Rawlings School of Divinity


Doctor of Philosophy in Theology and Apologetics (PhD)


Ken Cleaver


Ancient Christianity, Apologetics, Early Christianity, Isaiah 53, Patristics, Suffering


Biblical Studies | Christianity | Comparative Methodologies and Theories | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Suffering in Early Christianity has often been highlighted in martyrdom and the stories surrounding the persecution of the Early Church. The biblical idea of redemptive suffering was not an afterthought to the Christian community or part of what Joyce Salisbury calls, “the unintended consequences of ancient violence,” but it appears to be part and parcel of the Early Christian community as they sought to live faithfully to Christ’s teachings. As the Early Church lived out redemptive suffering, it became apparent to the surrounding culture and critics of Christianity that their suffering was different and it pointed to something else. Through an inquiry into the understanding of suffering in the biblical tradition and patristic tradition, this dissertation seeks to bring forth the apologetic uses of suffering which Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Cyprian of Carthage have written about in their various works. With biblical presentation of suffering in the Old Testament (מַכְאוֹב֙) describes the natural and consequential emotional as well as physical pain and sorrow felt by those such as Job, King David, and the Suffering Servant from the book of Isaiah. This מַכְאוֹב֙ also describes the suffering the people of God endure as in the case of their wandering in the desert. In the NT, suffering (παθήματα, πάσχων, κακοπαθίας) also denotes physical and emotional pain while the idea of suffering physical and emotional pain together (συνκακοπάθησον) is also used in the biblical tradition. In the patristic tradition the notion of suffering was at times used to describe the persecution and martyrdom the Early Church was experiencing but also was still firmly rooted in OT and NT expressions of suffering, particularly the type of suffering which Christ endured and which believers participated in together. In various works of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Cyprian of Carthage, the Church Fathers present the idea of suffering not only to describe their particular state of distress and its possible redemptive qualities but they also present suffering as a type of apologetic expression and bridge which would help not only transform their contemporary cultural ideas of suffering but infuse those cultural ideas of suffering with a biblically informed redefinition of the purpose and results of suffering. With this redefinition of suffering the Early Church Fathers may help current believers re-evaluate the current church’s teachings on suffering, both corporate and individual.