What Did Melito of Sardis Teach?

Lightfoot believed that he is second generation Christian in this region and was a successor to an Apostle of his local church community in Sardis but given his estimated date of death, this is unlikely but close.  He knew Polycarp, his disciple Irenaeus, and personally acquainted with Ignatius.  He was martyred around 177AD.  He wrote numerous books but are mostly lost except for some fragments and a lot of quotes from Eusebius, Polycrates, Origen, Tertullian, and Jerome.  He is a important figure in the Church because he was very close to Disciples of the Apostle John and relatives of eye witnesses of people raised from the dead by the Apostles.  In his travels he also met Tatian
and Theodotus and most likely would have also met Clement of Alexandria. 

He very elegantly bridges the times of the Apostolic age to the
post-apostolic age and continues the Apostolic linage of teachings from
the Apostles themselves to his time. In his discourse to Antoninus Caesar he discusses how people are blind and craft gods for themselves out of elements or wealth.  He explains how God is greater than all things.   Then we have numerous fragments and early quotes of his works where he has a profound understanding of the natures of Jesus Christ, the natures of God, the atonement, and seeing Christ in the old testaments.

Key Teachings

  • God’s Eternal existence
  • God’s Immutability  
  • Total Depravity 
  • Deity of Jesus 
  • Faith proceeds works
  • God grants faith
  • God’s Omnipresence
  • God’s Omniscience
  • The Sovereignty of God 
  • Election
  • Covenant theology
  • Jesus the Son of God
  • Jesus’ virgin birth
  • Jesus’ humanity
  • Jesus’ bodily resurrection 
  • Substitutionary Atonement 
  • The Trinity
  • Jesus’ two natures
  • Christology of the Old Testament 
  • The Son of God’s eternal existence 
  • Completion of Scripture

Read his works here Roberts-Donaldson English Translation

There are some interesting points to be made about what he taught and what he did not teach that can be applied to the modern church.  First, he did not teach for Christians to speak in tongues (as taught by charismatic churches), speak ‘prophetic’ utterances, or ‘activate’ all those modern charismatic ‘spiritual gifts’ claimed today.  He consistently and specifically pointed people to scripture and the gospel message.  In the mid second century and within the second and third generation church, he traveled and visited many christian communities from Jerusalem, to Rome, and where his home community was in Asia minor… never once encouraged or even noted the use of modern charismatic ‘spiritual gifts’ being used or even needed in the church at this time around 150AD; only about 85 years after Jesus.

Extracted Quotes from his Works:

A Discourse Which Was in the Presence of Antoninus Caesar

He has existed from eternity, and will continue to exist for ever and ever… He changeth not, while everything else changes… as the blind, so men also, when they were seeking after God, were prevented by their stumblings from finding that which they were seeking after….Believe in Him who is in reality God… thou canst not know until thou hast raised thy head from this sleep in which thou art sunk, and hast opened thine eyes and seen that God is One, the Lord of all, and hast come to serve Him with all thy heart…for every one that is severed from the knowledge of the living God is dead and buried even while in his body… with Him there is no reluctance to give the knowledge of Himself to those that seek it, according to the measure of their capacity to know Him… But they are unaware that God is in every country, and in every place, and is never absent, and that there is not anything done and He knoweth it not… There is a God, the Father of all, who never came into being, neither was ever made, and by whose will all things subsist… Him who changes not. But such as are mindful of His words, and are admitted into that covenant which is unchangeable, `they’ see God-so far as it is possible for them to see Him… the only God, who is before all and over all, and, moreover, we are worshippers of His Christ, who is veritably God the Word existing before all time.

the Discourse on Soul and Body

For this reason did the Father send His Son from heaven without a bodily form, that, when He should put on a body by means of the Virgin’s womb, and be born man, He might save man, and gather together those members of His… when our Lord arose from the place of the dead, and trampled death under foot.. died in order that He might give life, was laid in the grave that He might raise from the dead.

the Discourse on the Cross

He came to us; on these accounts, though He was incorporeal, He formed for Himself a body after our fashion, -appearing as a sheep, yet still remaining the Shepherd; being esteemed a servant, yet not renouncing the Sonship; being carried in the womb of Mary, yet arrayed in the nature of His Father; treading upon the earth, yet filling heaven; appearing as an infant, yet not discarding the eternity of His nature; being invested with a body, yet not circumscribing the unmixed simplicity of His Godhead;.. needing sustenance inasmuch as He was man, yet not ceasing to feed the entire world inasmuch as He is God.. He sustained every character belonging to Him in an immutable nature: He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time was sitting with His Father; He was nailed upon the tree, and yet was the Lord of all things.

On Faith

We have collected together extracts from the Law and the Prophets relating to those things which have Been declared concerning our Lord Jesus Christ…He who was begotten before the light; He who is Creator together with the Father; He who is the Fashioner of man; He who is all in all… He who was pierced in the flesh; He who was hanged on the tree; He who was buried in the earth; He who rose from the place of the dead; He who appeared to the apostles;… God who is from God; the Son who is from the Father; Jesus Christ the King for evermore.

Melito to his brother Onesimus

prompted by your regard for the word of God, expressed a wish to have some extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour, and concerning our faith in general, and have desired, moreover, to obtain an accurate account of the Ancient Books, as regards their number and their arrangement, I have striven to the best of my ability to perform this task…made myself accurately acquainted with the books of the Old Testament, I have set them down below, and herewith send you the list

From the Catena on Genesis

In place of Isaac the just, a ram appeared for slaughter, in order that Isaac might be liberated from his bonds. The slaughter of this animal redeemed Isaac from death. In like manner, the Lord, being slain, saved us; being bound, He loosed us; being sacrificed, He redeemed us…For the Lord was a lamb, like the ram which Abraham saw caught in the bush Sabec. But this bush represented the cross, and that place Jerusalem, and the lamb the Lord bound for slaughter.

On the nature of Christ

His soul and His body, His human nature like ours, were real, and no phantom of the imagination. For the deeds done by Christ after His baptism, and especially His miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the Deity hidden in His flesh. For, being at once both God and perfect man likewise, He gave us sure indications of His two natures: of His Deity, by His miracles during the three years that elapsed after His baptism; of His humanity, during the thirty similar periods which preceded His baptism, in which, by reason of His low estate as regards the flesh, He concealed the signs of His Deity, although He was the true God existing before all ages
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