Taking Irenaeus out of context
“And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out.”
(Against Heresies, IV, 32, 1) [only the last sentence]
Dave Armstrong, a Roman Catholic and former Evangelical, by quoting only this last sentence of Irenaeus’ section, [ original link restored ] is trying to make Irenaeus sound like a Roman Catholic; although in “seed” form (binding authority, apostolic succession) whereas if one reads the context of the whole section, both before and after, we find that what Irenaeus is saying is consistent with what any doctrinally sound Reformed Protestant would say today.
Let’s look at the whole passage of Irenaeus’ point here:
Chapter XXXII.—That one God was the author of both Testaments, is confirmed by the authority of a presbyter who had been taught by the apostles.
1. After this fashion also did a presbyter, a disciple of the apostles, reason with respect to the two testaments, proving that both were truly from one and the same God. For [he maintained] that there was no other God besides Him who made and fashioned us, and that the discourse of those men has no foundation who affirm that this world of ours was made either by angels, or by any other power whatsoever, or by another God. For if a man be once moved away from the Creator of all things, and if he grant that this creation to which we belong was formed by any other or through any other [than the one God], he must of necessity fall into much inconsistency, and many contradictions of this sort; to which he will [be able to] furnish no explanations which can be regarded as either probable or true. And, for this reason, those who introduce other doctrines conceal from us the opinion which they themselves hold respecting God, because they are aware of the untenable and absurd nature of their doctrine, and are afraid lest, should they be vanquished, they should have some difficulty in making good their escape. But if any one believes in [only] one God, who also made all things by the Word, as Moses likewise says, “God said, Let there be light: and there was light;” (Genesis 1:3) and as we read in the Gospel, “All things were made by Him; and without Him was nothing made;” ( John 1:3) and the Apostle Paul [says] in like manner, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all” ( Ephesians 4:5-6) this man will first of all “hold the head, from which the whole body is compacted and bound together, and, through means of every joint according to the measure of the ministration of each several part, maketh increase of the body to the edification of itself in love.” ( a combination of Ephesians 4:16 and Colossians 2:19) ,And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out.
2. For all the apostles taught that there were indeed two testaments among the two peoples; but that it was one and the same God who appointed both for the advantage of those men who were to believe in God, I have proved in the third book from the very teaching of the apostles; and that the first testament was not given without reason, or to no purpose, or in an accidental sort of manner; but that it subdued those to whom it was given to the service of God, for their benefit (for God needs no service from men), and exhibited a type of heavenly things, inasmuch as man was not yet able to see the things of God through means of immediate vision; and foreshadowed the images of those things which [now actually] exist in the Church, in order that our faith might be firmly established; and contained a prophecy of things to come, in order that man might learn that God has foreknowledge of all things.”
So, at first glance, the last sentence by itself that he quotes is made to look like some kind of Roman Catholic doctrine of a “seed” that will develop into the infallibility of the church leaders and then the Bishop of Rome and then centuries and almost two millennia later, in 1870, finally be revealed for the people of God for guidance and knowing the right interpretations and solving all problems of disunity with the supposed ability to walk into the room and say “Thus says the Lord”.
Irenaeus is fighting Gnosticism, and the various forms of it; Valentinian, Basiledes, and Marcion ( and others also). Gnosticism was not monolithic. Protestants disagree vehemently with Gnosticism; so most of the points that RCs try to score in debate by using Irenaeus and Tertullian and others are anachronistic with the way they are trying to make them be anti-Protestantism. We are not claiming that the early church was Protestant, only that they are what they are, the early church, and that they are not Roman Catholic. As Dr. White says all the time, “let the early church be the early church”.
Every time Irenaeus spells out the content of the “rule of faith”, it is a doctrinal summary in simple form of the main doctrines of the ecumenical creeds of the first 5 centuries. (see Against Heresies, 1:10:1-2 and 3:4:2) Protestants agree with this. There are no Roman Catholic distinctives or “seeds” to develop ( in a Biblical or legitimate exegetical way) later in these doctrinal summaries or creeds. To claim that is anachronistic and not dealing with history fairly. The Roman Catholic “developments” later in history are exaggerations, distortions, mutations, deformities, corruptions.
Irenaeus shows at the beginning of his section here, that a presbyter learned the apostles doctrine that is in Scripture, that the OT is inspired Scripture and the God of the OT is the same God in the NT and so he is refuting the idea of the Gnostics of an evil god (a demiurge) in the OT who created matter (and the Gnostics claim that matter is evil); and refuting the Gnostic idea that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is a different good God from the OT “god”. Protestants agree with this. We believe in church leaders/presbyters (elders)/pastor-teachers/overseers (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5ff; I Timothy 3; Acts 20:17, 28; I Peter 5:1-5) Irenaeus is saying the same thing we do; one must read the Scriptures and read the Scriptures with the presbyters. But Irenaeus also says that the Presbyters follow the Scriptures as their final authority, because the apostles doctrine was written down, and he just quotes from the writings to prove his point.
Irenaeus goes on to quote Scripture proving his point, so no where is he talking about Roman Catholic distinctives or dogmas here. Since the presbyter was taught from an apostle, and the content of that teaching was Scripture, as Irenaeus shows by extensive quoting from it; and the interpretation of the Presbyters is the same all throughout the churches that the OT is inspired Scripture and the God of the OT is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the last statement is only saying that the average Christian, when he reads the Scriptures, will find that the Scriptures are clear and he will be build up in the faith and grow, as Ephesians 4 teaches, as he reads the Scriptures with the Presbyters (Elders) of the church at that time, that were interpreting the Scriptures rightly, that there is only one good Creator God, Sovereign, all mighty and who is the same, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no promise that future presbyters will be infallible. If in the future, they do not follow Scripture, then they have no authority.
So, these kinds of methods are all throughout Dave Armstrong’s kind of argumentation, and it is not necessary, as he keeps claiming and whining about, that everyone must deal with every word that he has written and cut and pasted or else he will not deal with their arguments at all. I hope Jason Engwer keeps it up and stays in the battle and responds fully to all of the significant issues; even though Dave Armstrong requires someone to respond to every word, it seems. All we have to do is to shoot holes in some of his argumentation, as we have time, which we have done (Jason Engwer, Steve Hayes, Turretinfan, and simple me) [no longer there] (Dave Armstrong has not answered the points I made in an earlier article concerning how he misread Philip Schaff and Ireneaus on the barbarian tribes who had the basic gospel before the Scriptures were translated) [not available] and Dave A. refused to deal with Turretinfan’s excellent critique here and the whole Roman Catholic claims of infallible authority are exposed as false and not Biblical nor existent in early church history, then the whole edifice of the Papacy and infallibility crashes to the ground. Furthermore, the very nature of their definition of 1870 shows that if they made one mistake, the whole thing is false, because one mistake means they are not infallible. Since they have made many mistakes both doctrinally (and morally), they are not infallible. And this shows that David Waltz was right to leave the Roman Catholic church.