleship (2 Cor 11:23).
The theme of imitation reappears in Galatians. The most confrontational of Paul’s letters, Galatians is widely considered to be Paul’s response to an increasing preoccupation with circumcision on the part of the community there.42 Paul’s heated rebuke of the Galatians requires that he justify his position as an apostle and a figure of authority for the church he himself founded. In doing so he invokes the marks of his suffering as a source of authority. In Galatians 6:17, Paul authenticates his mission on the basis of “the marks” (τὰ στίγματα) of Jesus that he has borne: “From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.”43 The term στίγματα is a hapax legomenon in the New Testament.44 It is probable that τὰ στίγματα are those scars Paul received as a result of the persecutions inflicted upon him during his missionary campaigns.45 This language is connected to his interest in imitating Christ, a theme alluded to throughout Galatians without explicit use of mimetic language (cf. Gal 2:19; 4:13; 5:24; 6:14).46 It is, however, through the replication of Christ’s suffering, through being “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20), that Christ lives in Paul. Suffering as Christ suffered is precisely what enables Paul to “have” Christ within himself. It is suffering that binds them (p.28) together. This idea resurfaces in martyrdom accounts in which, in moments of extreme torture, Christ dwells within the martyr’s body (Lyons 1.23).
Claims to have suffered and exhortations to others to expect suffering were a means of gaining authority and respect in early Christian communities, allowing Paul to connect himself to Jesus using the rhetoric of imitation and, in doing so, to authenticate his mission. For Paul exhortations to imitate the sufferings of others serve a valuable rhetorical purpose. Within the “mimetic economy” of the early church, suffering like Christ was “cultural capital.”47 Read in conjunction with Paul’s language of putting on Christ and being reborn in Christ, exhortations to imitate the sufferings of Christ resonated in a particular way. Life in Christ was read as assuming a life lived individually and communally within the suffering body of Christ. The rhetorical power of suffering like Christ transfigured participation in Christ into suffering.
In the Gospels we encounter, for the first time, attempts to catalog and record narratively the life and teachings of Jesus.48 The generic difference between the epistles of Paul and the bioi of the Gospels means that the presentation of Jesus as a model for imitation takes on a different shape.49 On the one hand, the model is clearer and more defined as the words and actions are explicitly described. The accounts of the teachings and activities of Jesus provide a template for the disciples in the narrative and the would-be disciples in the audience. On the other hand, the language of mimesis is absent. In its stead, we find discussion of the nature of discipleship and how to “follow” Jesus. As a theme, the nature and demands of discipleship permeate the gospel accounts, and for some scholars there is an essential difference between following Christ and imitating him.50 As we shall see, however, there are plenty of instances in which “following Christ” entails suffering in the same manner as he did.51 In these instances, whether or not the term “mimesis” is used, the practice of following Christ effectively is embodied imitation.
The earliest Gospel, and thus the first to discuss suffering for Christ, is the Gospel of Mark.52 A variety of locations have been suggested for its composition, but the majority of scholars agree that it was composed between 65 and 73 C.E. in the midst of the Jewish War.53 Regardless of the precise place of (p.29) composition, a number of characteristics of the text suggest it was an encyclical composed for the purpose of widespread circulation.54
Throughout the Gospel, the theme of following Christ is prevalent. From the beginning, Mark describes the activity and journeying of Christ as “the way.” He begins his gospel by appealing to the “way of the Lord” (1:1–3) and repeatedly describes the journey from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem in the same fashion (8:27; 9:33f.; 10:32).
Structurally, the overall shape of Mark’s account offers a paradigm for discipleship. As noted by Philip Davis, in Mark the teachings of Jesus take a backseat to the exhortations to follow the example of Jesus.55 For Davis, Mark’s Gospel “can be read as a blueprint for the Christian life: it begins with baptism, proceeds with the vigorous pursuit of ministry in the face of temptation and opposition, and culminates in suffering and death orientated toward an as-yet unseen vindication.”56 Similarly, Larry Hurtado argues that Mark lacks a resurrection appearance, not because he has no knowledge of such accounts but because Mark intends to focus his readers’ attention on Jesus’ life as exemplar. The abrupt ending to the Gospel, therefore, encourages the reader to follow Jesus’ example despite fear and uncertainty.57 For Hurtado and Davis, the structure of Mark represents the path of discipleship from baptism to death, Jesus himself is the “true model of Christian discipleship” and the narrative is shaped to make the story of Jesus the road map for the lives of his followers.58
This leitmotif is further distilled in 8:22–10:52, where the role of the disciple and the true nature of discipleship become preoccupying themes for the evangelist. Toward the beginning of this section, Jesus instructs the disciples in what it means to follow him:
Scholarly attention to this passage has focused upon the opening verse and the meaning of the dramatic phrase “ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ.” Should we understand this phrase literally, as a kind of exhortation to martyrdom? Or should it be read figuratively as a cipher for mistreatment or abuse? On a literal (p.30) reading, given the additional exhortation to “follow” Jesus, it seems that Jesus exhorts his disciples to follow him to crucifixion and death.60
And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.59
Yet despite its apparent straightforwardness, this literal interpretation has been rejected by a number of scholars in favor of spiritualized or figurative readings of the phrase. Gundry argues that the instruction could not have been intended literally because Jesus had not predicted his own death in terms of crucifixion, and the disciples would have been unable to orchestrate events so that they would be condemned to death in this manner.61 Instead, Gundry proposes that the phrase “take up one’s cross” is meant figuratively to imply willfully subjecting oneself to the shame and ridicule of following Christ. Gundry’s argument seems overly labored in his attempt to resist the notion that the disciples are being invited to follow Jesus to their deaths.
If we assume that this passage has been reworked by Mark, it is neither here nor there that Jesus did not predict his own passion in terms of crucifixion.62 The information that Jesus was crucified and resurrected was the most publicized element of the Jesus story in the early days of the Jesus movement. Thus, if Mark could assume any knowledge about Jesus on the part of his audience, it was that he was crucified.63 Furthermore, if we give credence to the early Christian tradition that links the Gospel of Mark with Petrine traditions, we can safely assume that Mark was familiar with traditions about the crucifixion of Peter.64 If we read this statement in light of the Petrine tradition, it can be seen as an allusion to the crucifixion of the most prominent apostle in Mark.
Even apart from traditions relating to Peter, the phrase “take up your cross and follow me” can be read as a literal instruction that employs the image of the cross as a figure for death. For first-century readers familiar with the narrative of the death of Jesus, it seems difficult to imagine that the barbaric image of the cross could not have conjured up the image of the brutal death of Jesus. As for Gundry’s objection that the disciples would not have been able, logistically speaking, to ensure that they were crucified, this seems to assume on the part of the historical Jesus an interest in and knowledge of the machinations of Roman law courts for which we lack evidence entirely.65
Perhaps the most convincing evidence that we should read verses 34–36 literally is their connection to verses 37–38. The latter portion of this section deals explicitly with the comparable rewards of losing or saving one’s physical life. Unquestionably, in the verses that immediately follow the exhortation to “take up one’s cross,” we have a discussion of the significance of dying for Christ.
Although it is the language of discipleship and following (ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν and ἀκολουθείτω μοι) that is prominent here, it is clear that (p.31) following after Jesus involves imitating him. A literal reading of the instruction to “take up the cross” (ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτου) implies that following Christ involves following a death like his. Death for Christ is aligned with the death of Christ. Even if the phrase “take up his cross” is read in a purely figurative manner, the function of the saying remains the same; it equates the experience of the disciple with the death of Jesus.
Regardless of Mark’s own intent, early readers of Mark were aware of and in some cases supported literal interpretations. A rejection of the literal interpretation is found in Luke’s redaction of this pericope: “Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’”66 The addition of the phrase “every day” (καθ’ ἡμέραν) here transforms the saying so that it cannot be read martyrologically. The redaction betrays a Lukan anxiety about the demands of discipleship. Clearly Luke intends that the idea of taking up the cross must be read figuratively, not literally. By inserting this phrase, Luke resists the literal interpretation of taking up one’s cross as a call for martyrdom and directs his readers toward a more pedestrian ethical interpretation. That Luke needs to alter his source indicates that there were those at the time who read Mark as a call for suffering and death. Apparently Luke was aware of the potential for a literal reading of Mark and was consciously trying to suppress it in his version of the story.
A more positive approach to the literal interpretation is found in the writings of the early church. In his Exhortation to Martyrdom, the third-century Alexandrian Origen uses this passage to support his argument that the work of Jesus is continued through the deaths of the early Christian martyrs. In addressing Ambrosius, his bishop, he writes: “You go in procession bearing the cross of Jesus and following him when he brings you before governors and kings.”67 Here, Origen interprets Mark 8:34–38 in a literal sense as an instruction to members of his Christian community to prepare for arrest and martyrdom.68 The cross that they were to bear is meant to refer to at least persecution and arrest and—given the context of this passage within an exhortation to martyrdom—most probably death. In one sense, Origen understands the phrase “bearing the cross” figuratively, in that he does not take it to mean actual wooden crosses, but he also reads the instruction literally as he clearly expects his addressees to meet with death.
For our purposes, perhaps the clearest indication that this passage was read literally is found in the Acts of Euplus.69 In this turn-of-the-fourth-century account the martyr Euplus enters the courtroom with scriptures and is instructed to read aloud from the text. The passages he elects to read are Matt 5:10 and Mark 8:34–38//Matt 16:24: “The martyr opened [the book] and read: ‘Blessed (p.32) are they who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ and in another place ‘He that will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.’”70 When the judge asks Euplus what this statement means he replies, “‘It is the law of my Lord, which has been given to me’” (Ac. Euplus, 1.5) The selection of these two passages, and his description of them as law indicate that for some members of the early church, these passages were read as instructive and even legislating. Clearly, martyrdom was understood as the proper response to Jesus’ request to take up the cross and follow him. This statement, however, was viewed as more than a simple request or suggestion. In the words of Euplus, these texts were understood as a law, as proscriptive, legislating texts, as mandates for martyrdom in the lives of Christians.
Toward the end of his section on discipleship, Mark again returns to the question of the harsher demands of discipleship, this time with a specific interest in the fate of the sons of Zebedee:
Here, James and John, part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, request seats at Jesus’ right and left hand. Their request to sit “in glory” (ἐν τῇ δόξη) rouses images of messianic kingship.72 Evidently, the sons of Zebedee have misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.73 Jesus’ response is veiled and provocative. Again, it is an ambiguous but suggestive image that forms the critical point for interpreting this passage; what exactly should we understand by “the cup” that Jesus drinks?
And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”71
The mention of a cup in connection with baptism prompted Patrick Henry Reardon to argue that this passage should be read sacramentally as a symbolic reference to baptism and the Eucharist.74 This explanation is particularly curious given Jesus’ question about the capabilities of James and John to drink from the cup. The disciples in Mark may be foolish, but we should not assume they have problems drinking out of everyday containers. Furthermore, the sacraments would appear to be “out of order” because Jesus would be placing the Eucharist before baptism.75 Moreover, if Mark is alluding symbolically to the sacraments, he assumes on the part of his readers a detailed knowledge of Pauline sacramental theology.76 This kind of an assumption does not fit well (p.33) with other passages in the Gospel where Mark goes to great lengths to ensure that his readers understand him.77
More probably, the cup in Mark 10:37–40 refers to the Hebrew Bible image of the cup of wrath or suffering.78 This image is employed unambiguously in the Gethsemane agony when Jesus begs that the cup pass from him (Mark 14:36). That in chapter 10 Jesus explicitly refers to the cup as the cup that he himself must drink indicates that we must take the two scenes together. Jesus asks James and John if they are able to face the same suffering that he will endure in the crucifixion.79 The death of Jesus and the death of those who are invited to follow are presented in identical terms. Again, Mark extends the possibility of suffering like Christ to the disciples and his audience; he revels in the paradox of the suffering Messiah and challenges his readers to consider the possibility that they themselves might follow Jesus to their deaths.
A number of scholars have endeavored to push their interpretation of Mark 10:37–40 further, toward a martyrological reading. In the second century the image of “drinking a cup” becomes a metaphor for martyrdom.80 Likewise, in the acts of the martyrs, martyrdom is presented as a kind of “second baptism” and becomes an alternate form of baptism for catechumens.81 According to this reading, this passage casts the death of Jesus as a kind of martyrdom and offers a prophecy about the eventual martyrdom of the sons of Zebedee.82 It is more probable that Mark 10:37–40 served as a key text in the development of various ideologies of martyrdom and that this use of cup and baptismal imagery in the acta martyrum emerged out of readings of this passage.83 This is an invitation to follow Jesus to death, but the focus here is on the synonymous nature of the death of Jesus and the death of those who follow him, not on notions of witness or confession.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, “Jesus is both the basis for and the pattern of discipleship.”84 Following Jesus entails suffering and dying in a manner that is not just “like Jesus” but is described in identical terms that are explicitly linked to Jesus’ own death. The focus is on the synonymity of the death of the follower with that of Jesus. The necessity of this death may be described in terms of discipleship, but practically it involves reenactment of the same suffering.
Written roughly twenty years after the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Luke tends to shy away from interpretations of Mark that promote following Christ to the death. The author of Luke-Acts is not interested in imitation. As C. K. Barrett has remarked, “The language of imitation is wanting.”85 At the same time, (p.34) however, the conduct of the Lukan Jesus becomes the template for subsequent martyrs. This includes the death of his first imitator, Stephen, the protomartyr in Acts 7.86 Conzelmann argues that the literary seams in the account indicate that Luke is using a source document.87 If so, this source may have been generically similar to the early Christian acta.
Throughout the account of the arrest, “witness,” and execution, Luke labors to present Stephen in the same way as he narrated the passion of Jesus. The attack on Stephen is precipitated by the same accusation made of Jesus. In Acts 6:14 he is he accused of saying that “Jesus will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses delivered to us,” a reference back to the sayings of Jesus that predict the destruction of the Temple. Like Jesus, Stephen appears before and is interrogated by the high priest. Both Jesus and Stephen refer to the Son of Man at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55; cf. Luke. 22:69) and cry out at the moment of their deaths. Finally, at the point of death, Stephen commends his spirit to Jesus just as Jesus commended his to his father in Luke 23:46. And in the same spirit of magnanimity, both Stephen and Jesus beg forgiveness for those who cause their deaths (Luke 23:34; cf. Acts 7:60).88
The similarities between the deaths of Jesus and Stephen can hardly be coincidental, particularly when we consider the evangelist’s penchant for parallelism and structure. Yet the narrative does more than simply illustrate the idea that the deaths of Christians can and do imitate the death of Christ. This is not just a prime example of imitatio Christi at play in ancient literature; it is itself a model for imitation. Irrespective of the author’s intent, the death of Stephen serves an exhortatory purpose for the subsequent generations of readers who looked to it as a model of the good Christian death. Stephen becomes the protomartyr, the first to die the exemplary death for Christ, and a pattern—in his own right—for those who come later. The patterning of Stephen’s death on that of Jesus is of great significance here. It is precisely because Stephen imitates Christ so well that he becomes a paradigm for those who follow him.
Of all the texts associated with the apostles, the most explicit association of personal suffering with that of Christ is found in the pseudonymous epistle known as 1 Peter. Traditionally, the document has been associated with Simon Peter of Galilee, the chief apostle of the synoptic tradition and apparent author of the text (cf. 1 Pet 1:1).89 The fine quality of Greek employed by the author of the text, the knowledge of rhetorical conventions, and the absence of references to the life of Jesus make Petrine authorship highly unlikely.90
(p.35) Despite the widespread rejection of Petrine authorship, the majority of scholars maintain that the letter originated in Rome.91 The dating of the letter is more complex. External attestation of 1 Peter in later sources is only partially helpful, for while there are clear citations of the letter in the writings of Tertullian (Scorp. 12) and Clement of Alexandria (Paed. 1.6.44), earlier “citations” in Justin Martyr (e.g., Dial. 116, 119) or the Epistle of Barnabas (6.2, 6) are inconclusive. 1 Peter may have been cited in Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians, but the evidence for this is ambiguous and ultimately inconclusive. Comparisons between 1 Peter and First Clement are equally unfruitful and yield ambiguous results.92 For Beare the most damming evidence against an early dating is Ignatius of Antioch’s apparent lack of acquaintance with the document.93 If 1 Peter was written and circulated throughout Asia Minor before Ignatius’s travels through the region, we might expect to find some reference to it.
With Petrine authorship largely discounted, a number of scholars have attempted to use the references to suffering and persecution in 1 Peter as a means for determining the date and place of its composition. From the epistle it is clear that Christians are suffering (1:6; 3:14; 4:12, 16, 19; 5:10) and that this suffering is widespread (5:9) but sporadic (1:6; 5:10). The form of persecution appears to be more rejection by society than martyrdom (3:9, 16; 4:14). The sporadic nature of the persecution envisaged in the text coupled with the absence of severe or lethal punishments suggest that 1 Peter was not composed during one of the “periods of persecution” attributed to Nero, Domitian, or Trajan.94 The situation appears to be more one of unofficial local harassment than a widespread coordinated persecution.95 While it is impossible to pinpoint the precise dating of the letter, the absence of explicit references to martyrdom seems to presuppose that 1 Peter was written prior to Pliny’s persecutions in Bithnyia circa 112–114 C.E. This would place the composition of the letter circa 80–100 C.E.96 The geographic location of the addressees of the letter is fairly certain. The opening words of the prescript indicate that the epistle is addressed to five Roman provinces (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithnyia) located in the region of Asia Minor.97 That the addressees are repeatedly described as “strangers” and “resident aliens” suggests that they were located in an unstable sociopolitical region.
While the dating, provenance, and authorship of 1 Peter remain keenly debated, the role of suffering as one of the predominant themes of the letter is universally agreed upon. The themes of submission to higher authorities and acceptance of suffering are deftly intertwined throughout the letter. The author of 1 Peter exhorts his audience to accept unjust suffering and to submit to those who persecute them in the same way as Christ accepted his sufferings. The analogy is drawn further, however, as the author not only makes Christ the model for the suffering Christian but adds that this suffering allows the individual to (p.36) share in the sufferings of Christ. This comparison is particularly noticeable in 1 Peter 2:20–25, where the author joins a Christological hymn (2:21–25) to the preceding verse about the suffering of members of the congregation: “If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”98 Throughout 1 Peter the author stresses the importance of submission to authority and willful acceptance of suffering. This forms part of a program of discouraging the audience from active or violent responses to alienation. Suffering unjustly is to be commended, and the audience should look to the model provided in Christ as its pattern for behavior: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”99 Here in 1 Peter 4, innocent suffering is explicitly identified with the suffering of Christ. It enables the sufferer to participate in the identity of Christ and is a sign of special favor, as the glory of God rests upon them.
The much neglected and poorly named Epistle to the Hebrews presents an entire line of succession of faithful examples of endurance for imitation.100 Chapters 11–12 begin with a catalogue of exempla virtutis, drawn from the Hebrew Bible and apocrypha, who faithfully bore witness and endured violent sufferings. The list extols the virtue of faithful endurance in the heroes of the past and occasionally locates this fidelity in their endurance of sufferings and persecutions (11:26, 35–40). The catalog reaches a climax at the beginning of chapter 12, where the author of Hebrews turns to the ultimate model, Christ:
(p.37) Here the model of Jesus crucified is held up as the supreme model for fidelity. It is the image of crucifixion that should hold the audience’s attention and inspire them to persevere in their race. The paranetic purpose of invoking the example of Jesus is an attempt to rouse them to greater perseverance. The author invites them to compare their sufferings to those of Jesus, to keep the image of the crucified Christ utmost in their minds, and to seek to follow the “ἀρχηγὸς.” The notion of “looking toward” (ἀφορῶντες) a model recalls Hellenistic notions of the virtuous imitating God and is applied to the Maccabean martyrs in 4 Maccabees 17:10. Here the object of their attention is not God transcendent but Jesus. That it is the human and humbled Jesus rather than the exalted Christ is significant. This proper name is also used in connection with human sufferings in Hebrews 2:9 and here identifies the model as the human preexaltation Jesus. While the community had not yet experienced hostile opposition to the point of death, the author envisions this as a reasonable expectation (v. 4). He encourages his audience to think of their sufferings in terms of the suffering Jesus and supplies an implicit promise of exaltation like Christ at the hand of God.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.101
Unlike other New Testament authors, however, Hebrews’ understanding of imitating Christly suffering is more directly connected to the author’s Christology. In Hebrews, Christ is presented as a new high priest who establishes a new and better covenant with God. He occupies the position of high priest, sacrificial offering, and trailblazer. Chapters 8 through 10 develop and explore the analogy between Jesus and the high priest. In 9:15–22 this priestly role is further explored in the new covenant-inaugurating sacrifice made by Christ in conformity with God’s will.102 The exposition of Christ’s priestly role is not merely an exercise in theological discourse; the actions of Christ have practical implications for the lives of the reader. The ramification of Christ’s status as the pioneer and perfecter (ἀρχηγὸς καὶ τελειότης) of the faith is that other Christians must follow the supreme example of faith. In the words of Harold Attridge, “The existential, practical consequence is that because his death is a covenant-inaugurating act, it is to be followed, to be lived out in the lives of the addressees.”103 The standard set by Christ, the ἀρχηγὸς, are standards the author of Hebrews expects his readers to meet, to imitate, and to follow.
In the Apocalypse of John we begin to see, for the first time, what is commonly referred to as a “theology of martyrdom.” Revelation not only offers detailed words of encouragement and instruction for those dealing with persecution; it goes further, offering a theodicy for the existence of persecution and a vision of (p.38) the future in which those persecuted would be vindicated and rewarded. If we were to track the development of theologies of martyrdom on some kind of evolutionary scale, the Apocalypse would offer a far more detailed and considered approach than the other New Testament books we have examined. The theology of martyrdom present in the book of Revelation is deserving of its own exposition and cannot be fully explored here. Here we will merely deal with the way in which the suffering and death of Christ are related to the suffering and death of the characters and audience of the book of Revelation.
Revelation was composed sometime between the end of the first and the beginning of the second century C.E. during a period in which Christians suffered various forms of opposition. Until recently it was generally maintained that the Johannine Apocalypse emerged out of a period of persecution instigated by the emperor Domitian (81–96 C.E.).104 While the majority of scholars would continue to date the work during this period, the existence of a Domitianic persecution has been called into question. G. E. M. De Ste. Croix, in particular, has questioned the existence of organized persecution of Christians before Decius and revealed the dearth of evidence for Domitianic persecution.105 It appears, therefore, either that the author addressed a situation of localized unofficial opposition, or that he perceived the community to be persecuted. The Apocalypse is written as a response to this situation of opposition and marginalization, whether actual or perceived. The author describes Rome and its rulers as emissaries of Satan who labor to destroy God’s people. Rome will meet its end in a series of divinely ordained punishments (Rev 6:1–8:1; 8:2–11:19; 15:1–16:21) as retribution for the persecution of the people of God (cf. 6:12–17; 16:5–6; 18:4–8). The enemies of God will be crushed in grand eschatological battles (19:11–21; 20:7–10), the final judgment will ensue, and the New Jerusalem will descend.
As already noted in the introduction, the development and use of martys terminology is a point of contention among scholars who write on martyrdom.106 For those seeking to trace the development of the language of martyrdom, the Apocalypse has been a key text because it is the first to use the term “ὁ μάρτυς” in a titular sense. Some have gone so far as to argue that in the Apocalypse we see for the first time the use of ὁ μάρτυς to designate someone who dies on account of his or her religious beliefs. Regardless of its precise meaning, the term is used by the author of Revelation for both Christ and other individuals who are tried and executed. The Apocalypse opens with an epistolary prescript in which greetings are conveyed “from Jesus Christ the faithful witness (ὁ μάρτυς, ὁ πιστός), the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5). The first titular use of the term μάρτυς, therefore, is as one of a string of Christological titles. The use of μάρτυς in this way occurs only here and, in an expanded form, in Revelation 3:14, where Jesus is called “the faithful and true witness” (ὁ μάρτυς (p.39) ὁ πιστὸς καὶ ἀληθινός).107 By beginning with a Christological use, the author of Revelation introduces the term μάρτυς as it relates to Christ and then expands its range of meaning to include those who suffer and die on his account.
The phrase “faithful witness” reappears in the letter to the church in Ephesus, where Antipas, a man who was executed, is described in the same manner: “I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.”108 Evidently, Antipas was a member of the church who held fast to the name and was executed as a result. As only the actions of holding fast to the name and the faith and subsequent execution are mentioned, we can assume that it is on account of these that Antipas is accorded the honor of being named “my faithful witness” (cf. Rev 11:3; 17:6). Whether or not we take μάρτυς to mean either “witness” or “martyr,” the use of the same theologically loaded term for both Christ and members of the seven churches is significant. It identifies Christ’s status of martyr with that of members of the churches. The distinction between lord and followers is elided by their shared status and role. The concept that in his death Christ blazes a trail for his followers becomes central in subsequent martyrological traditions. As Lucy Grig notes, “Christ was the first, archetypal, proto-martyr. The mimetic importance of the martyr acting out the imitatio Christi in his or her own death would be of key importance.”109 Christ may have been the true and first martyr, but this remains a status to which members of the community could aspire.
The same correlation between the activity and status of Christ and his followers is made elsewhere in Revelation 3:21, where the exalted Christ says: “To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”110 The term νικῶν in the Apocalypse, paradoxically, refers to a victory achieved through humiliation and death. In this respect Jesus is the paradigm for his followers, having achieved a great victory and ransomed his people through his death (Rev 5:9). In Revelation 3:21 the activity of Christ as victor, that is to say, the one who suffered and died, is held up for the church as an example. Members of the Jesus movement can emulate the conquest of Christ in their own sufferings and death and receive the same heavenly reward as a result.111
Looking beyond the modern Christian canon, we can see the theme of exemplary endurance and suffering further illustrated in the early Christian document commonly referred to as First Clement. Outside of those works preserved (p.40) in the canonical New Testament, First Clement or Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians is generally considered the earliest extant church writing. It was composed in the final years of the first century and is attributed to Clement, the third bishop of Rome. The opening sentences of the letter refer to “sudden and successive calamitous events” (1.1), events that conventionally have been taken to refer to a general persecution of Christians from 81 to 96 C.E. during the reign of the emperor Domitian. The ambiguity of this phrase and the dearth of evidence for a Domitianic persecution make the precision of this dating uncertain.112 Even if the precise date of the work’s composition is unclear the references to First Clement toward the end of the second century and the ecclesiastical structure presumed in the text support a late first-century date.
The letter itself appears to have been occasioned by intra-ecclesial conflict within the Corinthian community between presbyters and younger members of the congregation (40.1–59.2). In a brief section toward the beginning of the letter Clement discusses the role of noble death in the life of the church. His discussion of the fallen heroes of the church immediately follows a list of heroic figures from Israel’s past who suffered because of envy (4.1–6.2). In 5.1–6.2 the focus shifts to Peter and Paul and from there to other anonymous Christians who suffered and died on account of envy.
In First Clement, it is not Christ but Peter and Paul who serve as the “greatest example” for the audience of the letter. The presentation of the “two pillars” as part of a history of suffering heroes is reminiscent of the list of faithful examples in Hebrews 11. Here in First Clement, Peter and Paul serve a clear rhetorical function. Clement draws upon their status as chief apostles and the close personal ties between Paul and the Corinthians as a means of calling the community to order. It is their status as “athletes” who “contended unto death” (5.2), however, that is the focal point and the subject of his repeated calls for imitation (5.4; cf. Heb 12:1–3). The suffering and endurance of Peter and Paul are more than a rhetorical flourish; they are the model for Clement’s readers. What we see is a further development in the creation of imitatio hierarchies in which the martyred Peter and Paul are transformed into the models for imitation. Their successful imitation of the suffering and death of Christ ensures that they themselves become models. This is more than just an insertion into the mimetic economy; it is itself a form of imitation. Just as Peter and Paul imitated the obedient suffering and death of Christ, they imitate Christ’s function as the model for suffering and death. The assumption of the exemplary role is a form of imitatio that begins here in First Clement and flourishes in the production of martyrological literature in the subsequent centuries.113
The letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in the early part of the second century, which were written as he journeyed toward his trial and eventual martyrdom, have provoked strong, almost visceral, reactions in his readers. For some, Ignatius is a source of inspiration and a model martyr whose letters provide a glimpse into the mind of someone eagerly anticipating martyrdom. For others, Ignatius appears arrogant, crazed, and self-obsessed. In this respect he has the singular talent of being able to turn historians into psychoanalysts. Irrespective of our estimation of him, Ignatius was widely admired as a martyr in the early church, and his bold language about suffering with God became particularly important for later Monophysite interpreters.115 Ignatius’s letters are valuable both as interpretations of earlier now-canonical texts about suffering and as influential literature that helped to shape early Christian understandings of suffering.
For any study of Ignatius, the authenticity of the letters and the textual difficulties they pose present an unavoidable quagmire. Traditionally, three recensions of Ignatius’s letters are identified: a short, middle, and long. The short recension is an abridgment of the letters to Polycarp, Ephesians, and Romans together with a brief excerpt of Trallians, and is preserved only in Syriac. To the standard seven letters of the middle recension, the long recension adds several others, including letters to and from Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a one to the disciple John. The modern scholarly consensus regarding the letters of Ignatius was established by the exhaustive work of Zahn and Lightfoot.116 Their thoroughgoing examination of the textual problems led them to propose the authenticity of the middle recension and a date between 100 and 118 C.E. A number of challenges to the work of Lightfoot have been raised, but, as Schoedel notes, there are no clear anachronisms in the middle recension: the “cumulative weight of arguments against its authenticity is not sufficient to dislodge it from its place in the history of the early church.”117
The seven letters of the middle recension (the letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, and Smyrnaeans and to Polycarp) chronicle the course of Ignatius’s journey from Antioch to Rome. Throughout these letters he reflects upon the purpose of his suffering and probable death and discourages outsiders from seeking to intervene to prevent his death. He describes this journey as triumphal (Rom. 5.1), possessing a kind of mythic quality (Rom. 2.2). For Ignatius, his suffering and imminent martyrdom are viewed through the lens of imitation, discipleship, and attaining to God.
In the expressions of praise that open his letters, Ignatius frequently describes his addressees as imitators of God (Eph. 1.1, 10.3; Trall. 1.2). In the (p.42) context of exhorting the Philadelphians to greater harmony, he reminds them of a proclamation of the spirit that they should “be imitators of Jesus Christ as he himself is of the Father” (Phld. 7.2). He proposes that Christians themselves function as models for the pagans to imitate (Eph. 10.1–3) and that individual Christians serve as models for others (Smyrn. 12.1). This idea of imitation and serving as models is used in conjunction with his discussion of discipleship. In Eph. 10.1–3, both concepts are referenced as Ignatius prays that others may “learn at least from your deeds to become disciples” while we are “imitators of the Lord”:
Ignatius’s description of the proper response to hostility may well have served as a kind of preparation for martyrdom. The virtues of humility, faithfulness, and gentleness coupled with the instruction to pray serve as a kind of template for the behavior of the martyrs in acta martyrum.119 For Ignatius, as for these later Christians, this behavior is tied to an imitatio Christi. Interestingly enough, he qualifies his hopes that the Christians serve as models for the pagans by reminding his readers not to become imitators of the pagans in return. The clear implication of verse 2 is that learning to be a disciple from the deeds of the Christians involves imitation. In Ignatius, discipleship and imitation are intertwined with one another.
But pray on behalf of other people unceasingly, for there is hope for repentance in them that they may attain God. Let them learn at least from your deeds to become disciples. Before their anger be gentle, before their boastfulness be humble, before their slanderings offer prayers, before their deceit be fixed in faith, before their fierceness be mild, not being eager to imitate them in return. Let us be found their brothers in gentleness; let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord.118
On a personal level, both discipleship and imitation are ultimately tied to martyrdom.120 Discipleship for Ignatius personally will be attained at martyrdom, where he will finally “attain to God.”121 In To the Ephesians 3.1, he addresses his own discipleship: “I do not command you as being someone; for even though I have been bound in the name, I have not yet been perfected in Jesus Christ. Indeed, now I have but begun to be a disciple, and I speak to you as my fellow learners; for I must be anointed by you with faith, admonition, endurance, patience.”122 For Ignatius, discipleship was merely inaugurated by his arrest and awaits completion in his martyrdom. That discipleship is fully realized in martyrdom becomes abundantly clear in the famous passage from his letter To the Romans where he asks to become food for the wild beasts: “Let me be the food of wild beasts through whom it is possible to attain to God. God’s wheat I am, and by the teeth of wild beasts I am to be ground that I prove (p.43) Christ’s pure bread. Better still, coax the wild beasts to become my tomb, and to leave no part of my person behind; once I have fallen asleep I do not wish to be a burden to anyone. Then I shall truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ.”123 True discipleship is realized in martyrdom (cf. Pol. 7.1). Up to this point in his life, Ignatius has described his discipleship as unfulfilled. He becomes more of a disciple through mistreatment and enslavement (Rom. 5.1), but his discipleship is merely beginning (Eph. 3.1; Rom. 5.3). Here, as he anticipates his martyrdom, he looks forward to death, to become a true disciple (μαθητὴς ἀληθῶς) of Jesus and therefore to attain to God. Repugnant though it seems, the conclusion is inescapable; for Ignatius, discipleship is martyrdom.
The explicit identification of discipleship with martyrdom made by Ignatius is picked up in the Latin version of the Acts of Phileas. Moments before his beheading, the protagonist Phileas gives a speech that closely follows Ignatius’s Letter to the Romans: “Before we did not suffer; but now we begin to suffer; now we begin to become disciples of Christ” (9. 1–2).124 Like Ignatius, Phileas identifies the moment of his death as the beginning both of suffering and of discipleship. For both martyrs, martyrdom is not only equated with discipleship; it is the beginning of discipleship. It is not clear, therefore, if it is possible to be a disciple without enduring suffering that leads to death.
In the same way, the theme of imitating God or Christ, in Ignatius, finds its expression most properly in the experience of martyrdom. This idea is clearest in To the Romans 6.3, where he asks his audience not to seek to prevent his martyrdom: “Indulge me, brothers: do not prevent me from living, do not want my death, do not give to the world one who wants to be God’s, nor deceive him with matter; let me receive pure light—when I am there, I shall be a human being; allow me to be an imitator of the suffering of my God.”125 This passage is illustrative of the way in which Ignatius sees the life of the Christian generally, and the death of the martyr particularly, as modeled on the pattern of Christ crucified. This may be the only instance in which the imitation of Christ is connected with his own suffering and death, but it is strikingly unambiguous in viewing the death of the believer as an imitation of the death of Christ.
Discomfort with martyrdom as a part of discipleship or Christly imitation permeates scholarly discussions of Ignatius, as it does elsewhere. In his commentary, Schoedel seeks to draw the attention of the reader to the manifold instances where imitation of Christ does not involve martyrdom (e.g., Eph. 1.1; 10.3; Trall. 1.2; Phld. 7.2; Smyrn. 12.1). He writes, “The fact that the theme does not always have in view Christ’s death or does so only to draw attention to the love of God of Christ’s endurance also indicates how improbable it is to regard imitation in Ignatius as linked with the idea of cultic reenactment of the Lord’s passion.”126 Whether or not imitatio Christi in Ignatius is cultic, it is clear that (p.44) for himself, at least, martyrdom was the forum in which his discipleship would be realized and his imitation of Christ perfected.
From the beginning of the literary production of the early church, apostolic, ecclesiastical, and individual suffering was rendered meaningful by the image of the crucified Christ.127 The pervasive theme of suffering like, in participation with, or in imitation of Christ resonates beneath the surface of almost all the earliest Christian writings. Jesus movement and early church authors augmented and adapted this theme in different ways to address the needs of their audiences and the rhetorical program of their work. The suffering savior provided a model for endurance in the face of perceived hostility and aggression. For some writers, the possibility that Christians would have to endure and suffer the same fate and suffering as Jesus seems to have been expected as part of either the nature of discipleship or the new covenant inaugurated by Christ. For others, suffering and dying like Christ will serve as a transformative and perfecting experience, one in which discipleship and imitation of Christ are fully realized. The preponderance of this theme in the literature of the early church created an environment in which the suffering, persecution, and death of an individual were understood Christologically, in terms of the sufferings of the savior. Identification with the sufferings of Christ was a commonplace even in the embryonic communities of the Jesus movement and even before official or widespread persecution began. The prevalence of this idea formed part of the intellectual climate out of which the practices, literature, and theologies of martyrdom emerged.
(1.) This chapter does not attempt to trace out the development of martyrdom in the Jesus movement. Those passages of the New Testament that came to influence (p.211) emerging ideologies of martyrdom will be addressed, where relevant, in the subsequent chapters of this work. The goal of this chapter is to focus our attention upon passages that particularly reinforce the idea that suffering and death were a way of imitating Jesus. For a discussion of martyrological texts in the New Testament, see Th. Baumeister, Die Anfänge der Theologie des Martyriums (Münster: Aschendorff, 1980).
(2.) Abraham J. Malherbe, Moral Exhortation: A Greco-Roman Sourcebook, Library of Early Christianity 4 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986), 135–36.
(3.) Hermann Koller, Die Mimesis in Der Antike: Nachahmung, Darstellung, Ausdruck (Bernae: A. Francke, 1954). This view has been challenged by Gerald Else, who claims a Doric origin for the word group. See Gerald Else, “‘Imitation’ in the Fifth Century,” CP 73 (1958): 78–79.
(4.) Plato, Republic 10, is the classical starting point for scholarly discussion of aesthetic mimesis. The expulsion of the poets from his ideal city has elicited a slew of scholarly works attempting to determine whether mimesis is, for Plato, a positive or negative thing and whether or not Plato is consistent in his use of the term. W. C. Greene, “Plato’s View of Poetry,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 29 (1918): 1–75, J. Tate, “‘Imitation’ in Plato’s Republic,” Classical Quarterly 22 (1928): 16–23; Tate, “Plato and Imitation,” Classical Quarterly 26 (1932): 161–69. Against these McKeon argues that Plato utilizes the term in a number of ways. See Richard McKeon, “Literary Criticism and the Concept of Imitation in Antiquity,” Modern Philology 34 (1936): 1–35. In her address of the subject, Elizabeth Castelli observes that what is at stake in Plato’s discussions is the relationship between mimesis and truth. Castelli writes that this constant tension between mimesis and real knowledge forms a consistent theme in the Platonic dialogues. See Elizabeth A. Castelli, Imitating Paul: A Discourse of Power, Literary Currents in Biblical Interpretation (Louiseville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 62–64.
Aesthetic mimesis is also addressed by Aristotle. In contrast to his former teacher, Aristotle does not view aesthetic mimesis negatively or with reservation. Instead, he views it as intrinsically linked to and grounded in human nature (Poet. 1448b).
(5.) The explanation of the creation of the world in terms of universal models and earthly copies most likely began with Democritus in the fifth century (Diels Kranz 68 B 34). Cf. Aristotle, Metaph. 987 B, and Plato, Tim. 41BC; 42 E; 48E; Plato, Symp. 190B; and (in later Jewish Hellenism) Philo, Opif. 16.
(6.) In Greco-Roman antiquity, the idea of following, imitating, and assimilating to God was a pervasive theme in many philosophical schools. See Plato, “the philosopher can take God as his model because he knows God” (Leg. 732A-B; cf. Leg. 716C-D and Theaet. 176A-B). Epictetus, the true Stoic, is “a man who has set his heart upon changing from a man into a god” (Diatr. 3.19.27).
(7.) On the superiority of living exemplars, see, on teachers, Quintillian, Inst. 2.2.8. Cf. also Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 55.4–5; Isocrates, Evagoras 73–77; Plutarch, Aem. 1–2; Demetrius, Style 1.4–6; Lucian, Demon. 1–2.
(8.) Philo, Mos. 1158; Wis 4:2; T. Benj. 3.1–2, 4.1–3. The pedagogical function of imitating God is a feature of the second-century Christian text the Epistle of Diognetus, which exhorts its reader to imitate God (10.4). For an excellent discussion of mimetes (p.212) theou in this work see Michael Heintz, “Mimetes Theou in the Epistle to Diognetus,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 12 (2004): 107–19.
(9.) A chief proponent of this view is Ernst Käsemann, who in his writings on Philippians rejects absolutely the presence of the imitatio Christi in the writings of Paul. Ernst Käsemann, “Critical Analysis of Philippians 2:5–11,” Journal for Theology and the Church 5 (1968): 45–88. Imitatio anxiety persists in the writings of scholars who will seek to avoid the term entirely even when it seems appropriate. Larry W. Hurtado, “Following Jesus in the Gospel of Mark—and Beyond,” in Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament, ed. Richard Longenecker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996), 9–29.
(10.) See Thomas à Kempis, Opera omnia (Freiburi: Herder, 1902). The best English translation is, to my mind, still that of William Benham, The Imitation of Christ: Four Books (London: J. C. Nimmo & Bain, 1882).
(11.) Even the great early church scholar Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen distinguishes between what he sees as the New Testament theme of following after Christ (Nachfolge) and nonbiblical terms as a matter of replicating Christlike qualities (Nachahmung). See Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen, Die Idee der Martyriums in der Alten Kïrche (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964), 156.
(12.) See, particularly, the instructions given to the disciples in Mark 8:34–38; 10:37–40; and Ign., Rom. 4.1–2; 6.2–3; and discussion of these passages, below.
(13.) See, for example, Mart. Pol., where the narrator remarks that the martyrs are loved “as disciples and imitators of the Lord” (18.3), a phrase that implies that ideas of discipleship and imitatio find their nexus in the practice of martyrdom.
(14.) See, for example, Käsemann, “Critical Analysis of Philippians 2:5–11,” 45–88.
(15.) See the discussion of Phil 2:5–11, below.
(16.) Gerald Hawthorne, “The Imitation of Christ: Discipleship in Philippians,” in Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament, ed. Richard Longenecker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996), 168–78. See also Larry Hurtado, “Jesus as Lordly Example in Philippians 2:5–11,” in From Jesus to Paul: Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare, ed. J. C. Hurd and G. P. Richardson (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1984), 113–26.
(17.) The presumed threat posed by Ignatian imitation to Christology is articulated in Theodor Preiss, “La mystique de l’imitation du Christ et de l’unité chez Ignace d’Antioche,” Revue d’ histoire et de philosophie religieuses 17 (1938): 197–241. A number of scholars have attempted to rehabilitate Ignatius. See, particularly, the work of Tinsley, who labors to demysticize Ignatius and remove the stain of Alexandrian docetic Christology from his work. E. J. Tinsley, “The Imitatio Christi in the Mysticism of St. Ignatius of Antioch,” Studia Patristica 64 (1957): 553–60. Others take a more critical approach, arguing that Ignatian imitatio is essentially a misreading of Paul by Ignatius! See Thomas Forsyth Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1948), 66–68. Underlying these theories is a desire to render imitation safe for theological consumption.
(18.) Again, the lines of this dispute are drawn along canonical boundaries. Placing the expectations of suffering and death outside the canon gives it the appearance of (p.213) being optional. The early Christian martyrs are commendable figures of the past, but they are figures derived from an era of gladiators and cruelty of mythical proportions.
(19.) Castelli, Imitating Paul, 21–34.
(20.) As is the case with all of the Pauline epistles, the precise dating of the letter hinges upon the particular scholarly reconstruction of the life of Paul inasmuch as this can be determined from the epistles themselves and the Acts of the Apostles. The letter itself appears to have been written to a young church, probably from Corinth, shortly after Paul’s departure from Thessaloniki. A number of scholars, most notably Michaelis and Schmittals, have argued for a later dating. They propose that the epistle was composed during Paul’s third missionary journey from Ephesus or Athens. They argue that certain statements in the letter presuppose that a significant period of time had passed since Paul had visited Thessaloniki. For example, the Pauline mission had greatly expanded (1:7–9), the church had experienced persecution (2:14), congregation members had died (4:13–18), and opponents of Paul appear to have acquired a degree of influence (4:3, 11–12). These arguments seem unpersuasive because they discount entirely the evidence of Acts and discount the tone of the letter, which seems addressed to a young church soon after Paul’s visit to Thessaloniki. For summaries of these arguments, see Werner Georg Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, Tenn. Abingdon Press, 1975), 257–59; Brown, Introduction, 456–66.
(21.) For an eloquent discussion of the occasion of the letter, see Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary 32B (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 77–78.
(22.) Castelli, Imitating Paul, 94.
(23.) Th 2:14: “ὑμεῖς γὰρ μιμηταὶ ἐγενήθητε, ἀδελφοί, τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν οὐσῶν ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὅτι τὰ αὐτὰ ἐπάθετε καὶ ὑμεῖς ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων συμφυλετῶν καθὼς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων.”
(24.) Phil 3:17–21: “Συμμιμηταί μου γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί, καὶ σκοπεῖτε τοὺς οὓτω περιπατοῦντας καθὼς ἒχετε τύπον ἡμᾶς. πολλοὶ γὰρ περιπατοῦσιν οὓς πολλάκις ἒλεγον ὑμῖν, νῦν δὲ καὶ κλαίων λέγω, τοὺς ἐχθροὺς τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὧν τὸ τέλος ἀπώλεια, ὧν ὁ θεὸς ἡ κοιλία καὶ ἡ δόξα ἐν τῇ αἰσχύνῃ αὐτῶν, οἱ τὰ ἐπίγεια φρονοῦντες. ἡμῶν γὰρ τὸ πολίτευμα ἐν οὐρανοῖς ὑπάρχει, ἐξ οὗ καὶ σωτῆρα ἀπεκδεχόμεθα κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, ὃς μετασχηματίσει τὸ σῶμα τῆς ταπεινώσεως ἡμῶν σύμμορφον τῷ σώματι τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τοῦ δύνασθαι αὐτὸν καὶ ὑποτάξαι αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα.”
(25.) Willis Peter De Boer, The Imitation of Paul: An Exegetical Study (Kampen, Netherlands: J. H. Kok, 1962), 179.
(26.) Ernst Lohmeyer, Kyrios Jesus: Eine Untersuchung zu Phil 2, 5–11, Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse. Behandlung 18 Bericht 4 (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1928); Ernst Lohmeyer, Die Briefe an die Philipper, an die Kolosser und an Philemon (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1930). Since Lohmeyer’s work, scholars have sought to identify Christological hymns in the remainder of the New Testament. The precise content of such lists varies; R. P. Martin cites John 1:1–14; Col 1:15–20; Phil 2:6–11; 1 Pet 1:18–21; 2:21–25; 3:18–22; and 1 Tim 3:16 as “putative hymns” in Ralph P. Martin, A Hymn of Christ: Philippians 2:5–11 (p.214) in Recent Interpretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 19. Cf. Jack T. Sanders, who adds Eph 2:14–16 but rejects the use of 1 Pet 1:18–21 and 2:21–25. See Jack T. Sanders, The New Testament Christological Hymns: Their Historical Religious Background (Cambridge: University Press, 1971), 10–11, 16. A number of scholars question the presence of such a hymn here in Philippians, regarding the evidence as inconclusive. See C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament, Harper New Testament Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 25ff.
(27.) Phil 2:5–11: “τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ. διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα, ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός.”
(28.) Lohmeyer, Die Briefe an die Philipper, an die Kolosser und an Philemon, 98.
(29.) The notion that Christ’s death should be taken as a model for martyrdom has been forcefully rejected by Käsemann and a host of Protestant scholars who follow him. See Käsemann, “Critical Analysis of Philippians 2:5–11,” 55–59.
(30.) Martin, Hymn of Christ, 290–91. There is, of course, a strong tradition of preexistence both in Western thought and in certain strains of modern theological thought. See Terryl L. Givens, When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
(31.) Despite the fact that the Corinthian correspondence preserves more information about Paul’s dealings with the community there than any other letter, reconstructing the sequence of events is notoriously difficult. The chronology of events, sequence of letters, and, in particular, number of letters found in 2 Corinthians have been the subject of extended debate. In the case of 1 Corinthians, the unity is largely agreed upon. While some, like Johannes Weiss, have sought to identify breaks in the flow of the letter (10:1–22; 13) and posited a division into three letters, Letter A (1 Cor 10:1–23; 6:12–20; 11:2–34), Letter B (1 Cor 7:1–9:23; 10:24–11:1; 12–15; 16), and Letter C (1 Cor 1:1–6:11), there is no absolute proof of differing situations within the letter. See Johannes Weiss, et al., The History of Primitive Christianity (New York: Wilson-Erikson, 1937). In the case of 2 Corinthians, the situation grows increasingly complicated. The composite nature of the letter has been widely acknowledged since the work of Johann Semler. See Johann Salomo Semler, Abhandlung von freier Untersuchung des Canon (Halle, 1771–1775). For a summary of partition theories since Semler, see Hans Dieter Betz, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9: A Commentary on Two Administrative Letters of the Apostle Paul, ed. George W. MacRae, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 10–27. For our purposes in examining the Corinthian correspondence as texts that shaped later Christian thought, it is not especially important to trace the precise chronology of the events.
(32.) 1 Cor 4:15–17:“ἐὰν γὰρ μυρίους παιδαγωγοὺς ἔχητε ἐν Χριστῷ ἀλλ’ οὐ πολλοὺς πατέρας· ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ διὰ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐγέννησα. παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε. διὰ τοῦτο ἔπεμψα ὑμῖν Τιμόθεον, ὅς ἐστίν μου τέκνον ἀγαπητὸν καὶ πιστὸν ἐν κυρίῳ, ὃς ὑμᾶς ἀναμνήσει τὰς ὁδούς μου τὰς ἐν Χριστῷ [Ἰησοῦ], καθὼς πανταχοῦ ἐν πάσῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ διδάσκω.”
(33.) William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther, I Corinthians: A New Translation (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976). Pace Hans Lietzmann and Werner Georg Kümmel, An Die Korinther I–II, Handbuch zum Neuen Testament 9 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1949).
(34.) Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 2d ed., International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1971), 90; De Boer, The Imitation of Paul, 146; and E. J. Tinsley, The Imitation of God in Christ: An Essay on the Biblical Basis of Christian Spirituality, The Library of History and Doctrine (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 139.
(35.) B. Sanders, “Imitating Paul: 1 Cor 4:16,” Harvard Theological Review 74 (1981): 361–63; Castelli, Imitating Paul, 110–11.
(36.) Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), 186.
(37.) Exhortations to harmony and greater unity cohere with the broader exhortatory aim of 1 Cor 1–4 and the letter as a whole, which responds to tensions and discord within the community. Finally, the verses immediately preceding (vv. 9–13) have in view Paul’s own conformity to a life of suffering and difficulty. Given the agenda of the letter as a whole, the immediate context of the passage, and the preponderance of these themes elsewhere in Paul, there seems no reason that he does not have in mind all these interpretations.
(38.) This not only serves as an effective means of garnering rhetorical power for Paul but also sets a precedent for later generations of Christians. Paul lays the groundwork for the idea that congregations should look to intermediary figures as models of Christian behavior. This will become particularly important in the cult of the saints where the saints take on this intermediary role as imitators of Christ and models for Christian worshipers.
(39.) The meaning of imitation here has been variously interpreted. Some see it as a call to imitate Jesus’ servitude (Lietzmann and Kümmel, An Die Korinther, 53); his obedient sacrifice even unto death in Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, trans. James W. Leitch; ed. George W. MacRae; Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 180, and Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 490; his humility in William S. Kurz, “Kenotic Imitation of Paul and of Christ in Philippians 2 and 3,” in Discipleship in the New Testament, ed. Fernando F. Segovia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 106; his mission to those who were lost in Orr and Walther, I Corinthians, 251; his self-sacrifice more generally in De Boer, Imitation of Paul, 158; or the setting aside of personal rights and privileges in Linda L. Belleville,“Imitate Me, Just as I Imitate Christ: Discipleship in the Corinthian Correspondence,” in Patterns of (p.216) Discipleship in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longenecker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996), 120–41.
(40.) Jesus’ gentle and forbearing nature (2 Cor 10:1), his poverty (2 Cor 8:9), the extreme hardships that characterized his life (2 Cor 4:10), and his frail human nature (2 Cor 13:4).
(41.) C. K. Barrett, Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 300.
(42.) The historical situation that prompted Paul to write the letter cannot be firmly pinned down. Clearly, Paul had caught wind of anti-Pauline sentiment at Galatia. Pauline opponents had persuaded his converts into acceptance of the Torah and circumcision (Gal 4:21–31; 5:2; 6:12–13). Paul refers to his opponents as “the circumcised” (οἱ περιτεμνόμενοι), but it is difficult to ascertain whether these are Jews or Gentiles who were circumcising themselves. For a history of research into the Pauline opponents, see Robert Jewett, “The Agitators and the Galatian Congregation,” New Testament Studies 17 (1971): 198–212. The precise dating of the letter rests upon complex reconstructions of the chronology of Paul’s letters and his missionary journeys. The absence of information in Galatians itself further complicates this problem. Because Romans was Paul’s final letter (Rom 15:25; cf. Acts 20:2–3), Galatians must have been composed prior to Romans. Consequently, the dating of Galatians between 50 and 55 CE can only be proposed tentatively. See Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, 304; Hans Dieter Betz, “Spirit, Freedom and the Law,” Svensk exegetisk årsbok 39 (1974): 145–60; Brown, Introduction, 474–77.
(43.) Gal 6:17: “τοῦ λοιποῦ κόπους μοι μηδεὶς παρεχέτω· ἐγὼ γὰρ τὰ στίγματα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματί μου βαστάζω.”
(44.) Deissmann argues that they are amuletic marks similar to those mentioned in Egyptian papyri. This explanation falters due to a lack of evidence and the improbability that Paul would compare his experience to Egyptian amulets. See Adolf Deissmann and A. J. Grieve, Bible Studies: Contributions, Chiefly from Papyri and Inscriptions, to the History of the Language, the Literature, and the Religion of Hellenistic Judaism and Primitive Christianity (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1901), 358–60.
(45.) So Traugott Schmidt, Der Leib Christi eine Untersuchung zum urchristlichen Gemeindegedanken (Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1919), 212; Otto Schmitz, Die Christus-Gemeinschaft des Paulus im Lichte seines Genetivgebrauchs, Neutestamentliche Forschungen: Reihe 1, Paulusstudien, Heft 2 (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1924), 185ff.; and Erich Dinkler, “Jesu Wort vom Kreuztragen,” in Neutestamentliche Studien für Rudolf Bultmann zu seinem 70. Geburtstag am 20. August 1954, ed. Walther Eltester, (Berlin: A. Töpelmann, 1954), 110–29.
(46.) Hans Dieter Betz, Nachfolge und Nachahmung Jesu Christi im Neuen Testament, Beiträge zur Historischen Theologie 37 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1967), 183.
(47.) Castelli, Imitating Paul. I am grateful to my friend James A. Kelhoffer for sharing with me his Bourdieusian idea of suffering as cultural capital and making available to me prepublication versions of his forthcoming work on the subject.
(48.) This is not the agenda of all gospels; cf. Gos. Thom. or Gos. Truth.
(49.) The theory that the gospels conform to the Greco-Romans genre of bioi (life) is widely, although not universally, accepted. For a discussion of the debate surrounding the genre of the gospels, see Richard A. Burridge, What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004).
(50.) See, for example, Käsemann, “Critical Analysis of Philippians 2:5–11,” 45–88. The unnecessary division between discipleship and imitatio is, in my mind, linked to a certain strain of anti-Catholicism in Protestant scholarship that wants to avoid introducing a vulgar Catholic theology to the New Testament. See above.
(51.) For example, see Mart. Mar. 7.4, in which Christ appears in a vision to a would-be martyr and exhorts him to “follow me quickly.” The idea of following Jesus here clearly involves martyrdom.
(52.) Prior to the nineteenth century, priority was accorded to the gospel of Matthew on the basis of Augustine’s statement that Mark was the epitomist of Matthew (De Consensu Evangelistarum 1.2.4). This argument was effectively challenged in the nineteenth century by a cadre of German scholars. For the classic defense of Marcan priority, see G. M. Styler, “The Priority of Mark,” in The Birth of the New Testament, ed. C. F. D. Moule (London: Black’s, 1981). For a critical evaluation of the recent revival of interest in the Griesbach hypothesis, see Christopher M. Tuckett, The Revival of the Griesbach Hypothesis: An Analysis and Appraisal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
(53.) A variety of alternative theories for the precise location of the Gospel have been proposed. Following the testimony of Papias preserved in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.25.7, a number of scholars have proposed that the Gospel was written in Rome during the Neronian persecution. See, for example, Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985). Other theories place the location of the Gospel closer to the setting of the Gospel events themselves. The frequent redactional references have led some to argue that the Gospel was originally composed there. So, Ernst Lohmeyer, Galiläa und Jerusalem (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1936). Others, like Joel Marcus, argue more broadly for the region of Syria-Palestine; see Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary Series 27 (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 25–36.
(54.) This possibility is suggested by Bauckham, who challenged the traditional consensus that Mark was composed for a particular community and argued instead that the gospel was written for a broader readership. Bauckham’s arguments are based largely on the cosmopolitan nature of the ancient church. The Jesus movement was characterized by early wandering leaders (Peter, Paul, Ignatius, and others) who traveled spreading the message. Given this state of affairs and ecumenical slant of the gospel, does it not seem probable that the gospels were composed as encyclicals? To Bauckham’s general observations on the church can be added specific textual examples in which Mark explains Jewish traditions and Aramaic linguistic terms for a non-Jewish audience (see Mark 5:41; 7:11; 15:34) and specifically addresses the audience (Mark 13:14). See Richard Bauckham, “For Whom Were the Gospels Written?” in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences, ed. Richard Bauckham (p.218) (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997), 9–48. A detailed critique of Bauckham’s hypothesis is provided in Marcus, Mark 1–8, 25–28.
(55.) Philip Davis, “Christology, Discipleship and Self-Understanding in the Gospel of Mark,” in Self-Definition in Early Christianity: A Case of Shifting Horizons: Essays in Appreciation of Ben F. Meyer from His Former Students, ed. David Hawkin and Tom Robinson (Lewiston, Maine: Mellen, 1990), 109. Cf. David A. Capes, “Imitatio Christi and the Early Worship of Jesus,” in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, ed. Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Galdys S. Lewis, SJST 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 295.
(56.) Davis, “Christology, Discipleship and Self-Understanding in the Gospel of Mark,” 109.
(57.) Hurtado, “Following Jesus in the Gospel of Mark,” 26–27.
(58.) So, Ibid., 27. Hurtado will call Jesus the “true model of Christian discipleship,” yet he shies away from the term “imitation.” What is imitation if not modeling one’s behavior and action on something else? Hurtado’s description of discipleship is one of imitation, but he is loath to employ the term explicitly.
(59.) Mark 8:34–38: “Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσει αὐτήν. τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ; τί γὰρ δοῖ ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ; ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτόν, ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.”
(60.) See C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (Cambridge: University Press, 1959), 397–98.
(61.) Robert Horton Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 433–40.
(62.) I follow Menzies and Branscomb in seeing the reference to the cross as the product of the evangelist. See Allan Menzies, The Earliest Gospel: A Historical Study of the Gospel According to Mark (London: Macmillan, 1901); Bennett Harvie Branscomb, The Gospel of Mark, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary Series 2 (New York: Harper & Bros., 1937).
(63.) That the mode of Jesus’ execution was part of the core teaching of the Jesus movement is apparent in our earliest sources, the Pauline epistles. Apart from the resurrection, Paul preserves few references to the teachings or life of Jesus. It is noteworthy, therefore, that he mentions the cross on a number of occasions in his letters (1 Cor 1:17–18; Gal 5:11; 6:12, 14; Phil 2:8; 3:18).
(64.) This cannot be stated with any certainty. The connection between Peter and Mark is based upon the tradition of Papias preserved within Eusebius. The earliest references to the martyrdom of Peter date to the end of the first century, after Mark’s (p.219) gospel was written (John 21:18–19; 1 Clem. 4; 1 Pet 5:13). Thus, if we are even slightly suspicious of the testimony of Papias, we cannot assume that Mark was aware of the details of Peter’s death. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that Mark was aware of this tradition and subtly prefigures it here. If this is the case, Peter would be implicitly presented as the first imitator of the exempla exhibited in Christ and thus a model in his own right. This is precisely the argument that is more fully developed in the passage from 1 Clem., see below.
(65.) The basis for Gundry’s argument is that this saying can be traced back to the historical Jesus. If this is the case, then he assumes that the historical Jesus shares his knowledge of the workings of the Roman legal system, realizes the inability of the disciples to select the means of their execution, and therefore intends the cross to be understood figuratively. It seems unlikely to me that the historical Jesus would have been privy to this kind of legal knowledge. Then again, it seems unlikely to me that this phrase originates with the historical Jesus himself. Whether it is Jesus or Mark, I assume that the source of this phrase would have been willing to sacrifice legal verisimilitude for the dramatic impact of the command to “take up one’s cross.”
(66.) Luke 9:23: “Ελεγεν δὲ πρὸς πάντας, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεσθαι, ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καθ’ ἡμέραν καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.”
(67.) Origen, Mart., 36.
(68.) Cf. Tertullian, Fug., 7.
(69.) In her otherwise excellent work Neither Jew nor Greek? Judith Lieu writes that “it is remarkable how little is made” of the command to take up one’s cross (222). While she notes the spiritualized interpretation of Tertullian (Idol. 12.2) and the passage from Origen’s Mart. 12, she does not mention this explicit interpretation in the Ac. Euplus, which would seem to undercut the force of her argument somewhat.
(70.) Ac. Euplus, Recension B 1.5: “Euplius aperiens legit: Beati qui persecutionem patiuntur propter iustitiam, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum. et alio loco: Qui uult uenire post me, tollat crucem suam, et sequatur me.” Text Theodoricus Ruinart, Acta primorum martyrum sincera et selecta (Ratisbonae: G. Josephi Manz, 1859), 437; translation emended from Herbert Musurillo, Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 314.
(71.) Mark 10:37–40: “οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Δὸς ἡμῖν ἵνα εἷς σου ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ εἷς ἐξ ἀριστερῶν καθίσωμεν ἐν τῇ δόξῃ σου. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε. δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω ἢ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθῆναι; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Δυνάμεθα. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω πίεσθε καὶ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθήσεσθε, τὸ δὲ καθίσαι ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἢ ἐξ εὐωνύμων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν δοῦναι, ἀλλ’ οἷς ἡτοίμασται.”
The passage itself presents a number of text and form-critical problems, and a number of scholars have attempted to divide Mark 10:35–45 into smaller units. A two-part division is proposed by Schweizer, who separates the narrative into 10:35–41 and 10:42–45. See Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, trans. Donald Harold Madvig (Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1970), 217. The great form critic Bultmann identifies four seams in the text. See Rudolf Karl Bultmann, The History of (p.220) the Synoptic Tradition, 2d ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1963), 66–69. For our purposes, the form-critical issues are of lesser importance both because the present flow of the narrative was logical to the author of Mark and because it was received by early Christians in its present form.
(72.) A number of scholars have argued that James and John anticipate eschatological exaltation. Jack Dean Kingsbury proposes that James and John have in mind the “glory of God’s end-time kingdom.” Jack Dean Kingsbury, Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1989), 109. Similarly, Donahue and Harrington have read Mark 10:37 as a reference to the heavenly throne room and banquet. See John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2002), 311–12. The situation envisaged is more probably a run-of-the-mill military ruler. See Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, Word Biblical Commentary 34B (Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson, 2001), 114–19.
(73.) This is another embarrassing incident that reveals the disciples’ lack of understanding. Matthew softens the narrative by emending the story so that it is the mother of the sons of Zebedee who makes the audacious request (cf. Matt 20:20–21).
(74.) Patrick Henry Reardon, “The Cross, Sacraments and Martyrdom: An Investigation of Mark 10:35–45,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 36 (1992): 107.
(75.) Gundry, Mark, 584.
(76.) David Seeley, “Was Jesus Like a Philosopher? The Evidence of Martyrological and Wisdom Motifs in Q, Pre-Pauline Traditions and Mark,” in Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers, ed. D. J. Lull, (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1989), 540–49.
(77.) Cf. Mark 7:11; 13:14.
(78.) Donahue and Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, 311; Jer 25:15–29; Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22.
(79.) The same image of the cup in connection with the passion is picked up in Augustine’s commentaries on the Psalms where he writes: “But what is it to receive the cup of salvation, but to imitate the Passion of our Lord? … I will receive the cup of Christ, I will drink of our Lord’s Passion.” Eucharistic imagery resonates strongly here, but the participation in Christ’s passion through drinking of his cup recalls the cup of wrath in Mark.
(80.) Gerd Theissen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1991), 197–98. The use of the metaphoric image of the cup in the context of martyrdom occurs in Mart. Isa. 5:13, Mart. Pol. 14:2, and Mart. Mar. 6. 14, and the vision of the bishop Marculus who sees a silver cup, golden crown, and palm branch in a vision Mart. Marculus, 8.
(81.) The Hebrew Bible refers to suffering inflicted by humans as a kind of submersion (Ps 69:1–3, 14–15; Job 9:31; 2 Sam 22:5; Ps 18:4, 42:7). In addition, Josephus uses βαπτίζω to refer to suffering at the hands of humans in J.W. 4.33 §137. See Reardon, “The Cross, Sacraments and Martyrdom,” 584.
The interpretation of martyrdom as a kind of baptism is found in Acts of Paul and Thekla 2.34, where Thecla baptizes herself by diving into a pool of ravenous seals. The same motif appears in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas where Saturus is covered by so much blood that he experiences a “second baptism” and declares himself “well (p.221) washed.” The notion that martyrdom served as a substitute for baptism is found in early liturgical texts such as Hippolytus’s Apostolic Tradition 19.2, where a catechumen can be baptized by his or her own blood. The provenance of The Apostolic Tradition may be decidedly late, and it may only reflect the practice in Rome, but it nevertheless indicates that there was an association between martyrdom and baptism in the early church.
(82.) A significant difficulty with this theory is the lack of ancient sources describing the martyrdom of John. The death of James is recounted in Acts 12:2, but sources suggesting that John suffered a similar fate are late. For a discussion of the evidence pertaining to the fate of John, see H. Latimer Jackson, The Problem of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1918), 142–49. Most of Jackson’s sources are fourth-century and from Asia Minor.
(83.) In patristic readings, this passage will be consistently interpreted as an exhortation to suffer like Christ. See, for example, Augustine, Tract. Ev. Jo. 28.5.2.
(84.) Hurtado, “Following Jesus in the Gospel of Mark,” 25.
(85.) C. K. Barrett, “Imitatio Christi in Acts,” in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Cristology, ed. Joel B. Green and Max Turner (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994), 252.
(86.) That the Acts of the Apostles was composed by Luke is suggested by the opening title, where the author looks back to the gospel dedicated to Theophilus (Acts 1:1). Some, however, have denied the common authorship of the works, largely on the grounds that it was hardly necessary for Luke to recount the ascension on two separate occasions. Nevertheless, the vocabulary, similarity of expression, style, thematic interest, and theology suggest that they stem from the hand of the same author. Moreover, the narrative unity underscored by Lukan parallelism binds the two works together. For arguments against Lukan authorship of Acts, see A. W. Argyle, “The Greek of Luke and Acts,” New Testament Studies 20 (1973–74): 441–45. For those in favor, see Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation, Foundations and Facets (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986).
(87.) Hanz Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: A Commenatry on the Acts of the Apostles, trans. James Limburg; ed. Eldon Jay Epp; Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 61.
(88.) With respects to this last point, the request for forgiveness, there is a textual difficulty in the text of Luke. A number of early witnesses do not include the crucial phrase “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” The inclusion of the phrase here, therefore, would be an attempt by members of the early church to draw the Lukan Jesus and the protomartyr Stephen even closer. See the discussion in Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, corrected edition (London: United Bible Societies, 1975), 201. The acts of the martyrs are themselves a heretofore-unnoted early witness to this tradition. A large number of martyrdoms include this phrase and explicitly interpret it as a quotation of the words of Jesus. This makes them some of the earliest witnesses to the tradition. For further discussion, see the section “Narrative Mirroring of the Passion Narrative” in chapter 2.
(89.) Those who continue to argue in favor of Petrine authorship point to the use of the first-person singular (1:3, 7, 8, 9, 10–12; 2:20–25; 3:15; 5:1, 2), the apparent (p.222) reflection of the personality of Peter in the text and the historic association of the letter with the apostle himself. See, for example, Peter Ketter, Hebräerbrief, Jakobusbrief, Petrusbrief, Judasbrief, Die Heilige Schrift für das Leben erklärt, Bd. 16/1 (Freiburg: Herder, 1950). Neither the use of the first person nor the ability to imitate the apparent “personality” of Peter is, to my mind, beyond the capabilities of the skilled pseudonymist.
(90.) For a classic statement against Petrrine authorship, see Francis Wright Beare, The First Epistle of Peter (Oxford: Blackwell, 1947), 44.
(91.) This conclusion is based on the implied point of origin in “Babylon” (5:13). Babylon was frequently associated with Rome (cf. Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17–18) on the basis of its status as the dominating power in the Mediterranean in the first century C.E. This is supported by the traditional association with Simon Peter and similarities in language between 1 Pet and 1 Clem.
(92.) See Norbert Brox, Der erste Petrusbrief, Evangelisch-katholischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (Zürich: Benziger Verlag, 1979), 39.
(93.) Beare, The First Epistle of Peter, 34. That Ignatius would not cite 1 Pet if he knew it seems particularly strange in light of his frequent use of the Pauline epistles and the considerable thematic agreement between 1 Peter and Ignatius on the subject of suffering.
(94.) The assumption that 1 Peter envisions official persecution is based on two elements: the reference to universal suffering in 5:9 and the admonition to be prepared to give an apologia for being Christian in 3:15. In the case of the latter, we should compare similar statements in the gospels (e.g., Mark 13:11) which do not seem to envision official persecution. Dating 1 Peter to a specific period of persecution is further complicated by the absence of evidence for official widespread persecutions during the reigns of these emperors. For a summary of the evidence for official persecution during this period, see Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter, ed. Eldon J. Epp, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1996), 29–33.
(95.) So, Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 34–36; John Hall Elliott, 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary 37B (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 100.
(96.) So, Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 48–50.
(97.) For the geographic location of the addresses, see Elliott, 1 Peter, 84–94.
(98.) 1 Pet 2:20–22: “ποῖον γὰρ κλέος εἰ ἁμαρτάνοντες καὶ κολαφιζόμενοι ὑπομενεῖτε; ἀλλ’ εἰ ἀγαθοποιοῦντες καὶ πάσχοντες ὑπομενεῖτε, τοῦτο χάρις παρὰ θεῷ. εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ἐκλήθητε, ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἔπαθεν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ὑμῖν ὑπολιμπάνων ὑπογραμμὸν ἵνα ἐπακολουθήσητε τοῖς ἴχνεσιν αὐτοῦ.”
(99.) 1 Pet 4:12–14: “Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ ξενίζεσθε τῇ ἐν ὑμῖν πυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν ὑμῖν γινομένῃ ὡς ξένου ὑμῖν συμβαίνοντος, ἀλλὰ καθὸ κοινωνεῖτε τοῖς τοῦ Χριστοῦ παθήμασιν χαίρετε, ἵνα καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀποκαλύψει τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ χαρῆτε ἀγαλλιώμενοι. εἰ ὀνειδίζεσθε ἐν ὀνόματι Χριστοῦ, μακάριοι, ὅτι τὸ τῆς δόξης καὶ τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ πνεῦμα ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἀναπαύεται.”
(100.) As has been frequently noted, the epistle to the Hebrews is not an epistle, was not written by Paul, and not directed to the Hebrews. It is more frequently classified as (p.223) an exhortatory word or homily composed sometime toward the end of the first century. The linguistic and thematic parallels with 1 Clem. suggest that the two works emerged out of a similar ecclesiastical setting. This suggests a dating between 60–100 C.E., but there are no compelling reasons to support a more precise dating. Hebrews addresses a particular situation (10:32–34), but the location of the addressees is more difficult to ascertain. For a discussion of the issues of dating, authorship, and genre of Hebrews, see Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hewbrews, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 1–13.
(101.) Heb 12:1–4: “Τοιγαροῦν καὶ ἡμεῖς τοσοῦτον ἔχοντες περικείμενον ἡμῖν νέφος μαρτύρων, ὄγκον ἀποθέμενοι πάντα καὶ τὴν εὐπερίστατον ἁμαρτίαν, δι’ ὑπομονῆς τρέχωμεν τὸν προκείμενον ἡμῖν ἀγῶνα ἀφορῶντες εἰς τὸν τῆς πίστεως ἀρχηγὸν καὶ τελειωτὴν Ἰησοῦν, ὃς ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶς ὑπέμεινεν σταυρὸν αἰσχύνης καταφρονήσας ἐν δεξιᾷ τε τοῦ θρόνου τοῦ θεοῦ κεκάθικεν. ἀναλογίσασθε γὰρ τὸν τοιαύτην ὑπομεμενηκότα ὑπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἀντιλογίαν, ἵνα μὴ κάμητε ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν ἐκλυόμενοι.Οὔπω μέχρις αἵματος ἀντικατέστητε πρὸς τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἀνταγωνιζόμενοι.”
(102.) For a detailed exposition on this chapter, see Attridge, Hebrews, 253–59.
(104.) This view followed that of Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. eccl. 3.17; 4.26.5–11). Despite a brief period in the nineteenth century when Revelation was dated to the reign of Nero, Domitian has remained the firm favorite among scholars of the Apocalypse. See J. C. Wilson, “The Problem with the Domitianic Date of Revelation,” New Testament Studies 39 (1993): 587–605; Adela Yarbro Collins, “Dating the Apocalypse of John,” Biblical Research 26 (1981): 33–45; Collins, “Myth and History in the Book of Revelation: The Problem of Its Date,” in Traditions in Transformation: Turning Points in the Biblical Faith, ed. Baruch Halpern and Jon D. Levenson (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbraums, 1981), 377–403.
(105.) G. E. M. De Ste. Croix, “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?” in Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, ed. G. E. M. De Ste. Croix, Michael Whitby, and Joseph Street (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 105–52.
(106.) Boudewijn Dehandschutter, “The Meaning of Witness in the Apocalypse,” in L’apocalypse johannique et l’apocalyptique dans le nouveau testament, ed. Jan Lambrecht (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1980), 283–88.
(107.) Ignatius also uses the term to describe Jesus (Ign., Phld. 7.2).
(108.) Rev 2:13: “Οἶδα ποῦ κατοικεῖς, ὅπου ὁ θρόνος τοῦ Σατανᾶ, καὶ κρατεῖς τὸ ὄνομά μου καὶ οὐκ ἠρνήσω τὴν πίστιν μου καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἀντιπᾶς ὁ μάρτυς μου ὁ πιστός μου, ὃς ἀπεκτάνθη παρ’ ὑμῖν, ὅπου ὁ Σατανᾶς κατοικεῖ.”
(109.) Lucy Grig, Making Martyrs in Late Antiquity (London: Duckworth, 2004), 16.
(110.) Rev. 3:21: “ὁ νικῶν δώσω αὐτῷ καθίσαι μετ’ ἐμοῦ ἐν τῷ θρόνῳ μου, ὡς κἀγὼ ἐνίκησα καὶ ἐκάθισα μετὰ τοῦ πατρός μου ἐν τῷ θρόνῳ αὐτοῦ.” (cf. Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:4, 6; 22:5). The promise that Christians will reign with Christ may be related to Dan 7:18, 27. What is striking about this passage is that it is presumably through suffering and death that the members of the churches will achieve this.
(111.) In Revelation, discipleship is eschatologically orientated. See David E. Aune, “Following the Lamb: Discipleship in the Apocalypse,” in Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longnecker, McMaster New Testament Studies 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996), 269–84. The rewards granted to those who follow the Lamb in Revelation form the basis for later Christian speculation on the rewards attained by the martyrs in heaven. See the section “Enthronement, Reign, and Judgment” in chapter 5.
(112.) With the linchpin of Domitianic persecution removed, dating of 1 Clem. ranges from 70 to 140 C.E. For a survey of the evidence, see John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (London: SCM Press, 1976), 327–34. For a detailed discussion of the later dating, see Lawrence L. Welborn, “On the Date of 1 Clement,” Biblical Research 29 (1984): 35–54.
(114.) Unless otherwise noted, translations of Ignatius are taken from William R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, ed. Helmut Koester, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985).
(115.) The earliest quotation of Ignatius in Irenaeus Haer. 5.28.4 concerns his famous statement longing to become bread for the wild beasts (Ign., Rom. 4.1).
(116.) Theodor Zahn, Ignatius von Antiochien (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1873); Joseph Barber Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan, 1885). Lightfoot’s exhaustive three-volume text-critical study in part 2 of his Apostolic Fathers has become the cornerstone for modern scholarship on Ignatius.
(117.) Schoedel, Ignatius of Anitoch, 7. For challenges to the scholarly consensus, see, particularly, the work of Reinoud Weijenborg, Les lettres d’Ignace d’Antioche, étude de critique littéraire et de théologie: Mis en français par Barthélemy Héroux (Leiden: Brill, 1969); Josep Rius-Camps, The Four Authentic Letters of Ignatius, the Martyr, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 213 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1980); and Robert Joly, Le dossier d’Ignace d’Antioche (Brussels: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1979). Of these, Joly’s reconstruction is the most compelling but fails to displace the work of Lightfoot. A detailed discussion of Joly’s work is found in C. P. Bammel, “Ignatian Problems,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 33 (1982): 62–97. Clear summaries of their positions are provided by Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch, 5–7.
(118.) Ign., Eph., 10.1–3: “Καὶ ὑπὲρ τῶν ἄλλων δὲ ἀνθρώπων ἀδιαλείπτως προσεύχεσθε· ἔστιν γὰρ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἐλπὶς μετανοίας, ἵνα θεοῦ τύχωσιν. ἐπιτρέψατε οὖν αὐτοῖς κὰν ἐκ τῶν ἔργον ὑμῖν μαθητευθῆναι. πρὸς τὰς ὀργὰς αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς πραεῖς, πρὸς τὰς μεγαλορημοσύνας αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς ταπεινόφρονες. πρὸς τὰς βλασφημίας αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς τὰς προσευχάς, πρὸς τὴν πλάνην αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς ἑδραῖοι τῇ πίστει, πρὸς τὸ ἄγριον αὐτῶν ὑμεῖς ἥμεροι, μὴ σπουδάζοντες ἀντιμιμήσασθαι αὐτους. ἀδελφοὶ αὐτῶν εὑρεθῶμεν τῇ ἐπιεικείᾳ· μιμηταὶ δὲ τοῦ κυρίου σπουδάζωμεν εἷναὶ.” The text of this and all following citations of Ignatius are taken from Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, Loeb Classical Library 24–25 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).
(120.) As Schoedel says, discipleship is a “martyrological theme” for Ignatius. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch, 45.
(121.) “For though I am in bonds and can know heavenly things such as angelic locations and the archontic conjunctions, visible and invisible, for all that I am not already a disciple. For many things are lacking to us so that we may not lack God” (Ign., Trall. 5.2). Schoedel views the play on words in “lacking” God to the obverse of the more familiar Ignatian expression “to attain to God.” Attaining to God means in a metaphorical sense to acquire God (cf. Augustine, Serm. Dom. 331.6.5). See Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch, 145. Discipleship is also tied to martyrdom in Ign., Rom. 2.1–3.3.
(122.) Ign., Eph. 3.1: “Οὐ διατάσσομαι ὑμῖν ὡς ὤν τις. εἰ γὰρ καὶ δέδεμαι ἐν τῷ ὀνοματι, οὔπω ἀπήρτισμαι ἐν Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ. νῦν γὰρ ἀρχὴν ἔχω τοῦ μαθητεύεσθαι καὶ προσλαλῶ ὑμῖν ὡς συνδιδασκαλίτας μου. ἐμὲ γὰρ ἔδει ὑφ’ ὑμῶν ὑπαλειφθῆναι πίστει, νουθεσίᾳ ὑπομονῇ, μακροθυμίᾳ.”
(123.) Ign., Rom. 4:1–2: “ἄφετέ με θηρίων εἶναι βοράν, δι’ ὧν ἔνεστιν θεοῦ ἐπιτυχεῖν. σῖτός εἰμι θεοῦ καὶ δι’ ὀδόντων θηρίων ἀλήθομαι, ἵνα καθαρὸς ἄρτος εὑρεθῶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ. μᾶλλον κολακεύσατε τὰ θηρία, ἵνα μοι τάφος γένωνται καὶ μηθὲν καταλίπωσι τῶν τοῦ σώματος μου, ἵνα μὴ κοιμηθεὶς βαρύς τινι γένωμαι. τότε ἔσομαι μαθητὴς ἀληθῶς Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.”
(124.) Ac. Phileas: “nondum passi sumus. Nunc incipimus pati. Nunc coepimus esse discipuli Christi.”
(125.) Ign., Rom. 6.2–3: “σύγγνωτέ μοι, ἀδελφοί· μὴ ἐμποδίσητέ μοι ζῆσαι, μὴ θελήσητέ με ἀποθανεῖν, τὸν τοῦ θεοῦ θέλοντα ἐ͂ιναι κόσμῳ μῆ χαρίσησθε μηδὲ ὔλῃ ἐξαπατήσητε· ἄφετέ με καθαρὸν φῶς λαβεῖν· ἐκεῖ παραγενόμενος ἄνθρωπος ἔσομαι. ἐπιτρέψατέ μοι μιμητὴν ἐ͂ιναι τοῦ πάθους τοῦ θεοῦ μου.”
(126.) Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch, 183.
(127.) Martyrdom may have in turn shaped the way in which the New Testament itself was formed. For the impact of ideologies of martyrdom on the formation of the Christian canon, see M. Farkasfalvy and William R. Farmer, The Formation of the New Testament Canon: An Ecumenical Approach (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1983).