Irenaeus Did Not Teach that Jesus Lived into His Fifties Before Being Crucified

Several ante-Nicene Church Fathers confirm that Revelation was written toward the end of Domitian’s reign. This places the date of Revelation’s composition at approximately 95 or 96 A.D. Irenaeus’ teaching on this represents the earliest extant quote on the matter. Because the partial and full preterists scheme falls apart if Revelation was written after 70 A.D, they simply must find a way to discredit the long accepted date. If preterists attacked every single quote by the Church Fathers on Revelation being written during the reign of Domitian they would start to look quite desperate in their endeavor. Instead, they will make the contrived claim that all fathers after Irenaeus got their information from him. Preterists will then claim that Irenaeus is a poor historian and should not be taken seriously. They only have one example that Irenaeus was a, “poor historian” with:

For how could He have had disciples, if He did not teach? And how could He have taught, unless He had reached the age of a Master? For when He came to be baptized, He had not yet completed His thirtieth year, but was beginning to be about thirty years of age (for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it: Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be thirty years old, when He came to receive baptism); and, [according to these men,] He preached only one year reckoning from His baptism. On completing His thirtieth year He suffered, being in fact still a young man, and who had by no means attained to advanced age. Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify… (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:22:5)

Many preterists claim that Irenaeus was saying here that Jesus lived into his fifties before being crucified. Perhaps if some of this text was wrenched out of its context then it would appear that Irenaeus did make such a profound mistake. However, let us ask ourselves what Irenaeus’ point was here? Irenaeus explains that Jesus had reached the age of a master (teacher). He further explains that the first stage of life lasts until the age of thirty. It is after this that the second phase of life begins. One needed to reach this second phase in order to be an “elder,” and thus able to teach. When Irenaeus writes, “…which our Lord possessed…” he is speaking to the fact that Jesus did indeed live into this second phase of life. He is surely not referencing “…and fiftieth year…”

Admittedly, such a mistake could be made by the modern person who assumes that an ancient writes in the same way that he does. However, it is clear that the context tells us that Irenaeus is simply explaining what the second phase of life entails. Jesus only had to begin the second phase of life for Irenaeus to be correct in his teaching.

Keep in mind that Irenaeus is correct in identifying that Jesus was baptized around the age of thirty. Also be mindful that Irenaeus says that Jesus suffered after completing his thirtieth year (i.e. second phase of life). Irenaeus is absolutely correct in affirming both of these facts. How could he have been so accurate here, and yet somehow also be teaching that Jesus lived into His fifties? Finally, Irenaeus explains that his teaching is confirmed by the Gospels and other elders. Would Irenaeus have really taught that the Gospels and other Church fathers held that Jesus lived into His fifties? If so, then why was Irenaeus respected by his contemporaries and never attacked for such an odd belief? It is because Irenaeus taught above what is found in the Scriptures.

It is important to take the words of fellow Christians in context. To abuse what Irenaeus was actually saying above is to discredit a fellow brother in Christ. It is a shame when those with an agenda attack a humble servant of the Lord because he elsewhere teaches something that they do not like.

Comments

  1. Hi,

    I am a Preterist for more than a decade and I haven’t come across many Preterists who say that Irenaeus stated that Jesus lived up to 50 years and so whatever he stated elsewhere is wrong. At least they don’t make a big issue out of it.

    Have you ever read from the very beginning of the chapter in which Irenaeus stated that Revelation was written / seen towards the end of Domitian’s reign?

    From “Against Heresies”, Book V, Chapter XXX, Section

    Such, then, being the state of the case, and this number being found in all THE MOST APPROVED AND ANCIENT COPIES [OF THE APOCALYPSE], and those men who saw John face to face bearing their testimony [to it]; while reason also leads us to conclude that the number of the name of the beast, [if reckoned] according to the Greek mode of calculation by the [value of] the letters contained in it, will amount to six hundred and sixty and six;…

    It is in the section / verse 3 of the same chapter that Irenaeus has stated that Revelation was written / seen “almost in our day”, towards the end of Domitian’s reign (95-96 AD).

    If the book of Revelation were in fact written in 95 AD, which Irenaeus terms as “almost in our day”, shouldn’t ANCIENT COPIES of the book older than that? Isn’t there a contradiction in stating that the book was written in our own day after saying that there exist ancient copies of the book?

    Here is the link to the chapter: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103530.htm

    Regards,
    Tomsan

    • Matthew Ervin says:

      Kenneth Gentry brings it up frequently when he writes or comments on the date of Revelation. Gary Demar used to make a big deal about it. Though I haven’t read anything from him in the last few years, so perhaps he has moved on. And yes, I’m well aware of the section you provided. Indeed, it’s the basis for Irenaeus’ dating of Revelation that men like Gentry are looking to disqualify by attempting to make the father look silly elsewhere.

      The translation is using “ancient” when it could just as easily have put “oldest.” Such is how the Greek παλαιός can be translated. If Revelation was penned ca. 67 AD as the preterist supposes, that would hardly qualify as “ancient” either–at least not in the way that we think of the word. The context tells us what Irenaeus meant. He is simply saying that the oldest copies affirm the number and that the book was written almost in his day, during Domitian’s reign (ca. 95-96). Thank you for the comment. This article is old and could probably use some updating.

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