22 August, 2010

Irenaeus on the Perfection of Scripture

"If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries..."

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, ch. 28 (p.399 in ANF ed. by Robertson & Donaldson)

Irenaues is writing against Gnosticism, in particular the Valentinians, whose theology went beyond the revelation God had provided in the holy scriptures. Thus Valentine postulated, as far as can be discerned from Irenaeus‘s writings, that the God of the Old Testament was an imperfect Demiurge and that above him was an eternal Father who could be accessed by the initiated with ’secret knowledge’ (gnosis). The Gnostics looked down upon Christians as simple, uneducated people. Irenaeus here asserts that the scriptures are perfect and therefore trustworthy since they have God as their primary author. Mutatis mutandis, the same principle was used by Reformation theologians to counter the extra-scriptural claims of both Rome and the Enthusiasts.

It should be noted that Irenaeus (c. 130-200) was a disciple of Polycarp (c. 69-156), who in turn sat at the feet of the holy apostle John.
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