St. Ignatius of Antioch, an early Martyr with connection to the apostles, wrote that a Deacon, Priest, and Bishop were needed for the Church:

“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. […] Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. […] Whatsoever [the bishop] shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Smyrnaeans; Ch 8) “Let all things therefore be done by you with good order in Christ. Let the laity be subject to the deacons; the deacons to the presbyters; the presbyters to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as He is to the Father.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Smyrnaeans; Ch 9)

I know non-episcopal Protestants tend to be hesitant to look outside the Bible, but how do they respond to this man who knew the apostles, and was so close to the time of Christ?

  • Does he give any reasons for that assertion? In any case, the very short answer is that many Protestants think that the Biblical texts use elder/presbyter and overseer/bishop to refer to one role/office. Most Protestants do recognise the two offices of deacon and elder.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 2:23

1 Answer 1


In the early church and Scripture, there is a two-fold ministry office of elder and deacon. See a brief here.

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (Phil 1:1)

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 1 Tim 3:1 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 1 Tim 3:8

But what of Ignatius?

Some view all of the Ignatian letters as forgeries. See here and here.

Others view the shorter version authentic, but the longer version a much later interpolation.

The OP asks about Ignatius mentioning Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. Those three offices arose much later than Ignatius' time. Basically, this longer version is a forgery, written centuries later.

We also know this because not only does the Bible mention only deacons and bishops, but so do the contemporary letters written around Ignatius' time. Priests would be all believers (1 Peter 2:5, Rev. 1:6).

Clement of Rome

And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit,182 to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.


In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ,366 and not of men. ... And let the presbyters [elders] be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always “providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;


they who had the stains as servants,387 [deacons] who discharged their duty ill, and who plundered widows and orphans of their livelihood, and gained possessions for themselves from the ministry, which they had received. ... “And from the tenth mountain, where were trees which overshadowed certain sheep, they who believed were the following: bishops389 given to hospitality, who always gladly received into their houses the servants of God, without dissimulation.


  1. Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money,2498 and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service2499 of prophets and teachers.

So, to answer the OP, while there was a man named Ignatius who existed shortly after the last apostle to die (John son of Zebedee), this is not to affirm that all of his letters attributed to him were actually written by him. In point of fact, we know many were not and were fabrications. This is furth born out by the fact that the Bible and early church recognized only the two-fold ministry, not the three-fold that arose centuries later.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .