Irenaeus Vs. The Annihilationists [Biblical Trinitarian]

A labor of love

Late Friday night/early Saturday morning, I published an article titled Irenaeus vs. The Annihilationists in which I demonstrate from primarily the most up to date Irenaen scholarship that the bishop of Lyons was not an annihilationist. And, what is more, I demonstrate that it was his Gnostic opponents who actually embraced a form of annihilationism much like that of contemporary annihilationists.

The paper was difficult to write, because Irenaeus’ theology is very complex and yet, paradoxically, very simple. Here’s what I mean. While Irenaeus talks about life and deathimmortality and mortalityexistence and non-existence, these concepts are inextricably layered, making it hard to articulate those layers without mangling his theology.

Just take the idea of life, for instance. Irenaeus sets life and death in opposition to one another, as Scripture does, but what he means is that Christian life (in which the believer eternally receives grace from God and the knowledge of God, so as to grow more and more in his likeness) stands in contradiction to the non-Christian life (in which the unbeliever remains eternally in darkness, without the special grace given only to those who trust in Christ, without any sight of God as Father and giver of grace).

In both case, there is life. And in both cases that life is real. However, only one life is deserving of the title life (i.e. true life) because it encompasses not merely psychosomatic “animation” by the Spirit (as Irenaeus would put it), but spiritual “vivification” (as Irenaeus would put it). [John Behr helpfully speaks of these different ways of living as different “modalities of life” (cf. John Behr’s Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement.]

Despite the difficulty involved in writing the paper, I felt it had to be done, seeing as annihilationists are very fond of claiming the orthodox theologians of the past as supporters of their heresy, and they do so in order to convince those who are confused and unfamiliar with the writers they claim for themselves. [This is why I wrote Athanasius, Ontology, and the Work of Christ as well.]

Irenaeus the Anti-Annihilationist

The more research one does on the church fathers of great importance, the more one sees that their theology is much more complex than heretics would like to make it seem. Irenaeus is often claimed not merely by annihilationists but also unitarians of every stripe, and even universalists. But he does not agree with any of them on those doctrinal matters.

Regarding annihilationism, for instance, the historical truth of the matter is it was the Gnostics who believed in a form of annihilationism very much like that of the contemporary proponents of annihilationism.

Just as contemporary annihilationists believe that Matthew 10:28 teaches the body and the soul of the unbeliever will be annihilated in the fires of final punishment, so too did the Gnostics. The annihilationists believe that those who do not believe the Gospel will not have ontological immortality in any sense, and this is also what the Gnostics explicitly taught – those who lack the spirit/nous/divine spark, i.e. who are merely body and soul, will not have ontological immortality of any kind.

Ironically, it was Irenaeus who taught that because God’s creation is good he will not annihilate it. Rather than seeing any aspect of God’s creation being annihilated, Irenaeus taught that all of creation would be transformed to a higher reality. Life with Christ would be transformed to a higher plane, and so would life outside of Christ. In opposition to the Gnostic heretics, Irenaeus affirmed that God would sustain his creatures forever – even those who will refuse him in this life and, thereby, cut themselves off from his grace for all of eternity.

If you’re interested in knowing more, please check out the paper at Biblicaltrinitarian.com. And consider supporting my further research and apologetics endeavors by purchasing a copy of one my books from Amazon.com. Specifically, my books Soul Sleep: An Unbiblical Doctrine (which has been endorsed by apologist Phil Fernandes, as well as scholar Dr. Jeremiah Mutie, among others) and Athanasius, Ontology, and the Work of Christ.

If the Lord wills, my article on Irenaeus will be extended to be a book as well, seeing as my research has brought me into contact with earlier annihilationists who explicitly taught that Irenaeus was a so-called traditionalist

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.

[P.S. If you’re on Quora, please follow me there as well.]

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Resources on the Doctrine of Hell

debate[1.] A Debate

Is Conditional Immortality Biblical? A Debate Between George Alvarado & Chris Date

Yesterday, my friend George Alvarado (of the blog “Our Common Salvation”) debated Chris Date on the subject of conditional immortality/annihilationism. The debate is 90 minutes long, and well worth your viewing time, if you want to understand some of the more nuanced reasons why the annihilationist doctrine is unbiblical. George is a linguist and, therefore, approaches the subject matter with an eye toward revealing the cunning devices of some of the major proponents of the heresy of annihilationism.

After the debate, George and Chris had an open discussion in which these issues were delved into with even more specificity. The debate and discussion were held by The Bible Thumping Wingnut podcast/Network, and can be viewed here and here.

If you haven’t already, check out George’s very helpful series Rethinking Conditionalism in which he also explains why annihilationism is false.


[2.] A BookAthanasius,Ontology,&The Workof Christ.png

Some time ago, I wrote a long article on Athanasius of Alexandria, in which I explained that a contextual reading of this father proves that he was not an annihilationist, contrary to the claims of modern annihilationists.

My essay looked at the most up to date and best Athanasian scholarship. So I decided to look into the past to see what the views of older scholars were. The overwhelming majority of past patristic scholars, essentially, taught the same thing. This is true for those who held to the orthodox doctrine of hell, as well as for annihilationists.

So I decided to turn my essay into a book, sandwiching my content between an essay on the Ante-Nicene fathers, leading up to Irenaeus, by Methodist writer Marshall Randles, in which he explains why the church fathers at this time, and in particular Irenaeus who influenced Athanasius probably more than anyone else at this time, were not annihilationists, and an essay by annihilationist Henry M. Constable (author of the Duration and Nature of Final Punishment), in which this annihilationist forefather likewise identifies Athanasius as a so-called “traditionalist.”

You can purchase the book as a Kindle ebook here, or as a paperback book here.


[3.] Audio Streams

On our Biblical Trinitarian facebook page (check it out here), I have done several audio live streams where I discuss annihialtionism, fallacies employed by heretics, and other issues. I’m new at this kind of thing, so bear with me! But I may continue to do some more, if I feel so led.

They have been helpful, seeing as I don’t have the kind of time I would need to devote writing to the subjects I have dealt with in the live streams. You can check them out at the facebook page linked above.


update-profpic1[4.] Biblical Trinitarian Articles

Finally, Michael and I have written two new articles at Biblical Trintarian. Mine is titled “What is Apologetics? Pt. 1,” in which I briefly discuss what the Scriptures tell us about apologetics.

And Michael’s article is titled “A Brief Consideration of the Bibliology and Theology of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society,” in which he explains why Jehovah’s Witnesses are translationally wrong and doctrinally heretical.

Lord willing, I will be posting some new content here on Wednesday. So stay tuned!

Until then,
Soli Deo Gloria

-h.