The Polycarp /John Connection

According to Iranaeus Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (Martyred in AD 155?) knew the Apostle John. This doesn't seem likely and has been denounced by the great Church historian B.H. Streeter [1] and others. The date of Ploycarp's Martyrdom is fixed by W.A. Waddington.[2] . The tradition recorded in the Martyrdom of Polycarp says that he was 86 years old when he went to his glory as a martyr. This would place his birth in the year 69 AD. Assuming he was a teenager (and he was supposed to be very young) when he knew John, this would place their friendship around the late 80s. Is it possible that John lived this long? Clearly legend has it that John lived to be over 100, returned from Patmos and worked in the church of Ephesus. But those legends are probably driven by the statements in the Gospel which imply that John would not die or would be very old when he did die. If Johannie authorship holds up, and John was in Ephesus in 90 to write his Gospel, than it is possible that he knew Polycarp. The information that these two men did know each other comes through Iraneaeus who did know Polycarp.

It's not such a great streach to think that John the Apostle lived to 89AD that would make Polycarp 20. If John was 20 in 35 AD (18 when he knew Jesus) he would be mid 70s. Streeter dismisses the possibility for various resons. Another possibility is that he knew the Elder John, the one he mentioned by Papias. It's clear he knew someone named John who had remarkable access to the early days of the faith.

Ante-Nicene Fathers vol 1

Calvin College

Introductory Remarks

"Of Polycarp's life little is known, but that little is highly interesting. Irenaeus was his disciple, and tells us that "Polycarp was instructed by the apostles, and was brought into contact with many who had seen Christ" (Adv. Haer., iii. 3; Euseb. Hist. Eccl., iv. 14). There is also a very graphic account given of Polycarp by Irenaeus in his Epistle to Florinus, to which the reader is referred. It has been preserved by Eusebius" (Hist. Eccl., v. 20 ).

AneteNicene Fathers vol I

Calvin College

On Christian Classic Ethereal Library, ANFO 1 Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr. Fragements form the lost writings of Irenaeus.

Fragments of lost work of Iranaeus


I Adjure thee, who shalt transcribe this book,1 by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His glorious appearing, when He comes to judge the living and the dead, that thou compare what thou hast transcribed, and be careful to set it right according to this copy from which thou hast transcribed; also, that thou in like manner copy down this adjuration, and insert it in the transcript.

II. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.viii.ii.html
  On Christian Classic Ethereal Library, ANFO 1 Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr. Fragements form the lost writings of Irenaeus.

These2 opinions, Florinus, that I may speak in mild terms, are not of sound doctrine; these opinions are not consonant to the Church, and involve their votaries in the utmost impiety; these opinions, even the heretics beyond the Church's pale have never ventured to broach; these opinions, those presbyters who preceded us, and who were conversant with the apostles, did not hand down to thee. For, while I was yet a boy, I saw thee in Lower Asia with Polycarp, distinguishing thyself in the royal court,3 and endeavoring to gain his approbation.

For I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events (inasmuch as the experiences of childhood, keeping pace with the growth of the soul, become incorporated with it); so that I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse-his going out, too, and his coming in-his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eyewitnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. These things, through, God's mercy which was upon me, I then listened to attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God's grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind.

And I can bear witness before God, that if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard any such thing, he would have cried out, and stopped his ears, exclaiming as he was wont to do: "O good God, for what times hast Thou reserved me, that I should endure these things? "And he would have fled from the very spot where, sitting or standing, he had heard such words. This fact, too, can be made clear, from his Epistles which he dispatched, whether to the neighboring Churches to confirm them, or to certain of the brethren, admonishing and exhorting them.[3]
(That's from a Eusbian fragment from a letter to Florinus). also in

Nevertheless Polycap never mentions the name John, in the Epistle we possess. He does quote form the epistles of John, and alludes to the Gospel, but not in any detailed quotations. We do have one epistle written by Polycarp. Some scholars have suggested that it was not the Apostle John that he knew, but the Elder John alluded to by Papias in the quotation above (Perhaps the author of the epistles of John, who introduces himself as "the Elder"). This would another figure, probably younger than the Apostle but an "Elder" to the church in the late first century. IF this figure were 20 in AD 30 he would be 80 in A.D. 90 (the writing of the Gospel). He could have known Polycarp any time from the 80s and early 90s. It is possible that he knew either figure.

Now it must be added that these writers are all open to criticism. Sometimes they say some very odd things. Iranaeus says that Jesus was 50 years old when he died. No one knows where he got this idea,but probably form John 8:48 "You are not yet 50 years old..." And there are other odd things that they say. But to be mixed up about the most basic relationships, that their friends knew Apostles, or which one's they knew, or that Jesus even existed, seems ludicrous.

An excerpt from the non-canonical sayings of Jesus' which Papias recounted. These are supposedly the words of Jesus that aren't in the NT.

Ante-Nicene Fathers vol 1

Calvin College

Iranaeus describes works of Papis

[As the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord taught in regard to those times, and said]: "The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, `I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.' In like manner, [He said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man."13 [Testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him. And he added, saying, "Now these things are credible to believers. And Judas the traitor," says he, "not believing, and asking, `How shall such growths be accomplished by the Lord? 'the Lord said, `They shall see who shall come to them.' These, then, are the times mentioned by the prophet Isaiah: `And the wolf shall lie, down with the lamb, 'etc. (Isa. xi. 6 ff.)."]

[1] B.H. Streeter, The Primitive Church. New York:
Macmillan; first Edition edition,1929, page number unknown. I know I read it.
[2] Cyril C. Richardson and Eugene R. Fairweather, ed. Early Christian Fathers. Philadelphia:Westminster Press, 1953, 144.

[3] Christian Classics Ethereal Library, hosted by Calvin College. This letter to Florius is also to be found in, Henry Bettonson, ed. Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford, New York: Oxford University press, 1963, 27.