The life of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, bridged the time in the early church between the leadership of the apostles and the next generation. It is believed that Polycarp learned about the faith from John and was appointed as Bishop by the apostles. There were many disagreements at that time about interpretations of Jesus’ teaching, and Polycarp was often called to settle disputes as he had been so close to the apostle John. In addition, some believe that Polycarp may have been the person who compiled and edited the New Testament.
His one existing letter, which was sent to the church in Philippi, shows him to be a humble man. Apparently, he had a sense of humor as well. At the time of his arrest, he engaged the Roman soldiers in witty conversation until they lost patience and told him that he would be burned at the stake — to which Polycarp replied that early fires would burn for a time, but fires of judgment (perhaps on those who were ungodly) would burn perpetually!
Tradition says that as he burned at the stake, the atmosphere had a quality of “baking bread or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”