Old Dead Guys Notes #2

Old Dead Guys– Notes #2

John Wiers PhD 2020


  1. The 2nd century is a key century– we find a number of thinkers, but many tend to be more apologists than theologians- – Irenaeus is the key example of a theologian.
  • The earliest are often called the Apostolic Fathers because several claimed to have had contact with the Apostles– these include Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, along with the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas and a few other writings.
  • Most of these are not systematic and are more epistles and exhortations to the church.  We can learn things about early church life, but not a great deal of theology.
  • The Apologists: Origen, Tertullian, Athenagoras of Athens, Theophilus of Antioch and especially Justin Martyr were especially interested in presenting a defense of the faith in Greco-Roman culture, although Tertulllian is credited with actually coining the term Trinity in the late 2nd century.
  • Irenaeus is considered the first true systematic theologian– Emil Brunner claims that he was the “greatest” systematic theologian.
  1.  The issue of continuity and discontinuity
    1. The Bauer Thesis– Walter Bauer’s influential 1933 book, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, claimed that there was no real orthodoxy, but only a lot of diversity– the orthodox won and made exaggerated claims about themselves.
  • This has set the tone for much of the discussion for the last 90 years.
  • To sum up, his claims have been very seriously challenged: he often argues from silence, places that he claimed only had heretic groups have been shown to have orthodox groups, liturgical patterns that only fit with orthodoxy, etc have all been used to call Bauer’s claim into serious question.
  1. Justin MartyrA. His life
  • Approximately 100-165
  • His theologyHe is the best exponent of Logos Christology, although there were others in the early church that used the same idea.
  • Many forms of Platonism saw intermediary beings between the eternal forms and physical reality.  Justin didn’t deny the existence of such, but claimed that they were not true gods as in the pagan religions, but rather demons who masqueraded as gods.  He would parallel Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 10:20.
  • However, some Platonic philosophers had borrowed the term Logos from Stoicism as a mediator between the eternal and created reality.
  •  Justin appropriated the term and said that Christ was the Logos– obviously picking up what John says in John 1.
  • The Greek idea of Logos focused more on rationality or the inner discourse that takes place in your mind as you think your thoughts, but John’s gospel focuses on Jesus as the Word, the divine agent in creation and redemption who became incarnate.  Both are true of Christ.
  •  While Greco-Roman thinkers proclaimed ignorance of whom or what the Logos exactly was, Justin boldly proclaimed Christ as the Logos.
  1.  Justin showed that Christian teachings were compatible with the best of ancient philosopher and appropriates it, even going so far as to suggest that it was likely that Plato had borrowed from the Hebrew Scriptures.
  1. The ancient philosophers had “seeds of reason” in them, sort of a “common grace” approach to ancient philosophy, without understanding the full reality that Christ brings.
  1. Jesus as the Logos could bridge the great chasm between Plato’s eternal forms that provided order in the world, but he did so by entering into the world and speaking into that world.  
  1.  Justin appealed to the superior morality taught by Christ as further proof that he was the true Logos because it was axiomatic in the philosophy of the time that philosophy would lead to a virtuous life.
  1.  Justin set his Logos Christology in clear Trinitarian framework, even though he didn’t use the term and didn’t develop the implications as later theologians would. 
  1. Irenaeus
    1. His life
      1. We have only minimal details.
  • Born around 130, died around 200– we don’t know the exact dates.
  • He knew Polycarp who claimed to know the apostle John.  Irenaeus was probably from Smyrna or some other city in modern Turkey.
  • He went west, likely spending time in Rome receiving instruction, possibly by Justin Martyr– there are some similarities in their thought.
  • He eventually settled in Lyons, a town in southern Gaul (modern France) and became bishop of Lyons and Vienne.
  •  Other than his theology, which was a response to Gnosticism, he was involved in the controversy over the date of Easter– he took a moderating position and “lived up to his name as peacemaker.”
  •  Brunner claims that: “he may be described as the great theologian of the early church; indeed he has a greater right than any other to the title of the founder of the theology of the church.  All others build on the foundation which he has laid.”  
  •  His theology is more well-known among Eastern theologians and he has a more objective doctrine of the sacraments than most evangelicals are comfortable with– but compare G Bray’s claim about early church views of baptism.
  •  We know he wrote more because others refer to works that have been lost– one, a summary of Christian doctrine, was only discovered in Armenia in 1909– but mostly we just have some fragments other than his 2 main works.
  1. His most important work is Adversus Haeresies in Greek.
  •  The Heresy of Gnosticism
  • The major heresy Irenaeus confronted was various forms of Gnosticism.
  • Gnosticism, from the Greek word for knowledge, claimed to be a secret tradition that Jesus has passed on to his disciples– they appealed to the parables.  
  •  This secret knowledge was for the “enlightened” among Christians who were spiritual enough to understand it.
  •  It picked up on themes from many forms of Greek philosophy and had a very strong spirit/matter dichotomy.
  • The God of the Old Testament was sometimes pitted against the God of the New Testament.  Often their understandings of Christ were docetic– Jesus only appeared to take flesh and the Virgin Mary was simply a “tube through which Christ passed as water flows through a tube.”
  •  Many Gnostics denied that Jesus really died and that his resurrection was not bodily, but at best only spiritual.   The real problem of humanity was not sin, but physicality and Jesus came to show that those with knowledge, i.e. the Gnostics could learn how to escape this physical world and return to a pure spiritual existence.
  •  Some Gnostics were ascetic, i.e. denied the flesh, while others were libertine– eat, drink, and be merry because what the body did was inconsequential.

          C. Irenaeus’s response

                   1.  I (used hereafter) answered the Gnostics on several fronts, but his key ideas were that they had a wrong hermeneutic- principle of interpretation– and that they needed to understand how Christ recapitulates all that Adam and the whole Old Testament story was supposed to be.

                   2. In other words, I gives us a redemptive historical understanding of the flow of biblical history with a focus on Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.

                   3.  I’s approach combines both of his concerns into an emphasis on Christ as the one who recapitulates what humans were created to be.

                   4.  One scholar says that his theology is “stunning in scope and detail.”

                   5. He claimed that Marcion, one of the key Gnostic teachers “dared openly to mutilate the Scriptures.”

                   6. He was one of the theologians who made the greatest use of the “rule of faith” saying that Gnostic speculation was not only cut off from the scriptures, but was cut off from the true redemptive historical hermeneutic that the apostles had taught.  I said that we are to “keep the rule of faith unswervingly.”  This allowed us to see the unity of the Bible.

                   7.  He has been claimed as teaching an early version of “apostolic succession,” but the context for his lauding of trustworthy bishops is that they passed on the rule of faith and thus were to be trusted.

  • I’s use of recapitulation is very biblical.  Paul actually uses that idea in Ephesians 1:10 and the word often translated as unite all things could just as well be translated as recapitulate all things.
  • I is working with a strong 2nd Adam Christology and sees Christ as providing the perfect obedience that Adam was to fulfill and bringing humanity to its intended goal, which was elevation to a higher stage than he was created as.  This picks up themes of 1 Corinthians 15 and later Reformed Covenant theology. 
  1. Christ is the true image of God.  I distinguished between image and likeness, which probably doesn’t hold exegetically, but this idea that Christ is taking us to a higher– but still physical against the Gnostics– plane and relationship with God picks up ideas that Paul develops in Ephesians, Colossians, Romans and 1 Corinthians. 
  1. I has a strong Christos Victor theme in his atonement.  Christ is destroying the devil, our adversary, whose work stands in the way of us becoming what God intends us to be.  The atonement is at the heart of this recapitulation, not against it.
  1.  I interprets the flow of Scripture as a unified testimony to this plan of God.  Sometimes he gets a bit fanciful in his attempts to show all typological connections: i.e. he believed Adam fell on the 6th day of the week, just as Christ died to undo the fall on the 6th day of the week. 
  1.  I also attempts to show that Jesus lived a truly representative life, which causes him to speculate that Jesus was older– he says over 50– when he died. 
  1.  The goal of recapitulation is communion with God.  I says that we are to attain the goal of promotion to participation in the divine nature, not that we collapse the creator/creature distinction, although he sometimes emphasizes that we become so united to God that it is very close, but that we realize that our future is perfect fellowship with God which the recapitulation Christ does ensure.  Adoption as children of God is the deepest form of this truth.  Jesus was the Son incarnate so that we could become children of God. 
  1.  This gives I a stronger understanding of the sacraments than most evangelicals are comfortable with, but he can teach us here. He can use language of “born again by baptism” but never without cutting if off from faith.  Likewise he can refer to the Lord’s Supper as the crowning proof of the salvation of the flesh, mere bread becomes more than it once was.  
  1. His most famous statement about the incarnation was: “our Lord Jesus Christ, did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”
  1.  The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a bit underdeveloped in I, but he does have a key role for the HS as seen in his emphasis that it was the HS that gave God incarnate to humanity and the HS works out the implications of the restoration of the divine image in the church.
  1.  The main criticism that many theologians have had of I is that his doctrine of sin is weak and not well-developed.  “One gets the impression that Adam was nothing but a rascal, a little kid who needed scolding but who could hardly have known better.” (Matt Jenson)