Polycarp of Smyrna was a Christian bishop of Smyrna, now Izmir in Turkey, in the 2nd century. Eusebius dates his martyrdom to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, c. AD 166-167. However, The Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, February 23 in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus, c. AD 155-156. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and the Apostle John. Eusebius also connects him with the Apostle John. The writings of Polycarp are important because they give credence to the orthodox belief that the Apostle was the authentic author of the Gospel of John.
His sole surviving work is his Epistle to the Philippians, which contains extensive references to the New Testament. The Epistle and The Martyrdom of Polycarp, a circular letter from the church of Smyrna to the churches of Pontus, form part of a collection of writings termed the “Apostolic Fathers.” The Martyrdom is considered the earliest genuine account of a Christian martyrdom from the actual age of the persecutions.
Polycarp is another important link between the Apostles and the second century Apologists who properly identified the canon of the New Testament. In his letter to Florinus, Irenaeus states that he had personally met Polycarp and heard him preach in lower Asia. Irenaeus reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by the Apostles, was consecrated a bishop, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the very old age of Polycarp. The Martyrdom of Polycarp gives his age as 86 years on the day of his death.
Polycarp occupies an important place in the history of the Christian Church. He is among the earliest Christians whose writings survive. From several accounts, it is probable that he personally knew the Apostle John. He was bishop of an important church in an area where the Apostles labored. Polycarp was a great transmitter and authenticator of Christian revelation in a period when the Gospels and the Epistles were being defended by the orthodox against heretics. His role was to authenticate the orthodox teachings through his connection with the Apostles. Surviving accounts of the bravery of this old man in the face of death by burning at the stake add credence to his words.