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Introduction to Irenaeus’s Apostolic Preaching

Irenaeus's Apostolic Preaching

Irenaeus was one of the most influential Church Fathers. His work was very influential in early Christianity and still is so today. He was born in about 130 AD in Smyrna, Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. He was a disciple of the Apostolic Father, Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the Apostle, John. He became a priest in Lyon, Gaul, now modern-day France at the time when the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was persecuting the Christian church between 161 and 180 AD. Irenaeus was consecrated a bishop in about 180 AD and died some twenty-two years later. In addition to Irenaeus’s, The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching, he also wrote a famous and influential work called, Against Heresies, written in 5 volumes. In it, he offers a powerful refutation against a group of so-called Christians who taught Gnosticism. They promoted some rather unorthodox beliefs about the nature of reality, God, and Jesus Christ. He made other significant contributions to Christian theology as well, like arguing for the inspiration of Scripture as the divinely inspired Word of God, and that it should be interpreted and taught according to Church tradition. Irenaeus also taught the authority of the bishops, along with the concept of apostolic succession. He was influential in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one God in their persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Add to this, Irenaeus affirmed Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man. Considering Irenaeus’s theological work and the influence he had in the church, it’s not surprising that he is thought by many theologians to be one of the most important Christian Church Fathers and theologians. He is a saint in the Western and Eastern Church and was made a Doctor of the Church recently, in January 2022, placing him as the 37th Doctor of the Church.

Irenaeus’s book on Apostolic Preaching was penned sometime in the late second century AD when the church faced considerable theological and philosophical turbulence. The gnostic Christians at the time held to heretical beliefs about God, Jesus, and reality, and presented the early church with significant challenges to the emerging orthodoxy. The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching was written to refute Gnostic belief and promote traditional orthodox Christian teaching. It’s helpful to know that Gnosticism was not monolithic, it was diverse. Nonetheless, it taught that our material world is evil and that we could only acquire salvation through knowledge (gnosis means knowledge in Koine Greek). Further, they did not accept the authority of the Old Testament or that it is a divinely inspired text, and neither did they accept the traditional teachings of the Christian church. Despite Gnosticism, Christianity was spreading quickly throughout the Roman Empire which meant that there was a need for a systematic formulation of Christian theology, which is where Irenaeus’s, The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching comes in. Another important part of the historical context to consider was that along with the significant growth of Christianity, came severe persecution by Rome. Ironically, the persecution of Christianity had the opposite effect, encouraging it to grow and spread even further.

One might consider this book in three sections. In the first section, Irenaeus argues for the divine inspiration of the Christian Scriptures, and that the Gnostic teachings have little to nothing to do with what Scripture teaches. The second section is a careful development of Christian theology from the church’s formative years up to the time when Irenaeus wrote his book. He argues that the church has always taught biblical and apostolic truth and that the Gnostics have departed from it. In the third section of the book, he provides a summary of the main points of Christian teaching.

The Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching helped defend the Christian faith against the Gnostics, and therefore was an important work in early Christianity, and remains a valuable resource for theologians and Christians today.

Check out Irenaeus’s Apostolic Preaching here:

Church Father's Apostolic Preaching


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