Did Polycarp believe that Jesus is God Almighty?


This is an article in the series on the origin of the Trinity doctrine. The current article briefly discusses the views of one of the first post-Biblical writers; Polycarp (c. 70-155). This article asks whether Polycarp regarded the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as a single Being, existing as three equal ‘Persons’, as taught by the Trinity doctrine.

Polycarp’s Prayer

The following is a short excerpt from the Martyrdom of Polycarp (ch. 14), giving Polycarp’s prayer just before his execution:

O Lord God Almighty,
Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ,
through whom we have received knowledge of you,
the God of angels and powers and of all creation …
I glorify you,
through the eternal and heavenly high priest,

Jesus Christ, your beloved Son,
through whom be glory to you,
with him and the Holy Spirit,
both now and for the ages to come. Amen.1Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Third Edition (Grand Rapid: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 321-323.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp is sometimes a bit unbelievable. For example, when they attempted to burn Polycarp in a great fire, the fire miraculously shaped itself into an arch and burned around him, emitting a sweet odor like frankincense. Therefore, it is difficult to say how trustworthy this document is, but it is accepted as early, and at least has a historical core.

Slick claims Polycarp is a Trinitarian.

The Trinitarian apologist Matt Slick used this quote to prove that Polycarp was a Trinitarian. He said:

(1) It is a triadic passage for it says that the Father is glorified “with” the Son and the Holy Spirit. (A triadic passage is a passage that mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together.)

(2) Polycarp glorifies the Father “with” Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Son is also glorified.

(3) Since the Holy Spirit is glorified, it implies that the Spirit is a Person. 

These three concepts are discussed below:

(1) Triadic Passages

Trinitarians often use the triadic passages in the New Testament to support the Trinity doctrine. To mention the three Persons together does indeed indicate a close relationship. However, it does not prove that they are one Being, or that they are equal, or that they have the same substance, as required by the Trinity doctrine. 

Only the Father is Almighty.

Furthermore, the quote above indicates that Polycarp did NOT think of them as equal:

He identified the “Lord God Almighty” as the Father alone.

He does not identify the Son as God or as Almighty, but as “the eternal and heavenly high priest.” This is consistent with the Bible’s use of the term Almighty. The Bible NEVER refers to Jesus as Almighty. On the contrary, the Bible always distinguishes between Jesus and the Almighty. See here

Jesus is not God.

In his only authentic work, Polycarp clearly distinguished between God and Jesus when he wrote:

“Now may the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
AND the eternal high priest himself,
the Son of God Jesus Christ,
build you up” (Holmes, p295).

The Bible consistently distinguishes between the Son and
. For example, each and every one of Paul’s letters starts with a similar phrase, where the word “and” is used to distinguish between God and Jesus. For example:

“God our Father
AND the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7)

The Father is Jesus’ God.

Furthermore, note that, in the quote above, that Polycarp refers to the Father as Jesus’ God. This concept is also repeatedly found in the Bible (e.g. Eph 1:3; John 20:17; Heb 1:9). In Revelation 3:12, Jesus repeats this concept AFTER He has returned to heaven.

The Son is the Mediator.

The word “through” appears three times in Polycarp’s prayer quoted above. This word explains the Son’s roles. According to the quote above:

We receive knowledge of God through the Son
and we glorify God through the Son.

The quote identifies the Son as the “heavenly high priest.” This also emphasizes His intermediary role between God and man and his distinction from God. This is also consistent with the Bible:

“There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

(2) We honor the Son.

Polycarp is quoted above as saying,

“I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit.”

The word “with” that we also glorify the Son. This is also consistent with the Bible. Jesus Himself said:

“All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).

Because that is God’s will

However, this does not mean that the Son is God or that He is equal to Father, as per Slick’s definition of the Trinity, for we “honor” the Son because that is God’s will. For example:

“God highly exalted Him …
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
” (Phil 2:9-10; cf. Heb 1:6). 

The Son is subordinate to the Father.

As stated in the previous article, in the Trinity doctrine, after His incarnation, Jesus had both a divine and human nature. Presumably, His human nature died on the Cross. But, according to Philippians 2:8-9, God exalted His Son to be worshiped AFTER His death; when only His divine nature existed. That means that He is subordinate to the Father also in His divine nature.

His present subordination to the Father is confirmed, for example, by the verses that say that:

      • He now sits at God’s right hand (e.g. Acts 2:33).
      • Even in that glorified position, He received the Revelation from God (Rev 1:1).
      • And He recognizes the Father as His God (Rev 3:12).

For further discussion, see – God is the Head of Christ.

He did exist before His birth.

On the other hand, since the Son is worshiped together with the Father, it would be very difficult to believe that Jesus did not exist before He was born as a human being, as Dr. Tuggy proposes.

(3) Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

The version of Polycarp’s prayer quoted above implies that the Holy Spirit is given glory and that the Holy Spirit is, therefore, a self-aware Person. However, the version of that same prayer that is preserved in Eusebius’ Church History (4.15.35) reads differently. It does not say “and the Holy Spirit,” but that Polycarp glorified God “through … Jesus Christ … in the Holy Spirit.” As a result of this textual uncertainty, we should not rely on this quote as evidence of Polycarp’s confession in the Spirit as a distinct person.

Eternal High Priest

Polycarp described the Son as “the eternal and heavenly high priest.”  He was not always a high priest because sin and man did not always exist. He became the high priest at His ascension (Heb 2:17; 5:9-10).  “Eternal” therefore does not mean that He always was a high priest. It rather means that he will be our high priest for as long as we need a high priest.


Did Polycarp believe in the Trinity? In his view:

The Father alone is God.

The Father alone is Almighty.

The Son is the Mediator between God and man, meaning that He is distinct from God.

Polycarp never mentioned “substance” or that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature. These concepts were developed much later.

Other Articles


  • 1
    Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Third Edition (Grand Rapid: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 321-323.