Rejection of Pascal's Wager: The Apostolic Succession: Polycarp and Clement

The Apostolic Succession:
Polycarp and Clement

We have seen earlier that the claims of apostolic authorship of the New Testament and the closeness of most of the apostolic fathers to the apostles are spurious. Despite all the propaganda, early (second century) Christian tradition was able to make only two claims of apostolic succession: that of Polycarp of Smyrna and Clement of Rome. These two were the supposed links the proto-orthodox had to the original apostles of Jesus. We will examine these claims here.

  • First we look at the case of Polycarp.
    • Early Christian tradition claimed that Polycarp was a disciple of John, son of Zebedee and was appointed to the position of bishop of Smyrna by the apostle himself. The main source of this tradition was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon.
    • There are three argument against this tradition:
      • The silence of earlier tradition about connection between Polycarp and the apostle John.
      • Irenaeus' mistake about Papias' connection with John.
      • The presence of an alternate tradition about the succession of bishops in Smyrna.
      • In conclusion these three arguments make a strong case against the historicity of the connection of Polycarp with the apostle John.

  • Next we look at Clement of Rome.
    • The same tradition claimed that the church of Rome was founded by the apostles Peter and Paul and that they appointed Clement as Bishop of Rome.
    • Like the case with Polycarp, there are many difficulties with this tradition:
Being the earliest, the tradition of Polycarp of Smyrna and Clement of Rome, form the strongest cases for the Christian claims of apostolic succession. Yet as we have seen, these claims are spurious. With the elimination of these two names, there is no connection which Christendom can claim that goes back to the apostles who knew the earthly Jesus.

Map of Asia Minor, Greece and South Italy in the first and second century CE

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp (c69-c155) was bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and one of the so-called apostolic fathers. He was bishop of Smyrna until around c155 (the exact date is disputed among scholars) when he was martyred. Polycarp wrote epistles to various neighboring congregations. However today we only have one extant letter of his, the epistle to the Philippians. He visited Rome towards the end of his life, to consult with Pope Anicetus of Rome over the "Quartodecimian" controversy. The dispute was over when Easter should be celebrated. The Christians of the east (like Polycarp) celebrated it on the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover, regardless of what day of the week it falls. While those in the west celebrated it on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover. Upon his return Polycarp was arrested and after refusing to recant his faith was burnt to death. The account of his martyrdom is preserved in the second century Martyrdom of Polycarp. [1]

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Polycarp: The Claims of Irenaeus and Tertullian

The earliest appearances of this tradition can be found in the writings of Irenaeus (c120-c200) (Against Heresies) and Tertullian (c160-c225) (Prescription Against Heretics):

First let us look at what Irenaeus wrote. First he tells us that the apostle John lived "until the times of Trajan". Now Trajan reigned between 98-117. This would mean that John lived until the turn of the first century.

Against Heresies 2:22:5
those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan.

Then he mentioned that Polycarp was "instructed by the apostles" and was appointed bishop of Smyrna "by apostles in Asia". Although he mentioned apostles in plural, the only one he explicitly named was John.

Against Heresies 3:3:4
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth...There are also those who heard from him [i.e. Polycarp-PT] that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." ...Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.

In a letter to Florinus, Irenaeus revealed that he was a student of Polycarp as a child and again mentioned Polycarp's "intercourse with John."

Letter to Florinus [quoted in History of the Church: 5:20:5-6]
For when I was a boy, I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp...I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord.

In the three excerpts above it is quite clear that according to Irenaeus, Polycarp (c69-c155) was appointed bishop of Smyrna by the apostle John and that he, Irenaeus, was a disciple of Polycarp.

As for Tertullian, he too wrote that Polycarp was appointed by John.

Prescription Against Heretics 32
For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John...

These then are the earliest witness to Polycarp's appointment by the apostle John[2]

However before commencing our analysis we should note that we have here not two, but only one early witness; that of Irenaeus. Tertullian's witness is dependent upon Irenaeus; which means that his is not an independent attestation of the tradition of Polycarp's appointment of John. As B.H. Streeter commented long ago:

Tertullian had read Irenaeus. Whenever I have had occasion to compare their statements, I have noticed that the relation of Tertullian to Irenaeus, in the matter of all statements concerning the Apostles or their writings, is almost exactly comparable to that of Jerome to Eusebius. Each 'dots the "i's" and crosses the "t's"' of his predecessor's statements. The two Latin writers [Jerome & Tertullian-PT] have a fine style and a keen sense of the effective; the more dingy Greeks give the statements in a more original, if less embellished form. [3]

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Complete Silence of Earlier Fathers

There is absence of any reference to the connection between Polycarp and the apostle John in writings earlier than Irenaeus' from Asia Minor. This is surprising because there were ample opportunities and many reasons for doing so.

Ignatius (c35-c117), as we have seen above, passed through Asia Minor almost about the same time John was supposed to have died. Indeed while he was in Smyrna (Polycarp's residence), he wrote a letter to Ephesus. If there is ever an occasion to talk about John (who according to Irenaeus appointed Polycarp bishop of Smyrna and lived in Ephesus until the "times of Trajan" (98-117)) this would be it. Yet he only mentioned the "apostle" Paul! [4]

Ignatian Epistle to the Ephesians 12
You are the initiates of the same mysteries as our saintly and renowned Paul of blessed memory...who has remembered you in Christ Jesus in every one of his letters.

Ignatius was writing around 110. Paul would have been dead for around 50 years while John, if Irenaeus' statement are to be believed, was either still alive or had just recently passed away in Ephesus. Furthermore Ignatius mentioned the names of Peter and Paul in connection with Rome in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 4). That he did not mention John while writing from Smyrna to Ephesus cannot be explained if the tradition had been true.

Polycarp (c69-c155 CE) himself wrote an epistle to the Philippians. He mentioned Paul twice, both times in connection to Paul's letter to them:

Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians 3, 11
For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter
"Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world?" as Paul teaches. But I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul labored, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle.

Again it strains credulity to think that Polycarp would have refrained from making any reference to John had he actually been appointed by the apostle. [5]

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Contradictory Evidence of Papias

Perhaps the most damning evidence against Irenaeus' assertion is the contradictory evidence provided by Papias (c60-130), Bishop of Hierapolis . This is what Irenaeus wrote:

Against Heresies 5:33:4
And these things are bone witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; for there were five books compiled by him.

Thus according to Irenaeus, Papias, like Polycarp was a disciple of John.

Although Papias' original work entitled Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord is no longer extant, Eusebius (c260-c340) preserved some excerpts from this work in his History of the Church. In one excerpt there is a revealing passage from Papias own work about his actual relationship with John:

History of the Church 3:39:4
[Papias Wrote] "...If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders,-what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice." [Italics mine-PT]

It is important to note what Papias is saying here. [6]

  • Papias got his information about the apostles second hand ("any one came, who had been a follower of the elders"). He never claimed to know the apostle John.
  • He used "said" in past tense with respect to the apostles (including John)-implying that the apostles had already died.
  • There were two Johns mentioned. One was obviously the apostle John while the other was a mysterious "Presbyter John" which was placed outside the circle of apostles by Papias.
  • With this "Presbyter John" and one Aristion, Papias used the present tense ("say")- meaning that they were still alive when at the time of writing.
Some apologists have tried to argue that the Presbyter John could still be the same apostle John referred to earlier in the same passage. This is highly improbable. We have noted that he was described in the present tense, while the apostle John was described together with the other apostles in the past tense. Secondly the Presbyter was named after Aristion, someone who was obviously not one of the apostles; implying that the Presbyter was at best the equal of Aristion and very likely his inferior when it came to the teachings of Christ. It is unlikely Papias would have described the apostle John this way.[7]

The two Johns, one of whom was still alive, and whose teaching could have been "heard", second hand, by Papias is very likely the root of Irenaeus' confusion. Papias heard the teachings of the Presbyter John, not the apostle John, son of Zebedee. Recall that Irenaeus himself said in his letter to Florinus (see above) that he was "a child" (Greek : pais) when he was taught by Polycarp. It is highly probable that Polycarp (like Papias) told him that he had heard "John and the rest of the followers of the Lord are saying", meaning the Presbyter John which the young boy Irenaeus mistook for the apostle John. [8] [a]

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Alternate Tradition of Succession of Bishops in Smyrna

Irenaeus' writings were highly influential and his assertions regarding the apostle John, his writing of the fourth gospel and his relationship to Polycarp became generally accepted among the proto-orthodox and, later (until recently), all of Christianity. [9]

Yet we find some evidence that there existed an alternate tradition regarding the succession of Smyrnian bishops and the immediate predecessor of Polycarp. To evaluate this we have to first get acquainted with two late fourth century documents: The Apostolic Constitutions (c370) and the Life of Polycarp (c400). The former is a collection of regulations of church practice and Christian morals while the latter is a work (spuriously attributed to the mid third century Smyrnian presbyter, Pionius) outlining the life of Polycarp.

First it is important to note that both documents, typical of many Christians documents produced during that period, are not generally reliable. The authors normally had no scruples in preferring edification to fact. Having said that, we do know that both works incorporated earlier sources into their accounts. Among others, The Apostolic Constitutions incorporates almost all of the Didache (c90-c110), the early third century Didascalia Apostolorum and a list of early bishops consecrated by the apostles. Similarly we know that the Life of Polycarp incorporated some earlier documents including the whole Martyrdom of Polycarp, a work written not long after the death of Polycarp in 155, Polycarp's epistle to the Philippians (c117) and also a list of the early bishops of Smyrna. [10]

We are interested here in the respective lists of the succession of bishops. The Apostolic Constitutions 7:46 gives a list of bishops ordained during the lifetime of the apostles.

The Apostolic Constitutions 7:46
Now concerning those bishops which have been ordained in our lifetime, we let you know that they are these:-James the bishop of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord; upon whose death the second was Simeon the son of Cleopas; after whom the third was Judas the son of James. ... Of Antioch, Euodius, ordained by me Peter; and Ignatius by Paul. Of Alexandria, Annianus was the first, ordained by Mark the evangelist; the second Avilius by Luke, who was also an evangelist. Of the church of Rome, Linus the son of Claudia was the first, ordained by Paul; and Clemens, after Linus' death, the second, ordained by me Peter. Of Ephesus, Timotheus, ordained by Paul; and John, by me John. Of Smyrna, Ariston the first; after whom Strataeas the son of Lois; and the third Ariston. ... These are the bishops who are entrusted by us with the parishes in the Lord

The list of bishops for Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome agrees closely with that given by Eusebius in his History of the Church. In particular the list of bishops for Rome can be traced back to Hegessipus who was in Rome in 165. This tells us that at least some of the list of bishops are based on older sources.

When it comes to Smyrna we are told this: "Ariston the first; after whom Strataeas the son of Lois; and the third Ariston" . There are two things to note here. Firstly, unlike many of the other bishops, the author refrained from mentioning that any one of the bishops of Smyrna had been appointed by an apostle. Secondly the list stands in clear contradiction to the statements of Irenaeus and Tertullian. This is all the more surprising as we have noted, the "tradition" that Polycarp was a follower of John quickly gained currency in Christendom after Irenaeus' writings. [11]

As for the Life of Polycarp, the author certainly asserted that he made use of ancient sources for his work:

Tracing my steps further back and beginning with the visit of the blessed Paul of Smyrna, as I have found it in ancient copies, I will give the narration in order, thus coming down to the history of the blessed Polycarp. [12]

This is what the work says about the succession of bishops in Smyrna:

After the departure of the apostle [i.e. Paul] Strataeas succeeded to his teaching, and certain of those after him, whose names, so far as it is possible to discover who and what manner of men they were, I will set down. But for the present let us proceed at once to Polycarp. One whose name was Bucolus being bishop of Smyrna at that time, there was in those days...a little lad called Polycarp.[13]

Since some portions of The Life of Polycarp had been lost, we never get to see the whole list of the bishop of Smyrna from Strataeas onwards. But from the passage above we can tell that Bucolus was not the immediate successor of Strataeas but that he (Bucolus) was the one who preceded Polycarp. Furthermore Bucolus was not mentioned as though he was related in any way to the apostles.

As in the case of The Apostolic Constitutions, this is surprising. For the work as a whole sang high praises to Polycarp as a faithful saint and martyr. If the author of The Life of Polycarp (who seems to be familiar with Irenaeus' work) was even slightly convinced that Polycarp was associated with the apostle John, this would surely be the place to put this one piece of edifying information.

Let us reflect on what we have found so far. Both authors were writing more for edification than for achieving scientific historical accuracy. Yet it was certainly much less edifying Polycarp not to be associated with any apostle than if he was to be appointed by John. The tradition of Polycarp being a hearer of John must also have been known to these authors. We would expect that if there was any ambiguity in the tradition available to them with respect to Polycarp, they would certainly have opted for the tradition of apostolic appointment. The fact that they did not can mean only that they had access to an earlier tradition which they consider to be much more reliable.

Thus with certainty we can say that there was an alternate tradition, that survived until the fourth century, in which there was no connection between Polycarp and the apostle John.

Furthermore it can easily be seen that the tradition underlying both The Apostolic Constitutions and The Life of Polycarp are independent of one another. This means that there were at least two independent attestations in the fourth century to this tradition. Between these two we have a point of contact in the name Strataeas. Another point of contact is that Polycarp was not the first bishop of Smyrna.

It is also highly likely that the appearance of the name Ariston twice in the list of The Apostolic Constitutions could be due to dittography - a scribe copying the same name twice. If this is the case we can establish another point of contact, that Strataeas was the first bishop of Smyrna. We can thus tentatively construct the chronology of the bishops of Smyrna thus: Strataeas-Ariston-Bucolus-Polycarp. [14]

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Conclusions on Polycarp and John

From our findings above we can conclude with some certainty that the tradition of Polycarp being a student of the apostle John and of his being appointed bishop of Smyrna by that son of Zebedee is spurious. This conclusion comes from the fact that there is no tradition earlier than Irenaeus (c 185) that makes that connection. The case is not just the lack of earlier witnesses but the fact that some of the earlier apostolic fathers (Ignatius and even Polycarp himself) had ample opportunities and reasons to bring this up in their writings but did not do so. This silence is unexplainable if the tradition had been historical. Furthermore we have very good reasons to believe that Irenaeus' statements were made based on a confusion between two Johns, one the (deceased) apostle and the other an "elder" still living (probably in Palestine) during the early years of Polycarp. Finally we find evidence of an alternate tradition which does not connect Polycarp, nor the bishopric of Smyrna, with the apostle John.

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Clement of Rome

The next personality that proto-orthodox Christianity brought forward as another example of apostolic succession is Clement of Rome (d. c101). We know very little about this Clement beyond the fact that an unsigned epistle from Rome to Corinth around 96 CE was attributed to him (the letter was unsigned) and that he was recognized by later tradition as the bishop of Rome. The letter to the Corinthian Church was made to help resolve a crisis that has developed there: some elders (presbyters) had been deposed "unlawfully" and Clement wrote to call for the reinstatement of these presbyters and to preach for "peace and harmony" in the church there. There were later other, pseudepigraphal, works associated with Clement including the second epistle of Clement and collection of works known as the pseudo-clementines. According to the Christian historian Eusebius (c260-c340), Clement died in the fourth year of the reign of Trajan (c101 CE). [However, the numbers derived from Hippolytus (c170-236) point to 97 CE for the date of his death] [15]

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Clement: The Claims of Irenaeus and Tertullian

Irenaeus claimed that Peter and Paul founded the church of Rome and appointed her first bishop, Linus; Clement was the third in this line of succession, taking the office after Anacletus.

Irenaeus-Against Heresies 3:3:2-3
[The] tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops....The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric.

We know nothing about Linus and Anacletus and, as we have seen above, precious little about Clement.

This is the other early testimony, from Tertullian:

Prescription Against Heretics 32
For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter.

It should be noted at the onset that there is a glaring contradiction between these two traditions. Irenaeus said that Clement was third in line from the apostolic appointment, while Tertullian said that Clement was directly appointed by Peter.

Now, as we have seen above in the tradition with respect to Polycarp, Tertullian had read Irenaeus. So why then, did he favor a different tradition? Streeter's suggestion makes sense:

[I]t would seem that he [Tertullian-PT] was attracted by the more vivid and picturesque narrative of the spurious letter of Clement to James (now in the Clementine Homilies) which described the actual ceremony of Clement's consecration by Peter. Of the rival statements, that of Irenaeus (and Hegesippus) has clearly the prior claim to consideration...[16]

Again we have here one stream of tradition to analyze, that of Irenaeus.

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Anachronistic Ecclesiastical Structure

Scholars now know that the church structure evolved from an early "presbyterian" type into a more developed hierarchical "episcopal" type in the second century. We have already discussed this elsewhere. The "monarchial episcopate" is a three-tiered system with a single bishop (episkopos) at the helm for a particular city. Under him would be the elders (presbeteros) and deacons (diakonos). This evolved from an earlier two-tiered systems in which the title episkopos and presbeteros are interchangeable. Rather than being ruled by a single bishop, the earlier churches were ruled by a college of elders. However here it is important to note that the evolution was uneven with some churches developing the mon-episcopacy first and others following later. [17]

Thus for Rome we can say with some certainty that at the very beginning, in the first century, it could not have been possible to appoint anyone as the bishop of Rome, simply because such a hierarchical structure has yet to exists! Indeed we have strong evidence that, even during the time of Clement, the mon-episcopacy had yet to take hold in Rome. This evidence comes from the letter of Clement itself. For we are told in this epistle that it is the body of elders which are the "duly appointed" ruling body of the church:

I Clement 4:2
the flock of Christ be at peace with its duly appointed presbyters.

In his description of what is happening in Corinth, he used the term bishops and elders interchangeably

I Clement 44:4-5
And our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the bishop's office...For it will be no light sin for us if we depose from the bishop's office those who offered the gifts unblameably and holily. Blessed are those presbyters who have gone before for they have no fear lest anyone should remove them from their established place.

Other examples of this episkopos-presbeteros equivalency can be found in I Clement 42:4 and 54:2. Thus we can say that both Rome and Corinth, circa 96 CE, had yet to develop the mon-episcopacy. [18]

Another poignant example is from Ignatius' epistle to Rome written about 15 years later (c110). From his writings to the various churches, we know that Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch. The idea of a single ruling bishop was prominent in many of his letters:

Ephesian 6
It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. ...

Magnesian 6
I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Ignatius referred to the singular bishop of each in his epistles to the churches in Asia Minor (See Ephesians 2, Magnesian 2, Philadelphians (Salutation), Smyrneans 8:1, Trallians 1:1, and, of course his letter to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna). Yet in his epistle to the Romans, Ignatius did not mention the single-bishop but spoke of the church of Rome as "presiding" over the district of Rome:

Romans (Salutations)
[T]he Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that wills all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the report of the Romans

He also asked the church to pray for his Antiochene church (Romans 9:1). The failure of Ignatius to refer to a Roman bishop, in the way that he referred to the singular bishops in the rest of his epistles, provides strong evidence that at the time of the writing (c 110), there was simply no monarchial bishop in Rome. Most scholars think the mon-episcopacy came to Rome only around 140-150.[19]

Our main conclusion from here is this: the claim that Peter (and/or Paul) could have appointed the bishop of Rome is simply an historical anachronism. The system of a single ruling bishop for the city was simply non-existent at that time! This then is the first problem with the traditional claim with respect to Clement.

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Neither Peter (nor Paul) Founded the Church of Rome

We see above that Irenaeus claimed that both Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome:

Against Heresies 3:3:2
"of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul"

Yet this is demonstrably untrue.

First let us look at the case of Paul. [b] We know from his epistle to the Romans, written around 57 CE, where Paul explained to his readers that the reason for his delay in visiting the city was that he "did not wish to build on another man's foundation":

Romans 15:20-23
Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else's foundation ... This is the reason that I have been so often hindered from coming to you. But now with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you...

I have italicized the portions above to show this clearly: Paul did not want to come to Rome because someone else had already preached there. Furthermore, his desiring for many years to come to Rome can only mean that the Roman Christian community had already been there for quite some years already. Thus Paul, could not by any stretch of the imagination, be said to have "founded" the Church in Rome. [20]

The tradition that Peter visited Rome early is found in the apocryphal Acts of Peter, a document composed around 180-190. The story is told of Peter who visited Rome to combat the teachings of the arch-heretic Simon Magus. This visit took place twelve years after Jesus' death and resurrection: which would mean that he went there circa 42 CE. [c] [22]

We have seen elsewhere that the Acts of Peter was part of a genre of acts of the various apostles that were written chiefly to entertain and to edify with very little that can be considered historical. Apart from this spurious source there is no early evidence that favors Peter being in Rome that early.

In fact there is evidence that Peter did not go there at least up to the point of Paul's imprisonment. Paul in his flattering letter to the Romans, did not mention Peter in connection to the church there. This would be surprising if Peter actually was in Rome during that time. The epistle to the Romans was Paul's dress rehearsal in his attempts at reconciliation with the Jerusalem Church. Remember that in Galatians Paul had called Peter a "hypocrite" (Galatians 2:13) and had referred to James, Peter and John as the "so-called" pillars (Galatians 2:9). Now Paul had resorted to calling those in Jerusalem as "saints" (Romans 15:25). It would certainly be to Paul's advantage to mention the connection of the Church in Rome with Peter had that been the case.

The same consideration holds for Acts. In Acts 12:17, it is written that Peter "went to another place" after his release from prison. Many have speculated that this means he went to Rome. However this is an unlikely interpretation. Luke was fascinated with Peter's missionary activities and indeed many scholars have pointed out that the whole theme of Acts was the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. If Peter had gone to Rome, and if Luke had known about it, he certainly would have included this here, since it fits his theme so well. This applies similarly to the end of the account when Paul was in Rome, having Peter there with him would have made a fitting conclusion to Luke's whole scheme. Thus we can say if some certainy that if Peter did go to Rome, he went there after 62 CE (the estimated date for the end of the story in Acts). [23]

The tradition of Peter and Paul preaching and founding the Roman Church together probably stems from the earlier (and probably authentic) tradition of both of them being martyred together in Rome. We see this in the I Clement (c 96) where their martyrdom was hinted at (I Clement 5:4-7). Archeological excavations in Rome discovered a shrine for Peter dating to c160-170. Gauis (c 200) mentioned both this monument and another for Paul in Rome. Eusebius reported that both were martyred during the persecution of Christians by Nero in 64. [24]

Let us summarize the evidence. We are reasonably certain that neither Paul nor Peter founded the church in Rome. We also have confidence in asserting that Peter did not go to Rome (if he did go there) until after the end of the account of Acts; two years after Paul was imprisoned. This means, if Peter did go to Rome, he must have gone there after 62 CE. However since he was supposedly martyred in 64, the time he had in Rome must have been extremely brief. It is quite unlikely that Peter would have made any major impact on Rome in the short time he was there. [25]

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The Founding Myth: An Invention of the Roman Church

Irenaeus' list of the Roman bishops shares many similarities with the list by Epiphanius (c315-403) in the latter’s Panarion. It is very likely both are derived from a common source-Hegesippus (c110-180). Hegesippus' list (like Epiphanius') ends with the tenth bishop of Rome, Anicetus (who died around 168). Hegesippus compiled the list around 165; so Irenaeus' source was also a mid-second century one. Hegesippus compiled the list to use as an apologetic device in his battle with the Gnostics. Indeed his journey from Palestine to Rome was done with the idea that all apostolic churches must have the same teachings. In his eagerness to provide himself with a weapon against the Gnostics, Hegesippus could well have been the person who inferred that Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome from the tradition of their martyrdom there. [d] [26]

If one looks at the development of the founding myth of Rome, it is possible to see a move in the direction of utilizing the tradition of the apostles as an added weapon in its battle against heretics and for Roman hegemony over other churches. As the Walter Bauer remarked in his book, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, I Clement was an act of "enlarging its own sphere of influence" [27] by trying to resolve the problems in Corinth.

Thus I Clement was the earliest example of this strategy. Here only the barest of claim is made of the apostles; namely that both "Peter and Paul" were martyred in Rome (I Clement 5).

We can also see that it was the Roman church that actively spread this association. Thus when Ignatius wrote in his letter to Rome he associated "the apostles" with "Peter and Paul" (Ig. Romans 4:3). Now recall that all our evidence shows that Paul and Peter parted companies on extremely bad terms at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14), we have no evidence of any reconciliation that took place there. Now for Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, to make such an association between Peter and Paul could only mean that the idea was something exported from outside of Antioch-namely Rome.

We find a similar pattern evolving between Rome and Corinth. When Dionysius (c170), bishop of Corinth, wrote to the Romans, (his letter is preserved in Eusebius' History of the Church 2:25:8) he mentioned that "Peter and Paul" founded Corinth just like the way they founded Rome. Dionysius source could not be history: for we know from Paul's epistles and from Acts that it was he who founded the church in Corinth. (See I Corinthian 3:4-9; Acts 18:1-8) Furthermore the order of the names "Peter and Paul" rather than the other way round shows us that the source of Dionysius' information could only have come from Rome. We should also note that this order "Peter and Paul" was the one used by Ignatius, further confirming this source. [Rome was to later drop "Paul" from their apostolic justification, as Peter, being closer to Jesus was more helpful to their cause in fighting heretics such as Marcion.] [28]

Thus the tradition of "Peter and Paul" founding the church is Rome is not grounded in history but in the desire of Rome to acquire dominance over other churches and in its battle with heretics.

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Conclusions on Clement

We know that Clement was not part of the "apostolic succession" because there was simply no single leadership to succeed to until around 140 CE in Rome. Even the lesser claim- that Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome (and appointed their first "college of presbyters")- does not past muster. We know that Paul, by his own admission, did not establish their church in Rome. Peter (even if he was actually martyred in Rome) could not have been in Rome for very long before he was martyred in 64 CE. The myth of the founding of the Roman church was started by the leadership of that Church in its attempt to gain control over other Christian churches and to fight against heretics.

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a.It should also be mentioned that there is an alternate tradition in the early Church that John the son of Zebedee died early, together with his brother James. The church historian Philip of Side (c. 380 - c. 439), in his thirty-six volume Christian History quoted from the second volume of Papais' now lost Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord which goes like this:

Papias said in his second book that John the Evangelist and his brother James were slain by the Jews.

We are told in Acts 12:1-3 that James the son of Zebedee was put to death by Herod Agrippa around 44 CE with no mention being made of John:

Acts 12:1-3
Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly. He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This was during the days of unleavened bread

Interestingly, Acts stopped making any mention of John after Acts 8:25 which narrated his return, together with Peter, from a missionary trip to Samaria.

We find evidence to corroborate John's death, together with his brother James, in Mark's Gospel in the pericope which had the brothers Zebedee asking Jesus for exalted positions in the coming kingdom for themselves:

Mark 10:35-40
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came near to him, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask.” He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Grant to us that we may sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left hand, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to him, “We are able.” Jesus said to them, “You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink, and you shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit at my right hand and at my left hand is not mine to give, but for whom it has been prepared.”

Jesus' reply that “You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink" is obviously a prophecy of their deaths as martyrs. Now we know that Mark generally put prophecies in the mouth of Jesus after they had come true - a couple examples of such a technique include Jesus prophecies about Peter's denial (Mark 14:54, 66-72) and about the fall of Jerusalem (Mark 13:1-2). This strongly suggests that by the time Mark is written, around 70 CE, the tradition available to the evangelist indicated that John was already dead. [30]

b.Normally it would not matter , for our analysis, whether a church was founded by Paul. As I have shown elsewhere, Paul was not one of the original apostles of Jesus and hence, strictly speaking, churches he found could not be "apostolic" in the sense of being guaranteed the teachings of the historical Jesus. However in this case it is important to show the deceptive and spurious claim put forth by the early Christian theologians in Rome.
c.The tradition, starting with Jerome (c342-420) [in his translation of Eusebius' Chronicon], that Peter stayed in Rome from 25 years can be traced to this apocryphal source (which provides the arrival date: 42 CE) and the, erroneous, date of the persecution of Christians by Nero given by Eusebius, 67 CE. [The actual date of the persecution of Christians by Nero is 64 CE]. Therefore the tradition of Peter being in Rome 25 years cannot be use as an independent attestation of this tradition. [21]
d.The early Church fathers had no qualms replacing inference for facts. For instance from Papias' statement that Matthew composed "The Sayings" (ta logia) in Hebrew, Irenaeus inferred that it was the gospel of Matthew that was written in Hebrew. We have also seen above how Irenaeus, from his hearing that both Polycarp and Papias heard the words of John, erroneously concluded that Papias and Polycarp knew the apostle John when they in fact did not. These are mistaken inferences presented as facts by Irenaeus. [29]

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1. Staniforth & Louth, Early Christian Writings: p115-118
Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity: p933-934
Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p407
2. Culpepper, John: The Son of Zebedee: p123-125
Ehrman, Lost Christianity p192-193
Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol II: p25-27
3.Streeter, The Primitive Church: p93-94
4.Culpepper, op. cit.: p108-109
Schnelle, The New Testament Writings: p473
5.Culpepper, op. cit.: p108-109
Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament: p240
Schnelle, op. cit.: p473
6.Culpepper, op. cit.: p109-111
Kummel, op. cit.: p240-242
7.Streeter, op. cit.: p90
8.Culpepper, op. cit.: p126-127, 299-300
Kummel, op. cit.: p240-242
Streeter, op. cit.: p91
9.Schnelle, op. cit.: p473
10.Ferguson, op. cit.: p92-93; p933-934
Streeter, op. cit.: p93-5, p266-267
11.Streeter, op. cit.: p92-94
12.quoted in ibid: p267
13.quoted in ibid: p94-95
14.Culpepper, op. cit.: p126
Streeter, op. cit.: p92-95, 266
15Ferguson, op. cit.: p264
Livingstone, Oxford Dictionary of the Church: p113
Staniforth & Louth, Early Christian Writings: p19
Streeter, op. cit.: p200
16Streeter, op. cit.: p186
17Chadwick, op. cit.: p45-51
18Brown & Meier, Antioch & Rome: p163-164
Chadwick, op. cit.: p46
Streeter, op. cit.: p214-215
19Brown & Meier, op. cit.: p163-164
Perkins, Peter, Apostle to the Whole Church: p168
20Brown & Meier, op. cit.: p99
Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians: p120
Streeter, op. cit.: p187
21Streeter, op. cit.: p13-14
22Goodspeed, The Twelve: p155
23Brown & Meier, op. cit.: p102-103
Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians: p120
Streeter, op. cit.: p188
24Brown & Meier, op. cit.: p124
Chadwick, The Early Church: p162
Perkins, Peter, op. cit.: p168-170
25Brown & Meier, op. cit.: p98
de Rosa, Vicars of Christ: p19
Schonfield, op. cit.: p120-121
Streeter, op. cit.: p188
26Streeter, op. cit.: p184-185; 288-295
27Bauer, Orthodoxy & Heresy in earliest Christianity: p97-98
28ibid.: p112-114
29Streeter, op. cit.: p186-188
30Culpepper, op. cit.: p170-174
Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things: p220-221

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